Showing posts with label conspiracy theory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conspiracy theory. Show all posts

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, February 04, 2021

Why the one percent wants climate change (a conspiracy theory)

Let's discuss one of my conspiracy theories. First I'll tell you my biases. I believe that humans cause climate change just as much as I believe that humans hunted mastodons to extinction. I believe that Easter Islanders denuded their islands of vegetation prior to ending their days knocking over big stone heads. Since I also believe that the Japanese learned to manage their forests rather than denude them, I believe we should manage climate change rather than dither-about denying it. To do so effectively will require a massive amount of human cooperation and will. Without cooperation and will, other resolutions to humanity's problems will result in far more more human misery.

Climate can change for a variety of reasons. I take on faith that human activity is the main cause of current climate change. Climate science is complex and I'm no expert. I believe what I do because what I've seen matches my general science knowledge. For example, when I watch Neil Degrasse Tyson discuss climate change in his Cosmos episode on Venus, it fits with other things I know about science. On the other hand, when I hear somebody call Neil Degrasse Tyson a shill, I wonder who he is shilling for and why they put so much energy into making false claims. In my view, climate change denialists use arguments that don't carry much weight. They've put money, rather than effort, behind their claims.

I also take on faith that humanity has both the technology and the ability to reduce the effects of climate change. We can't stop what's happened or what's going to happen, but we can certainly slow it down and adapt to it. What we can't do, is ignore it. Doing so would result in calamities far greater than the inconveniences we'll face if we put our efforts into tackling climate change now.

Technology and ability aren't enough however. A firm will and cooperation are required tools as well. At the moment these tools are in short supply amonst human societies. But I think attitudes can change.

Historian, Walter Sheidel writes about social collapse in his 2017 book. He shows how hunting and gathering societies must cooperate to survive. People in such societies own little besides clothing and tools. Once people began farming and herding, surpluses developed. Where there are surpluses, humans tend to create hierarchy, one result of which is Capitalism. People in hunting and gathering societies owned little besides clothing and tools. Once people began learning to farm and herd, surpluses were able to develop. Where there are surpluses, humans tend to create hierarchy, one result of which is Capitalism.

Sheidel notes that survival level societies are less innovative than hierarchical ones. Indeed, innovation was one of the advantages of our Capitalist society. During the Cold War, this advantage was promoted in public service announcements which claimed that Capitalism is superior to Communism because it encourages competition resulting in innovation and greater choice for consumers.

Now that communism is not considered the threat it once was, it might be worth considering what can be accomplished with cooperation. I believe when societies become overly hierarchical, power bottle-necks competition and opportunity, and causes poverty and ill-health. Where hierarchy was once an advantage, now it gives diminishing returns. As more and more wealth and power is held by fewer and fewer people, competition and innovation must diminish as well.

In any case it's time for my conspiracy theory. Most Americans haven’t seen significant wage increases since the early 1980s. However those in the top 20 percent have found life fairly easy. One thing, there's what, eight billion people on the planet now? Fixing the climate will mean sacrifices, and even if we make them, what will we do about all the people?

I remember a biology class experiment with two fruit fly couples. We put them in a closed environment, gave them plenty to eat and drink, and let them do their thing. They reproduced and then they reproduced some more. Soon there were generations of fruit flies living in a little closed dish. Then a couple of them died. And then they all died. They befouled themselves. Their garbage killed them. Like us — we’re getting plastic into everything. It's in shellfish. It's in fish. It's in us. So even if we start fixing the climate, we’re still drowning ourselves in our own garbage. What if Ebola or something killed most of humanity, then we wouldn’t have to do anything about climate change. Right? If we just sit back and distance ourselves from the rabble then maybe they’ll all kill themselves and solve the problem for us. And if a poor girl like me can have such a thought, imagine what wealthy people think. They’ve got more to lose than me, nicer houses, nicer cars, etc. (actually nannies like me just have school debts, not cars and houses).

And even for people who aren’t wealthy, trying to wrap your mind around all the problems humanity currently faces is enough to wish humanity extinct. Mostly. Naturally one would want a few people around and if one were rich, hung out with the cool kids, or had insider knowledge about the conspiracy, one might be able to avoid personal catastrophe oneself. But it doesn’t need to be a conspiracy, there are other ways to deny climate change. Waiting for Jesus is a good one. But I think it’s time to face up to it. If we work together we can handle this. Or die trying.

V.O Diedlaff is author of, We Can Fix It: Reclaiming the American Dream.