More than at any other time in our history, we live in an age of fraud and mendacity.
Here’s just one example. Despite many health officials decrying the practice as useless, our mayors and governors have decreed citizens must wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most of us, even those who despise the masks as demeaning and inhumane, slip on the masks when required.
But do they work?
Here’s a test. Slip on your mask, put on a pair of glasses, and exhale several times. That fog on the spectacles is air, and possibly viruses, escaping from your mask.
Other experts—academics, counselors, doctors—tell us we can choose to be male or female, or some other gender we fancy, without regard to biology or sex chromosomes. Whatever happened to “You can’t fool Mother Nature”?
Our politicians and the pundits of our mainstream television media so infrequently tell the truth that many Americans are tuning out, looking to online sources for news, and feeling more and more like citizens of Soviet Russia reading between the lines of Pravda to eek out some real news of the day.
So what effect does this barrage of chicanery and euphemism have on our culture?
Euphemism long ago entered the language, a useful device to soften reality. “Passed away” instead of died, for example, is a common expression used to lessen the blow of a death.
In recent years, however, some euphemisms seek to camouflage truth. Some military reports tell of “collateral damage,” which is a softer way of saying “dead civilians,” “pro-choice” sounds less harsh than pro-abortion, and “senior citizens” is now the usual substitute for “old people” in public communication.
In our present age of political correctness, these attempts to conceal meaning and intention behind a mask of deceptive words continue apace, raising a question: What effects does this corrosion have on our language and, consequently, on our culture?
The Media and Language
Recently, the Associated Press declared that writers should no longer use the word “riot” to describe the ongoing burning and looting undergone by some of our cities in the last five months, suggesting that we instead use “unrest” as a “milder” description.
So what then is a riot? Is the word to be banished from the English language? And what word shall we substitute for “rioters”? Will we see statements possibly like this: Those engaged in unrest burned cars in the parking lot, smashed the windows of a nearby WalMart, beat four employees, and stole $10,000 worth of goods?
Then there is the Black Lives Matter movement. A Martian who reads a bit about our culture might believe BLM aims to reduce inner-city violence in places like Chicago, where black-on-black violence weekly produces dead and wounded tolls worthy of a battlefield. But no—BLM with its Marxist agenda makes reference to blacks killed by the police, apparently meaning that some black lives, those killed by cops, matter more than others.
Many in the media have encouraged Black Lives Matter, in part because of the nobility of that title.
In 2018, writer Kevin Baker, in The Atlantic, called for a “truth and reconciliation commission” in the wake of Trump’s presidential victory. Sounds noble, yes? Who would oppose truth and reconciliation? Unfortunately, Baker then spends the rest of his article slamming Trump, his staff, and his supporters (there’s reconciliation for you), claiming “the right lies pervasively and it lies well.” He makes no mention of the lies of the left.
This “truth and reconciliation commission” sounds more like a kangaroo court during the Maoist Cultural Revolution than an attempt at peace.
In his novel “1984,” George Orwell introduced the world to the concept of Newspeak: “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery,” and “Ignorance Is Strength”—all slogans concocted by the Ministry of Truth.
In his Appendix to “1984,” Orwell quotes from the Declaration of Independence the famous passage beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” and then writes: “It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”
Today, Newspeak and crimethink have led us to such outlandish ideas as university safe spaces, cancel culture, and limitations on free speech.
In his explanation of Newspeak, Orwell introduces the idea of doublethink, which involves the ability “to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary to exercise doublethink … Ultimately, it is by means of doublethink that the Party has been able—and may, for all we know, continue to be able for thousands of years—to arrest the course of history.”
Are we teetering on the cliff of doublethink? Are we imprisoning or banishing our culture because of crimethink? Will the “safe spaces” of some of our universities, the self-censorship of campus conservatives, and “cancel culture,” meaning the end of history as we know it, soon be common throughout our land?
Recently, I spoke with a 19-year-old Epoch Times reader from Montana. Maddie had written me an email of more than 2,000 words addressing her concerns about America and her belief that we need to place more value on the family and on faith if we are to save this country. In her letter, she wrote about the “clear lack of honesty” and “overarching theme of conformity and acceptance” in our society.
During our subsequent telephone conversation, Maddie at one point asked, “I know this sounds trite, but do you have hope for America?”
I replied, “Yes, I do. Because of people like you, Maddie, and because of my own children, and other young people I know. I’m an old guy, but you young people are the future. You are my hope.”
Maddie and others understand that corrupted language walks hand in hand with corrupted morality and a corrupt culture. Like the masks we wear today that hide us one from the other in the public square, bankrupt words hide the truth from us.
The novel “1984” begins with the line “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” In this season of elections and pandemic, our clocks are striking 13 as well.
But Maddie and so many other young people I know give me hope that truthful language will prevail. Their eyes and ears are open, they are aware of the machinations of the word-shapers pushing for Newspeak and doublethink, and with courage and resolution they may restore clarity and truth to our language.
Words matter. Fight for them, young people. Fight the good fight.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C., Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.