Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


Old comments migrated to Disqus, currently working outtechnical issues

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sixty Candles

June 8 marked the anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Reason's Cathy Young wrote an unremarkable article about the book and its current relevance. One disappointment is this passage:

Yet 1984 does have lessons beyond the totalitarian experience. Take the book's definition of "doublethink," the ideal mental state of the citizen of Orwell's dystopia: it is "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them," the ability "to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies."

It is not just governments—democratic or not—that engage in a less extreme version of such mental gymnastics. It's activists of all stripes; talk show hosts and pundits across the political spectrum; and, finally, ordinary people.

Now is the time to cite specific examples. She doesn't have one. Okay, let me offer a few. Those who believe that racial discrimination of nonfavored groups is not racial discrimination - whites and Asians with regard to certain academic affirmative action admissions policies, individual white and Hispanic firefighters with regard to Ricci v. DeStefano. Some people say they don't believe in moral absolutes, but if you press them hard enough you'll find out that they really do. (Quickest way to find out is to discuss politics.) Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power despite its environmental benefits. The rationale that views a once-in-a-blue moon shooting of an abortionist as a clear and present danger pervasive in the right-to-life community is held by many who refuse to view commonplace jihadism as a danger pervasive in the Islamic community. Many who believe that it is evil to kill strangers who never did anything to you make excuses for Palestinian terrorists and Bill Ayers. What sort of doublethink allows Colin Powell to endorse the political ally of someone who founded the organization that tried to blow up Fort Dix?

Immediately following is this lameness:

The same is true of "newspeak," terminology invented to shade the real meaning of certain beliefs or acts and make them more appealing. (Even such popular terms as "pro-choice" for "pro-abortion rights" and "pro-life" for "anti-abortion" have overtones of newspeak.)

Earlier in the article she criticized the Competitive Enterprise Institute for trivializing Orwellian imagery in an ad combating anthropogenic global warming hawks. Here she trivializes Newspeak. Of the four abortion-relevant terms she trots out, only "pro-choice" disguises the goals of its associated goals.

A key aspect of Newspeak that is often overlooked is that it is implemented by force. In the real life United States the primary example is the crusade to change the historic definition of marriage by force of law. Gay activism objects to the historic definition, because it implies that homosexuality is somehow less value than heterosexuality. The radical Left originally tried to get rid of the notion of marriage altogether; I am old enough to recall when it panned marriage altogether as a cheap piece of paper that got in the way of sexual fulfillment. Somehow the Left abandoned that goal, and has joined with gay activism to use force to enshrine its ideology in the English language.

Newspeak seeks not only to redefine the vocabulary buta also to shrink it, to get rid of "troublesome" words. We see a little of that in the Political Correctness culture, especially with regard to gender-specific nouns. Star Trek took the idea to extremes, making "Mister" a gender-neutral title. We don't have waiters and waitresses anymore, or stewards and stewardesses, or hosts and hostesses. But we still have gays and lesbians - cue the doublethink.

The article concludes by trivializing the Two Minute Hate and Hate Week. Wikipedia defines the conceptas:

[A] daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting The Party's enemies (notably Emmanuel Goldstein and his followers) and express their hatred for them and the principles of democracy.

The film and its accompanying auditory and visual cues (which include a grinding noise that Orwell describes as "of some monstrous machine running without oil") are a form of brainwashing to Party members, attempting to whip them into a frenzy of hatred and loathing for Emmanuel Goldstein and the current enemy superstate...The film becomes more surreal as it progresses, with Goldstein's face morphing into a sheep as enemy soldiers advance on the viewers, before one such soldier charges at the screen, machine gun blazing. He morphs, finally, into the face of Big Brother at the end of the two minutes.

Back to the article:

Another pervasive feature of the Orwellian state was the practice of constantly whipping up hatred toward the ideological enemy du jour. Looking at much of our political discourse today, from right-wing talk radio to left-wing blogs, it's hard not to think of such rituals as "Two-Minute Hate" and "Hate Week." On too many political websites, every week is Hate Week—whether the object of hate is liberals, Muslims, neocons, or Christian bigots. Partisan propagandists and professional hate-mongers bear a large share of the blame, but so do "regular" people who need little encouragement to demonize political opponents.

The Two Minute Hate and Hate Week employ ritual ad hominem attacks with no attention whatsoever given to ideology. Virtually none of the sources fit the latter half of the bill.

Once again, Young describes a perceived phenomenon without offering specific examples - no specific right wing talk shows or lefty blogs or political sites. The name of the magazine is Reason, not Innuendo. C'mon, Cathy, get with it.

I'd especially like to know where in the talk radio universe she sees commonplace ad hominem attacks. I don't see it in the ones I've listened to with some regularity: Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Sliwa, Beck, Ingraham. They have their quirks; Levin occasionally dives into angry rants, and Ingraham says "uh huh" with the same tone of voice as the wife who's been told by her husband for the 87th time that he won't stay out at the bar too late. But these hosts target real issues.

But what about Savage? Never listened to him, so I can't comment. He's just one guy, anyway- why should I believe that he's representative of talk radio in any fashion (other than being conservative)?

(Anyone know where I can find a list of talk radio hosts ranked by listenership?)

But they put down people, too. Yeah, for doing what they believe to be bad things. Cathy Young does in print the same thing that Sean Hannity does on the air (without bumper music).

But doesn't criticism inspire hatred? Only in hateful people, not in mature folks. Take another close look at that animated GIF near the top corner of my blog.

Labels: ,

Site Meter