Friday, December 4, 2009

Orwell and The Left's Ever Changing Dictionary

We see the attempts by the Left to redefine words all of the time. Our current batch of little Orwellians in office play this game constantly. For example, only a few weeks ago, the Left took to labeling Dede Scozafaza as a "moderate" for the purpose of attacking the "far right wing" - i.e., people who believe in fiscal conservatism and strong national defense. Their aim was to redefine language and, thus, recalibrate what is considered the norm in American politics. To call Scozafaza moderate would, I guess, put Lenin a bit left of center. I and others have blogged on this practice many times before. For example, see here.

George Orwell wrote the book on this practice. Actually, he wrote, wrote several books that include the practice, and not to mention at least one famous article on the topic, "Politics and the English Language." Mark Falcoff picks up the meme in an interesting article at NRO:

. . .[Orwell's] major concern, however, was not merely with literary niceties but with the moral consequences of linguistic obfuscation.

He put the point thus: “The decline of language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer.” He was particularly irritated with the way political words were used “in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition.” Far too many political articles, he wrote, consisted “largely of euphemisms, question begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Such usages were “deliberately intended to deceive.”

Well, here we are more than six decades later, and how much worse the situation has become, particularly in the American press. In recent times, I have begun to make a list of political terms in common usage that are, in fact, private definitions, as Orwell calls them. Perhaps many readers of this journal could add to it. Here are just a few.

. . . “Civil-rights leader.” A half-century ago, when many states in this country denied black people the right to vote or sit where they wished on buses or dine in restaurants of their choice, this term had some real meaning. People risked their lives and well-being to challenge laws that were unfair. However, since the passage of so much legislation in the last 50 years — not just the Civil Rights Act but also the Voting Rights Act — as well as the various forms of “affirmative action” and court-ordered reapportionments of congressional districts to ensure maximum black representation, it is difficult to see what possible dictionary definition “civil-rights leader” could have except “black agitator,” “shakedown artist,” or “poverty pimp.” Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader; Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — to take just two of many tawdry examples — are merely cruel caricatures of the same. Too bad the media can’t see the difference.. . .

“Progressive.” Here is a term that at least those of us over 50 learned at school to identify with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, or perhaps William Jennings Bryan. Lately, however, it has become a euphemism for liberalism, left-liberalism, or plain old leftism. Even bomb-throwing Communists or self-described revolutionaries (for example, Angela Davis or Van Jones) are no longer characterized as “Reds” or even “Marxists”; they are merely lumped into the category of harmless “progressives.” To be sure, most people on the left end of our political spectrum could best be characterized as liberal (in the American rather than the European, or classical, sense). That’s what they used to be called. Why has the word “liberal” suddenly disappeared? The answer is simple. Thanks to real-life experience, many people have understandably come to associate the word “liberal” with high taxes, a permissive attitude towards crime and criminals, and social engineering of the most obnoxious sort (school busing, racial preferences, etc.). To force the medicine down one final time, it needs to be rebottled under yet another new label. . . .

There is much more to read. You can find the entire article here.

I would make one additions to the list of Mr. Falcoff's - its the term "discrimination." To be able to discriminate is a necessary survival mechanism of everyday life. We must be able to discriminate between things which are good and those which are bad. Yet the word has become a font of all evil under the pc talk of today, used as shorthand to define the practice of racism. The Left, having effectively made discrimination a modern sin, has carried forward this logic to its extreme under the banner of multiculturalism, where no value judgment are allowed to be made about competing cultures lest it be discriminatory. That doesn't seem to be working out too well for the UK.

Instapundit has a video that makes this point perfectly. Please watch it.


OBloodyHell said...

FWIW, I wrote a guest piece over at NOfP which is peripherally related to this (somewhat lighter in tone):

Name Calling

It's about the Left's practice of labeling things derisively, and how, by then expanding the scope of the term, they get to freely discount a wide class of arguments and reasons by use of a single word, such as "teabagger".


"No, their arguments are unimportant -- they're just a bunch of teabaggers..."

OBloodyHell said...

Also --- regarding liberals.

There are, I think, two legitimately appropriate forms for this term -- the classical liberal and the postmodern liberal.

The classical liberal was a respectable, sensible man -- forward thinking and, indeed, "progressive" in every positive sense of the word.

The postmodern liberal, though -- is the abject enemy of his culture, of every single thing that has arisen out of its Greek heritage -- the notions of truth, freedom, liberty, individuality, the rights of man. It is their singular goal to see nothing less than the total destruction of all that is descended from the Greeks.

How did they get there? How did the sensible notions of liberalism turn into such a blatantly toxic, suicidal meme?

I pondered this for some time, then I happened to be reading an old copy of American Heritage, which had this piece, by John Steele Gordon:


Now, it really doesn't cover what I've suggested, but I'll argue that, though long, it's well worth the read -- because I see inside it the seeds of the postmodern insanity.

The classical liberal believed, with overweening arrogance, that Western Society was the epitome of mankind, that they were the bearers of the torch of humanity, ready to lead the rest of men and women into the light of modern culture.

Then the idiotic disaster of WWI took place, a large portion of a generation of young men were sacrificed to the gods of abysmal stupidity, and the classical liberal, on viewing the true horror of what humans COULD do with the tools given them by their Greek forbears led many of them to turn on that history, and to do so with extreme vengeance in mind.

I believe this was the turning point, the means behind which the classical liberal twisted their reasoning into the self-destructive entity we call postmodernism.

Once you grasp the self-hatred, the self-loathing, "justified" by the survivors of WWI, you will begin to see the driving forces behind modern liberals at work.

I think this can give one an insight into the workings of the postmodern liberal mind.

What you can do with that insight is up to you, but it may allow you to understand How It Got That Way, which may help people to figure out How To Reverse It, assuming it's not too late, that the culture has not already become sclerotic and rotten in too many areas.

GW said...

Some insightful comments in both of your comments above. As to the difference between classical liberal and post-modern variety, I have been harping on that one for a long time. It has always seemed to me that the bastions of classical liberalism today are on the right. Post modern liberalism seems to have the same goals as classical socialism as elucidated by Marx - a complete tearing apart of Western society from its foundations. As to its methods, it is devoid of intellectual honesty and depenant upon limiting free speech and the free exchange of ideas. I never traced this back to the WWI roots, but it seems both fascinating and quite plausible. I would imagine reading up on this will occupy my book list for the next bit.