Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

November 12, 2009

The Death of Language: Terrorist Edition

by tarran

But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them. These words, necessarily few in number, had had their meanings extended until they contained within themselves whole batteries of words which, as they were sufficiently covered by a single comprehensive term, could now be scrapped and forgotten. The greatest difficulty facing the compilers of the Newspeak Dictionary was not to invent new words, but, having invented them, to make sure what they meant: to make sure, that is to say, what ranges of words they cancelled by their existence.

George Orwell 1984

Today an email landed in my inbox sent by the Peter Schiff campaign. Breathlessly and self-importantly, it declared:

One week ago today, our new website was repeatedly attacked by cyber terrorists bent on slowing the progress of our campaign.

Cyber-terrorists?!?

What the hell? Saboteurs, perhaps, but terrorists?

Are people who launch denial of service attacks on a politician they disapprove of to be lumped in with people who massacre innocents in order to paralyze a population with fear?

One of the greatest dangers to liberty is that the ideas of freedom will die out and be forgotten. The 19th century had a rich tradition of freedom, including a powerful vocabulary of ideas, a vocabulary that contained numerous words for similar or related concepts, with different words used to express nuance with specificity.

Let’s for example consider people who use violent means for political action. Consider the words we have to choose from:

  • Activist,
  • Agitator,
  • Demonstrator,
  • Dissenter,
  • Dissident,
  • Insurgent,
  • Insurrectionist,
  • Malcontent,
  • Mutineer,
  • Objector
  • Protester,
  • Rebel,
  • Resister,
  • Revolutionary,
  • Saboteur,
  • Striker,
  • Terrorist,
  • Traitor,
  • Vandal,
  • Wrecker

These words all are related to each other. Yet they describe a wide range of people engaged in political action. Some terms describe people engaged in reprehensible acts, other describe people whom we view as being honorable.

In choosing to use the word ‘terrorist’ to describe the people launching DOS attacks on his website, Peter Schiff is falling for the linguistic Newspeak-like trap laid by the United States Government, which describes its enemies as terrorists so that an honest farmer trying to protect his opium crop is lumped in with pacifists holding prayer meetings an with men who make “snuff porn” movies by sawing the heads of living people in front of a camera.

We must defend our language as seriously and consciously as we defend our homes. For our civilization is dependent on language, and when different concepts are all subsumed together under a single word, we thinking with clarity and precision becomes more difficult, and communication becomes far more difficult.

For shame Mr Schiff… For shame.

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  • Frank

    You’re way off base here and your analysis is wrong-headed.

    Orwell’s Newspeak came from government officials mandating such change.

    Peter Schiff’s campaign is using a societal term that has evolved naturally without government mandate.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberterrorism

    “Cyberterrorism can also be defined much more generally, for example, as ‘The premeditated use of disruptive activities, or the threat thereof, against computers and/or networks, with the intention to cause harm or further social, ideological, religious, political or similar objectives. Or to intimidate any person in furtherance of such objectives.’ This broad definition was created by Kevin G. Coleman of the Technolytics Institute. The term was coined by Barry C. Collin.”

    Relax a little.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    1) There is no natural evolution of the term cyberterrorism, the term was coined by governments and closely connected NGO’s in their breathless press releases

    2) Even if there were, the term is inaccurate and has the effect that Newspeak was supposed to achieve; namely making dissent impossible.

  • Frank

    “…the term was coined by governments…”

    Evidence, please.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    Of course, very happy to comply:

    From The Register:
    US Congress whips up ‘cyber menace’ again

    The early usages of the word *I* recall from my IT days were entirely withing warnings put out by government agencies warning breathlessly about cyber-armageddon, like that silly made for TV Y2K movie shown in 1999.

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