Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Power of Words

Words allow us to communicate our thoughts and ideas with others, to question, to clarify, to explore, to wonder, to inform, to elaborate. Words can be used for poetry, for debate, for conversations and for arguments.  Words have power.

As I was scrolling through Twitter this morning, I read the news that Trump has banned the CDC from using seven words in any upcoming briefs for the budget.  WHAT???? This must be fake news. But it's not.  More and more I am reminded of Orwell's 1984 when I read and hear the news from the USA. In the novel, all the residents of Oceania are to speak "Newspeak."  The purpose of Newspeak is to ensure that everything that everyone says aligns with the ideas of the government.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. […] Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. […] In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.[ 1984, pp. 45-6]

According to the Washington Post, Trump's seven banned words are:
Why?  Why these words? What is is that these words represent that is so repellent that the CDC may no longer use them. Dr. Loren Schechter, director of the Centre for Gender Confirmation surgery at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago was quoted as saying "I'm not sure what the ultimate rationale is for doing this aside from trying to erase certain types of people off the map," commenting specifically on the ban on the words "transgender" and "diversity." Rep. Don Beyer tweeted that "black women have a maternal mortality rate 300% higher than white women and Hispanics are 50% more likely to die from diabetes than whites. Banning the CDC from discussing diversity isn't just wrong. It's dangerous."
At one point in 1984, Winston understands the how of language control, but not the why.  O'Brien explains: 
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. […] Power it not a means, it is an end.” [ p. 211]

It will be interesting to see what the response will be to this announcement - from educators, journalists, and those who value free speech.  Some tweets so far (#CDC):

CliffsNotes on 1984 - Summary, Themes, Characters

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