Psychological Manipulation on our Identity in 1984


We have all been manipulated at least once in our lives, whether that means you being lied to or getting guilt-tripped, but what if that act of manipulation causes you to lose who you are, losing your sense of self-concept, identity, or possibly even your inner self?  Without memories, we are unable to grow and understand who we are, and this can potentially allow others to manipulate us through psychological tactics. Alarmingly enough, this can happen to any of us just like the characters seen in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. The story takes place in Oceania, Airstrip 1, formerly known as London, England portraying the oppressive totalitarian form of government and authoritarian regimes where any form of freedom and individuality are prohibited. When one is contumacious, conformity is forced upon through methods of torture and manipulation, just as was done to the thirty-nine-year-old protagonist, Winston Smith. Contrary to other Party members, Winston opposes the principles of Ingsoc, the ruling party of the state; however, in the end, he eventually finds his love for Big Brother, the figurehead of Oceania. In the dystopian novel, “The Party” suppresses its citizens by using the tactic of psychological manipulation in order to maintain control. Winston Smith, with the help of Julia, Winston’s lover, goes against his society to find the truth. However, his attempt fails, and he is tortured until he becomes like all the other citizens, working for no reason and being ignorant. Psychology plays a huge role in this novel as it is all about propaganda, manipulation, and limiting their citizens’ knowledge through certain tactics that can be more or less considered as psychological manipulation. 

Coherently speaking, psychological manipulation is a branch of psychology that focuses more on the external level of social influence whose aim is to change the behavior of others through indirect or deceptive tactics. Such examples could be, physical torture, verbal manipulation, or even harsh threatenings that allow the victim to be manipulated. When a person is manipulated, they are taught to believe otherwise and sometimes entirely opposite that might not even be true. Manipulation itself has different aspects, it can be both positive or negative and by this, we mean that manipulation can be used in different situations. For example, doctors would manipulate you to change your eating habits in order to maintain your health, while a peer could manipulate you to use alcohol. These are just basic examples, in psychology, manipulation also affects the emotional or non-rational part of someone’s brain. That way, it can change the way that the person perceives or views things or how they behave. Psychological manipulation can be done indirectly or deceptively and this is why it mostly affects the non-rational part than the rational part of a person’s brain. Depending on how manipulation is conducted it can have long-term or short-term effects.  In addition, to better grasp how people can be manipulated, we must first understand the different ways that can occur, starting with how the implantation of false information works. A psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, specializes in the understanding of memories, conducted experiments involving the alternation of memories using language in eyewitness testimony, and thus put forth a theory that the accuracy of human memories is rather poor and that our memories are easily malleable through associating segments of already familiar memories with ones, which can, for instance, be specified through fake-scenarios. Therefore, we humans can never really trust what we remember and recall based on our memories or experiences as those could have been altered by external factors, like what someone else has said. 

To link both ideas with 1984, we must understand that the loss of our self-defining memories by means of manipulation and brainwashing, can be used as a means of control, resulting in us losing our sense of self-concept in the process. Similarly, this is seen in the novel as the Party’s overflowing desire for power motivates them to manipulate the minds and memories of their citizens in order to maintain control. Other than the method of implantation of false memories, manipulation can also be done in other ways, for instance, through the use of the recall and replace method and the use of repetitions in forms of propaganda, which are also portrayed in the novel. As seen, propaganda is mainly seen in the forms of posters and telescreens, and their main purpose is to create the impression of making the citizens of Oceania feel psychologically overwhelmed as they tend to play on human emotions, like fear. With the help of telescreens, the Party is able to brainwash the minds of their citizens as it is possible that at the beginning of Big Brother’s and Ingsoc’s ruling, some would still recall and remembered how life was peaceful and desirable compared to now; however, that came to an end as constant repetition throughout the day eventually causes their memories to change and only remember the latest version. Scientifically speaking, this is possible as repetition is key to remembering things long-term as new connections of the synapse, also called neuronal junction, are created between the neutrons through chemical reactions in the brain. As a result, this much control and power over the memories of others allow the opportunity to have control over what they believe is reality, hence allowing them to control that individual’s actions as they wish, as well. 

In addition, throughout the novel, psychological manipulation is represented in many different ways, for example, the control of certain records demonstrates methods of controlling history by altering them. In regard, The Party manipulates the past in order to control the present as their motto says it: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Another sign of psychological manipulation in the novel is the Thought Police which executes Big Brother’s laws in situations where rebellion is showed towards him. The constant blast of manipulation prevents society to question certain things; therefore, not having any source of knowledge. In addition, another method used by the Party is the falsification of history. History is constantly being altered and falsified to correspond with the current statements made by Big Brother and the Inner Party. For instance, Oceania’s allies and enemies in war are constantly changing. Some years Oceania is an ally with Eastasia and fighting against Eurasia, while other years it would be the opposite. This takes place, even though it is likely that the Party is only using the idea of being in war as an effective tool for the citizens to cooperate, as one is willing to sacrifice anything for the country when at war.

Furthermore, tying this concept with North Korea, psychological manipulation in North Korea is an example of a real-world dilemma that can be compared to George Orwell’s dystopian novel. Nowadays you can see psychological manipulation nearly everywhere, but most commonly in North Korea which is one of the most horrible dictatorships that exist in the modern world. In North Korea, the government exercises control over many aspects of the nation’s culture, and this control is used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and the actual leader Kim Jong-un. A Korean journalist, Choe Sang-hun, while visiting North Korea noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, Kim Jong-il. There is even widespread belief that Kim Il-sung “created the world”, and Kim Jong-il could “control the weather”, which is obviously not the truth but this is what they are taught to believe.

In conclusion, without certain memories from the past we aren’t unable to grow into the human beings we are today and due to this people can manipulate us both psychologically and physiologically. Manipulation and more specifically psychological manipulation can be done in many different ways, like for example using tactics that involve torture and physical abuse. Psychological manipulation is a branch of psychology that mostly focuses on the non-rational part of a person’s brain or in other words on the more external level of a person’s brain. To tie in my thoughts, psychological manipulation is one of the extreme types of manipulation that exist and can be conducted by anyone with just a little hard work. In the novel, Winston differs from the typical members of the Party through his actions and thoughts, as well as opinions towards the philosophies of the Party, known as Ingsoc. He opposes the process of indoctrination referred to as doublethink, as he is more focused on what he beliefs is the truth. Throughout the novel, the Party uses various methods of manipulation on the minds of the Party members’, as a repetition of false information and falsification of history, due to desire for power. Hence, this causes every last piece of individuality to be ripped out of their mind, leading to a society with an absence of uniqueness. To tie this concept to a real-world problem, we could compare it to North Korea, an absolute dictatorial government in which every aspect of life is controlled through certain propaganda. After all, anyone can be manipulated and it can be done in many different ways. When manipulated anyone can get inside your inner self and take control over your thoughts and make you believe something totally different like for example, that two plus two is equal to five.

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