Friday, March 05, 2021

Orwell and the costs of free speech


"We are living Orwell's 1984. Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few,” said a son of wealth and privelge about a company enforcing its policies.

He's mistaken. Here in the U.S.A. we don't live in Orwell's "1984." It's a bit different—perhaps as bad—probably worse. Orwell's dictatorship, fueled by hate and ever-changing 'facts,' has not replaced our democracy. Instead, our democracy hangs upon a fine thread.

Perhaps three fourths of Republicans and a third of independents believe what some are calling "the big lie." If those calling it that are correct, then a sizeable portion of the American public is already living in an Orwellian reality while America's majority struggles to maintain a more balanced, dialog-driven reality.

In "1984," Orwell showed how language could be used for social manipulation. He also addressed language prior to writing that book. Should Americans decide to live in a shared reality and begin to construct one, they could learn from George Orwell's 1946 essay,  Politics and the English Language

Those who take time to ponder English usage, Orwell begins, "would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it." Orwell questions this belief, "Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes." People can and do shape their language, Orwell argues. He believes they should do so intentionally instead of unconsciously.

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible."

No one sets out to become a drinker. Careless actions lead to forming careless habits and before a drinker realizes it, he's an alcoholic. But what careless actions lead to careless speaking habits? "Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer." If language decline is caused by political and economic conditions, we can cultivate precise language to change those conditions:

"If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers."

Orwell analyses several examples of contemporary writing:

"Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged."

The tricks Orwell lists include pretentious diction and meaningless words among other items. He provides details that I am omitting here. In any case, the language problems Orwell describes have only worsened through the years. Orwell must have known only print and radio. Television hadn't become popular before he died, and the internet was unheard of. Radio and TV are no longer regulated by the Fairness Doctrine and social media isn't regulated by mandate, only by the views of its owners. Further, tricks that were unconscionable in Orwell's day are played regularly today.

Language trickery has become so commonplace that I wonder if some of its users are even aware that they're using it. I wonder if Junior realizes when he wrote, "Free speech no longer exists in America," he really meant, "Free publicity no longer exists in America?" After all, Twitter only took away Dad's free publicity, not his freedom of speech. And that had been a privilege, not a given right.

We need to work on our language skills lest we revert to being cave people. Here's a few quotes from the essay: 

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better."

"The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. ... Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way."

"As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug."

"Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Jung at heart— the psychiatrist’s memoir

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

C. G. Jung. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, Translated by Richard and Clara Winston
Non-fiction, 430 pages

Carl Gustav Jung wrote his fittingly titled, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” late in his life. As Jung recollects his childhood, youth and career, readers gain insight into his intellectual development and the origins of his theories. Even at an early age, Jung knew his understanding of God was different from that of his minister father. His understanding was intuitive, bordering on mystical. His father understood God in a more conventional and rational manner. Though Jung had a scientific mind, he also possessed a sense of wonder in the natural world, an understanding of myth and an acceptance of the paranormal. Though highly intelligent, his unconventional thinking earned him scorn and disrespect from teachers and peers. Even after Jung became well respected, many of his peers questioned his theories. Regardless, Jung was, and remains, a major influence in psychotherapeutic and personality theories.

Early in his psychiatric career, Jung was influenced by Sigmund Freud. Initially Freud considered Jung the likely heir to his theories. Jung, however, could not accept Freud’s emphasis on sexuality as a major force behind psychic activity. To Jung, man was far more than his sexuality.

To Jung, psychic phenomenon encompasses not only the unconscious and conscious, but also anything that can be conceived by the psyche, including the opposites of those conceptions: “The fact, therefore, that a polarity underlies the dynamics of the psyche means that the whole problem of opposites in its broadest sense, with all its concomitant religious and philosophical aspects, is drawn into the psychological discussion... Leaving aside their claim to be independent truths, the fact remains that regarded empirically—which is to say, scientifically—they are primarily psychic phenomena. This fact seems to me incontestable. That they claim a justification for themselves is in keeping with the psychological approach, which does not brand such a claim unjustified, but on the contrary treats it with special consideration.”

Freud used the myths of Oedipus and Electra to explain children’s sexual desires toward their parents and their developmental adaptations to those desires. Like Freud, Jung used myth to explain psychic phenomena, but Jung went further, developing the concept of archetypes, and mining myth for richer meaning. Speaking about the need for myth, Jung states, “Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science… We cannot explain an inspiration. Our chief feeling about it is that it is not the result of our own ratiocinations, but that it came to us from elsewhere.”

Though no substitute for a basic primer on Jung’s theories, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” provides insight into the nature of the man himself. Jung was a complex personality, willing to be both rational and mystical at once, a man who embraced both scientific empiricism as well as philosophical speculation. Unlike many scientists of his time, Jung doesn’t dismiss subjective experience as unscientific. He embraces his intimations, dreams, visions and paranormal experiences and attempts to understand them.

Jung’s description of his near death experience is especially fascinating. Unlike other narratives of this type, Jung doesn’t encounter a spiritual being in heaven. Rather, he meets his attending physician. During his convalescence, Jung realizes that he encountered his physician because the doctor is, himself, close to death. When Jung later learns that his doctor has died, he concludes that his intuitions had been correct. Jung’s memoir contains several paranormal anecdotes, which Jung treats with both an open mind and a desire for explanations.

Jung’s memoir will interest historians of psychological thought, Jungian practitioners and interpreters of mythology. Others will appreciate Jung’s candor in revealing his personal life—especially his ability to reconcile belief in both the natural and the supernatural and his appreciation for both scientific and mystical knowledge.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Psychiatrists and little green men

C. G. Jung. Translation by R. C. F. Hull

C. G. Jung tells us that modern reports of UFOs began during the final years of World War II with sightings in Sweden and Germany. They continued after the war with sightings chiefly in America, but also in Europe, Asia, the Sahara, and the Antarctic.

Jung believed that there wasn't enough evidence to say flying saucers existed physically. Enough evidence existed, however, for examining the psychological significance of UFOs. He does so by examining dreams and art objects in which UFOs occur.

Regardless of whether they exist physically, UFOs are psychologically significant and the increase in reports regarding them may be evidence that humanity is creating a new myth. Jung feels that in a progressively materialistic world, there’s a need to replace the function formerly served by religion with a new mythos, perhaps one involving UFOs.

I can’t say that I entirely agree with this conclusion. While it is certainly true that some people have adopted a scientific viewpoint that is skeptical of many traditional teachings, others have rejected outright such scientific theories as the evolution of species or the antiquity that science assigns to the earth.

Jung also believes that threats to individuality, such as communism or fascism are an additional factor causing people to develop a new mythos. UFOs, being round, are reminiscent of mandalas, which are archetypal expressions of the self. Mandalas often appear in dreams when individuals are struggling to unify the disparate aspects of personality which together constitute the self.

I’m not convinced that what’s behind the UFO mythos is a threat to individuality. Communism was not the only threat during the cold war. The possibility of nuclear oblivion was also considered very real at the time Jung wrote this essay. It makes sense that many UFOs were observed in the proximity of military installations. Perhaps people desired the intervention of a more advanced civilization to protect mankind from itself.

Symbols, in Jung’s view, can have multiple meanings. This certainly seems to apply to UFOs. When Jung was writing, UFOs presented a possible mechanism for mankind’s salvation. This was before the literature became crowded with accounts of alien abductions. Jung does not address those who claim to have been prodded and probed, not to mention, violated and raped by aliens. Those reports came later, and what they signify, I can only speculate. Perhaps it indicates a rejection of a redeeming alien civilization in favor of one which would manipulate us for its own ends.

In addition to their appearance in dreams and art, UFOs could also be psychic projections, according to Jung. “At various times all sorts of other projections have appeared in the heavens besides the saucers.” These include the visions seen by troops at Mons during World War I, by crusaders during a siege of Jerusalem, and the visions of three children at Fatima, Portugal.

Perhaps visions are not that unusual. Perhaps what is unusual is their frequent appearance in saucer form since World War II. Yet it is also possible that UFOs are both real and psychic phenomena. In this case, their appearance would often be what Jung considers synchronistic events, that is, coincidences that are psychically significant. Since UFOs sometimes show up on radar screens, Jung reasons they may sometimes be physical phenomena. Unless, of course, psychic phenomena also shows up on radar.

This slender volume was originally published in “Civilization in Transition” which is the 10th volume in Jung’s collected works. Jung wrote it in 1958. The first English translation appeared in 1959.