Truth and Meaning: Newspeak

Truth and Meaning: Newspeak

Some of my favorite books are dystopian novels — stories of future worlds that see themselves as utopian, but are in fact nightmarish perversions of society. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian government and fundamentalist religious dogma.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell, presented the concept of Newspeak — a controlled language created by the state as a tool to limit freedom of thought. Newspeak made obsolete concepts that posed a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality and peace. Any form of thought altering from this narrative construct was classified as “thoughtcrime.”
Students of dystopian fiction see all too frequently the creeping influence of Newspeak in our language today, represented by euphemisms that hide a sinister agenda. We hear these phrases everyday in our media, but rarely see them called out for their real meanings.

Traditional Values — “Traditional” or “family” values are touted by people seeking to impose their definition of values on everyone by claiming that those values are somehow inherent or natural. It does not matter that facts do not support their claims. They simply shout louder and make up new facts that do seem to support their position. The most important value to many advocates of “traditional values” is privilege — the unearned right to deny freedoms to others that they take for granted and use to their own advantage.

Pro-Life — A “pro-life” advocate opposes reproductive freedom, from sex education to birth control to family planning to abortion, even when medically necessary to save the life of the woman. A “pro-life” advocate often cares only about bringing every fetus to term, regardless of the circumstances into which a baby is being brought, and without regard to the future health and well-being of the child, the mother, or the family.  “Pro-Life” is synonymous with “pro-birth” and “anti-choice.” The agenda of the pro-life movement is not to improve the welfare of children, but to control the reproductive lives of women.

Small Government — An advocate for small government is often really a classist who opposes public support of the poor and middle class while favoring government welfare for the wealthy. The small government advocate opposes civil rights for the underprivileged, but supports unabridged freedom for the privileged classes in society. They oppose any attempt to regulate guns, conservative speech, lobbying and campaign finances, but support the complete regulation of voting by the poor and minorities, access to reproductive health care by women and the ability to discriminate on the basis of one’s personal religious belief.

When the purveyors of Newspeak proclaim their beliefs as immutable truth, it is up to us to challenge their assumptions and to let them know that they do not speak for all Americans.