Woke: The danger missed by George Orwell’s “1984”

I just finished re-reading George Orwell’s classic cautionary novel, “1984,” and found a new insight, one that I did not have when I first read it in college, in the 1960s.

Illustration by The Atlantic

Orwell’s invented all-powerful dictator was Big Brother. Back then, during the Cold War, the villain clearly was modeled — with his square head, thick black hair and mustache — after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The party apparatus that controlled Orwell’s country of Oceania was communist in everything but name. 

The book was published in post-war 1948, when the red tide of communism was rising around the world, after the Iron Curtain had bisected Europe.

Orwell switched the 48 in 1948 to the 84 in 1984, setting his work an almost unthinkable 40 years in the future.

His feared communist catastrophe did not occur in the West. It was stopped in Europe by the democracies’ solidarity, expressed most forcefully through NATO. 

Orwell’s predicted atomic war in the 1950’s did not happen, and the Right, not the Left, was dominant in 1984. The powerful democracies of the West were all led by conservatives: Great Britain (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), the United States (President Ronald Reagan),  Germany (Chancellor Helmut Kohl), and Japan (Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone).

Eight years after 1984, the Soviet Union collapsed after inflicting 75 years of misery on the world.

After a brief moment of reform, an independent Russia fell into the hands of the oligarchs and the autocrats, such as Vladimir Putin, with dreams of recreating the “glory” of the old Soviet Union. The old Soviet Union was built on lies, oppression, and murder, as we have just witnessed with the “death in custody” of heroic reformer Alexei Navalny. 

Russia also engages in illegal expansion, as we have seen with Ukraine.

Putin’s ridiculous alibi for the aggression:  He was rescuing Ukrainians from Nazis. For Putin, lies are truth.

In the Oceania of “1984,” citizens learn three great truths, slogans of the party:




Everything in Oceania is controlled by four ministries: Truth, Peace, Love, Plenty. Each name represents the opposite of how it acts.

The most important ministry was Truth, which functioned to suppress truth and spread lies.

“Who controls the past,” went the party dogma, “controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.”

It was called “reality control,” and in the new language of Newspeak,” it was doublethink.

Doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs and believe both of them.


If Big Brother says that is true, then it is true. If you do not accept it as true, you will run afoul of the jack-booted Thought Police, who may haul you to the Ministry of Love.

In today’s world, the Woke are the Thought Police, and they will haul you onto X, where you will be condemned by the Social Justice Warriors. X is the electronic Inquisition. It is the headwaters of cancel culture.

And when the past conflicts with the present in “1984,” inconvenient facts are abolished by sending them down the memory hole. The past is rewritten or deleted to bring it into line with the wishes of the controlling party.

“Reality control” was achieved, in part, by manipulating the language, which is why English had to be replaced.

Once you control language, you control ideas, and that brings me to my new insight about Orwell’s warning.

He was warning about something that did not yet exist — not in 1948, when he published the book, and not even in 1984, where the novel was set.

He was warning about Woke.

Regular readers know this is one of my favorite topics, because I see it as a threat to democracy and to the American way of life. You can see previous columns here and here.

When it started, under its original meaning, Woke was fine.

Merriam-Webster defines it this way: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”

Awareness is fine. As is a determination to make things better.

But extreme progressives got hold of it and made it excessive, turning it into the illegitimate offspring of Political Correctness and Victimhood. 

When it is used, as many Woke do, to slur all white people as irredeemably racist, and all People of Color as oppressed, a vein that runs deeply on the Left, it sows irreparable harm among Americans.

When young Black and brown children are told — wrongly — that they can’t get ahead in racist Amerikkka, that can destroy their ambition — and their souls.

Woke regards everyone — except straight white Christian males — as victims of oppression.

If you argue that you, as a white person, are not irredeemably racist, that becomes proof that you are irredeemably racist, and you are demonstrating white fragility.


Woke regards all history as an indictment of Western civilization whiteness, and has succeeded in having that course removed from many colleges, along with other classics, and replacing them with queer feminist poets of the 18th Century, gender studies, and Taylor Swift. 

Wokeism has a compulsive dislike of American history, and American institutions, both of which have offered values that were emulated by other nations for more than 200 years.

The Woke see everything through the prism of race, as communists see everything through the prism of class. 

Communists preach they believe in a classless society, but we all know Party members live better than those outside the party. 

In “1984’”   Orwell had three classes — the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the proles, who were common, coarse, ignorant and crude.

In Orwell’s other cautionary tale, “Animal Farm,” after the revolution, all animals were equal.

Except that some animals — the ruling pigs — were more equal than others.

That is an example of doublethink.

The Woke tell us that race is an artificial construct, yet they make race the defining element of all their thinking. Doublethink.

We are told gender is fluid, flowing like a stream.

Deep in our hearts, we know gender is about as fluid as our blood type. Gender may be a stream, but each of us sits in a place on the riverbank — some more masculine, some more feminine. 

Some may choose to have sex with their own type, some may choose the other type. Some choose both. Some choose none.

Key word — choose. It is a decision.

It does not change daily, or hourly.

The Woke tell us men can give birth.

And it is OK for biological men to compete in physical sports against women.

Anyone with a fourth-grade education knows that the former is scientifically impossible, and the latter violates every rule of fairness.

But “fairness” is not “equity,” which attempts to balance the scales by choosing new winners and losers. It is not for nothing the Woke do not believe in meritocracy. 

The Woke demand equal outcomes rather than equal effort. They have a fetish for worshiping multiplying gender identities and pronouns that leave the average American with a migraine.

 Liberal Bill Maher puts it this way. “Woke, which started out as a good thing — woke to injustice, who could be against that? — but it became sort of an eyeroll because they love diversity, except of ideas . . . They have a trail of very bad ideas.”

He goes on. “Five years ago Lincoln was not a controversial figure among liberals. We liked him. Now they take his name off schools and tear down his statues. Abraham Lincoln is not good enough for you?”


To the Woke, there is no objective reality. Everything must pass through the filter of race. Science is rejected if it does not conform to the latest lunatic concept dreamed up in the faculty lounge of Brown University.

Speaking of Brown, and scientific unrealities, the Ivy League student newspaper reports that 38% of its students identify as nonbinary, double the amount of just 10 years ago.

The results are just unbelievable — not that the students didn’t self-identify that way, they did. I find it unbelievable they are actually that way.

It is preposterous, but not completely out of line with other findings, showing that non-binary responses by youth are blowing a hole in the roof. 

Back in April, I reported on Gallup polling that recorded an explosion of LGBT responses from Generation Z, who were born between 1997 and 2012. There are 68 million of them.

Gallup found last year that 15.9%, about 1 in 6 Gen Z people, identify as “nonbinary,” which could mean almost anything. This is an unprecedented high number, and completely unbelievable.

By contrast, only 9.1% of Millennials, the previous cohort, were queer-claiming, but that is gigantic when contrasted to the tiny 3.8% of Generation X that preceded the Millennials, a figure that seems in line with traditional estimates that 4-7 percent of the population is gay.

Is it just coincidence that rates of suicide among Gen Z are climbing along with the self-reported rise in “otherness”?

The Woke insist that anyone can select their gender from the big Wheel of Fortune, get the DMV to reverse their gender on their driver’s license, rewrite their Social Security data, white people can identify as Black, and men can menstruate. 

And if you don’t nod and go along with it, you are branded a “hater.”

To stay in the saddle they have invented concepts unknown before, and attacked traditional values. Their language is dripping with words like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, Islamophobia, male toxicity, cissexism, ableism, heterosexism, marginalized, underserved, misgendered, white fragility, white privilege, microaggressions, colorism, veto group, heteronormative, patriarchal.

It’s tough to keep up with Newspeak the new language they are trying to foist on us, and tomorrow we will take a look at that.

36 thoughts on “Woke: The danger missed by George Orwell’s “1984””

  1. I reread 1984 every few years and I always get something new out of it. And don’t overlook the film version. It was Richard Burton’s last.

  2. Wonderful piece. And what is so terrifying is the Woke idiots have no idea of the horror of the world they are so eager to create. ‘Having eyes, they do not see; having ears they do not hear.’

  3. Brilliant. Worthy of Orwell. Progressives have progressed over the cliff into irrelevance with this maniacal obsession with wordsmithery, rather word manipulation. The right, on the other hand, has adopted a groupthink of its own, a cowardice when it comes to confronting its past. We were, as you correctly state, the mechanism for defeating communism and defending democracy around the world. Now we embrace isolationism. That, to me, is as scary as the dishonest and dangerous practitioners of Newspeak

  4. So you really think wokeism (which obviously seems a bit off-base and over-the-top to me) is the real present danger today, and not 40 years of brain-washing from right-wing media like Faux “News” that has corrupted the minds of an entire generation and obscured truth and the facts? And produced a populace that seems prepared to make a career loser/criminal/philanderer with 91 felony counts hanging over his evil head the nominee of a major political party? Sorry to disagree.

    1. I agree Freeze. This column is soooo off base I cannot even comment. And also encourages his entourage of mindless right wingers to repeat their twisted perception of reality. The consistent, BLATANT lies and distortion of facts from the Right, the blind loyalty to one (very sick) man above all else, are far more dangerous than the decreasing trend of “woke”.

      1. Naomi, Naomi, you cannot comment..but you do.

        You do not comment on the factual nature of redefining words and the parallels between Orwell and what we are experiencing today or the interesting perspective of when Orwell wrote 1984.

        No, your perspective is that talking about this only encourages Trump supporters. Perhaps you should look for a reason why those supporters trust him more than the people telling us men can have babies.

        Please read the post again and stop bringing Trump into every conversation. It is tiring.

      2. The ones who call those who disagree with them mindless are the ones who have limited intellects

    2. Freeze, you have a propensity to bring all conversations to Trump. Try reading the post from a prospective of concern for redefining words in order to control the populace.

      You are correct in the fact that this practice occurs from both sides of the political spectrum and I do not think you would get an argument on that position.

      Just leave Trump out of it and stop painting all conservative thinking individuals with the same brush.

      1. You can’t keep Trump out of any conversation involving contemporary issues as he is the undisputed leader of a party that has devolved to a bootlicking cult to him and has become a collaborator with Putin. Woke and woke speech is bullshit, a joke, absurd and needs to be called out by people with the courage to do so. Sadly too many have not even though they don’t buy it. Courage is a rare commodity. But woeness and woke speech are far less dangerous than what is going on with the quislings in the Republican Party and what that means for our country.

        1. Wanda,
          You can keep him out of every conversation and you should.

          His popularity is enhanced by keeping him in every conversation.

          Every time you attack someone as being a deplorable or any other derogatory term you use to describe someone that leans to the middle, you make a case to support Trump.

          Keep it up and you can look in the mirror after the election.

          People are smarter than you think.

          For the record, Hillary lost the election and the DNC still has not figured this out.

        2. Re Whataboutusm-agree. Let’s leave parties and personalities out of the conversation and discuss “ISSUES”. Most voters I know don’t like a particular candidate but they love the policy and or the result(s) of policies. Anyone continuing to use a name to ID others is playing right into the hands of those who would divide. As grandmom used to say: “A blind man can’t see”! Policies please. Peace.

    3. This is whataboutism, but OK. I won’t repeat what Phillyborn said, but will say this: You know I have pounded the Know- Nothings of the Right, but Fox News is ONE outlet, while the Left controls the other networks, Hollywood and academia.
      That’s as fair as letting Lia Thomas swim against females.
      And while several Fox hosts were convicted of pushing lies, this did NOT include news anchors, who reported the Hunter lap top story when MSM would not, and reported chaos at the border, which for YEARS the MSM denied was even happening.
      Two examples. There are more, which is why I keep saying get your news from more than one source.

  5. Very well written; an expose’ of the dangerous brainwashing idiocies stalking the USA and weakening our country.

    The danger of these lunacies is the compelling reason to raise the voting age to strengthen the country. What wisdom does an 18 year old have?

    Voting age was 21 when many of us were in college.
    With the decline in public education, (thank you Woke and Monopolistic Teacher’s Union Bosses) and the dangers of the easily led astray young voters, raising the voting age to 35 years old and passing the same test new citizens take would be far better for the country than the presnt voting age. We read about many college students who do not know the three branches of government or even how many states we have or where the USA is on a globe. Responsible voters?

    At 35, most people have matured, been making independent decisions for their young families, tried to find a safe and competent public school for their children, might have been in the military, lived through the promises of politicians, learned that the main media is mainly misleading, have a real job, been paying taxes and witnessed them squandered.

    I would trust a 35 year old to make more grounded votes for local, state and national policies than a Woke 18 year old molded by close to communist, never had a real job, unionized public school teachers, college lecturers and professors. My friends were much more responsible voters for strengthening the USA at 35, than when we were 21.

  6. “WOKE” – another 4-letter word to add to the lexicon of 4-letter words (unfortunately).

  7. Bravo! You hit the nail squarely on its head here. But, the woke machine or its antecedents have already established a beachhead and firm grasp on our primary and secondary schools some time ago. It’s part of the curriculum and you will be hard pressed to find authentic educators who do not goose step with the dictates of the institution and the apparatchiks. I had a ring side seat for a quarter of a century and I did all I could as a teacher of chemistry and biology to draw links between my curriculum and the giants of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason.

  8. Stu, you seem a bit overly afraid of “woke”, which will pass. I am equally afraid of the hard right system of governance, and of their demand that I accede to their religious beliefs, and to the white nationalists who go on occasional killing rampages–and this to, hopefully will pass. No, I don’t agree with everything the woke elite espouse, just as I don’t agree with the nutcases on the right either. Whatever happened to good, old fashioned negotiations between Republicans and Democrats to find real solutions to real problems, rather than drilling down on culture wars, that solve nothing except to garner votes from like-minded folks? We have a completely dysfunctional Congress. That’s a much scarier thought to me than woke vs nutcase right.

    1. I am hoping the insanity will pass, and you probably know I have pounded the extremists on the Right as well, especially the loons like Daniel who can’t believe 2020 was not fixed because it did not turn out the “right” way.

  9. Woke created the Racial Grievance Industrial Complex. Each year new students in college receive the Woke ideas. They have a choice to accept all or part of this instruction or reject the teachings. Add in the algorithms of websites that bombard naive students, our future as a country looks bleak. Hoping the Woke Generation wises up to the reality that there is a difference between a man and a woman. Systemic racism exists in some forms in present day America. However there are two sides of the street on that issue. Meritocracy should prevail over hiring mandates. We can’t ignore past history. Hoping things get better after this presidential election for all of US.

  10. I lost my hearing to meningitis in’11 and I’m fitted with cochlear implants bilaterally. It made me interested in disability rights and I was appointed to the NYS Rehabilitative Council where I served for 7 years. I moved to Arlington, MA and managed to become a member of the Town’s Disability Comission. During my tenure there the Town’s ADA Coordinator announced his retirement and I expressed my interest. He encouraged me to apply and said he couldn’t think of anyone more qualified or better suited to fill the spot. So I applied. The first thing that happened was the position was retitled to DEI Coordinator. I mentioned that to the guy retiring who told me don’t worry about that because I’m perfect for the job. On the day the application process ended I got an email from the Town’s HR Director saying they were extending the application deadline by 3 months because they didn’t feel they had enough applicants and that this did not reflect on my credentials and qualifications in any way. 3 months later I’m called in to interview. Across from me in the waiting room is a 20 something African-American woman. You can write the rest of this yourself. I immediately resigned from the Commission when I got the rejection, of course. And apppriximately a year or so after all this went down I noticed a want add in the local paper looking for an ADA Coordinator to work under the DEI hire. The moral of this tale:DEI does not include or refer to people with disabilities.
    Sorry this comment is so long.

  11. 2 topical stories today that will resonate with those comfortably snoozing in their padded cell:see Douglas murray on googles ai gemini and the blm coloring book at a Parkslope elementary school.This aint a joke and it aint going away.

  12. At the root of the problem is confusing race with culture. Present Woke ideology refuses to see that white, European culture, for reasons not related to race, and more likely related to climate, terrain, wars, etc. developed in many basic ways that exceeded the sophistication of other cultures. Not that other cultures were not too often under-valued. . .but the point is that there are better, more sophisticated ways of doing things that were mostly developed by Europeans (often with elements that came from other cultures withou being recognized, I admit). Being competitive, educated, and being capable of surviving and competing in a modern meritocracy today largely means functioning the way white Europeans learned to function. Some historians believe, for example, that the reason European culture became advanced while the Muslim world and other similar cultures lagged behind was Columbus’ voyages and the age of Exploration. Ghandi got his ideas about freedom and independence and was able to inspire a revolution in India because he was a lawyer trained in the principles of the Magna Charta at Oxford. All peoples, whether white, Asian, Black or brown, can learn to function this way. That’s equality. But denying that excellence as we know it has become or at least can become a universal cross-cultural value and believing that criticizing the failure to become effective in doing things as white Europeans generally understand effectiveness and competitiveness in the modern West is racist Woke bullshit and actually racist against white European culture. There are notable exceptions, of course and examples of failures to adopt excellence from other cultures (like acupuncture), but in general, we need to fight Wokeism by realizing that some cultures develop faster than others for historical reasons, and not really a superiority of certain races. We know what time it is all over the world because the British Navy laid out the Time Zones for navigational purposes. The rest of the world–the other cultures–could not do it, or they would have. Why do Chinese ambassadors wear neckties, derived from the Roman toga? Because Western European culture is more advanced, in general, than any other and gave us the best of the modern world. Woke supporters need to come to accept that concept.

    1. Fine post. Let me add one thing — Muslims were highly advanced when Europe was in the Dark Ages.
      Muslim author Irshad Manji speculates that Islam was actually LIBERAL, but passed into the hands of fundamentalists, who shut down freedom of inquiry and speech.
      I suspect FREEDOM OF SPEECH is the reason the West succeeded. The Age of Reason unlocked the door.

  13. Stu, on an unrelated topic. I was reading about the media questioning MayorParker for appointing several women with politically connected spouses to key cabinet positions. Her supporters argue that these women are qualified for these jobs and should not be punished because they happen to be married to powerful spouses. I think they ere wrong because the mayor has to be able to FIRE these people if they screw up without having to deal with outside influences. Your thoughts?

    1. It doesn’t look good, ESPECIALLY at the public trough.
      Family members should never supervise one another, but in the private sector, I have no objection.
      The Bulletin was famous for hiring family members, let’s say the son of a dad, who would warn the kid, “This place has been good to us. Don’t screw up!”

  14. Stu:

    The fourth great truth: FOX IS NEWS.
    This is an addition to your reference to the primary target of the WOKE lynch mobs is:
    The straight white ELDERLY Christian males, the targets most under siege from malicious and mendacious hateful groups like the Squad of Hate mongers in the US house of Representatives.

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