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Davis, California

Monday, June 17, 2024

Time for a Newspeak checkup!

The deep interplay between language and power blurs the distinction between the two. To control how something is spoken about is to control how something is perceived.

As with any source of power, such as money, drugs and the capacity to really fuck you up, language has been heavily politicized.

The government of every nation is guilty to a greater and lesser extent of manipulating public perception through language, but nowhere in the world would more inspire George Orwell to sequelize 1984 than right here in the U.S. of A.

In the first months of the Obama administration, a disquieting trend has emerged: wrapping up ugly political truths in shiny new language to bury or beautify the negative connotations and public opinion they carry.

Perhaps most notable is the renaming of theWar on TerrortoOverseas Contingency Operation.No joke. TheOCO is the official new title of the Middle East carnage that was the ideological mainstay of Bush foreign policy. TheWar on Terror was itself an abuse of language to power, using words that create an absolutist and cavalier mode of thinking.

To help me decipher the complex illusion of semantics and political doublespeak we’ve been subjected to lately, I enlisted the help of UC Davis communication professor John Theobald.

First up: theWar on Terror.

“It created this salivating kind of response to go in and kick ass,he said.It understates what we’re involved in the Middle East to dismiss fanatics as terrorists is to miss the point.

By contrast, theOverseas Contingency Operation is bamboozlingly bureaucratic, pushing out the red-toothed fervor ofWar in favor of gray, wordy and forgettable phraseology.

Even Theobald was a bit confounded.I don’t know the intent or effect of renaming,he said,but it substitutes a language of policing for military invention.

Soldiers and civilians keep on dying just the same though. Obama is at present promising an upscale of troop commitment in Afghanistan that puts the Iraqsurge to shame, while at the same time increasing remote bombing of Pakistan by joystick-twiddling drone pilots (and giving the poor bastards a whole new kind of PTSD). And those are just the campaigns we know about.

You’ve assuredly heard abouttoxic assets, those bad loans and loan-based financial products that wrecked the New York Stock Exchange. See, when the housing bubble collapsed, it madetoxic-holding fraudulent creditors realize that lies lose their value when the lights come on. Fortunately, the Obama administration has sanitized this language, replacingtoxic assetswith the aristocraticlegacy assets.

Speaking Obamese, predatory lenders and securities/derivatives movers played the game wrong, but rather thantoxifying the economic environment, they merely left behind alegacy… of costly, costly fraud.

“This happens all the time in marketing,Theobald said.During the 1990 to 2006 housing bubble, it was a good time to buy. Now, with falling prices, it’s still a good time to buy.

Again, words were used to put a silver lining around something vile – and erect a barrier of misunderstanding between the public and the government.

Tweaking public opinion with language is no new trick for the Obama PR team. Barrages ofhopeandchange dressed up Obama’s every move in Galahad’s white armor and supportive media entities weren’t hesitant to use the wordMessiah. These words are intensely subjective and this buzz-word sloganeering dropped psychological seeds and led the voting public to fill in the gaps.

And it goes on and on.

“‘Green solutionsrefer to corn ethanol – an alternative to fossil fuels that has been panned by everyone but politicians and corn farmers,Theobald said.

The plan is impossible due to issues of food prices, waste products and, most importantly, the inability to supplant demand, a situation Theobald described asa complete boondoggle.

“Ethanol takes just about as mush fossil fuel energy to produce and yields a lousy fuel relative to gas,he said.

Neither green nor a solution, but boy does it sound good.

Clean cars are just as mislabled, Theobald said.Calling something aclean carcreates these perceptions that are kind of laughable. Is it running on air?”

“Accountability means letting the outgoing administration get away with burning the Constitution, just like every other executive offender. Maybe the next guy will be accountable.

Socialism creates the false image of an absolute anti-American who would send this country spiraling into shortage and strife through nationalization of product. This is in opposition to the humanistic goals that socialism is actually based on and skirts the truth – that we’re already experiencing the worst side of socialism through the bailout of failing banks and industries. Privatize the benefits, socialize the losses. The people who benefit from this scheme are numerically so few it’s mathematically sound to say they don’t exist. Everyone loses!

“Tax reform means letting the Bush tax cuts, obscene concessions to the wealthiest 1 percent, expire back to their Clintonian levels. What change!

The linguistic differences between Bush and Obama reveal the different styles of control the two employ. Bush wanted you to cower dumbfounded at the feet of a cowboy, whereas Obama would prefer you to slog confusedly on in service to a well-dressed bore who knows a ton more than you.

When a public’s language is continually redefined to further private ends, the intended result is essentially an illiterate public – a public only fluent in the language of the Party’s choosing. To penetrate through the linguistic haze, Americans need to be awake, skeptical and discerning.The defense for doublespeak is to know the facts,Theobald said.We need to know what underlies the story.Don’t let yourself be told in what language to object. Observe, then define.

Some say the totalitarian culture of 1984 is overdue. I say it’s just hiding behind the words.


CHEYA CARY wracked his brain to make a reference to the Junior Anti-Sex League, but it just didn’t happen. Send your dystopian laments to cheya.cary@gmail.com.



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