Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed — would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper — the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.
Whenever a dystopian
government tries to control the speech and actions of its citizens, it'll label what it considers dissent as Thoughtcrime, and take whatever steps needed to quell Thoughtcrime, by every means possible. The clever trick here, since in most stories the government has no access to these thoughts, is that it trains the oppressed to oppress themselves
via internalizing what is seen as disapproved thought.
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
It is nearly impossible to remove Thoughtcrime policies once enacted. The definition tends to expand until whistleblowing is illegal—after all, only a heretic/theocrat/atheist/religious fanatic/sinner/holier-than-thou-nut/sympathizer-with-group-X/hatemonger/communist/capitalist/traitor/jingoist/Nazi/Democrat/Republican/Libertarian/Anarchist/Long List-maker would be deceptive enough to claim that our glorious and beneficent regime could possibly make errors, suffer from wishful thinking, or be corrupt.
Naturally, when no one is allowed to guard the guards
, the guards abuse their power left, right and center.
for a religious equivalent. 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
- THX 1138, which is 1984-esque.
- Equilibrium takes this to an even more disturbing conclusion; "Sense Offense" or emotion crime. Their leader extolls "The revolutionary precept of the hate crime." Dubbing the "hate" the important part of the "crime" essentially makes this entire trope Not So Crazy Anymore.
- Trope Codifier comes from 1984, by George Orwell. To hammer it home, the main character of the novel, Winston Smith once wrote in his diary, "Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death."
- In the short story "Harrison Bergeron", thinking is literally outlawed.
- 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.
- In Babylon 5 the Nightwatch organization was set up to report not just actions, but potentially seditious attitudes (as could be "inferred" from casual remarks or such) among Earth Alliance personnel and citizens. As Earth Alliance slid further into despotism, it is mentioned that PsiCorps was routinely used by the Clark dictatorship to telepathically scan for supposedly seditious (anti-regime) thoughts.
- Under the reign of Henry VIII, it became treason to even think ill of the king, or to "imagine" his death.
- At least one street sign seen in New York City and elsewhere in the 1980s read "Don't even think about parking here!"
- The idea behind "re-education camps" in Communist countries.
- In the USA, respectful burning is the recommended method for disposing of old flags. However, many people want to ban flag-burning, when the intent is to protest the government. Thus, the actual crime isn't the burning, it's what you're thinking while doing it. Do note, though, that the Supreme Court has ruled that flag-burning as a form of protest is Constitutionally protected free speech, and hence, cannot be outlawed.
- Possession with the intent to _____.
- While there are laws that make Holocaust Denial illegal and punishable in Germany, it is actually considered a special case of Hate Speech, even without making any statements about the victims. As such, it becomes only a crime when addressed to a public audience. Private conversation or correspondence is not affected, even when overheard by bystanders.
- After Kim Jong-il's death, the North Korean government sent anyone who didn't seem upset enough to The Gulag.
- Comes up a lot when something goes wrong and is blamed on new media, video games or the like.
- One of the most notable examples of thoughtcrime is the concept of sin in some religions. Couple it with guilt and fear of eternal punishment for even thinking about it and you have a very effective method for auto-enforcement of policies.
- Averted in others like Islam, which says you actually get more reward if you think about doing something bad and then end up not doing it, for whatever reason.
- A few of the classic Seven Deadly Sins, most notably Envy and Lust, seem to have more to do with thoughts or feelings than actions.
- Some scriptures of The Bible point out that thinking of a sin is just as bad as doing it in God's eyes. For example, a literal reading of the commandment "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" would indicate that the proscription is not merely against the act of adultery, but the very thought or feeling of envy.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- In a merge of Orwellian Editor, Avatar: The Last Airbender has the higher-ups of Ba Sing Se brainwashing everyone who dares to mention that there's a century-long war going on in the whole world outside the walls. The resident Lovable Rogue had this inflicted upon him, which led to his death.
- In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is desperately looking for a place to park his car. He finds an empty spot with a sign that says "Don't even think about parking here." He does think about it for a second, but a policeman sees him and gives him a ticket for it.