In “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the most frightening aspect of George Orwell’s dystopian society is its demand that people must be penalized not just for what they do but for what they think — their “thought crimes.”
That idea runs counter to our understanding of liberty and justice, not to mention 500-plus years of Western jurisprudence, as embodied by the Bill of Rights.
Yet some in this country seem intent on making Orwell’s nightmare a reality. They have already succeeded in punishing people socially — if not legally — for harboring unapproved views.
Unfortunately, when “thought criminals” are routinely hounded from the public sphere and fired from their jobs, legal sanctions cannot be far behind. That’s already happening in England and Canada.
Here in the United States, Thought Crimes Exhibit A would be the recent furor over the Covington Catholic school kids, who were guilty of nothing more than wearing red “MAGA” hats, which in the media’s fevered brains somehow equates to racism.
First of all, this a free country, where people can wear any hat they please. Furthermore, pursuant to the First Amendment, people are allowed to think racist thoughts and even say racist things, as reprehensible as that is. They’re just not permitted to act on those ideas in order to deprive others of their rights.
But the truth is, the vast majority of people who wear MAGA hats do not have racist thoughts, much less say racist things — like those Covington kids, who showed admirable restraint in the face of actual racists calling them “crackers,” “incest kids,” and school shooters.
Exhibit B is the current “hate speech” hysteria on college campuses. Some have argued that calls for more “free speech” merely open the door for “hate speech.” Sadly, they miss the point: So-called “hate speech” IS free speech.
No, it’s not nice to say unkind things. Nevertheless, the First Amendment grants us that right. And that’s not just my opinion. The Supreme Court has affirmed this principle many times, most recently in Matal v. Tam (2017).
Add the fact that most “hate speech” really isn’t hateful — it merely diverges from politically correct opinion — and it becomes obvious that “hate speech” is simply another Orwellian thought-crime construct.
Exhibit C is the Mueller Report. Although investigators didn’t recommend charging President Trump with obstruction of justice, they also declined to absolve him.
Why? Because, according to them, he thought about obstructing justice. He didn’t actually obstruct anything, as evidenced by the fact that nothing was obstructed. The “investigation” ran its course. But he sure thought about it. Ergo, in their Orwellian world, he is guilty.
The problem with thought crimes is that we can’t know what people are thinking — so how can we punish them for it? No doubt, that’s why our laws currently don’t recognize any such category. Let’s hope they never do.
Because that, as Orwell foretold, would surely lead to dystopia.