“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
Alice then asked how it was possible to make words mean whatever you like, and Humpty replied to the effect that you only had to be “The Top Egg”, so to speak.
Well, we just have to glance at life these days to know that Humpty’s analysis was spot on – lucky really because he was pretty rubbish at sitting on the fence!
If we rework this a little we can recognise it as our modern-day political mantra…Words mean what I want them to mean, but only for as long as they serve my purpose.
This approach allows our masters to weaponise language; to use it to embarrass their opponents; to make others feel foolish; to corrupt the intentions of groups and hold them up to public ridicule or vilification; to isolate others; to divert public opinion or interest; to offer alternative “facts”; and then, when it becomes too inconvenient, to dump them.
In short, to make it the tool of the propagandist.
1984 and all that
Humpty’s view was reflected in Nineteen Eighty-four where Doublethink and Newspeak were essential, and Thoughtcrime, and Facecrime were pretty damn serious offences.
Just listen to any politician and you can derive a definition of Doublethink from first principles. The ability to hold at least two conflicting views at the same time is an essential part of their make-up bag. You can always tell when a politician is telling half-truths, his or her lips are moving. You can relax, the other half-truth will be along later. Not for them the permanence of The Rubaiyat’s – moving finger… they definitely need a backspace key.
Now, for examples of Newspeak, let’s examine the way we use portmanteau terms to generate snappy, or not so snappy, titles.
Why do we have Brexiteers vs Remainers? The former sound bold, adventurous, swashbuckling, whereas the latter sound decidedly stick-in-the-mud namby-pambies. Ask yourself, is this an accident?
Look at the term Islamophobia and compare it to the form of its current running mate, Anti-Semitism. Why not Anti-Islamism? One form suggests an understandable, if irrational, fear, whereas the other suggests unjustified hatred. Is this an accident too?
I know this is highly selective, but I want to shake up some critical senses here. We are washed over with propaganda all the time and our ability to see through the haze of our state of induced coma is being deliberately blunted by repetition.
Thoughtcrime was all about holding views (in reality, of being suspected of holding views because they remained unvoiced) that “The Top Eggs” found unhelpful. Perpetrators were convicted by innuendo, by associating one set of voiced opinions with another unspoken “everybody knows what they mean” interpretation, particularly if accompanied by a Facecrime “look”. Does this ring any bells?
I know all about Facecrime by the way. It is not as it first appears the crime of spending too much time using Apple communication products, rather it is making knowing looks that undermine what you are saying. My mother often had recourse to say “Don’t pull that face at me ” or “Take that look off your face” when I reluctantly acquiesced to something that I disagreed with, or I responded with a look of incredulity or eye-rolling.
So, when we hear modern-day demagogues like Donald Trump, branding anything he doesn’t like as “Fake News, Fake News”; or yesterday’s men Blair and Bush clinging onto the lie they perpetrated about the existence of WMDs; or Theresa May, repeatedly telling us all that the only options were “My Deal or No Deal” and that “Brexit means Brexit”; or that paragon of truth and constancy, Boris Johnson, repeatedly standing in front of patently false slogans on buses and then having to deny any connection to them in the courts, in spite of what it said on web sites he was associated with; or Jeremy Corbyn claiming that the Labour position on leaving the EU just prior to the EU elections was “Perfectly clear”; or Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, et al, branding any unpalatable Brexit information as part of “Project Fear”; we can understand how the truth can be bent beyond repair in pursuit of particular objectives. Maybe the perpetrators even believe it, but I’m not sure that helps much.
Talking to the convicted (and some of them should be) and giving them what they want to hear is sometimes called Dog Whistling, but I prefer to call these statements popular truths. They are the staple diet of politicians of all hues: they have a passing acquaintanceship with truth, and they are undoubtedly popular.
Do you know who said this?
“Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths”.
Well, it was Arch-Nazi, Joseph Goebbels, who said it at a training session in Berlin in 1928 when addressing the Nazi faithful. Now that’s a bit scary, isn’t it?
In fact, he understated it a bit because I think that propaganda deals in half-truths as it needs an element of false legitimacy. I think the purpose is to generate “popular truths” whilst putting “intellectual truths” on the back foot.
Am I a conspiracy theorist?
You may have concluded by now that I am some kind of conspiracy lunatic. Well, let me set out my personal position. I choose to believe that the world is going to hell in a handcart on almost every front and that those who hold power or have vested interests don’t give a damn. I happen to believe that politicians all over the world also know this and choose to ignore it because it is expedient to do so.
This could make me a Conspiracy Theorist. If so, bring it on – as far as I’m concerned, this ain’t no theory, it’s a fact!
The People have spoken
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me tell you about a critical article I was reading about Nigel Farage recently, a man who blatantly buys into, and constantly sells, this “Popular truth” concept.
Now, in case you hadn’t already picked it up, I hold Mr Farage in total contempt and feel fairly certain that his mere existence constitutes some kind of offence against humanity, but the things he was being accused of piqued my interest.
Firstly, he was charged with being in league with leading American Conspiracy Theorists. OK, I thought, that’s a suitably vague but clearly derogatory suggestion. What does it mean? Does he deserve it? When he was in the US he did seem to share a TV platform with all sorts of misfits, but then so does any panellist on BBC’s Newsnight! What is the nature of these conspiracies? It struck me that one man’s conspiracy is another man’s well-grounded fear; a bit like one man’s freedom fighter being another’s terrorist. That’s got to be worth a bit of a look.
Now, I suggest that anyone who aspires to be anyone in the US has to sign up to some kind of conspiracy and, before turning his attention back to dear old Blighty, Nigel was trying to forge a new career. Our American cousins clearly hold a selection of the following popular truths to be self-evident…Climate Change is clearly a myth; Creationists are clearly rational; Anti vaxxers have the science; more guns lead to fewer shootings; the Russians were not trying to get Trump elected; Hillary Clinton is as clean as the driven snow; if man had really landed on the moon there would be a McDonald’s logo up there; the bankers and financial institutions did not conspire together to make themselves rich at the expense of the rest of us; Car manufacturers did not cheat millions of customers over Diesel emissions; smoking is not harmful to health; Big Pharma does not hold its own interests above those of society; The Petro-Chemical industry just wants to bring peace and democracy to the world; and so on.
My point is that anyone who hasn’t at least idly thought about Doomsday Prepping, even if you concluded that life is too short to bother, just lacks imagination.
So that seemed a bit of a flimsy charge to me.
Additionally, Nigel has been accused of being associated with support for a “New World Order”. Devotees of this particular term will no doubt know that it too has more definitions than there are holes in the ozone layer or in Donald Trump’s understanding of Climate Change; but that is presumably another piece of fake news cooked up to thwart the fracking needs of the mega-rich.
In fact, The New World Order has been kicking around since just after World War 1 when Woodrow Wilson was trying to create his vision of international peace by setting up the League of Nations. It has been frequently re-invented as different things every few years ever since. Incidentally, The League had only limited success, no doubt assisted by the fact that The United States never officially joined the organisation! No surprises there then. Self-interest and national egotism continue as the mainstays of “the Leaders of The Free World” to this day.
To return to the phrase, it really does mean everything and nothing. But in its present accusatory form, it is taken to represent a fear that the mega-rich plan to establish a world government run by commerce rather than state governments thus destroying democracy. So far so good. However, there are hints of anti-Semitism here, with the inference that terms like mega-rich, or world bankers, or global financiers are really anti-Semitic codewords for an undue influence of Judaism in world affairs. Hmm, sounds like Thoughtcrime don’t you think?
So that neatly rolls up a number of loosely connected suggestions that he is flaky, inclined to keep bad company, associates with Conspiracy theory nutcases and anti-Semites. We used to call that character assassination, but it clearly doesn’t touch the sides as far as his supporters are concerned. It just reinforces their belief that he is a man of the people who is being targeted because he is one of the good guys!
Playing with conspiracies is a dangerous game because we never know quite how things will turn out. The public clearly don’t believe much that politicians say – and that seems fair enough, but who stands to gain from that? Not politicians, but maybe just those who pull the strings. Or am I seeing conspiracies where none exist?
Tarred with the same brush
How anyone could imagine that Nigel Farage, or almost any other aspiring political leader for that matter, are not champions of a New World Order, is beyond my understanding. Of course they are – and the features of any such order are very similar. It has to be to their personal aggrandisement and advantage. They must have a significant place on the stage without having to do too much work or carry the responsibility for any consequences of their actions.
This skin-deep slap at Nigel Farage could almost be regarded as a self-promotion exercise. His skin is thick – and I’ll resist any obvious comparisons at this stage, but where are such individuals properly called to account?
The problem with this kind of sloppy attack on individuals or groups is that they miss the facts and concentrate on fashionable scare stories. They generate heat where light is required. They play into the hands of those who wish to manipulate the agenda, who wish to control what people are talking about.
When one’s friends are under pressure, drag out a story about one’s enemies and generate as much phony outrage as possible to deflect the rest of us. Just think about stories that interested you for a short while, made you feel fearful, angry or aggrieved for a day or two, and then disappeared from the radar. What happened to them? I bet you can think of a few. Who dictates how these are covered? Who flushes the inconvenient down the toilet? Who digs out an enquiry, a report, a smear, to change the agenda? Don’t be manipulated, take a step back and look for examples.
Interestingly, these charges against Farage seem to include the basically anti-Semitic element that I mentioned above. Farage was being smeared with this by association. In order to be even-handed, I should point out that support for The New World Order is regarded as Islamophobic as well as Anti-Semitic. It just depends upon one’s viewpoint and of course, what one means by New World Order.
It struck me that each of these terms viz Conspiracy Theorist, New World Order, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, are bandied about apparently recklessly at the moment, but always with carefully selected targets which belie the random nature of their appearance. They are used in calculated ways to denigrate or cast doubt on social groups and political opponents, or at times that are politically convenient.
Not only this, but these very terms do serve, or at least have served, a vital purpose. This function is now being undermined by these terms being mis-applied, by being over-extended to include things that really shouldn’t be. There is a world of difference between a visceral hatred of Islam and its followers, and critical analysis of the application of Sharia law in a western democracy. To label them both as Islamophobia is patent nonsense and an affront to the rest of us, yet these things are conflated.
As Clare Short said on TV recently, “There’s been a widening of the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel “.
“Everybody should make this distinction. Anti-Semitism is evil. Extending the definition to prevent people having any sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians is a misuse of that allegation. ”
Careful Clare, that sounds like “Anti-Semitism” to me.
This is an interesting example of weaponised language as the term Anti-Semitism is morphing to include any criticism of the way in which the term itself is used. A beautifully elegant mechanism whereby questioning the definition of Anti-Semitism comes dangerously close to being considered anti-Semitic.
Thank heavens we have free speech!
Clearly Islamophobia has a way to go to catch up. The All-Party Parliamentary Group definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, seems pretty anodyne to me but apparently brings our very civilisation to the brink of disaster! It apparently goes much too far and will prevent valid criticism of unacceptable behaviour by Islamic states or individuals!
I’m not really sure I get that and I do find myself tripping over the tangled strands of double standards. As I said earlier, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
So what’s really going on here?
Is this the New Conspiracy? Is this really The New World Order? Is it that those in power, the mega-rich, the well-connected, the politically astute, the real power brokers, whatever their ethnic or religious background, have found new cunning ways of supressing opposition, of confounding their opponents? By deliberately mislabelling real facts and valid opinions it is possible to inhibit proper discussion of real issues, of valid discussion of “taboo” topics, of muddying the waters. By demanding equality between the reporting of nonsense and proven fact, by manipulating the news agenda, by supressing inconvenient information, they can truly skew the world.
We have to watch out for this stuff and call it out when we see it. No more sitting on our hands or being politely quiet. Every time we let some nonsense slide by, it gets more difficult to stop the next lot.
As my mother would have said – “Don’t pull that face when I’m talking to you, you know what I mean! “
One thought on “Through the Looking Glass – Darkly”
Wow! So interesting. Thank you.