An old Scottish nursery rhyme suggests that names or in a more general sense, words can never hurt anyone. It misses the point that language can be carefully crafted to control and manipulate an entire population into a state of social conformity. British historian, A. J. P. Taylor echoed this viewpoint when he wrote Power over words leads easily to longing for power over men.
It is a truism that whoever controls the language controls that society. Every student should read George Orwell’s prophetic vision as outlined in his 1948 classic, 1984. The book depicts a dystopic society in the future where an autocratic government controls the thoughts, feelings and minds of its subjects by, not only managing the language, but also by deliberately distorting it. Orwell called this tyrannical language Newspeak.
Its use of blatant contradictions and arbitrary changes in word meaning gradually reduced the people’s thinking to unmitigated mush. As one of the characters proudly proclaimed, It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words…Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think.
The reduction of a people’s ability to reason clearly and think critically lays the bases for a despotism, which relies more on sensations than logical arguments. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, the medium is the message underscores this concept. In McLuhan’s global village, which was as exercise in communal group-consciousness, society was based on a more primitive tribal way of thinking. A society with limited skills in verbal communication will eventually be reduced to a brainless mob controlled by its emotions with violence as its common denominator. This was an early concern of Benjamin Franklin and the other founding fathers who feared a mobocracy.
Nazi Germany’s Adolph Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels offer an excellent example of this manner of controlled language. It was Goebbels who perfected the Big Lie. Germans were much more inclined to believe a horrendous distortion of reality than they were a series of minor fibs. According to social critic, John Wesley Young, the Nazis wanted to produce a citizen, who could never exert himself to think critically about the regime. According to the Nazis Bible, Mein Kampf, the only thing that this national brainwashing had to do, was to unforgettably brand the Nazi way of thinking in each individual’s mind.
This kind of non-thinking is epidemic in the United States today. Americans have fast lost sense and meaning of their language. There was a Babylonian town, called Shinar in the book of Genesis, which degenerated into a land of noise and confusion. When verbal distortions and feelings reign, how long will it be before America is like Shinar’s Tower of Babel, where no one is able to communicate because there is no common language.
The most sinister agency in this battle for the language is the abortion lobby, which has expropriated several traditional American ideas and perverted them to support a hidden agenda of social disruption and family breakdown. No greater abuse is evident than the perversion of the word choice. Everyone is pro-choice when it comes to marriage, work, food, or recreation. The evil genius behind this euphemistic expropriation ranks with the Nazis’ Final Solution. This clever verbal machination has allowed basically good and honest people to believe they can morally walk on both sides of the street.
Many pro-choice advocates refuse to acknowledge the basic humanity of the unborn child by referring to the fetus as a potential child. Is not a child a potential teenager, and human by conventional standards? If our common understanding of words had not first been perverted, I seriously doubt that abortion would have become a pillar of our secular society.
It is apparent that the abortion debate has influenced the way Americans perceive the elderly. The language of the Culture of Death has already infiltrated the national discussion. It is reported that the comatose, the dying, and people with long, yet not terminal diseases, are not living full and productive lives. It is only a matter of time until that the death with dignity lobby constructs a word such as Senilitus to depersonalize the elderly. Then it will be much easier to terminate them, as in an unwanted pregnancy.
Our culture is subtly conditioning us to accept this as a popular life-choice. An episode of the hit series, A House of Cards, had the First Lady euthanize her elderly mother in a poignant scene of peace and tranquility. This was the futuristic Soylent Green transferred back to our 21st century.
On a more general level, verbal sensitivity or what the Marxists called political correctness has risen to the level of an ideology. A new confusion of words and expressions that were thought to be accurate, playful, cute, innocuous and devoid of any double meaning, have now been singled out for disuse, so as not to offend people who may be fat, short, bald, or ugly. All of these words, which are implicitly negative value judgments, have been said to cause social pain, distress, and embarrassment.
A new language of social sensitivity has been prescribed to wash away the hurtful sediment from the vestiges of our unenlightened past. According to its moral underpinnings, words that hurt, so-called hate speech are more dangerous than your neighborhood terrorist. Neologisms, such as the awkward horizontally-challenged for obese and vertically-challenged for short, serve as prime examples. An ugly person is cosmetically different.
PC, as political correctness has become known, refuses to impose any judgment on people’s abilities, shortcomings or behaviors. There is no such thing as evil in this amoral utopia, only morally different. Tolerance of any moral pathology has reigned as the cardinal virtue in the PC morality. Drunks are known as sobriety-deprived. Thieves and con men are ethically disoriented. A murderer in PC argot is someone who engages in the arbitrary deprivation of life or as defined by a CIA pamphlet life alternation. Promiscuity means sexually active. Prostitutes are sex-care providers. Drug addicts are readily referred to as those with a pharmacological preference.
I am still hopeful though not optimistic that the historical pendulum can swing back to simpler times when there was a clearer distinction between the cowboys and the Native Americans. Lucid and objective language can bridge the communications gap that Deconstruction and Political Correctness have created.
While Orwell’s horrific vision is encapsulated in 1984’s final image, that of a boot stomping on a human face, the author places more weight on the importance of language manipulation than he does the threat of brute force. Bromides and slogans, such as War is Peace and Freedom is Slavery, potentially have a more devastating effect on the human spirit than all of Big Brother’s police.