Wendy McElroy: A vigorous ‘war’ on words is being waged.

If you control the language, you control the argument
If you control the argument, you control information
If you control information, you control history
If you control history, you control the past
He who controls the past controls the world” – Big Brother, 1984

The deepest form of social control is to govern what a human being believes is true and false, right and wrong. When you short-circuit a person’s critical faculty and moral sense, he will obey authority with no need for force because authority has defined who he is.

Such control requires the monopolization of information. That is why totalitarian states establish compulsory state schools, throttle freedom of speech and the press, broadcast propaganda, legislate the Internet, and obsessively monitor what people say to each other. They need to eliminate any competition in the ‘truth business’. And, so, those who know the “Emperor has no clothes” are silenced by various means.

The control of what is true and false can be called the democratization of reality. ‘Facts’ are manufactured by those who control information and, then, they are broadcast widely to unquestioning people who believe them because the ‘facts’ spew from authorities or the media. If enough people believe the heavily gerrymandered stats on unemployment and inflation, then the economy is not so bad. If the media is upbeat about the economy, then consumer confidence will turn things around. If enough people believe the police “serve and protect,” then those who cry ‘brutality!’ become troublemakers. If politicians are viewed as “public servants,” then they cease to be masters. Thus, what is reality becomes established by consensus.

There are many ways through which reality is democratized. An important one is through the control of language.

In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), George Orwell wrote, “[The] decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes…. [To] think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous.”

A vigorous war on words is being waged.
Whether you call the process political correctness, cultural Marxism or thought control, certain words have become crimes; they have become hate speech. Thought-crime legislation prohibits the expression of specific ideas, including religious ones and ones that ‘bully’, while encouraging the expression of sanctioned ideas. It is also illegal to indicate an intent to commit violence – for example, posting that Obama needs to be shot or the government should be overthrown through violence; it is illegal even if you take no action and have no means to do so.

In other words, some of the pamphlets that sparked the American Revolution would now be illegal. Or they would be rewritten, as school textbooks currently are, to eliminate politically wrong words and ideas.

The attack on words is an attack on your ability to think. Try an experiment. Choose a belief that you have never expressed orally or in writing. Construct an argument for it in your mind and, then, express it out loud. Usually what seems clear in your mind will be clumsy on your tongue because the spoken word is a refinement of thought that reveals fuzziness. Now write the argument down; the written word is also a refinement of thought. Then express the argument to other people. Their response will quickly expose any sloppy definition of terms, counter-evidence, or other flaws in your thinking. This process of refinement begins with having the words with which to think.

The most important factor in establishing an episteme is the texts of society – its words.

Relativism and subjectivism have had a devastating impact on the status of facts. In a world that is socially constructed, there are no eternal facts; there is only the reality that is constructed by words and that reality can be shifted. The way to alter the reality is to alter the language and the texts. And, so, the task of changing the world involves deconstructing texts; for example, excluding words from Huckleberry Finn to make it politically correct. Then the work of social reconstruction begins by which words are banned, history is rewritten and thoughts are criminalized. An entirely new set of ‘facts’ become the social reality.

Foucault’s ideas have entered academia and society in a somewhat watered down form but they cause harm to words and the very concept of ‘a fact’ wherever they arise. As words become illegal, as words lose their meaning, our ability to think is impoverished. As facts are obscured and purposefully mistated, our ability to reach conclusions based on evidence is diminished. And, if reasoning is a defining characteristic of human being, then we become slightly less human.

  • Wendy McElroy

The War on Words and Facts