The following post is the second of two posts on George Orwell written by Will Richardson (you can read the first part here), a literary and political writer and friend of the Radical Tea Towel Company. He writes his own blog called The Opinionist and his Twitter handle is @WillRichardson6. Agree with the post or not, we’d love your comments below!
Hello again! Or just hello if you aren’t one of the loyal millions who have read this riveting two-parter from the beginning. In the first half of this on-going discussion, I wrote about the use and manipulation of the English language in politics, and how George Orwell gave us the blueprint to identify the techniques used by our leaders to confuse and manipulate us, and to conceal the truth of matters, to make things sound like other things, basically.
And this because we have allowed our language to be diluted and softened and to have the power and the meaning taken out of it, to an extent.
We are not blameless for the degradation of our language and its manipulative, dishonest use in politics. Unfortunately we have taken the same attitude to English as we take to interior design: minimalism. And of course Twitter, with its hashtags and its 140 characters, has played no small part in this development. Twitter has enabled and necessitated the reduction of discourse down to soundbites and slogans and catch-all phrases, and has completely decimated nuance in public debate.
This was evident in the recent and on-going debate as to the refugee crisis when the hashtag, “refugees welcome” sprang up. While the inventor of this hashtag most probably had nothing but good intentions in their heart, and so too each person who retweeted the thing, it cannot be denied that to reduce that side of the debate to two words damages and undermines both the argument and the debate itself. For within that hashtag was no mention of the logistics of checking each and every human as they cross British borders – something that most definitely needs to be done – there was no mention of the logistics of ensuring that an influx of people on that scale would be able to be managed effectively and sustainably and that our national resources, our housing capacity and our job market would be able to handle such numbers; and there was no mention of the efficacy with which social ingratiation could be pulled off.
Now, although the aim – to accept and save as many desperate people as possible – is both honourable and our duty as humans, a public argument in its favour is ineffectual – and therefore the influence able to be exercised by the public is ineffectual – when the argument is reduced to a shouting match between slogans (“refugees welcome” on one side and “go home we’re full” on the other) rather than a logical and incisive discussion using correct and accurate language in order to prove one’s righteousness.
This reduction of our language can prove utterly devastating to causes most necessary, most proliferated by the left. Take for instance, the hashtag “Black Lives Matter”. Of course, the entirety of this phrase, were it to be spelled out in full, would read as: “Black lives matter as much as white lives and this basic truth is in need of reiteration because of the drastic statistical disproportionality between the deaths of black people at the police’s hands in the USA and the deaths of white people; deaths that are, as the video and anecdotal evidence demonstrates, in most cases completely unjustified”. But this goes over the 140-character limit.
And the fact that the simple and oversimplified hashtag then spreads means that an argument based in truth can be deliberately undermined and infantilised by the American right who, fearful of the theft of their cushy status quo, respond with the bone-achingly stupid: “All Lives Matter”. We then have a situation in which the simplification and minimisation of our language has allowed for the debate around a real and life-or-death issue to be moved from the issue itself, to arguing the semantics of the issue, and thus the issue itself is buried and the prejudicial status quo continues.
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act“. Telling the truth, and finding the truth, has become all the more difficult in our political sphere through the deliberate obfuscation of language in the commission of George’s lingual sins, but we must demand it. And we can do this by speaking plainly, demanding our politicians speak plainly, and at length and in detail.
Whenever you hear David or Jeremy or whomever else give a soundbite answer to a probing question by some eminence of the journalistic profession, and then not be pressured into telling the damn truth, giving actual information, do not vote for that person. We must foster a political sphere in which the truth is not a revolutionary act but a very requirement of our system. Because until that time, until obfuscation and repetitive nothingness have been wiped from our leaders’ lexicons, there will be no truth and there will be no change, for we have no idea what truly needs changing. And this, my friends, is a circumstance all too Kafkaesque.