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Gorespeak - Nov. 17, 2000

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Many Americans are dismayed as they watch a seemingly endless parade of political operatives brazenly attempt to overload the public consciousness. The nation has been treated to a spectacle of supposedly confused, intimidated and disenfranchised voters. But a more serious casualty of the entire fiasco is rushing toward the intensive care unit.

The unassuming victim is our language. It is the engine that fuels our communication. It enables us to transmit a world of thoughts to one another. Most relevant to the events that are unfolding, it provides the underpinnings of our legal system. It is now in mortal danger.

George Orwell wrote of a fictitious language that he referred to as "Newspeak. Newspeak was designed to drastically reduce the number of words in the English language. The purpose was to eliminate ideas considered to be dangerous to the totalitarian dictator, Big Brother. The ultimate goal was to narrow the range of thought.

Orwell noted that "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. But the present dilution of language does more than create a fertile ground for exploitation. It undermines our fundamental ability to convey ideas and sustain a matrix of rules that is mandatory for the continuity of civilization.

The debasement of language, quite simply, facilitates the manipulation of people. The technique is in no way novel. It has been used in a variety of ways in modern times. Civilian casualties of war became "collateral damage. Unwillingness to accept responsibility emerged with a smirk of "plausible deniability. A muddled label for trade status concealed a gratuity to a totalitarian regime. And lest we forget, primary words such as "is and "sex were bestowed new shades of meaning.

But when reporters, pundits and partisans tell us that it is fair to engage in a kangaroo count which is selective and subjective, when newly elected leaders encourage us to discard significant portions of our Constitution, and when lawyers argue that words such as "shall and "must enable an official to use discretion, the public is being primed for a massive wave of semantic manipulation.

Evidence of the arbitrary and capricious use of language is on full display. As Americans, we are actually watching events unfold in front of our eyes, but the behavior and rhetoric of the main characters in this drama are out of sync.

We hear that justice is being sought, but we see the rules changed over and over again to result in a more favorable outcome for one side. We hear about the importance of safeguarding the voting privilege for all of the citizens of the United States, but we see that only the votes of those who live in select, heavily Democrat-populated counties of Florida are being "interpreted. We hear about the supremacy of the rule of law, but we see the imprints of illegality and havoc. We hear about the desire to seek a reasonable solution, but we see the offer of a Hobson,s choice of two unacceptable options.

To those who engage in this type of conduct, the end justifies the means. But it may well be that means of this kind will lead us down a road toward a destination from which we cannot turn back. We need only to look at Pravda, which for seventy years was the old Soviet source of party-line misinformation. Its name in English is truth.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2000
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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