‘What is important is not what the creator
of an idea of genius may mean, but what this idea
becomes in the mouth of whomever transmits it.’
The BBC has allowed Will Self to go freerange on ‘A Point of View’ yet again…. a questionable deceit from the BBC which uses such platforms to push ideas it cannot openly endorse in its own right under the ‘impartial’ BBC brand.
Self has a go at undermining George Orwell, dismissing him as the ‘Supreme Mediocrity’.
Considerations of prestige made it desirable to preserve the memory of certain historical figures, while at the same time bringing their achievements into line with the philosophy of Ingsoc. Various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation: when the task had been completed, their original writings, with all else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed.
Orwell is despised for his popularity…a popularity, like Kipling’s, based on his plain, simple, common use of language that whilst conveying complicated messages is simple and clear for the reader, a popularity based on not being afraid to scorn and criticise those in power whilst standing up for the man in the street.
Orwell is more popular than Will Self could ever hope to be. That is probably all the explanation you need to understand his attack on Orwell…but we’ll credit him, humour him, as genuinely having some intellectual concerns about Orwell as he seeks to consign him to Room 101.
Why might that be a good idea for a left leaning BBC? Orwell, despite being a ‘lefty’ is more than happy to criticise the left and draw attention to its ‘Supreme nastiness’ reminding us that…..
England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.
Self of course lives up to that ‘duty to snigger’ by having a pop at Orwell, thereby confirming, rather than undermining, Orwell’s insight.
Self’s attempt at undermining has shallow foundations, if that’s possible. He bases his whole extravagant, convoluted concoction on a single line, the meaning of which Self contrives to butcher until it fits his narrative.
“It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”
Self declares that language is not constructed but a spontaneously evolving outburst of joyous communion that enables us to interact with other cultures and peoples as we merge and mix words and meanings from around the world to remake English into an multi-ethnic mashup no longer ‘owned’ by the English…but oh so much more expressive, beautiful and thrillingly alien than the staid clarity and correctness of proper grammar and spelling.
All tosh of course….spoken language has always been different to the written, and especially formal language used in official documents or speech….a formality necessary if all are to understand.
Self takes issue with that:
Orwell – it’s said by these disciples – established once and for all in this essay that anything worth saying in English can be set down with perfect clarity such that it’s comprehensible to all averagely intelligent English readers.
The only problem with this is that it’s not true….
Trouble is…it is true.
There needs to be a universal, official version of any language to enable all those diverse people to communicate…something the BBC doesn’t seem to understand.
The Arabs know it…spoken Arabic being considerably different across the Middle East and North Africa whilst written Arabic is the same and readable by all who can read Arabic.
Even in Britain ‘English’ has always varied enormously in words and dialect in various regions and towns. Go to Bolton and you’d be hard pushed to follow what’s being said (and that’s the original natives not the ‘settlers’)…but their newspapers are the same as in London.
Orwell isn’t saying language doesn’t change in the natural flow of events, what he is saying is that effort should be put into preventing those with vested interests intent on political intrigue from manipulating language to suit their own purposes and to reverse a decline in language that results in a loss of easy clarity and understanding.
Language of course does have a natural growth, but it is also shaped consciously by us for our own purposes….the Left being past masters at reinventing and redefining words and language to reinforce their politics…..’Gay’ for instance, or ‘people of restricted growth’, ‘Black’, and definitely not ‘Person of colour’, chairperson, the ‘religion of peace’, terrorist/freedom fighter etc etc etc
We could of course quote Orwell in support of that…. political language was generally intended:…
“to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
But Self doesn’t agree….he likes the natural, organic growth of language as an explanation for change…
Well, in fact, as Noam Chomsky’s work on universal grammar established to the satisfaction of most (although the idea of a universal innate grammar goes all the back to Roger Bacon), language very much is a natural outgrowth of the human brain, which is hardwired for its acquisition and use.
That’ll be the Noam Chomsky who wrote ‘Manufacturing Consent‘, a book relaying the manipulative practises used to get us to do what ‘authority’ wants us to do, the Noam Chomsky who said this…
The right to lie in the service of power is guarded with considerable vigour and passion.
There is a complicated system of illusions and self deception that are the given framework for most discussion and debate. And if you don’t happen to take part in this system of illusions and self-deception, what you say is incomprehensible.
Here are some brief notes that lay out his thoughts on the subject of language and its misuse to enforce or encourage a certain line of thought…..
Politics and language…words can convey concepts beyond their meaning. Words can be made to mean what you want them to mean.
Language can be misused to enforce ideology…war department/defence department.
Phrases can be used to block all thought and understanding, to indoctrinate and control thought…freeworld, national interest, free enterprise, mercenaries, terrorists, freedom fighters.
Well meaning intellectuals and opinion formers who get it wrong by creating a system of doctrines and beliefs that undermine independent thought.
Use of emotive language.
You can use language to shape, form and control our perceptions and understanding of reality….manufacture their consent…they think they are telling you what to do but in fact you have manipulated their thoughts to align them with your own policies. Public’s role is merely to ratify these decisions.
So yeah…Noam Chomsky…good choice to back up Self’s musings on the organic growth of language….not.
Here a university tries to control our thoughts and ‘eliminate the prejudices of a society’ by changing the language it uses:
The idea that ‘among the things that language perpetuates are the prejudices of the society in which it evolves’ is still central to our understanding.
In its responsibility for all members of the University community, the University aims to eliminate sexist and other discriminatory language from all University publications and discourage the use of such language in published and unpublished material and in the speech of its staff and students.
Here again is that use of language to control thought and perceptions in action:
The Power of Language to Create Culture
Culture change in nursing homes is incomplete without language change.
Learning from other fields, we have seen how words matter and can be sources of both good and harm. What a person is called creates expectations about their behavior and sets the limits on how much growth and individual identity is deemed possible by those who serve them. Our analysis of the traditional terms that have characterized speech in the aging services work place reveals culturally embedded ways of talking that infantilize, subordinate, marginalize and otherwise dishonor elders. We present many examples of changed vocabularies that reflect the values of some of the new cultures developed to combat these tendencies. These cultures reflect new assumptions about elders and their roles in society, and as such replace dehumanizing language with language that communicates honor, inclusion, partnership and equality of elders and those who serve them.
So it can be seen that Orwell was right….language can be created and manipulated deliberately and is not purely a natural ‘outgrowth of the human brain, which is hardwired for its acquisition and use’ as Self proposes.
Then we get to the paydirt, the real reason Self and the BBC try to twist the knife into Orwell…race and multi-culturalism….Orwell is dismissed as a racist little Englander harking back to a non-existent golden age……we must instead glory in the corruption of the English language inflicted upon us by those of different heritage….
The trouble for the George Orwells of this world is that they don’t like the ways in which our tongue is being shaped. In this respect they’re indeed small “c” conservatives, who would rather peer at meaning by the guttering candlelight of a Standard English frozen in time, than have it brightly illumined by the high-wattage of the living, changing language.
Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently, duh!
Orwell’s answer to that might be:
If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
As the language changes your society changes.
Can’t say you weren’t warned by Orwell…..
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.
Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispenses with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. Newspeak was founded on the English language as we now know it, though many Newspeak sentences, even when not containing newly created words, would be barely intelligible to an English-speaker of our own day.
By coincidence, from the Telegraph today:
We cannot give in to despair. Instead we could listen again to George Orwell, who once said that, however silly or sentimental, English patriotism is “a comelier thing than the shallow self-righteousness of the left-wing intelligentsia”. Orwell wrote those words seventy years ago. It is time we paid attention, and turned the tide.