Posts Tagged ‘Aldous Huxley’

Caring for Words, V: Orwell or Huxley?

Friday, December 29th, 2017


The term “Orwellian” is used often enough, usually with some sense of dictatorial or centralized social control maintained through propaganda, misinformation, and language restriction, augmented by ubiquitous surveillance and brutal punishment of nonconformers. “Orwellian,” like “Nazi,” is commonly employed to indicate social conditions not only indisputably bad, but as bad as they can get. Americans, in particular, are forever wary of limits on expression, though often with some reservations about expression of content they disagree with. “Don’t tell me what to say or do,” we say in unison, and assure ourselves in the same words – but with no hint of irony: “I think for myself.”


Yet what if social control is more readily achieved – indeed, has to some degree already been achieved – not by telling people what to say or do, but by giving the masses what they want? What happens to the practices of attention required for careful reading in a world of infinite distraction? Is a common narrative possible when there are two hundred cable channels, a news source for every wavelength in the political spectrum, and an unlimited array of websites to choose from? What sense of history remains when all our electronically mediated stories are refracted through the lens of current prejudices? What if George Orwell wrote a more influential novel, but Aldous Huxley was more prescient? (more…)

Caring for Words, IV: Politics

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

The power of language can be directed toward many ends. One of these ends is yet another form of power: political control. In egregious cases, language is openly manipulated, degraded, and deformed. Politically-motivated language distortion, however, is rarely so transparent. More often, ugly realities are carefully obscured through strategic abstraction, while the indefensible is excused with distracting rhetorical flourishes. Many who’ve seen combat know all too well what the mind must do to rationalize killing another person. How often do we read or hear of lifelong racists who maintain cordial relations with one or two individuals of color? Political operatives can tell you how a well-chosen label frames an issue to their advantage. These sicken language in indirect and subtle ways, less likely to provoke resistance. Here’s the rub: the critical skills necessary for the “informed citizen” to tell rhetoric from reality depend on the language’s robust health. (more…)