A little bit of newspeak

I’m frequently appalled at how effectively the powers that be use language to manipulate people who should really know better. One day I should make a compendium of modern technical language, and how it is used. I remember when I read 1984, some 20 years ago, I didn’t immediately see how pervasive that manipulation of language is in our society. It’s important to remember that when Orwell wrote 1984 he was writing a parable not only about the Soviet Union, but about Britain as well. He was a leading critic of British empire and social policy, as well of the debasement of the English language by both the government and media that support them.

With that in mind, I’d like to list a few such “technical terms” that I noticed reading the NYT today:

  • Stability This is a key word.  Whenever we justify our support for some brutal dictator or another, we inevitably justify this as being warranted because that tyrant is bringing “stability” to the region.  The word is quite telling, as we will use it even when the tyrannical rule is manifestly causing giant uprising, upheaval, even civil war in the region.  Stability in this sense means a stable distribution of power, with U.S. corporations getting the lions share.    Thus Mubarak was a stabilizing influence in the region and the citizens of Egypt demanding democracy were destabilizing, until of course it became clear that Mubarak’s tenure was untenable and we attempted to generate the impression we were on the side of the demonstrators all along.  This kind of dissembling is also telling — we aren’t fooling the people of Egypt, who see our duplicity for what it is.   This is unimportant as the intended audience — the American public — is far more gullible.  Stability is used to say “We follow this policy because it encourages stability”… the implication is that stability is good, therefore we should support the policy.  We are expected not to pay attention to what system is being made stable.
  • Dynamism When we want to support a policy that leads to terrible instability, such as the shock-doctrine, we don’t call the chaos and instability that ensues instability.  When conditions are sufficiently bad that they can’t simply be painted over, we say the country or economy is in a period of adjustment.  The fundamental goal of course is a “dynamic”, responsive economy.  Dynamic is of course an antonym of stable.  Here we see that stability and security for working people is irrelevant.  In fact,  instability and insecurity for working people is desirable, because it brings more profit to the wealthy elites.  It is telling that the word is used identically to the use of stability.
  • Intellectual Property This is another manipulative, loaded term.  For a good discussion consult articles on the subject by Richard M Stallman, or the Free Software Foundation.  Briefly though, the umbrella term “intellectual property” conflates a number of completely distinct concepts including copyright, trademark, and patent law.  These things have far less in common than they have in contrast, but they are routinely lumped together.  The reason such disparate subjects are grouped together in such a meaningless and confusing way is quite clear:  copyright, patent, and to a lesser extent trademark law have morphed into gargantuan legal constructs which overreach their original intent, and far from serving their original function actually work counter to their original purpose.    They have become a tool for large monopolists to control, restrict and parasitically profit from human creativity.  This distorts our culture and slows our progress as a society.  In particular the scope and implementation of copyright and patent law have reached such an egregious state they directly oppose our own common sense and innate sense of justice.  As a result, the oligarchies whose profligate lifestyles depends on the exploitation of people using these laws require a powerful system of propaganda to maintain their positions of power and wealth.  Since they control the media they have been largely successful in this.  One example is the campaigns that confuse copyright-violation and theft (two completely distinct things).   Another is the nearly ubiquitous use of the term “intellectual property” which serves two powerful roles:  First, by conflating unrelated issues it makes it far more difficult to have a meaningful discussion on the subject, and second it creates an association between copyright, trademark, and patents with actual property rights.

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