It must have been a coincidence, but twice recently I have come upon a phrase that reminded me of George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Reading the words “two-minute hate” led me to revisit Orwell’s astounding dystopian classic, which was a favorite in my youth and influences my thinking to this day.
I first noticed the phrase in a opinion piece concerning loud protesters at the Indiana Statehouse during the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act demonstrations. The second was in a column about a performance by the New York City Philharmonic where composer John Adams spoke from the stage about his piece “Scheherazade.2.”
He explained it came from his study of “the casual brutality toward women” in various cultures around the world. He then seemed to imply that America is not much different from the Taliban or ISIS when it comes to treatment of women: “You can find it on Rush Limbaugh,” he observed.
Column writer Jay Nordinger was in attendance and noted that at the mention of the radio host’s name, “sustained and robust applause broke out.” Nordinger wrote that the reaction reminded him of a two-minute hate: “It did not last for two minutes, but it went on long enough.”
The writers’ opinions of RFRA and Rush Limbaugh were interesting enough, I guess, but what really struck a chord with me was their use of Orwell’s phrase as if we all should recognize it. As used in the book, a “two-minute hate” was a daily event where workers would gather together to watch movies on “telescreens” of the ruling party’s enemies while screaming and shouting their hatred for them.
Although I had not seen it used by writers in this way before, I recognized the reference to the novel as I read the columns and was glad to learn of another of Orwell’s terms joining the ranks of common English usage. It is a useful term, I think, for explaining the sort of unthinking rage we see expressed so often these days.
Many of Orwell’s words and terms have become part of our language. The most well-known, I suppose, is “Big Brother is Watching You.”
Big Brother is the leader of Oceania where the action of the novel takes place. Oceania is a world that is perpetually at war and whose people are controlled by the all-pervasive surveillance of the state.
The citizens of Oceania are taught to love Big Brother without question. As a matter of fact, questioning anything is forbidden and may result in arrest by the “Thought Police” for “thoughtcrimes.”
Winston Smith, the main character, works for the “Ministry of Truth,” which disperses lies and propaganda to the public. At his job he occasionally uses the “memory hole” to destroy historical evidence that the state declares is no longer true. Once it goes down the memory hole, it no longer exists even in your memory.
Memory, in fact, is a crime against the state. Truth is whatever the government says it is at that particular moment even if it is the opposite of what what was said earlier. This ability to accept two contradictory ideas is known as “doublethink.”
The actual year 1984 came and went without the oppressive government in place that Orwell envisions in his novel. Still, his warnings continue to be pertinent for today. The National Security Agency keeps tabs on us. So does Facebook. Surveillance cameras watch us in public and look at our license plates.
Those who control information control what people think and feel about a particular issue while a public distracted by frivolous pursuits won’t make waves in the first place. As we move into that Brave New World (also a good dystopian novel) of the future, it is probably a good idea to stay familiar with Orwell’s “Nineteen Eight-Four.”