Keeping Language Alive
Letters from O'Brien #11
Dear Mr Smith,
I’ve been reading George Orwell once again and it has me thinking about language, and a few other rabbit holes. So if you would indulge me once more – and thank you again for posting my rants on your newsletter. You furnish me with a much needed outlet for my therapy of writing.
George Orwell was obsessed with simplicity. Animal Farm was written in such a way as to be comprehended by children. The style of 1984 was straight to the point. Rather than write complex narratives that could confuse, he chose to present his messages in as clear a way as possible. Language was his tool to convey truth, and if language was ever limited, so too would our ability to speak the truth. In fact, within the world of 1984 the vocabulary is decreasing, not increasing - once the language is constrained to only the words permitted by the party, there will be no way to distinguish any other truth than that spoken by the party.
Language is key to the way we think and the expansion of one’s vocabulary expands one’s ability to think more broadly. The English language was once developing outwards. Words grew longer and with increasing specificity or necessity. Explaining such things that previously could not be expressed required the creation of new words, rather than long and drawn out descriptions. This not only sped up ones ability to write down ideas, but also increased the depth around these ideas. However, I now see a re-prioritisation of language away from expansion and into simplification.
It is not abnormal for language to change with time. New trends inevitably emerge and the characteristics change to accommodate cultural and social movements. As I previously mentioned, this is usually done slowly in response to a developing culture, with expanding ideas, not the other way around.
For people born or growing up in the 21st century, rapid changes in language do impact social interactions to a certain extent. Although there is not necessarily a language barrier, I do notice that people growing up in today’s culture are often unable to process ideas presented in literature from the past. Old novels seem confusing to the uninitiated, and it seems the language requires continues explanation. Inter-textual ideas are often completely ignored, as the reader only analyses the surface level details and literal interpretations of words, rather than reading between the lines. This is obviously not the case for all people growing up in this age, but it certainly appears to be the deficit of many.
While we may not yet be seeing wide scale reduction of language, this is likely to happen if left unattended. What we are seeing is a slow but consistent shift away from a conventional understanding of language. I believe that language is complex, since it must have the ability to be both broad and specific, scientific and poetic, metaphorical and concrete.
Perhaps the most evident and certainly the most amplified offshoot of this deep-rooted issue is the misuse or overuse of particular terms. The politicisation of words such as ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ is a great example; opposing groups not only map their own meanings to these terms (independent from dictionary terminology) but also evolve the meanings of these terms to adapt to particular political or social calls. What ‘gender’ meant in progressive circles two years ago is completely different to what it means now.
Likewise, terms such as ‘fascist’ have become so distorted that it would not be too far fetched to say that the majority of the individuals who throw the word around have no idea what they are talking about. The term now refers to people who do not adhere to the current state narrative, but particularly right leaning free market capitalists. Ironically fascism most commonly sits on the economic centre-left, and the cultural centre. This is because it exercises a ‘soft power’ over the means of production in the form of state control over businesses, rather than outright control over such means. Likewise, the cultural aspect of Fascism is usually a rejection of the current social structure in favour of something historical or mythical; the Nazis rejected not only the globalist present, but the Christian past of Germany, instead aiming for the creation of a new pan-German Reich, inspired by myth but in itself a new and untested idea. On the economic front, both the Fascist Italians and National Socialist Germans strongly rejected the ideas of an unrestricted free market. Hitler and Mussolini often spoke out against the free market as a crime against the worker and his community. Both praised the implementation of state control over business affairs. An interesting example; Hitler, Goebbels, Mussolini, and others in the fascist movement praised US president Roosevelt for his implementation of the ‘New Deal’ in the early 1930s, as it was a step towards further state control of the market.
In the political sphere, the public questioned the ability of democracy. This was particularly the case in Germany; the population following World War I was unaccustomed to the democratic system, and as such had a strenuous relationship with it. This is perhaps the reason for the constant attempts at socialist revolutions, nationalist coups, and general distrust of the Weimar democracy that lasted up until the election of Hitler.
This doesn’t line up with reality, and as such the only refute is to deny reality. Many commentators are quick to claim that Mussolini’s Italian Fascists and Hitler’s National Socialists were not in fact socialist. This is absurd. If anything, it would be better to equate this idea of a ‘right wing conservative’ group to the Imperial Japanese. Not only did they hold fast to their traditions and age old values, they also lived under a structured monarchy and a religious belief system, all the while rejection the ‘foreign’ element.
I see these examples as clear evidence of the past not aligning with the present, and with the present idea being in stark and pure contradiction to reality.
SPECIFICS AND SCIENTIFIC LANGUAGE
I see another slow and subtle manipulation of language, which may not necessarily be a direct result of socialist thought, but rather a long-predictable result of increased left hemispherical bias amongst the population (as you have been so keenly writing about yourself). It is an increased interest in hyper specifics.
I see this practically everywhere. The ‘scientific’ approach to language means that everything must be explained literally and in absolute specificity, as if the person on the receiving end is too stupid to think at all. Everything is reduced to hyper-limited and specific utilities and objects. It is as if everything is a set of instructions. Moreover, these ideas are usually limited to the material, or measurable world, and anything that cannot be measured in the mind is simply rejected due to its abstract or illogical nature. In this way, I believe this type of language not only limits thought, but even if one were to think creatively along these lines, new ideas would usually be rejected due to their abstract nature (it is hard to measure something which doesn’t yet fully exist in specifics).
Now I’m not a scientist myself, but I am an avid reader of certain scientific literature. Nevertheless I may be barking up the wrong tree here but bear with me if you will.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that this use of logical language must be balanced out with more poetic language, allowing broader ideas to be explained which require some thought to comprehend. There is nothing wrong with some abstraction, nor is there anything wrong with specifics, but it must be a balance of both to allow (or at least promote) free thought and creativity.
There is a lack of poetic language in a manner there once was. This poetic language - in my opinion - was key to understanding and describing feelings, emotions, and non-logical ideas. This required both literary skill and an understanding of the language. In contrast to this, today’s approach to ‘poetic language’ is one of confusion. It is often schizophrenic-like ramblings and abstractions, often lacking beauty or deeper meaning. Extracting any utility or deepened understanding from such writings is often hard or impossible, and in response it is usually expected that the reader apply his own interpretation to the work, or at least rely on a literary critics review, or other such nonsense.
As I mentioned earlier, I have noticed how many people who have grown up in the current age struggle to understand ideas in literature, or read between the lines. Broader ideas or themes are missed, since the ‘scientific’ nature of modern language means that only the literal details of each word and sentence are extracted from the pages. ‘Reading’ consists of taking each word in order, as if analysing instructions.
I have noticed that amongst the many absurd articles which often bandy about such terms as ‘white privilege’, ‘male privilege’, ‘cultural hegemony’ and so forth - often highlighting how everything from timelines to glue furthers have a “racist agenda” - there has been an overarching theme.
Rather than highlighting random occurrences as signs of ‘white supremacy’, a ‘patriarchal monopoly’ and so forth, the attacks often revolve around elements of society which allow it to function. Whether it be attacking work ethic, mathematics, or language itself, these particular elements of society are not only important, but the ability for someone to attack them under the guise of ‘racism’ often requires a level of mental gymnastics which immediately draws suspicion. Unlike - lets say - police brutality against black people in the United States, which can be linked (even if it is untrue) to racism due to its nature, these other topics such as mathematics are so much of a stretch that it is evidently deliberate.
Many who have studied Critical Theory are aware of this, but the majority are not. Whether or not the individual journalists are aware of this or not, those in charge are. The goal - as always - is to awake a ‘group’ consciousness that will hopefully result in the organisation of a revolutionary class. The end goal is the overturning and complete destruction of the current society. This sounds dramatic, but as Critical Theorists Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer wrote, society cannot comprehend its own oppressive structures (since it is supposedly built on them), let alone fix them, so it must be destroyed to make way for a new society.
What I find interesting is that this reductionistic Marxist approach to culture is not working to the extent they had hoped, as much as it is still chugging along slowly. Normal people are unswayed by absurd articles claiming ‘white supremacy’ in the form of arithmetic textbooks and school grading. I have, however, seen the state implement policies and changes to school curriculum and universities that falls in line with these ideas - since no one is willingly going along with them. In my opinion, this is near-proof that those in power are either complicit with, or at least being coerced into adhering to these unpopular and inhuman ideas.
And here is where Orwell comes back into the picture - it is necessary for these people to reduce language to a far more limited scope, thus limiting the capacity for thought, and paving the way for the stupidification of the masses.
THOUGHTS AND WORDS
Mr Smith I believe you are familiar with the connection between language and our ability to think, nevertheless allow me to express a little of it for your readers. Although I do not totally believe in Linguistic Determinism (the belief that language is the absolute mediator of knowledge and the way in which we think) I do at least believe it has some merit. Different languages allow for different perspectives on life. The Chinese have a very different way of viewing people than those in the West that seems to be linguistically determined. While English differentiates between individual and environment, Mandarin often correlates individuals to their environment (e.g. you are not just ‘an individual’ who happens to be in ‘this setting’, but also ‘an individual in the context of this setting’). Likewise, the structure of the Chinese language changes the thought process surrounding complex logical tasks such as mathematics or puzzle solving, making it far easier to complete such tasks without nearly as much thought as they require for an English speaker. These ideas are often considered controversial or pseudo-scientific, however linguists often highlight that multilingual people do indeed find certain tasks such as mathematics easier or harder depending on the language in which they currently think.
In contrast to this, other schools of thought believe that language has little bearing or impact on the nature of thought. I think this also bears some truth, since many people think in terms of images, abstractions, and feelings. However, I have also heard that many people think in terms of interactions with themselves or others, and these interactions either rely on explicit conversation in a dialect, or on ideas which can only be explained or properly comprehended through the understanding of a particular language. It also appears to me personally, that the expansion of ones vocabulary not only increases ones ability to describe ideas to others, but also opens up new doorways for ideas in the mind. With new words comes new understanding, and with new understanding comes a broadened perspective on reality.
The woke movement has attempted – unfortunately with some success - to alter both the conscious use of language, and the subconscious effects this language has on people. Terms such as ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are now charged words in the minds of many, and even though many are aware of the original meanings of these terms, the manipulation of these words has at least altered the conscious thought associated with them. Whether we like it or not, certain words have been tainted in recent years, and even though we may still reclaim their original meanings, for the time being even the thought of them can evoke thoughts which have no original correlation to them.
With this in mind, it becomes obvious that by removing words, or altering meanings of words, students in school will grow up with increasingly limited perspectives on reality. Certainly, this is what Orwell himself believed would happen in the future, with the complete limitation of language down to only words which aligned with the parties narrative.
REJECTING THE LIE
Throughout all of this, I have come to a personal conclusion that there is still hope! Alexander Solzhenitsyn had said that any corrupt and evil system will eventually fail. In our case, whether the be sooner or later, these ideas will eventually crumble.
I am convinced that many people within the population will simply be unable to adhere to the current agenda. In contrast to the Bolsheviks or Maoists, Cambodians or Vietnamese, the current form of Marxified Socialism is so extremely unappealing and ridiculous that it is a wonder it ever gained advocates for it to be pushed forward in the first place. Of course, I am talking more specifically about our current ‘woke’ variant of Critical Theory, since there are other far more subtle and dangerous variants of socialism still at work in our culture. However, the current woke agenda seems to be so anti-human that by its very nature it will be rejected by the human populace.
It is plausible that this current agenda could see further success, however I struggle to see how far it could go. With the exception of radicals, and those using the opportunity to destroy things, it seems as though there is nothing that organises a large percentage of the population into a revolutionary group. Previous communists organising factors included the working class struggle, the student struggle, the peasants struggle, and the native independence struggle. There is appeal in these ideas. But what exactly is broadly appealing about the’ woke’ struggle? At this point in time the adherents of this ideology are so confused that they are eating each other alive, and practically no one (except for the revolutionaries) can even define what they are standing for.
Regardless of any of this - whether the idea continues to spread or not - it is crucial that the lie be rejected by oneself. Even alone, the choice is still there to reject the lies, and speak the truth. The mere act of speaking the truth means that for this day at least, the lie cannot claim to be the only idea, and hence the truth. If the truth is kept alive, the lie cannot win.
Thank you once again for your time Mr Smith.
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