It’s been a long few days for the Ministry of Truth.
On Wednesday, Ellen Page announced that she is, in fact, a “he” and that her name is not Ellen at all, but “Elliot.”
Wikipedia immediately sprang into action to rectify Elliot Page’s article, changing every instance of her name and her pronouns to conform to her new truth. Netflix did the same across its platform and the media reported the story using the newly approved name and pronouns with only a quick note—to avoid confusion—that Elliot previously had been known as Ellen.
But even that wasn’t enough for some activists. An article in Newsweek argued that even a single use of Elliot Page’s “deadname” (the name she was assigned at birth) was a problem.
Though the deadnaming of Page in an article may not have any negative repercussions on the actor (bar any mental health effects from seeing a name he no longer identifies with), it does propagate a system that has led to transgender people (particularly trans women of color) disproportionately being the victims of hate crimes.
By this logic, any reference anywhere to the name Ellen Page—even in old articles, interviews, and films made prior to her decision that she is he—is problematic. As a transexual activist and ACLU lawyer put it in another article, any mention of someone’s “deadname” ensures that he will “never have the authority to claim the truth” of who he is and “cedes that authority to a structure of power and discrimination.”
And so we are left with an Orwellian prospect where the entire world constantly will have to be updating itself to ensure that the past is consistent with the present. Articles will insist that Elliot Page was always Elliot Page and was always a man.
Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound tracks, photographs—all had to be rectified at lightning speed.
Even the term “deadname” has a certain newspeak quality to it of the B vocabulary variety.
The B vocabulary consisted of words that had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them . . . the B words were a sort of verbal shorthand, often packing whole ranges of ideas into a few syllables, and at the same time more accurate and forcible than ordinary language. The B words were in all cases compound words. They consisted of two or more words, or portions of words, welded together in an easily pronounceable form.
Doublethink. Deadname. Goodsex. Fits right in. And there’s no reason these words shouldn’t. A moment’s reflection will reveal that the current gender-bending theory shares the same metaphysics which undergirds the dystopian framework of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In both conceptions, reality “exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.” In fact, it is lunacy to believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right.
This belief is cognitively dissonant with belief in an everyday experience in which the truths of the world and society hammer themselves home with shattering force. But learning to reconcile these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs is a principal exercise in the subtle art of doublethink.
The first belief lends itself to solipsism. The second belief suggests objectivity. But the synthesis of the two leads to a perilous equilibrium where the only real goal is power. Because there are no objective truths, one can make whatever reality he pleases. But because one has to contend with other thinking beings, in order to have true control over reality, one must also control them.
There is no objective standard to which one can appeal—only one’s ability to control everyone else and force them to accept your truth. Summed up in another Orwellian maxim: GOD IS POWER. And as with all such maxims in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the maxim is reversible: POWER IS GOD.
Power typically is the ability to make people do things they otherwise would not do. And for power to be meaningful, one must in fact make people do things they otherwise would not do. For absent that, it simply would be the confluence of people’s desired actions.
But in collective solipsism, it is not enough to make people do things. You must make them believe things—as much as one can believe in something they know to be false. So in this system, you have to force people to believe things that they otherwise would reject. Without doing so the objective world still has primacy.
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make the claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.
A woman will announce that she is a man and you will have to believe it, no matter the lunacy of the statement.
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer.
Reams of papers generated by minds said to be the brightest of our generation, enraptured by their own sociological brilliance as they deconstruct everything, are shoved down our throats on a daily basis. Their angry wails display their hatred of the things that deep down they know to be true and beautiful. Their hatred stems from their knowledge that an objective standard would force them to face their own inadequacies, a task that is nearly unendurable without some sense of salvation. It is hatred because an objective standard shows them that they are far less significant than their egoistic upbringing suggested.
And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center.
As prescient as Orwell was, even he didn’t have the foresight to see that a major battle would be fought over the truism that women cannot become men. But if we cede this battle—claiming that it is irrelevant or a distraction—we will have tacitly repudiated objectivity, one of the cornerstones of our civilization.
While our brave new world has a slightly brighter patina than Orwell’s dystopia and has closer and closer approximations to soma in the form of media and drugs, we are in the fight of our lives over epistemology. The consequences of failure would make Nineteen Eighty-Four look mild. Already, we see the news and social media practicing for the day that they institute Minitrue. They’re looking forward to it.
It remains to be seen when the New York Times will revise every old article with a reference to Ellen Page to ensure that the past is consistent with the present. But we shouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, deep within the recesses of the New York Times building, three cylinders of paper are flying through a pneumatic tube to a “journalist’s” desk, carrying the messages:
times 29.11.20 reporting deadnames elliot page
times 8.11.20 reporting doubleplusungood deadnames misgenders elliot page
times 23.5.20 crossword deadnames elliot page rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling
That last one will require rewriting an entire crossword puzzle that has a word puzzle embedded within it that uses her prior name. Oof. Winston is going to have a hard time with that one.