In the opening of Nineteen Eighty-Four, we experience a “Two Minutes Hate” with Winston Smith.
Two Minutes Hate is a daily ritual in Oceania, the fictitious totalitarian state in Orwell’s novel. Citizens assemble in public places, are shown video of Oceania’s enemies, usually Emmanuel Goldstein—the enemy of the state, and must publicly display their hatred for two minutes.
Every time I read the book I find it a harrowing scene primarily because of one sentence:
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.
This quote is highlighted 3,567 times in the Kindle version I am reading. When I read it this time, I thought of two things: Facebook and cable “news.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four shot to the bestseller list last week. (It may still be there.) I already had it on my to-read list, so I popped it to the top of my stack and started reading it in between chapters of Dan John’s Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning.
I’m pretty sure Orwell’s classic starting outselling the usual self-help twaddle and latest Harry Potter cash-grab because of something one of the new administration’s representatives said on one of the Sunday Morning bloviation shows. Her statement was reminiscent of Orwell’s Doublespeak. Like many people, I decided it was time to re-read the book and experience Doublespeak in situ.
But reading about the Two Minutes Hate for the first time since Facebook since the Fox and MSNBC “news channels” became a part of our landscape hit me like a gold brick with a couple of pounds of fake news wrapped around it.
The Two Minutes Hate is, of course, organized by Oceania’s totalitarian state. There are plenty of obvious reasons why getting your citizens together for a couple of minutes every day and telling them who to hate and how much. As Winston tells us, it works. He literally can’t keep himself from participating. He finds himself hating everyone he can think of during the two minutes, enemies of the state, friends of the state, and random people he sees during the event.
Hate, fear, and anger are powerful stuff.
But we’re much more cooperative than the citizens of Oceania. We seek out hate minutes on our own, with no coercion required, and we usually hold them for hours, not just minutes. We tune into our favorite “news” readers and “comedians” (often the same thing) and cheer and jeer and snarl as they tell us about all of the horrible things that horrible people did all horrible week that we already know about because we already read, shared, and liked the headlines (and maybe even read the stories—but probably not) on Facebook or Twitter.
And then we gleefully share the video of our favorite newsmedian on Facebook and Twitter and watch, share, and like that story until a new horrible headline rolls in. If it’s a good day, we may even see two or three of new things to rage over. And we’ve had some really, really, good days lately.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to focus on self-care. A big part of that is dealing with the fact that I have very little temper and I keep forgetting where I’ve left it. So I’m generally up for a few minutes hate at the drop of a hat or a headline.
Right after I finished the first chapter of Nineteen Eighty-Four I read a chapter in Never Let Go about Olympic Gold medalist and wrestling coach Dan Gable. Dan John summarizes Gable’s coaching philosophy thusly:
If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.
John is, as usual, talking about front squats, but maybe we should we apply this to Two Minutes Hate? Is it important? Do you need to do it every day?
I don’t think so. I’m working on stopping it.
Am I trying to be more empathetic? Is this a call for patience, love, and understanding?
There’s plenty to be angry about. Hate may even be a valid response right now, but as rewarding as hate can be, wallowing in it does nothing but reduce clarity.
Orwell’s fictional state enforced Two Minutes Hate because it made the populace easier to control.
I’m not giving up that control, not to the state and not to a newsmedian.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Anderson Cooper caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Bill O’Reilly caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Rachel Maddow caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), TV (Dave Catchpole / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), sheep 1 (RAY / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), sheep 2 (Rivindu Weerasekera / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), body 1 (Nan Palmero / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and bodies 2 and 3 (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs / Flickr).