Post One: Trump, Orwell, and Abstraction
Orwell’s Lasting Message
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” 1984, George Orwell. The Trump administrations action’s in week one sent readers to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, to understand Sean Spicer’s crowd size debacle and Kellyanne Conway’s use of “alternative facts.”
Orwell abhorred abstraction and other methods to obfuscate the truth. He outlined his opinion in “Politics and the English Language.” He warned English speakers about the dangers of abstract and vague language. Orwell gave six tips in “Politics and the English Language”:
“1) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Orwell’s rules espouse imagery and condemn writing that clouds meaning. The use of abstract language fogs meaning but unclear writing has uses in politics: politicians can misinform the public to avoid repercussions. For example, the CIA under the Bush Administration introduced the term enhanced interrogation techniques. A term to describe torture of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, a post- 9/11 prison accused of human rights violations.
The use of enhanced interrogation techniques uses scientific jargon. The movement to abstract language corrupts the meaning. The word use becomes a political tool. With greater explanation, the American citizen could learn that around thirteen techniques fall under the umbrella of enhanced interrogation, or torture. Waterboarding informs the public, but the process of truly making information known requires description. Waterboarding is forcibly pouring fluids down a person’s throat to make them choke, convulse, and vomit. This is one example of enhanced interrogation techniques. Notice the difference between in-depth explanation and jargon. Even the use of the word torture elicits imagery. The use of scientific words like enhance and technique increase the feeling that the actors interrogate withe precise, almost medical accuracy.
The difference has three degrees: A) We used enhanced interrogation techniques. B) We used waterboarding. C) We forcibly poured liquids down the detained persons throat until they choked, convulsed, and vomited. Orwell would have used example three.
U.S citizens, and frankly any individual should fact-check. Brexit and President Trump’s presidency both revolve around such basic issues — not to say this post only targets conservatives. The media consumer needs to ask the question: Can I form an image of what is being said to me? Every step towards the abstract leads to misinformation and confusion. Perhaps another Orwell quote needs considered “…if thought corrupts language, then language also corrupts thought.” George Orwell, 1984.