Truth Telling and the Abuse of Language
I suspect that there’s a certain amount of thought that can rattle around in a human head without the assistance of language -- a certain amount of spatial reasoning, perhaps, a baby’s silent attempt to stack his blocks -- something is going on in there.
But mostly we think with language -- and here I define think as the function of reason, the analysis and assessment of available facts, the kind of clear mental function that should take place before a person votes.
If you were a member of an elitist group trying to get complete control of a logical and stiff-necked people, what would you have to accomplish first? The citizens of that country would have to stop thinking, and since you can’t just pass a law against thought, their basic ability to think would have to be destroyed -– gradually before they noticed.
The process is simple:
- Lower standards for both teacher and student.
- Fill both teachers and texts with propaganda.
- Give awards to everyone.
- Fill entertainment with the same messages.
- Encourage pot-smoking -- make it more and more available and acceptable.
But the most effective tool is one Orwell could see coming in 1948 -- the erasure of our language. If one is looking for domination without all the mayhem of military takeover, then just render the language unusable -- technology makes that easy. Through television, radio, and the Internet the attack on our language has been launchedand is doing quite well; even conservative factions appear to be helping instead of hindering this effort.
Let me explain. I see four major techniques on this progressive Doublespeak express:
1) The first is the effort to thin out key words until they no longer mean anything at all. The word “racist” comes to mind. We don’t know for sure the origin of this word. One source claims it came from the French in the late 19th century. Some claim that Richard Henry Pratt coined it in 1902, and others say Leon Trotsky devised it in 1930. Whether or not the word was a communist brainchild matters less than the broad swath of behaviors it covers today -- everything from actual (if I may use Eric Holder’s word) animus toward persons of a different race, or whites hating blacks (Blacks hating whites doesn’t qualify.), or it can merely mean anyone who harbors conservative principles. This is especially confusing since it was conservatives – Republicans -- who drove both the anti-slavery and the civil rights movements, but facts no longer support definitions. A racist is anyone who disagrees with any part of the progressive agenda, whether race is involved or not -– the gay rights issues, for instance. In short the word “racist” has been so abused that it can barely stand on its own two feet.
The word hate has suffered the same fate. Hate used to mean animosity, aversion, disgust–- a visceral and extra-strong dislike, justified or otherwise. Now it, too, just means harboring conservative ideals. Hate is a word so overworked that it has left me with no way to describe the vicious vibrations I often feel coming at me from the left, from the pro-government side of any issue. I recently saw a meme describing Tea Party people as rabid dogs. That’s a hateful thing to say, but this too is confusing since, according to current consensus, only rightwing folks can hate.
2) Another method used to confound the language is to popularize linguistic prissiness or political correctness. This not only goes counter to freedom of speech, but it’s even worse because it changes so fast; we no sooner absorb the new correct term and the next time we say it, it’s been transferred to the offensive column. Remember Mexican? Then Hispanic, then Latino. The way the border situation is going in six months we won’t be able to say children.
It was only a couple of years ago that the world sported only two genders of human beings -- male and female. Now Facebook allows folks to self-identify into 50 possibilities, only two of which are truly genders. I find this particularly perplexing. Do we have gender designations for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered who dress in drag but haven’t had surgery, the transgendered who have had surgery but it didn’t go well? Do we differentiate between the men who have become women and the women who have become men? The 97% of us who are not confused about all of this are now called cisgendered instead of straight. Governor Brown in California has ruled against the use of the terms husband and wife in public documents. What will go next, mother and father? Brave New World, here we come -- complicate and alter vocabulary adequately and you rob folks of the ability to think with clarity and confidence.
3) The third attack on language is the use of words with no regard for their truth. The press keeps insisting that Islam means peace. Well if peace involves crucifixions, beheadings, kidnappings, and rocket attacks, I think I’ll pass. Last week I watched Josh Earnest (Could he have a more ironic name?) insist that the Obama administration was indeed the most transparent in modern history. Does he know what that word means? The White House has also taken to the word tranquility. Global tranquility -- the Middle East is in turmoil, our economy is barely running, our borders are being besieged – tranquility? But the administration assures us that the Mexican border is under control. Control? By whom? Perhaps that’s the loophole. I am also amused by the war on women. Doesn’t war involve explosions and dead bodies? American women have it better than women anywhere at any time in history. Speaking of the war on women, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite -- “I did not have sex with that woman.” Well, what was it then? A game of hide-the-cigar?
4) The last linguistic barrage I want to discuss is one both sides are horribly guilty of: hyperbole. Not that this hasn’t always been a problem in journalism; perhaps no one tells journalists that understatement is much more powerful. So many headlines, all competing with the other headlines, diveright into words like demolished, devastated, destroyed, slashed, slammed when nothing truly violent or important has happened. Today I read that Charles Krauthammer just “cut Obama off at the knees.” Even allowing for the figurative nature of that statement and granting Krauthammer’s articulate fury, it’s a bit much. Obama will continue playing president regardless. It’s mind-numbing, all the Fox News Alerts that just turn out to be the latest on where LeBron will play basketball next year or some lunatic remark Harry Reid just made. I’d like to see us save those intense words for the really intense times that are coming. We are going to need them.
It is linguistic truth that languages naturally change and we can no more stop that than we can stop a glacier, but we can arm ourselves against purposeful manipulation of both our speech and our thought. We must make no assumptions, jump to no conclusions and keep our dictionaries handy. We can make sure that we use our language with the dignity, the power, and the integrity it deserves.