America needs you, George Orwell
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
By Reg Henry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sometimes I wonder what George Orwell, the great English writer who sounded prophetic warnings on the dangers of totalitarianism, would think of the world today if he were still alive.
He was a socialist, which in his day wasn't just a casual slur used by conservatives unable themselves to define socialism and therefore prepared to think President Barack Obama is one. To further confuse that crowd, Orwell was a socialist who was critical of the excesses of communism, which was still in its freedom-crushing heyday when he died at the age of 46 in 1950.
He might be glad that communism, with its purges and gulags, had been dumped in the rubbish bin of history, excepting, of course, the Chinese corporate variety that we are glad to have sell us all the rubbish bins we need along with everything else in the way of trash to put in them.
He might have marveled how surveillance cameras were more and more doing Big Brother's work of watching people everywhere, due to all the littler brothers and sisters in government who just want to keep everybody safe.
As to security, he might have been shocked that the world was now in a state of perpetual war, the better for patriotism to rally and control the citizens as he foretold in his chilling masterwork "1984," where Big Brother was introduced to the world as someone anything but brotherly.
Orwell might have been astounded to learn that corporations were considered people now and the people themselves were considered expendable, especially if they were unionized or were seeking universal health care or some other luxury such as clean air not useful to the business class. When troublesome people do make such demands, they are denounced as a threat to freedom itself.
To be sure, things have not quite reached the sorry state of "1984." The most influential politicians haven't yet succeeded in banning the enjoyment of sex as Orwell foresaw, although most on the right do seem to believe it is filthy and may even tickle. Gay sex is seen as worse, because it is likely to occur among people with good fashion sense.
Most of all, Orwell might have been depressed at the debasement of the language, which he also foretold in "1984." Newspeak, he called it. As was explained, "The purpose of Newspeak was not only a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism] but to make all other modes of thought impossible."
It occurs to me that is what has happened with political speech in America. For that, we can thank the ascendancy of the right-wing -- increasingly the far-right wing. It is they who have reduced all political speech to a series of catch phrases and rhetorical cliches.
Call it Foxnewspeak. Hear it every time you turn on a GOP presidential debate or listen to the partisan gridlock from the tea-party brewed conservatives in Congress.
Class warfare! Redistribution of wealth! Tax and spend! Family values! Flip-flop! Cut and run! Elitist! Tree hugging! Activist judges! Wealth creators! Just like a liberal!
"Just like a liberal!" is the one that greets me every time I write something like this column in which certain uncomfortable truths are told. If I had a dime for every time someone had written "Just like a liberal" back to me, why, I would be a rich man, but my wealth would consist of a lot of dimes in piggy banks and old socks.
There is much good and nothing wrong with being a liberal -- as in the dictionary, "favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc, specif., favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual; progressive."
But in the Foxnewspeak dictionary, liberal is defined as someone who has the dirtiest sort of ticklish sex while on welfare and before taking part in Satanic rituals. This is the evil genius of the new conservative language. It imparts a new meaning to established words for the purpose of dumbing everything down.
For example, the phrase "changing your mind." This is a good thing that all sensible people do in light of new facts. Its new meaning is flip-flop, which is bad, very bad.
Do I think the Democrats have the monopoly on virtue? Hardly, but if you had to characterize the speech of Democrats, it would be "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, etc." The wishy-washy left are hapless in everything, and that includes the current linguistic battle.
So what would Orwell say to all this? Why, I think he would cut and run.