Created By: Serocco on December 22, 2011 Last Edited By: Serocco on January 21, 2012
Troped

Thoughtcrime

Censoring free will.

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Trope
One of the most insidious, brilliant and disturbing concepts is the idea of your ability to think freely being illegal. Whenever a government controls the speech and actions of its citizens, it'll label (what it considers) disapproved thought as Thoughtcrime, and take whatever steps needed to quell Thoughtcrime, by every means capable. One could even call governments paranoid, if they're willing to go this far, just to keep the citizens from revolting.

If a reason is ever given at all, apart from the obvious, Thoughtcrime can be explained as "intrusive thoughts", and their 'repression' leads to "a happier society". On the other hand, maybe you're in a time of war, and Thoughtcrime represents "impulses to treason". Maybe you're in a state of emergency following a massive terrorist attack, and Thoughtcrime is characterized as "sympathizers of terrorism". As another scenario, you could have been locked into a state of cold war with a rival nation, whose ideologies conflict with yours; Thoughtcrime can be used to justify a Witch Hunt for spies. Maybe there's a civil war erupting between various factions within your nation, and Thoughtcrime is identified as rebellion (as decreed by the ruling faction) or complicity (as declared by the opposition). In some cases, the civil war is more nuanced than just La Résistance against The Empire; whatever they're fighting for, Thoughtcrime can be described as sympathizers or collaborators to whatever ideology the warring factions embody (pro-slavery, anti-slavery; capitalism, communism; isolationism, interventionism). Whatever the excuse, governments (including those controlled by a Mega Corp.) use it against its own citizens to suppress dissent, forcefully and effectively.

Note that this is extreme hypocrisy on the part of the guys who came up with Thoughtcrime; they use their free will to censor others' free will. Telling that to them, however, will lead to...

Also note that it's nearly impossible to remove anti-Thoughtcrime policies once enacted, for obvious reasons.

Related to The Evils of Free Will. In more nuanced stories, some of these guys sincerely believe they're using Brainwashing for the Greater Good. For others, it's just business as usual. As a means of propaganda, if the methods combating Thoughtcrime are known to the public, the government (or their corporate benefactors) might attempt to paint it in a lighter vein by calling them Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.
Film
  • THX 1138, which is Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque.
  • Apparently something like this existed to some degree in the world of Starship Troopers, at least in the military. At one point, a soldier says he'd like to get back at the drill sergeant who broke his arm. He's immediately corrected by his fellow soldiers with, "Whoa, improper attitude!"

Literature
  • Trope Maker comes from Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. To hammer it home, the main character of the novel, Winston Smith once wrote on his diary, "Thoughtcrime is death".
  • In the short story "Harrison Bergeron", thinking is literally outlawed.

Live Action
  • A mundane variant comes from the Doctor Who episode The Happiness Patrol, where enforced cheerfulness was the law on one planet.
  • Star Trek: Voyager had an episode where they came across a people who were extremely telepathic, so sensitive that any extreme emotions would incite them to act out on those feelings; having violent thoughts was a crime in and of itself. Torres was put under trial for having a brief violent thought when someone bumped into her, and Tuvok's investigation into the planet's culture found a sort of "violent thoughts" Black Market. Of course it examined the nature that when something was so taboo it meant their own people were unable to handle it when confronted with the situation.

Real Life
  • Henry VIII. It became treason to even think ill of the king.
  • North Korea. It is absolutely plausable that people go missing just for talking about the wrong things.
Stand-Up Comedy
  • Played for laughs in Paula Poundstone's standup routine.
I live in San Francisco where the parking is impossible. I saw a sign on a guy's garage that said "Don't even think about parking here". So you know what I did? I sat right there and I thought about it. I yelled up at his window "Hey buddy, I'm thinking about it. Go ahead, call the cops. I'll just tell them I was thinking about something else."

Tabletop RPG
  • Paranoia. Under The Computer's rule every citizen is required to be happy. Anyone who isn't happy is a traitor and can be punished, such as by being required to take drugs that make you happy.

Trope Works
  • Soundscape is particularly vicious at this.
    • The earliest example comes from Imperator Avarono, whose Compelling Voice made it easy to determine who was enthralled by him. Those that weren't, were branded as spies and incarcerated, which led to La Résistance being formed from those that escaped.
    • Certain Primarchs utilize methods to eliminate Thoughtcrime against their fellow soldiers. Microchips are implanted onto your brain, so as to heighten your senses and brain functions (quicker reflexes, quicker learning capabilities, better analysis of a situation, solutions that are developed faster and photographic memory, to name a few). However, your brain waves can be read through those microchips, and if your superiors suspect that you're voicing so much as a blank criticism on them, they'll order the microchip to cease your brain waves, decrease the strengths that come from the microchip, or just flat-out erase your personality and turn you into a Slave Mook.
    • Inverted for the Aselian Kingdom. They don't need to brand free will as Thoughtcrime, when they've already succeeded in controlling free will through dogmatic propaganda.
    • The Anquelan Republic has microchips used to store information, such as personal identification, medical history, medications, allergies, and contact information. As you can imagine, the technology is used for more sinister purposes. The Anquelan government under Cuhvour Holvath uses implants to track and persecute human rights activists, labor activists, civil dissidents, and political opponents. Note that politicians and lobbyists also carry microchips; if they're advocating and fundraising for something that opposes him, he'll incarcerate them indefinitely, without due process. Furthermore, the microchips can cause a form of Cold-Blooded Torture, ranging from never-ending migraines, internal pain in bones, decrease in organ functions, and frequent vomiting, to swollen muscles, internal bleeding, unhealthy moodswings, or a chemical reagent that infiltrates your central nervous system (causing realistic hallucinations at best, and paranoid schizophrenia at worst). In the most blatant cases, citizens can be used as unknowing suicide bombers, or may even contract cancer.
    • The Cryslian Federation utilizes a program (owned by a Mega Corp.) that monitors your heart rate and brain waves, in order to infer your "intent for future crimes."
    • The Equerrean Hegemony has the worst deal. Equerreans also have microchips, but they're used as a form of currency by channeling your Battle Aura and depositing it through machines, which analyzes it to determine if it's stable or unstable. If the former, then those pieces of your Battle Aura will be returned to you, or used as a fueling energy for some other machine, at your choice. However, if you choose for them to return it back to you, they can rearrange the separated Battle Aura to turn it unstable (basically an infection), which leads to you either getting arrested next time, or flying into a literal Superpower Meltdown. Since your Battle Aura is part of you, when they do the test, they can monitor its "emotional" wavelengths, and determine if you have a negative view of a particular someone.
    • Ironically, one could make the argument that the Ivrali Dynasty fell so quickly because they didn't employ methods to stop Thoughtcrime.

Webcomics
  • Sluggy Freelance's 4U City enforced mandatory happiness with involuntary drugging. And mandatory efficiency with mandatory drugging. And so on. The alternative was to be thrown down a judgement chute.
Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • December 22, 2011
    Lumpenprole
    The Doctor Who episode The Happiness Patrol where enforced cheerfulness was the law on one planet.
  • December 22, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • December 23, 2011
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Paranoia. Under The Computer's rule every citizen is required to be happy. Anyone who isn't happy is a traitor and can be punished, such as by being required to take drugs that make you happy.
  • December 23, 2011
    cityofmist
    I don't recall the exact details, but this happened in Real Life under Henry VIII. It became treason to even think ill of the king.
  • December 23, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Yes Indeed. It was a crime to "imagine" the death of the king. I can only think they sincerely believed in the power of negative thinking.

    Also, at the risk of offending the devoutly religious tropers, I'll point out that Greta Christina used the word in her critique of Jesus' ethical and moral teachings.
  • December 23, 2011
    PacificMackerel
  • December 25, 2011
    fulltimeD
    I would highly suggest avoiding Real Life examples. I could see this becoming Flame Bait real fast. Other than that, this looks good.
  • December 25, 2011
    Earnest
    The THX example should go in film.

    The people doing this probably believe they are using Brainwashing For The Greater Good.
  • December 26, 2011
    Deboss
    Definitely avoid any real life examples. I'm not sure why you put them out of order as well.
  • December 26, 2011
    Specialist290
    ^^^ I don't want to start a debate viz the strengths and weaknesses of conservative Christianity, but to provide a bit of context to that passage which the blogger neglects to mention: That passage you refer to (and, indeed, the entire Sermon on the Mount) is trying to illustrate the point that being and doing good is as much about motive as it is the act itself. In other words, true righteousness isn't simply checking off a checklist of "Things I've Done" and "Things I Haven't Done," but doing the right thing for the right reasons.

    It also bears mentioning that the Christian conception of God, unlike a court of law, is omniscient; He can judge you based on your thoughts as well as your actions.
  • December 29, 2011
    surgoshan
    • Sluggy Freelance's 4U City enforced mandatory happiness with involuntary drugging. And mandatory efficiency with mandatory drugging. And so on. The alternative was to be thrown down a judgement chute.
  • December 29, 2011
    KJMackley
    Star Trek Voyager had an episode where they came across a people who were extremely telepathic, so sensitive that any extreme emotions would incite them to act out on those feelings and thus having violent thoughts was a crime in and of itself. Torres was put under trial for having a brief violent thought when someone bumped into her, and Tuvok's investigation into the planet's culture found a sort of "violent thoughts" Black Market. Of course it examined the nature that when something was so taboo it meant their own people were unable to handle it when confronted with the situation.
  • December 29, 2011
    Andygal
    agree with the No Real Life Examples verdict. Otherwise we're just asking for flame wars.
  • December 29, 2011
    Belfagor
    ^ Agreeing with the comment above.
  • December 30, 2011
    Arivne
    Stand Up Comedy
    • Played for laughs in Paula Poundstone's standup routine.
    I live in San Francisco where the parking is impossible. I saw a sign on a guy's garage that said "Don't even think about parking here". So you know what I did? I sat right there and I thought about it. I yelled up at his window "Hey buddy, I'm thinking about it. Go ahead, call the cops. I'll just tell them I was thinking about something else."
  • January 1, 2012
    Specialist290
  • January 4, 2012
    cityofmist
    Real life historical examples is probably okay, but including North Korea, especially saying that it's plausibly like this based on no actual evidence, is absolutely not a good idea.
  • January 4, 2012
    fulltimeD
    The unofficial guideline on real life examples is "avoid them as much as possible, include only if particularly significant/noteworthy." I really would avoid including Religion too. Too much flamebait. This wiki is really supposed to be for fiction.
  • January 4, 2012
    Serocco
    Any other examples?
  • January 20, 2012
    JonnyB
    Apparently something like this existed to some degree in the world of Starship Troopers, at least in the military. At one point, a soldier says he'd like to get back at the drill sergeant who broke his arm. He's immediately corrected by his fellow soldiers with, "Whoa, improper attitude!"
  • January 21, 2012
    Dcoetzee
    I think the historical Real Life examples are really interesting in this trope, but should at least have Other Wiki links to back them up. It's a bit too tempting to make up stuff here.

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