Newspeak:  Manipulation of Language, Thought, and Behavior by Those in Power
By John Tennison, M.D.         Copyright April 4, 2004

When I first read George Orwell’s 1984 in my sophomore year of high school, it was all too easy to imagine the dehumanizing processes about which Orwell wrote to be taking place only in eastern-hemisphere “Communist” countries.  However, after 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, and as a result of the overall poor quality of the public education system, the United States has moved closer than ever before to Orwell’s nightmarish vision.

Since people who are poorly educated are more easily manipulated, those in power have an interest that de-motivates them from placing a high priority on improving the public education system of the United States.  Such improvements in public education would result in a populace that is less easily controllable.

In 1984, Orwell demonstrated how limiting complexity of language will result in limited complexity of thought.  replica watches This is not to say that intelligent minds that see through lies and deception won’t be born from time to time.  However, even when such individuals come along in a totalitarian society, they will have the burden of “re-inventing the wheels” of past intelligent minds that have come before them, rather than building upon the intellectual literature, foundation, or “infrastructure” that would have already been present in a less restrictive society.  omega replica watches They will have the burden of having to develop and RE-introduce words with complex meanings to convey their complex thoughts.  Rather than having had such words available as contributed by others, the intellectual foundation on which new minds can build will be less well-formed or even non-existent, and thus, the intellectual potential to which new thinking can rise will, on average, be less.

The challenge of building from a poorly developed or non-existent intellectual foundation was well exemplified in Ray Bradbury’s novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” in which the society systematically burned books, thus reducing the probability that non-conformist thoughts or ideas that threatened the state would emerge in the populace.  rolex replica Whether a book is “burned,” “banned,” or whether the Internet is “censored,” the effect is the same, and our sense of indignation should be as great regardless of which of these techniques is used.

In 1984, “The language which Orwell devised as the official language of Oceania—Newspeak—is an extension of what he saw happening in the use of English in his own time: lying and deceit for political purposes.  Orwell believed that careless use of language corrupted thought and that inexact thinking had a bad effect on language.  For his society of the future he conceived of a language whose purpose was wholly political, not communicative. cartier replica Newspeak is another, and powerful, means by which the Party retains its hold over its citizens by making unorthodox thoughts impossible.  If there are no words for unacceptable ideas or thoughts, they will cease to exist or to be a threat to those in power. He projects this use of language to its ultimate end: the complete silencing of speech and therefore thought. The ideal response for the sake of orthodoxy is inarticulate noise, or ‘duckspeak.’” -- APPENDIX p. 28 in Cliffs Notes for Orwell’s “1984,” by Frank H. Thompson, Jr. M.A., Cliffs Notes, Inc., 1967.

For an interesting look at how Newspeak processes have occurred after 9/11, see “The Newspeak Dictionary” at  This website analyses various ways linguistic terms have been abused by powers that be to manipulate thought, public opinion, and ultimately behavior.  tag heuer replica As a result of 9/11, the site takes a look as such expressions as “Cowardly Act,” “Attack on Freedom,” “Terrorist Attack,” “Shock and Awe,” “Enemy Combatant,” and “Iraqi Terrorists.”

In my own field of psychiatry, I see how language can have a significant effect on how mental illness is regarded.  Something seemingly as innocuous as articles, “the,” “a,” and “an” can cause us to think irrationally about mental illness.  For example, to say that a patient has “a disorder” or “the disorder” suggests a discrete “disease” or natural category.  However, most so-called mental disorders are defined merely by having recognized that certain symptoms are present for arbitrary periods of time.  Thus, less confusion would have been created by saying that a patient’s mind is “disordered” or “dysfunctional,” rather than using articles, as in saying they have “a disorder” or “the disorder.”  To the uninformed, such use of articles implies the existence of discrete, natural categories, rather than conveying the truth of the utterly arbitrary definitions and boundaries of those categories.

Another example of irrational thought caused by the nomenclature of psychiatry occurs in the area of addiction psychiatry.  For example, the term “substance dependence disorder” is frequently used and is the official DSM term for what should more accurately be called “addiction.”  By using the word, “dependence,” the DSM implies that “dependence” itself is somehow harmful or “disordered.”  Yet, “dependence” in and of itself is NOT harmful.  Rather, drug-seeking behaviors, avoidance of social and other responsibilities, criminal activity, and physiological/anatomical bodily damage are harmful.  panerai replica uk Put another way, “dependence” is a correlate of these harmful processes, but “dependence” is not harmful in and of itself.  If “dependence” in and of itself was harmful, then by extension, “dependence” on food, water, and oxygen would also be harmful!  Obviously, not all “dependences” have harmful correlates.

Thus, regardless of the field of inquiry – world politics, psychiatry, etc – careful and precise use of language, and vigilance for its abuse, will help us all live more closely to the truth and be less easily manipulable by powers that might be well-intentioned, but misguided, or that might not have our best interests in mind.

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