Dreams, Doublethink, and Aztecs

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February 4, 2022 by libroshombre

Re-watching Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech has left me considering the distinction between mythology and misinformation.  “The Inaccuracies in the ‘Reprintings of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech,” an essay by University of Washington speech communications professor Haig Bosmajian, noted the multitude of errors and distortions that appear in reprints and citations in books.  “Some reprintings have omitted words and phrases he delivered, other reprintings have added words and phrases he never included in his presentation; in still other cases, word order has been changed and figurative language has been altered.” 

On the mythology side of dreaming there’s Morpheus, the Greco-Roman god of dreams.  “He shaped and formed the dreams, through which he could appear to mortals in any form,” according to GreekGodsandGoddesses.net who noted that, “Morpheus’ true form was that of a winged demon.”  His dad was Hypnos, the God of Sleep, his mom was Pasithea, the goddess of relaxation (at whose alter I worship), and he had two brothers, Phobetor, who “created phobic or scary dreams,” and Phantasus, who “created unreal or phantasmic dreams.”  The three were known as the Oneiroi, or the personification of dreams, but his brothers could only affect human dreams, while Morpheus, the Oneiroi boss, could “influence the dreams of Gods, heroes, and kings.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us the word “myth” entered the English lexicon around 1830 from “mythe” which the French coined in 1818 from the Greek “mythos,” a much broader term which meant “speech, thought, word, discourse, conversation.”  The Greek origin blurs the distinction between mythology and misinformation.  “Misinformation Is Rampant in America,” a Newsminer.com article from last November, said “The spread of false and misleading information, whether intentional or not, is one of the most consequential issues in America and around the world,” and “this ‘information disorder’ crisis exacerbates all other issues, from democracy to climate change.”  That’s not news to any half-informed American, nor was it to George Orwell when he wrote “Animal Farm” and “1984.”

The Dictionary of Literary Biography described Orwell (who used a pseudonym – his real name was Eric Arthur Blair) as “a complex, paradoxical figure” who was driven by “a complex unification of radical and conservative impulses.”  He was ‘a militant socialist and fervent anticommunist and persistently attacked “the smelly little orthodoxies’ which he felt corrupted intellectual liberty” because, he said, “to write in plain vigorous language, one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly, one cannot be politically orthodox.”

Orwell came to this conclusion after going to Spain in 1936 as a journalist to cover the Civil War.  He soon joined the fighting and enlisted in POUM (Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista, or “Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification”), an anti-Stalinist communist offshoot.  The Spanish Stalinists used heavy-handed tactics, including assassination and propaganda, to destroy POUM, whose members had to go into hiding, which is seemingly a holdover in the Putin era.  Orwell personally witnessed the Stalinist repression “which would help form his anti-authoritarian ideas in later life.”  He returned to Britain and during WWII became a BBC “talks producer,” a nice way of saying “propagandist,” for the government.  After witnessing again the power of misinformation as used by the Nazis and the British, Orwell left that work in 1943 and wrote “Animal House,” which was unpublished until after the war due to British censors’ concern about offending Stalin, who was then an ally. 

“1984” was published unhindered in 1949, well into the Cold War, and it describes an oligarch’s dreamworld.  In “6 Themes of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ That We Need to be Mindful of,” a 2017 online article by his publisher, Penguin Press, “Propaganda Machines,” particularly news outlets that intentionally distort and slant information, are a major concern since their purpose, in Orwell’s terms, is the “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your choosing.” Another theme is “Liberty and Censorship where politicians strive to “tirelessly and meticulously modify public archives and rewrite history.”  Supporters of the Confederacy did this effectively following our Civil War, turning traitors into heroes.  And the recent closures of many governmental archives, and current efforts across the country to rewrite school history textbooks are but two on-going attempts to erase historically records and stifle public discourse. 

In “1984” doublethink plays a prominent role in the oppressive governmental control.”  In “Big Brother and Other Terms from ‘1984’,” a 2019 George Mason University article, “doublethink is defined as ‘the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct.’  According to Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984, doublethink is ‘To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink.’ Four examples of doublethink used throughout 1984 include the slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and 2 + 2 = 5.” 

Historically there have been plenty of other tyrannical dreamers of dreams.  Hernan Cortes dreamed of acquiring prestige and wealth in the New World, went there, and was taken as a god by the Aztecs, whose leader, Montezuma, was totally awed by the Spaniard and capitulated after showering Cortes with slaves and gold.  The peoples subjugated by the Aztecs recognized Cortes as the god Quetzalcoatl and joined the Spaniards to quickly conquer their former rulers, and soon gladly accepted the Catholic faith.  Right?  Wrong.  The people Cortes defeated weren’t Aztecs, they were called Mexicas.  Their leader, Moctezuma, as he called himself, had spies infiltrate Cortes’ camps, saw how stone weapons couldn’t compete with armor, guns, and horses, and tried every political and military maneuver he knew of, to no avail. 

Following Moctezuma’s death, the Franciscan friars with Cortes recruited youths from noble families and taught them the Roman alphabet to help spread the Gospel.  However, after their workday, the young scribes went home and used the new writing technique to transpose their people’s own pictograph histories from their Nahua language into Roman alphabet documents.  Nonetheless, the Spaniards’ propaganda proved so effective that these indigenous, first-hand histories weren’t taken seriously by scholars until the 1970s.  The Franciscan teachers successfully drew upon Greek and Latin myths from books in their library to create a web of misinformation – Cortes as a God, etc. – that extolled the Spaniards and denigrated the indigenous peoples, and within decades the Mexicas themselves started believing the Spaniards’ myth that prevails in modern Mexican culture to this day.  As that old Spaniard Cervantes wrote in “Don Quixote,” “To surrender dreams  – this may be madness.”

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