Monday, December 29, 2008

Politics and the English Language

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

- G. Orwell

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scientific Polling on the Issues that MATTER

In times of economic crises and rampant North American federal elections, it is not entirely uncommon to see the various manifestations of popular media covered in all manners of charts, graphs and figures based on the most scientifically accurate data regarding the opinions of the terminally ignorant.

The ability to quantify thoughts, behaviours and pieces of the vast emotional mosaic that defines the human experience is perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of science and thought - let alone politics! - and it is an unfortunate tendency of society's prevailing biases that it is largely wasted on tracking such mundane phenomena as political approval ratings, potential election results, and modeling the variety of ways in which global markets are currently imploding.

What I have undertaken here for you, gentle reader, is a painstaking study and analysis of some of the major areas of political and economic activity that, for reasons unknown to yours truly, have been neglected by the so-called "credible" researchers. Using the skills I was taught in the process of acquiring a highly-employable Bachelor of Arts from the prestigious Memorial University of Newfoundland, I have presented my findings in a chart format that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

If you wish to use these findings in future research or reports, please cite the source as Richard Raleigh, MD., t.i.a. [thanks in advance]

he is a bad premier

this one is fun for the whole family

trust me on this

Unfortunately, as provincial politics has been somewhat slow lately (understandably, as it is functionally irrelevant to the government if the House is sitting or not), we turn now towards to the federal scene, which has been substantially more interesting as of late.

 don't forget he's electable, though

as for premier williams, even a broken clock is right twice a day

is this the best graph in the world? it may be.

It's almost as if you could say... a picture was worth a thousand words... ?