When I first began this post, I intended to attack the usage of the terms “multiculturalism” and “diversity” as blatant examples of doublethink. But thinking of the term “doublethink” caused me to think of George Orwell, and my intent began to subtly shift. As I searched the Internet for ideas, I began to see the problem differently.
George Orwell first used the terms “newspeak” and “doublethink” in his prophetic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell wanted his readers to understand the true danger of a totalitarian regime. In order to get complete control of the People, the regime would seek to control the language and the thoughts of the People.
However, Orwell did not fear just totalitarianism as a threat to the quality of language and the clarity of thought. He also feared slovenly language. He feared the increasing decadence of the English language. So he wrote about the problem in a 1946 essay that began this way.
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. (from here)
In his essay, Orwell emphasized the connection between language and thought.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. (from here)
To justify thinking the thoughts we want to think, to avoid the reality that is, we corrupt the clarity and honesty of our thoughts by corrupting our language.
When we discuss our ideas, the first thing we must do is define our terms. Then we have to use these terms honestly. Failing to take such steps, we quickly get lost in semantics. Instead of the search for a logical solution, our discussions become contests of emotion and will. Who “wins” is then all too often decided by who can scream the loudest and appear the most intimidating. When we behave in such a manner we quickly begin to harken back to our Stone Age forebears.
When we become sloppy with language, we make ourselves more susceptible of manipulation. In an era of 30 second political commericals, propagandists have little time or incentive to define their terms. Instead, they appeal to our emotions by using loaded language. So in our era, we are often propagandized with political jargon such as the following:
- multicultural – The usage of this term suggests a society that readily accommodates people of varied cultural backgrounds. However, when one examines practice as opposed to propaganda, what one finds is that while the outward frills of various cultures may be tolerated, differing cultural beliefs are not. Within the United States, there is intense pressure to send every child to the secularized and culturally filtered public school system. This approach to education stymies cultural continuity between generations and inevitably destroys cultural differences.
- inclusive – Supposedly, no government program is allowed to be exclusive. In fact, many government programs are justified upon the basis that we do not want to leave anyone behind (for example, the No Child Left Behind Act). The use of this term and its variations is essentially an appeal to pity that is too often designed to avoid a rational cost/benefit analysis.
- diversity – “Diversity advocates” would extend the civil rights movement to the protection of new classes, often including forms of behavior that are lifestyle choices. What “diversity advocates” want seems to depend upon the nature of the particular protected class. Some protected classes want us to respect their diversity by pretending that class differences do not exist. In other cases we are suppose to pretend that the forms of unconventional behavior associated with the protected class are equivalent to conventional behavior. Fortunately, only a few classes demand obsequious deference. Note that normalcy is not a protected class.
The use of the term diversity may encompass differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental health, physical health, genetic attributes, behavior, attractiveness, place of origin, cultural values, or political view as well as other identifying features. (from here)
- gay – The traditional term for same-sex liaisons is “homosexual.” “Homosexual” is a nonjudgmental term that merely provides a statement of fact. Replacing the term “homosexual” with “gay” apparently served two agendas. The term “gay” provides a euphemism for folks who are embarrassed by the subject. At the same time, homosexuals apparently find the term “gay” more glamorous.
- hate crime – This term has as its basis three assumptions. The first is that some crimes are committed purely out of hatred whereas others are not. The second is that we can determine which crimes are “hate crimes” and which are not. The third is that a “hate crime” against a “protected class” is somehow worse and more deserving of punishment than a plain, ordinary crime. Plain, ordinary crime? None of these assumptions is self evident or provable.
- right – The term “right” is often used where the term “privilege” would be more appropriate. The propagandist then seeks to promote the notion that we are being cheated if we do not receive our “rights.” When use this way, the line between a “right” and a “privilege” can be crossed. Then the taxpayers can be forced to pay for the entitled’s “right” to be accorded a privilege.
- change – Change is often spoken of as being universally good. In its latest incarnation, we hear it as a campaign slogan, “Change you can believe in.” Change, however, can be good or bad.
- entitlement – In practice the purpose of this term is to obscure the difference between receiving an earned benefit and charity.
- Living Constitution – The term “Living Constitution” immediately brings to mind the horrifying possibility of a “Dead Constitution.” That is why advocates for a loose interpretation of the Constitution like this term. While some judges will happily refer to themselves as an Originalist or a Strict Constructionist, almost no judge will call himself a Loose Constructionist. Hence, during the 2000 presidential campaign by the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, we got this quote:
I would look for justices of the Supreme Court who understand that our Constitution is a living and breathing document, that it was intended by our founders to be interpreted in the light of the constantly evolving experience of the American people. (from here)
So how do we solve the problem of decadent language? In his essay, Orwell proposed a solution. When we use the English Language, we need to follow some rules. He wrote:
I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.