Showing posts with label political rot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label political rot. 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."


Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Flying blind, deaf and dumb

The  Washington Post on February 2 quoted the brief filed by President Trump's lawyers: "The 45th President exercised his First Amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect … Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th President's statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false."

The First Amendment grants the right to speak freely. It says nothing about speaking speaking factually or drawing upon evidence or logic. The First Amendment doesn't lay down any rules. But don't assume its authors didn't intend any. The rules were so well established culturally and socially that they didn't need to be spelled out.

Enter "alternate facts," those wonderful glimpses of invented reality Kellyanne Conway introduced us to in 2017. That was our first hint that we weren't just politically polarized. Americans are, in fact, living in different realities. In one reality, five dozen failed lawsuits shouldn't influence a reasonable jurist's conclusions about whether President Trump's "statements were accurate or not." Rules of precedent and logic are thrown out in this reality. 

President Trump's second impeachment will likely be about the constitutionality of trying a president once he's left office. Since the Constitution doesn't directly address the issue, both sides will push their points. In the end it won't come down to the most convincing argument. It will come down to votes.

The Senate will fail to answer the essential question. Can a society sustain multiple consensual realities without collapsing from their inconsistencies? Practicality blinds most politicians from seeing this question in full. But some are beginning to intuit its complexity.

According to the Washington Post, during his presidency Trump's speech was "false or misleading" 30,573 times. He faced little criticism for lying from his party. Now that party is split between those condemning Marjorie Taylor Greene for living in make-believe and those condemning Liz Cheney for wanting to hold President Trump accountable for damage caused by his lies. A healthy society shares a single consensual reality, a divided society, two or more, but both share elements in common. Many of these elements are governed by social usage, others by physical laws. The battle within the Republican party will determine the shared reality it promotes. But, both parties need to consider anew the rules of the game, its logic, its facts, its ethics, goals and purpose. The best of all possible worlds is a consensual one. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Jokers



He’d been a popular comedian in his day,
But Alzheimer’s took all that away.
"Tell me if you’ve heard this one, he’d say."
I’d say I had, then he’d tell it anyway.

A news channel lied to people every day.
When their lies were exposed,
They’d tell them anyway.
With false boasts, these news hosts,
Viewers minds would sway.

When sued the channel fought hard
Not to pay.
They lost.
They paid and fresh lies put in play.

When awful lies are oft repeated,
Our country’s aims
Will be defeated.
Aging minds repeat old thoughts.
False ideologies cause social rot.


Fox Settled a Lawsuit Over Its Lies. But It Insisted on One Unusual Condition. Why did the network insist an agreement with the family of a murdered young man remain undisclosed until after the election? - Ben Smith, New York Times, January 17, 2021


Friday, January 15, 2021

True news is good news

 “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” ― Karl Rove

Mainstream news sources and some politicians are calling it “the big lie.” By this they refer to a phrase that Adolf Hitler used in “Mein Kampf” to describe an untruth so enormous that no one would dare to question it. This time around, the lie under discussion is President Trump’s preemptive claim that if he lost the election, it would be due to voter fraud, and his follow-up claim that voter fraud cost him the election.

The mainstream news cites court rulings and election officials to defend its claim that the 2020 election was  fair. Those who claim it was stolen typically consider mainstream news to be fake. In some of their minds a cabal of leftist pedophiles has infiltrated powerful institutions and gained control. Less than five percent of men are estimated to be pedophiles. No matter how perverse lefties might be, it’s likely that fewer than one in 20 is a pedo. How did so few pedos manage to gain control of everything?

Regardless, both sides can’t be right. One side must be lying. The First Amendment, of course, guarantees Americans’ right to lie their asses off. Or does it? Actually, telling some types of lies can bring legal problems. But many other types of lies are legally bullet proof. Perhaps it’s time to change that up a bit.

Between the years 1949 and 1987, TV and radio stations were bound by the “Fairness Doctrine.” This policy required broadcasters to devote a portion of their programing to issues in the public interest. It also required them to air opposing views.

With no policy like the Fairness Doctrine to restrain them, some broadcasters now freely spew bullshit. With no rules at all, bullshit rules the internet. Take “likes.” When a user likes a  Facebook post, that signals Facebook to feed the user other posts offering the same viewpoint. Social scientists say many innate biases influence our behavior. One of these is called “confirmation bias.” This bias describes a human tendency to look for information that confirms what one already believes. Facebook willingly feeds us what we already believe. When we don't consider other viewpoints we cannot grow. 

When Russia tries to influence our votes and when its users make hateful statements, Facebook responds with too little too late and promises to do better next time. Suppose instead, Facebook stopped manipulating its feeds and provided its users a stream of mixed viewpoints? That might work somewhat like a Fairness Doctrine. This alone wouldn’t restore a common, more-or-less factual news narrative, but along with fresh, well-conceived laws, Americans might once again share the same reality.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Bumper crop


Poor Donny Two Peaches. All at once he lost his Twitter account, his Facebook account, Cabinet members, the respect of many supporters, and now he might be forced into early retirement. Perhaps even prison.

His good buddy Mike is so upset that he hasn't been answering his phone.

Nancy and Chuck no longer want to play with him. Even his buddy Mitch doesn't want to hang out with him anymore.

When will this sad story end? Perhaps on January 20. Perhaps somewhat sooner. Another bad boy, Tricky Dick, got asked to leave. And he did. But this time it's different. Only the other team is saying he should leave. The teammates of Donny Two Peaches haven't asked him to leave the game because they've lost their balls. Only Lisa found her balls. None of the boys. Isn't that silly? Bye-bye balls. Bye-bye integrity.

About those First Amendment rights

 

On January 7, 2021 Senator Josh Hawley tweeted:

“This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It's a direct assault on the First Amendment. (Yada, yada, yada) We'll see you in court.”

 Let’s take a closer look at this. Hawley mentions “Simon & Schuster,” “they” and “sedition” all in the same sentence. But, publisher Simon & Schuster has not accused Hawley of sedition. Hawley’s chief accuser is a PAC called The Lincoln Project which represents disgruntled current and former Republicans. Is his grammatical ambiguity Hawley’s attempt to write in Orwell's Newspeak? It's certainly Orwellian to contest votes for which there’s no evidence of voter fraud, but I digress.

 Anyone who occasionally glances at publishing news will know that publishers regularly cancel contracts. They do this for a variety of reasons, but the chief reason is future profits. Publishers are capitalists you see. They’re in business to make money. Perhaps we'll never know the 'true' reason S&S made its decision. Whatever the reason, it's not fair to say, “It's a direct assault on the First Amendment,” because once it passes through a publisher, speech isn’t free anymore, but sold at a profit. At various points in my career I’ve met people who say this sort of thing. Most have an inflated sense of self-entitlement. That seems to be a characteristic of the ruling class, people who like Hawley, attend expensive colleges, suffer from affluenza, and threaten to sue people. The ruling class has a name for those who stormed the Capital naively believing that taking selfies and destroying property will somehow change election results. They’re called sacrificed pawns. They're meant to be lied to, cheated, used and discarded.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Help, I'm a cop

Burmese Days
George Orwell
Fiction, 291 pages 

"It's a drag being a cop" ~ Frank Zappa, "Help, I'm a rock"

George Orwell was brainwashed. This happened in Myanmar (formerly Burma) during his five years as a policeman. He was brainwashed by the pukka sahibs’ code. The code of imperialist occupiers. The code of colonial hypocrisy. A code similar to the one currently protested by the BLM movement.

The protagonist of "Burmese Days" is not a policeman. However, John Flory has seen through the code and now belongs nowhere--not in Burma, nor back in England.

"It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England it is hard even to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs’ code.

In the end the secrecy of your revolt poisons you like a secret disease. Your whole life is a life of lies. Year after year you sit in Kipling-haunted little Clubs, whisky to right of you, Pink’un to left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists should be boiled in oil. You hear your Oriental friends called ‘greasy little babus’, and you admit, dutifully, that they are greasy little babus. You see louts fresh from school kicking grey-haired servants. The time comes when you burn with hatred of your own countrymen, when you long for a native rising to drown their Empire in blood. And in this there is nothing honourable, hardly even any sincerity. For, au fond, what do you care if the Indian Empire is a despotism, if Indians are bullied and exploited? You only care because the right of free speech is denied you. You are a creature of the despotism, a pukka sahib, tied tighter than a monk or a savage by an unbreakable system of tabus."

John Flory's story isn't a pleasant one. It's a story of a conflicted man wanting, but unable, to do the right thing. I wonder how many good cops feel this way, wanting to improve society but hampered by their coworkers. At any rate, it's a good read. This essay about Orwell and BLM is another good read.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Divided by lies


Politicians lie. In that, they are all the same. They differ only in the outrageousness of their untruths. Some politicians lie unintentionally with issue summaries that exclude, misrepresent, or exaggerate information. In these cases, there remains at least a basis in facts. Other politicians lie intentionally. That’s a problem in a representative democracy, but merely a control method in an oligarchy.

 The Republican Convention this week has been a fibbers festival. You needn’t take my word for it however. News organizations including the New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR are saying so. I don’t remember any news organization ever calling a president a liar before the current one took office. But there you go. It’s the new normal. Consider the words of U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz who said Democrats would try to, “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.” Gee, I don’t remember the last Democratic president doing those things.

 I want to focus on one Big Lie. Trump says he’s a “law and order” president, but that doesn’t mean what one might think. In this case, “law and order” is code for preserving a status quo that keeps a Jim Crow legacy alive. Protests against police victimizing and killing blacks have continued for several months. During daylight hours, these protests have been largely peaceful. During the nights, some of those in much smaller gatherings have acted criminally. These people are not necessarily the same ones who protest peacefully. The Washington Post reports that most of those responsible for deaths related to the protests have not been protesters themselves. Some were white members of the far right.

 Since the protests began, the president has lumped peaceful protesters with rioters, ignoring the fact that peaceful protest is a right, rather than a crime. This is dangerous. Once peaceful protest becomes identified with criminal behavior, Americans’ right to free speech will end. The cause is just. The protest is needed. Untruths have no place in democracies.