Thoughtcrime is a word coined by George Orwell in his 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It describes a person's politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of Ingsoc (English Socialism), the dominant ideology of Oceania. In the official language of Newspeak, the word crimethink describes the intellectual actions of a person who entertains and holds politically unacceptable thoughts; thus the government of the Party controls the speech, the actions, and the thoughts of the citizens of Oceania. In contemporary English usage, the word thoughtcrime describes beliefs that are contrary to accepted norms of society, and is used to describe theological concepts, such as disbelief and idolatry, and the rejection of an ideology.
In the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Thinkpol (Thought Police) are responsible for the detection and elimination of thoughtcrime, and for the social control of the populations of Oceania, by way of audio-visual surveillance and offender profiling. Such psychological monitoring allows the Thought Police to detect, arrest, and kill thought criminals, citizens whose independence (intellectual, mental, and moral) challenges the political orthodoxy of Ingsoc (English Socialism) and thus the legitimate government authority of the Party. In the detection of thoughtcrime—and to overcome the physical impossibility of simultaneously policing every citizen of Oceania—the Thinkpol spy upon the populace through ubiquitous two-way telescreens, and so can monitor any person's body language, reflexive speech, and facial expressions:
Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by the telescreen; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.— Part I, Chapter 1, Nineteen Eighty-Four
The universal, physical presence of the telescreen, in public and in private spaces, exerted psychological pressure upon each citizen of Oceania to presume that they were under constant Thinkpol surveillance, and thus in danger of detection and arrest as a thought criminal; thus, whenever near a telescreen, Winston Smith was always mindful of that possibility: "If you made unexpected movements, they yelled at you from the telescreen." Such surveillance methods allowed the Thinkpol and the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) to become universally feared by the citizens of Oceania, especially by the members of the Outer Party, which includes Winston Smith.
In the Newspeak vocabulary, the word crimestop denotes the citizens' self-awareness to immediately rid themselves of unwanted, incorrect thoughts (personal and political), the discovery of which, by the Thinkpol, would lead to detection and arrest, transport to and interrogation at the Miniluv (Ministry of Love). The protagonist, Winston Smith, describes crimestop as a conscious process of self-imposed cognitive dissonance:
The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak. . . . He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions—'the Party says the Earth is flat', 'the Party says that ice is heavier than water'—and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them.
Moreover, from the perspective of Oceania's principal enemy of the state, in the history book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, Emmanuel Goldstein said that:
Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.
- Orwell, George; Rovere, Richard Halworth (1984) , The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays, and Reportage, San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, p. 409, ISBN 978-0-15-670176-1.
- Lewis, David. Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy (2000), Volume 3, p. 107.
- Glasby, John. Evidence, Policy and Practice: Critical Perspectives in Health and Social Care (2011), p. 22.
- McCormick, Donald (1980), Approaching 1984, Newton Abbot, Devon, England: David & Charles, p. 21, ISBN 978-0-7153-7654-6.
- Part III, Chapter 1, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
- Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, pp. 220–21.
- Kretzmer, David (2000), Kershman, Hazan Francine (ed.), Freedom of Speech and Incitement Against Democracy, The Hague, Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, ISBN 978-90-411-1341-2.
- Swaine, Lucas. "Freedom of Thought as a Basic Liberty," Political Theory, 46:3 (2018): 405–25. doi:10.1177%2F0090591716676293