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.
It is nearly impossible to remove Thoughtcrime policies once enacted. The definition tends to expand until whistleblowing is illegal—after all, only a communist/fascist/atheist/religious fanatic etc. would be deceptive enough to claim that our glorious and beneficent regime could possibly make errors, suffer from wishful thinking, or be corrupt.
Of course, by inherent nature, trying to not think what they forbid you to think about will always fail - and expect one or two citizens to be trapped by this thought process and then get captured by the Secret Police (or worse) for their "trouble". Taken to extremes, this may lead to everyone getting punished.
Naturally, when no one is allowed to guard the guards, the guards abuse their power left, right and center. Add to that the fact that no person or organization on this earth is capable of getting everything right, and even the best-intentioned crimethink laws end up convincing people that their purpose is to keep the masses from knowing too much.
Overlaps with Culture Police. Compare with The Heretic, 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. Political Correctness Gone Mad often occurs when a free, democratic society is the one that tries to codify such rules.
- 2000 AD:
- Anderson: Psi-Division: Played for dark laughs when Anderson is driving her Lawmaster before suddenly stopping to beat up several confused perps. She tells control to pick them up for "insulting a Judge and resisting arrest".
- Nemesis the Warlock: Under Torquemada's rule over Termight, it is illegal to even think of opposing him, and his Terminators scan the planet day and night to look for thought offenders. Purity's father was sent to the vaporization vats for committing thoughtcrime in his sleep.
- THX 1138, which is Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque.
- Equilibrium takes this to an even more disturbing conclusion; "Sense Offense" or emotion crime. Their leader extolls "The revolutionary concept of the hate crime." Dubbing the "hate" the important part of the "crime" essentially makes this entire trope Not So Crazy Anymore.
- Fortress (1992): The "unauthorized thought processes", i.e. erotic fantasies. Brennick receives an electronic shock from Zed-10 after it reads his mind during REM sleep.
- Christian Nation: The US Constitution is supplanted by the Fifty Blessings, religiously-inspired laws, many of which are vague or unenforceable, dealing with such vagaries as coveting. The laws against 'sexual deviancy' are all too clear, and there comes a presumption that any single person above a certain age must be gay.
- Trope Codifier comes from Nineteen Eighty-Four, 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", being smarter than another person is outlawed, and smart people must wear devices to disrupt their thoughts lest they take advantage of others with their intelligence (naturally, the Handicapper General is very intelligent, and free of this impediment to do her duties).
- Victoria sees the titular state forbid the use of any technology that wasn't in general use by the late 1930s, including television, computers, and cars capable of making more than purely local trips. The good people of Victoria attempt to write this into law, to the horror of the heroes who imagine the police state needed to enforce it. Instead, they settle on making it a cultural more, much harder to change, and encouraging people to ostracize, ridicule and abuse their technology-using neighbors.
- A mundane variant comes from the Doctor Who episode "The Happiness Patrol", where enforced cheerfulness was the law on the planet Terra Alpha.
- 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 on 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 issue 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 and 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.
- From the Prince song "Electric Chair":
If a man is considered guiltyFor what goes on in his mindThen give me the electric chairFor all my future crimes-Oh!
- Some of the most notable examples of thoughtcrime are the concepts of sin and heresy in some religions. Couple it with guilt and fear of eternal punishment for even thinking about it and an omniscient Judge who knows and sees all and you have a very effective method for auto-enforcement of policies.
- A few of the classic Seven Deadly Sins, like 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. Indeed, the Book of Matthew in The Four Gospels states that a man who lusts after a woman "hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
- 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.
- Mindjammer: The Core Worlds of the Commonality ban memes like religion, democracy, capitalismnote , etc. And thanks to the Mindscape they actually can tell what you're thinking, though how they keep memes from spreading when people can upload their memories directly into an interstellar internet is unclear.
- 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.
- Just about any society or organization that advances a moral or ethical point of view is going to attempt to regulate the way people think, if only sometimes very subtly. Religions are old pros at this, introducing concepts such as "guilt" and "original sin" to inculcate in their believers that they are fundamentally flawed and must guard against the temptation to even entertain disturbing thoughts. Political correctness, peer pressure, propaganda, public education and social engineering are some of the common ways this is carried out in the secular world.
- 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 expression, and hence cannot be outlawed.
- Even more controversially the same argument has been made against hate crime legislation, since people are not just punished for committing a crime but for what they were thinking while doing it. For instance, assault is already a crime, but assaulting someone because they were black is a hate crime. So the specific motive is the difference.
- Possession with the intent to _____.
- Slightly averted in the case of "possession with the intent to supply" type crimes, in that you can possess more drugs/weapons/whatever than one person is ever going to need just for themselves (so the idea that you have that much of it so you can give/sell it to other people makes sense). The problem comes in proving that intent when other explanations are still possible.
- 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.
- In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in April 1999, a wave of paranoia swept through American schools. Since the root cause of the tragedy was very hard to determine, the Moral Guardians resorted to whatever measures could be devised — everything from cracking down on "subversive" student subcultures to urging bullies or would-be bullies to refrain from tormenting potentially psychotic outcasts. Among the worst excesses were examples of Political Correctness Gone Mad (the possibly apocryphal suspension of a student for biting one of his cafeteria chicken nuggets into the shape of a gun and pointing it at other students) and censorship of any form of expression deemed "dark" or violent - even if it was wholly fictional.
- Comes up a lot when something goes wrong and is blamed on new media, video games or the like.
- Conspiracy to commit a crime. In some jurisdictions, a person can be punished and incarcerated for the act of plotting an illegal act — even if they never carry it out! (They must have performed at least one overt act "in furtherance of the conspiracy" but that can be virtually anything-for instance legally buying a gun to commit a murder, but not actually using it.) Conspiracy law is where thought crime starts to bump into the (on its face) perfectly reasonable goal of police forces and the government to stop crimes like mass murder and theft before they are committed and cause harm to people (by allowing cops to intervene earlier instead of having to wait until the crime is actually carried out). The tension is prevalent throughout judicial opinions on the subject.
- For several decades, in many European and Anglophone jurisdictions, murder has been punished more severely if it was premeditated. Such jurisdictions often classify murder under different categories (like the Three Degrees of Murder in American Courts), which carry different sentences, and premeditation affects the sentencing if the defendant is found guilty.
- Strangely averted with British laws regarding homosexuality. All of these laws were about men having relationships with other men, with no mention made of lesbian or bisexual women; this was because the government actually thought that if they changed the law and made lesbianism illegal, then they would be introducing the concept of lesbianism to the public and thus giving "innocent women" the idea that it was possible. This still had the intended effect, however, with many women being unable to safely come out and some even feeling pressured to marry men anyway.
- The Khmer Rouge, among their many crimes against humanity and Disproportionate Retribution, made certain thoughts punishable by death in their campaign to reset Cambodia to "year zero." This included thinking about the past, holding any religious beliefs, showing too much individuality note , or showing any attachment to western ideals.