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Red Flags and Fallacies: Manipulating Language

It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought . . . should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.” – George Orwell, 1984

Some Preliminaries

To begin with we must understand that the ‘regressive left’ are liberalism’s impersonators. That I have to describe the movement I am presently referring to as “the regressive left” speaks volumes about how successful this movement has been in controlling and distorting the discourse, because the ideas and policies it promotes and defends are essentially socially conservative/ right-wing policies and values.

The regressive left win not by opposing liberalism with another, better set of ideas, but by misrepresenting their illiberal, regressive values as though they were the ideas of liberalism. This is because the conservative ideas they really peddle and defend are bankrupt and unpopular. Their arguments have no persuasive currency. They have neither better ideas nor more energy than progressive liberals; so they simply use liberal ideas, words and energies to undermine and subvert liberal politics. The result has been to insidiously destroy liberalism from within.[1] The liberal ship of Theseus is being dismantled plank-by-plank while the old guard, the actual left-wing crew, are playing shuffleboard on deck. By the time this ship arrives back at port it will have been completely reconstructed, to the extent that it will no longer be recognisable as the ship that left port in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Creative Semantics

The success of liberalism’s impersonators is owing largely to semantics and symbols. The language and images of liberal politics, as well as the positive connotations and moral prestige associated with them, are routinely transferred to new and seemingly similar ideas or policies. Everywhere this ship stops, it flies the liberal flags. Liberalism’s political opponents have effectively re-branded conservative ideology in a manner very similar to how CocaCola added a leafy green image and the word “life” to their packaging – to give it new appeal. But like Coke, their socially conservative politics have poor content, so the task ahead for real liberals will be to force an inspection of the contents and to get audiences to see past the labels, or to change the labels back to ‘OldSpeak’.  When people taste the product within, it will become clear that what is being sold under new marketing is just the same old noxious stuff.

Purifying the Poisoned Well

If liberal politics is to be restored, then real liberals will have to start by dissecting the regressives’ creative use of semantics and tokenism. The pseudo-left now routinely use misleading language to frame the issues advantageously for their illiberal agenda. Their rhetoric and symbolism has resulted in a re-branding of socially conservative ideas and policies as “left-wing” and of the ideas and policies that have always been liberal as “right-wing”. This means that the well is already poisoned and so liberals will have to show courage and fortitude in standing up and arguing for a closer inspection of content.

The regressive left have understood how to pander to the masses, appealing to “feel good” platitudes and ignoring the principles that bring genuine long-term satisfaction. Good sentiments and glittering slogans have been substituted for substantial political values.

Controlling the Discourse

Words matter. Words frame the debate. They force a particular interpretation on events and persons. When I teach my students about how documentaries frame the issues they represent, I sometimes show them a clip of archival footage from an historical event, perhaps taken from WWII. I turn down the volume and ask one of my students to make up some narration for the visual footage. Effectively, my student plays the role of the voice-of-God narrator, explaining to us what we are seeing and helping us to link one sequence with the next, giving us a filter through which we unify the various images we see into a meaningful whole. Of course the narration provided is incomplete and potentially misleading. My student is no expert on WWII and has never even seen the footage he is narrating. Yet his voice-over shows the class how easy it is to force a particular “reading” onto the material and how easy it is for viewers to “read” the flow of images through the interpretative framing provided by his words.

Perhaps before we begin to dissect the fallacies and general methods of deception used by the regressive left, we should remind ourselves of the substance of our own liberal political ideology.  If the left has lost confidence in these values, perhaps it because they have forgotten what liberal political values are.  So here’s a quick reminder.

Liberal Values:

  • Optimism about human nature (humans are capable of self-government, given adequate information and education, and free access to the widest possible range of ideas)
  • secularism, and anti-clericalism (secularism is not atheism; it is freedom of, and from, religion)
  • free speech & tolerance (tolerance is not relativism)
  • freedom – individual liberty over ‘community values’
  • the primacy of the individual over a “tyranny of the majority”
  • the primacy of reason over superstition, tradition, coercion or emotional appeals
  • civil rights, feminism, gay rights – equality of opportunity and equal access to political offices; formal equality before the law
  • the widest possible personal liberty consistent with equal liberty for others (emphasis on the widest possible private sphere)
  • justice – equal distribution of political goods, equal access to the law, equal application of the law

 


[1] Incidentally, according to a captured internal document, the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood referred to a long-term plan, first “approved and adopted” in 1987. The memo, intended as a supplement to that plan, talks about striving (in America) for “a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilisation from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands.” [my emphasis] Full article here: https://www.investigativeproject.org/document/20-an-explanatory-memorandum-on-the-general

 

About Terri Murray

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Terri (PhD) is an author, blogger, and has taught philosophy and film studies in Secondary and Adult Education for over ten years

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