The Death of Language: Terrorist Edition
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.
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:
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.