Monday, December 03, 2007

What's That Lassie? Language Fell Down the Orwell?

There's this great service Poynter Online that will send you more emails with more info during the course of the day than you'll know how to handle. But the other day this quote by Howard Fineman from Newsweek in one of their feature articles about what should be happening in the presidential debates really hit me:

I wanted to ask him [it's unclear what candidate he means here even reading the whole article], and I want to ask Hillary, if they think Islamism is evil. Do they think Osama bin Laden evil? Is evil a meaningful word in modern life and in the world? I happen to think that's the one thing George Bush said that most that most Americans agree with. Do the Democrats agree with it or not? That's an example of a fundamental question. You don't want to get lost in the details.

Yeah, god forbid anyone making international policy think about details.

This passage made me think of Orwell's even-more-true than in 1946 "Politics and the English Language" (the whole thing's online--go read it right now, even if you have before, it keeps giving) and this passage:

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.

Back in my teaching days I suggested students avoid "God and Devil" terms, the ones that make readers react and not think. People write God just to hear "yeah! woo-hoo!" and Devil just to hear "hiss! boo!" That's the way of the word evil, a label meant to cause fear or anger, not consideration. Of course bin Laden is an enemy of the U.S., and as such he should be brought to justice. American justice, if possible--a trial where he must face his crimes. That's how America is supposed to work. When we work that way we might just get other peoples and nations interested in being more like us.

Calling him evil is just an excuse to torture and murder. And a prelude to creating the next "evil." Unless we have some plan of killing off everyone who grows to hate our country, or eventually kill them off before they even get that chance to grow.

And note I haven't even said how we liked the evil bin Laden when he was one of the folks fighting the Evil Empire for us in Afghanistan. That's the convenience and curse of evil, I guess.

Labels: ,

30 Comments:

Blogger MCConfrontation said...

god forbid we "label" bin ladin evil. no, you can't do that. that's not politically correct to label anyone, is it? and hitler and stalin were just misunderstood i guess. gimme a break.

4:30 PM  
Blogger George said...

It's not the labeling--I'm not trying to protect their feelings, and to suggest that is inane. I'm trying to argue that geo-political decisions should be made by thinking, not reacting or responding fueled by emotions. My argument against labels is they are generally used so that we don't think after we label.

4:43 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

The only thing to think about when a scumbag like UBL is fingered for being the guy behind terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of innocent Americans and others is how we're gonna find him and kill him.

American involvement in the Pacific theater in WW2 took a mind-boggling amount of logistical planning (the thinking). But it was also the "reaction" and "response" we had after Pearl Harbor that stopped racist, imperialist Japan from expanding its global influence. I think there might have been a little bit of emotion that factored into the decision to fight back and ultimately drop the big one on em.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Bryan said...

You only have to look as far back as March 20, 2003 to prove that "finding and killing Bin Laden" wasn't the ONLY thing that the Bush administration was thinking about.

I doubt it's even on Bush's current "To Do" list.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

This is why Rickey only votes for candidates who believe in the light side of The Force.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Tom Hilton said...

Excellent post, George (and awesome post title, by the way). Boy, is that Orwell passage relevant today...

9:41 AM  
Blogger George said...

I think there might have been a little bit of emotion that factored into the decision to fight back and ultimately drop the big one on em.

Thanks for proving my point. Let's demonize folks by using the evil word, then it's much easier to nuke them later.

9:48 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Because dropping the bombs on the Japs ended up being a bad decision? Read your history George. It ended the war in the Pacific and likely saved millions of lives. Or maybe you think that Japanese intentions weren't all that evil; but then you must have missed the part about Nanking, or what they did to Iggy in Flags of our Fathers. WE didn't need to demonize anyone when it came to the Japanese in the 40's or the Islamofascists in the 21st century. They've demonized themselves.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wars seem to require "demonization" of an enemy so killing that enemy can be more easily accepted.

When you are shooting at "cockroaches" not humans, you are far less likely to oppose killing them.

In truth all enemies are evil demons and those enemies also characterize their enemies (us?) as evil demons.

None of that is true.

Leaders can exhibit evil and conduct and order evil acts, but wars are always fought by humans on both sides who are only doing what they are asked to do.

No soldier is evil, only blind.

11:04 AM  
Blogger George said...

Historians are still divided over whether it was necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II.

I'm also not sure how claiming "they did horrible things" suddenly means "our horrible things are excused," either.

2:54 PM  
Blogger George said...

And I know what the right tends to think about science, given global warming and evolution don't seem real to you. But here's Leo Szilard, one of the scientists who helped create the atomic bomb, from an interview in 1960: "I'll say this: Almost without exception, all the creative physicists had misgivings about the use of the bomb. I would not say the same about the chemists. The biologists felt very much as the physicists did....Today I would put the whole emphasis on the mistake of insisting on unconditional surrender. Today I would say that the confusion arose from considering the fake alternatives of either having to invade Japan or of having to use the bomb against her cities."

3:02 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

The more you speak, the more you prove George's point. The term "islamofascism" is a case in point. Logically, it's an oxymoron. Rhetorically, the term functions in the mouths of vitriolic talking heads like Horowitz or Coulter to rouse rubes who don't know any better into a frothing hatred of all things Islamic. The "deux" or "faux-mocracy" that wins always gets to call the loser the "racist imperialists." Sure, you could win the argument that Nanking was worse than our Japanese internment camps, but the argument itself is the problem. Once it becomes a "we're less evil" argument, we're already admitting we've lost the moral argument. This creates the need to invent stupid terms like "islamofascism" to take the place of any rational consideration of a given conflict.

3:10 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Sorry Marty, but are you suggesting that in the future, instead of using a very succint term such as "islamofascists," which we all understand to be (sorry) THE BAD GUYS, that I should spell it out for "rubes" like you by typing out, EVERY TIME, the "Evil Muslim Terrorist Beheaders That Perpetrated the Ideology of 9/11 and Want to Install Sharia Law Across the Globe by Establishing a New Caliphate All the While Scheming to Blow Up You and Your Family at the Mall, If Possible." Gimme a freaking break. You PC police really disgust me. If it walks like a Pig and it smells like a Pig, SORRY, but I'ma call it a PIG.

3:24 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

George, that Seattle Times link is weak. I can rip apart all of the reasons on the bottom half of it pretty easily. Just because the text is a different color and underlined doesn't make what's on the other end of it any more significant than if it lead to The Onion. The dumb article doesn't even say which historians, so whatever with that.

As for assuming what I do and don't believe, I think I've made it fairly clear here and in other places that I am an atheist, therefore I believe in evolution.

Not every conservative is a dyed in the wool Christian, but you show your true colors in assuming that we're all cut from the same cloth. Wasn't it you just a couple weeks ago that made a complaint about me assuming lefties are in lockstep with something or other? Well what the hell are you doing with that science comment?

Hypocrite!

3:32 PM  
Blogger George said...

But Righties are generally lockstep--that's why you're so much better at politics. Lefties get into fights with each other and see nuance and difference.

I didn't mean the Seattle Times article to be proof; I meant it as a quick summary to show that if you look at historians, they argue about whether it was necessary to drop the bomb. It's interesting you go off on your rant about my second entry as a way not to confront the actual content of the comment--that scientists who helped make the bomb didn't think it should be used.

Finally, as for the calling a pig a pig idea, you've again proved our point. A pig is a concrete noun; evil is a noun, but an idea, not a thing.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

You know, if you'd been born in Islamabad, your name would be MCJihad and you'd be hating America with the rest of the "islamofascists," because it's easier to ride the bandwagon of borrowed local thinking (along with its jingoism) than to think for yourself. You might look up "fascism," which is secular and pro-business, but that might trouble your borrowed assumptions. Your semantic abuse merely conflates pig and angel. They don't go together, even in a country that celebrates the birth of one of its "saviors" by buying lots of crap.

11:44 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Dear Marty,

Your subtle insults don't faze me, but if it makes you feel better to hurl them go right ahead. I'll remind you that I DO think for myself, and that my opinions which I espouse here tend to go against the grain of the conventional thinking on this blog. That would make me a bit more original than the bulk of the commenters, no? It's you and your ilk that tend to be in lockstep: against anything that is Bush or conservative. Any good idea that this administration throws out there is summarily shot down in your feeble little minds the second you realize it is attached to the Bush administration. He could suddenly take your position on everything you hold near and dear to your heart, and the second you read "said President Bush" you're going to discount it. So think for a second who is on the bandwagon. I would argue it is you.

As for the term "islamofascism," well it is a rather new one, so I figure they must not have covered it when you were in high school in 1973. While the theory of "fascism" may have secular roots, it is the fusion of that term and "islam" that makes up a whole new ideology which you still can't seem to grasp. I'll attempt to enlighten you, once again. The islamofascists, such as the former rulers of Afghanistan the Taliban, are oppressive dictator style rulers who invoke Sharia law to govern their land. "Fascism" may be secular, but "Islamofascism" is uber-pious.

In short, your point makes no sense in that I KNOW the definition of fascism, but I am not troubled by that definiton. What troubles me is that there are people out there that push an islamofascist agenda bent on dominating the world with their medieval ideology.

You can live in your closet and come out only when you want to weakly argue against my original (for this blog) ideas, but after your done spouting off you'll just go back into your closet with no thoughts of the repurcussions of ignoring these EVIL people who want to kill your kids. YES I will label, because it's easier for you folks to understand. For example, I have in my mind labelled you as myopic, and I only return here daily in the hopes that one day you will open your eyes to the fact that there are bad people out there bent on taking down all of us, and they must be dealt with before another attack on our soil kills innocent Americans. Now that I think of it, if the next attack killed you, they wouldn't have killed someone so innocent since you are guilty of blindness to the fact that bad people must be deterred from propagating evil acts upon innocent Americans. That's why I am not going to lie down like you folks want to do. That's why I am FOR the war on terror. So no more innocent Americans have to die at the hands of the Medievalists.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK McJerk

Since you are so afraid of Islamofacists and so supportive of the "war" on Islamofacists, tell us how you plan on "eradicating" Islamofacism.

Will you murder every human you fear might be an Islamofacist?

How will you be able to tell who is and who is not an Islamofacist?

Will you wall off our country from the rest of the world since you cannot tell who is or who is not an Islamofacist?

Will you continue the Neccon assault on our Constitutional rights in your feeble attempt to feel safe from these Islamofacists?

When will you realize that this is a "war" that by its very definition can never be "won"?

When will you realize that your personal definition of who you want to co-inhabit this earth is not one that will work?

Please give us your insight here.

And please keep in mind what Ben Franklin said over 200 years ago:

"Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"

8:39 AM  
Blogger Bryan said...

McConfrontation:

The very point of George's post pretty clear - the moment you label "something" as evil, deeper discussions around that "thing" are no longer viewed as relevant. You've somehow taken that as a defense of all that is "evil" - which it most clearly isn't (whatever "evil" means).

But there are other issues - you get fairly grumpy with people who throw you into a generalized "conservative" group, and the readily the same with others who don't share your view.

Fundamentally, we agree. I think "bad people" shouldn't be allowed to kill Americans. I also believe that bombing the ever-loving shit out of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 wasn't exactly a move towards preventing that from occurring.

But let's move on to your most outrageous statement:

Now that I think of it, if the next attack killed you, they wouldn't have killed someone so innocent since you are guilty of blindness to the fact that bad people must be deterred from propagating evil acts upon innocent Americans.

So let me get this straight - the Islamo-fascists want to kill me. According to you, I am more deserving to be killed than people who support the war on terror. How is your view any less "fascist" than that of the Islamo-fascists that you describe?

Do you understand why I have a hard time distinguishing between the two?

Of course, we're now coming dangerously close to Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies.

10:12 AM  
Blogger George said...

McC, the perfect proof that you're a Republican is you insist on having the last word on what's not even your blog. To act surprised that a blog written by a lefty is read by other lefties--most of whom I personally know, my readership isn't that big--is simply disingenuous.

As for "So no more innocent Americans have to die at the hands of the Medievalists," it is striking, as Bryan points out, that you seem to think Marty and therefore many of us here aren't innocent, so I guess it's ok if we die. (Thanks for dropping by the blog!)

Second, why are medievalists so scary?

10:45 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

George, George, George... didn't we already have a discussion on reading into things and extrapolating out of them what is not actually there? Man, you guys read my comments and then invent new endings in your minds about how bad a person I must be. I'll address what you have to say first, George, since you are the esteemed author of said lefty blog.

A> did you really need proof I was a registered Republican? It's not like this is the first conversation we've ever had, and it's not like I don't wear it on my sleeve. God, you've even chastised me for not thinking before I speak, and I do not repudiate that in fact I embrace that about myself. I say what I think. BAD MC Confrontation!

B> where am i acting surprised that a lefty blog is read by other lefties? Man, that's why I come here, in the hopes of actually REACHING you people with a modicum of sanity. I know who I'm talking to! I want to know where the "disingenuous" blast is coming from. I am the furthest thing from disingenuous you've got going on here! See: A>

C> on the topic of innocence and guilt, I believe you mis-read. i said "someone SO innocent" as in 'less innocent' and by that i mean 'more guilty' of "blindness (in the face of) bad people (who want to kill YOU)." Please, I'm not suggesting that Marty (now for your extrapolation) and "therefore many of (you) aren't innocent... so it's ok if (you) die." PLEASE. Sometimes I think you TRY to miss my point. I am saying I dont want ANY of us to die at the hands of these bastards (my label) and that is why I believe in the war on terror. My POINT is that the people that are GUILTY of MYOPIA to the threat are a deterrent to our defense. And THAT is why I come here to try to convince some of my fellow Americans that to be against the war on terror is to be against your own defense in the face of an ENEMY that I am fairly certain most of your readers to this day have failed to even acknowledge. I understand it's easy to do in this enclave we live in. THAT'S WHY I COME HERE. TO REMIND YOU ABOUT 9/11 AND THE BAD GUYS, SO YOU DONT FORGET THAT THEY STILL WANT TO KILL YOU. YES YOU, GEORGE, AND MARTY AND AHAB AND TREKKING AND EVEN AVERAGE MAN. Because you are an American, an infidel, an unclean unbeliever. They want to cut your head off George, and you dont even acknowledge them.

12:55 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

oh and D> why are the medievalists scary? do you really not know the answer to this? lets see. you like blogging, right george? you do it just about every day. well in THEIR world, there are no blogs. there's no free press. there's an astounding resistance to technology that i dont believe you would enjoy. theres also the party line that you MUST adhere to, ala the times of the kings, and YOU ARENT ALLOWED to have your own opinion. if we lose and they win thats the kind of situation they envision FOR THE WORLD GEORGE. and believe they want nothing more than to take over the world and impose their sharia law on everyone! and theyll kill innocent people, lots of them, to get what they want. okay okay here come the inevitable george bush references from your readers now. i know. you believe that we are doing the same thing right now, but it's not true. a free democratic society is what the majority of these people want, but because the new york times only tells you about all the bad stuff overseas you dont really get those stories now do you? so while you worship at the altar of brian de palma i'll still be whispering in your ear about what we need to be doing. until the medievalists take ME down im not going anywhere.

1:17 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

to anonymous namecaller 8:39am: why are you putting the word "eradicating" in quotes, like I used that term? To answer your questions: I will not personally be murdering anyone. I can tell the bad guys from the good guys because the bad guys are the ones talking on the phone to each other and emailing each other about how they are going to blow up the federal reserve (thankyou patriot act). I would wall off the country RIGHT NOW if I could because the threat is imminent. Are you arguing that the borders are not porous? Because that would be a preposterous argument. I dont know you but I am going to go out on a limb and say that noone could be that stupid. would i continue the assault on the constitution to feel safe? Uhhhh, yes. see the answer to question 2. what the fuck do you have to hide anyway? unless youre doing drug deals over the phone or trafficking in kiddie porn you probably dont have anything to worry about pal, so why does the left have their panties in a wad over this issue? i believe we will realize the war is won when the iraqis start to stand up for themselves in the face of the insurgency in iraq. so far they are the big losers in this jihad, since the bad guys are regularly targeting them because all they want is instability until we tuck tail and leave. then they (and im talking about iran here) can step in and install an islamic state. we win this war when the moderate muslims decide that they need to stick up for their own religion and stand up to the animals that are out to sully its good name. only then will freedom prosper in the middle east. hey george bush never said this thing would be won on his watch. its going to be a long haul. your last question makes absolutely no sense to me as i dont believe i have ever published my "personal definition of who i want to co-inhabit the earth" but i will tell you this: in my vision of a perfect world there is no place for these animals that behead infidels. if we dont fight them now they will realize their goal of acquiring a weapon of mass destruction, the mere possession of which could threaten the balance of the geopolitical world that we inhabit now. you dont know it, but you dont want that. as for ben franklins quote, yes ive read that a thousand times since the advent of the patriot act, and you know what i think? i disagree with ben franklin on that one. thats what i think.

1:40 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Bryan,

I don't get grumpy when George calls me conservative. I DID get grumpy when he said I loved Jesus, though. maybe it was because that was FALSE. as for the bombing of iraq, well, when i address folks like you who are of the opinion that "iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 therefore we should not have invaded" i automatically decide that your worldview is narrow. its a big picture thing, not an iraq thing. plus people who utter that statement imply that it was Iraq that we are attcking, which is absolutely not the case. we freed iraq from a despotic ruler and in doing so drew the crazies to us. so now we're fighting the crazies, there, in iraq. we're not fighting against iraq. in fact the iraqis are finally now post-surge starting to stand up for themselves and are helping us to root out the crazies that have invaded their country in order to fight us and bomb the hell out of iraqi marketplaces. see, theyre finally realizing that the insurgency is not good for iraq, but an american led push for democracy IS good for iraq. unfortunately the latter is the last thing the insurgents want, so they fight.

as for your point on my "innocent" comment, please see above for a clearer explanation of what i meant when i said that. i think you folks mis-read. i dont want ANY of us to be killed by the bad guys, but the people that argue against the greater war on terror are deterring us from winning that war; theyre guilty of not recognizing, even after the bad guys have shown us what they are capable of, that the threat we face is real and present. that hurts our cause.

i think by bringing up godwin or hitler you automatically lose the argument, right? isnt that part of his theory? well you brought him up first so i win!!

have a nice day.

1:56 PM  
Blogger George said...

I stand corrected--you don't insist on the last word, you insist on the last 1460 words, too many of them in all caps.

I give up. I'll just rename the blog I'm Not One to Troll, But and it can be all yours, McC.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McJerk

I would guess if you believe the tripe you type, you have to be one of the scariest persons in SB.

You and Ben Franklin are worlds apart and I don't want to be part of your world so please don't be part of mine.

How lucky we were a bit over 200 years ago to have had visionaries craft our constitution as opposed to myopic small minded people like you.

3:17 PM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

The CAPS are for EFFECT George. Sorry but you guys got me all riled up there, and i obviously have too much time on my hands.

I don't want your blog George, and I understand you and your reader's disdain of a dissenting opinion.

You all can sing the same song together (maybe Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," but I haven't seen that on your random 10 yet), and so I won't pee on your campfire anymore.

I can hear the applause already.

Goodnight now.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Kumbaya.

4:22 PM  
Blogger ahab said...

Oh my god! You are one freaky dude, tortureboy.

Admit it -- 9/11 was the most exciting day of your life, and your deepest, most secret hope and prayer is for another taste of that magic.

That's what this is all about, all this coming over here and begging to be spanked for your sadistic masturbatory fantasies.

Get yourself some wetsuits or something and leave us out of it, will you?

6:27 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ladies and gentlemen, I think Ms. Perino has left the building....

9:40 AM  

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