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John Murphy | 10.06.08

Politics

Politics and Words

Image Journal’s website features a blog by Brian Volck on the slippery nature of words; more specifically, the language of this election season, and key words like “change.” Both parties claim to be the agents of change. What does it mean? How does a word or expression change in a given context? In politics, are words used to clarify or obfuscate? Can spin doctors contort and distort words to a shadow of their former meaning?

“Perhaps that’s one reason,” Volck observes, “why the political silly season rankles me: so many good words pulverized to processed junk, without affection for their natural history, cultivation, or provenance. Democratic traditions may build more quickly than topsoil, but both erode in great chunks if poorly tended.”

Volck’s blog post reminds me of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Clear thinking is clear writing, is the argument the British writer put forward in that famous essay. By extension, clear language has moral agency, and deliberate euphemisms or contortions of language (say, the Nazis referring to the genocide of the Jews as “social restructuring”), contribute to the decay of language, and civilization:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible… Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

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TOPICS:    change | george orwell | language
(5) COMMENTS

By Dave AT 10.07.08 01:40AM Not Rated

Dave

Both political parties can bullshit all they want, I’m not going to vote for either one of them.

If you want big business to continue running the country, then vote Republican.

If you want big government (more than it already is!), then vote Democrat.

Either way you’re going to continue being a wage slave and we’re going to head towards a “slight depression.”


By chassup AT 10.07.08 10:42AM Not Rated

chassup

The difference between big business and big government is almost a difference without a distinction.  Americans are now faced with the war to take back their country, their liberty and their integrity.

I am not alone in my disgust with Congress… those who voted against the bail-out are heroes who should be rewarded, everybody else deserves to be fired.  Although I like Bush on many issues, on this issue… I am opposed.  For decades the liberal left in government have tried to take over the home mortgage industry to control people.  They have succeeded to a large degree.  Middle class people are the losers, big government and bankers are the winners.

Americans were conned… but only those who are willing to do something wrong in order to succeed can be conned.


By chassup AT 10.07.08 12:14PM Not Rated

chassup

JOHN MURPHY,  I really liked your post.  I am a professional propagandist and can spot it a mile away.  This election season is rife with the twisting and distorting of language.  That’s not something new, by the way.

I am actually working on a project concerning this subject, thanks for the Orwell quote, I hadn’t read it before.  Consumers of products and ideas today are real suckers.  Makes my job a lot easier, I could sell ice cubes to Eskimos, the only thing restraining me is virtue.


By Romanowsky AT 10.07.08 01:35PM Not Rated

Romanowsky

As every woman who buys Viagra for her husband to rekindle the passion and intimacy in her marriage knows, marketing has everything to do with the market, and very little to do with the product. In this presidential race, as in many previous ones, “change” means exactly what you want and/or need it to mean at the moment. It’s abstract, malleable, evocative, and therefore, useful, like “choice”.

Since the invention of TV-based “image politics” in 1956, politicians (and the “Mad Men” they hire) have been using words primarily - and now almost exclusively - in association with images: to interpret, spin, and sell them to the consumer/voter. The average presidential candidate sound bite has shrunk from 45 to 7 seconds since 1975. In “debates”, well-timed delivery of “zingers” is all-important, not their meaning. Words work best as captions or punchy voice-overs when Americans spend over six hours a day consuming some form of visual media. Any visual medium is of the moment: it resists context, historical or otherwise.

Clarification and obfuscation both belong more to the realm of rational discourse, a realm with which images need not - and cannot - concern themselves. You can like or dislike the associations of a TV ad: you can’t refute them. Words in politics are more akin to brand names: the most successful become synonymous with the product itself. (Kleenex, Xerox, Google…) The projected price tag on TV ads in this campaign alone is $3 billion - double that of 2004, and quadruple that of 2000. It works. (If your definition of political success is measured in votes and nothing more.)

Worrying about the abuse of language seems very 20th century. Our brave new century is quickly slipping under the shadow of a high-tech image-based eclipse of rationality itself.


By sohail AT 12.18.09 04:30AM Not Rated

sohail

Philosophical debates have domain names arisen over the present and future use of technology in society, with disagreements over whether technology improves the human condition or worsens it. Neo-Luddism, web design anarcho-primitivism, and similar movements criticise the pervasiveness of technology in the modern world, opining that it harms the environment and alienates people; proponents of ideologies such as transhumanism and techno-progressivism view continued technological search engine marketing progress as beneficial to society and the human condition. Indeed, until recently, it was believed that the development of technology was restricted only to human beings, but recent scientific studies indicate that other primates and certain dolphin communities have developed simple tools and learned voip to pass their knowledge to other generations.


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