Tag Archives: George Orwell

George Orwell’s Doublespeak Continues

In George Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith lives in “a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens’ rights.” (from Wikipedia) The Ministry of Truth perpetually rewrites information and history, bringing about a truth that is half if not whole fiction. They are the early spindoctors where they put the best spin for the government’s means on news and phrases. From Orwell we get the word “newspeak” and “doublethink” and although he did not use doublespeak it is often attributed to him. From whatever its origins it did come about around the same time as the novel came out and Orwell’s use of combining words caught on.

Doublespeak (or doubletalk), according to Wikipedia, means “to disguise or distort its (language’s) actual meaning, often resulting in a communication bypass.” It’s euphemistically used to make a phrase ambiguous. A T-shirt I once saw said “Eschew Obfuscation.” If you even know these words then it’s funny because eschew pretty much means avoid and obfuscation means confusion. The uncommon use of the words means that the simpler statement of avoid confusion would be better to most people. This is a great example of doublespeak.

Doublespeak thrives today and here are a few examples of how the language has been twisted to put a favorable spin on word, phrases or concepts that we would normally see as negative.

  • Downsizing–this used to be called “layoffs.” These days the corporation looks better if they’re just reorganizing their assets and “downsizing” than getting rid of people.
  • Improvised explosive device (IED)–this used to be “homemade bomb” but perhaps it put a negative slant on all those people in homes, not to mention that some of these homemade bombs are made in shacks and shops.
  • Ecodensity–I love this one. It’s now touted as the best thing for our overcrowded cities. That’s right, “ecodensity” means pack ’em in like sardines, or “overcrowding.”
  • Collateral damage–Yeah. when all those Dessert Storm guys were inaccurately shooting their missiles at everything (and every military farcus since), they called what they weren’t aiming at “collateral damage.” We call it “dead people” or “victims.”
  • Racial profiling–it’s now the new way for the US and cohort countries to get away with “racism” when stopping undesirables at the border. I wonder if the KKK uses racial profiling to screen their members. It’s also known as bigotry.
  • Domestic engineer–this was an almost ludicrous one that didn’t last long and was supposed to replace housewife. These days, most people say homemakers.
  • Person of interest–police forces use this a lot right now. Really, it’s the same thing as saying a “suspect” or a “material witness.”
  • Sales advisor–no one wants to be a clerk anymore so they’ll advise you on what to buy. I don’t know about you but in most cases I get no advice, nor want it.

I wonder if anyone is ever fooled by these phrases. Probably some. Oh yeah, ecodensity. We put eco in the word and everyone loves it. When government and politicians use it, it’s time to be suspicious because it’s usually covering up something we wouldn’t like and they have to tell us about but don’t really want us to notice what was going on. Some governments use it all the time.

There are more phrases out there but these are the ones that jump to my mind at the moment. But if we’re still using so much doublespeak, then perhaps we have to look to that

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Big Brother IS Watching, You and You and Me

George Orwell, like a fair number of science fiction  writers (Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and others), visualized some aspect of a future world, perhaps an alternate world but created a story nonetheless that had some essence of things to come.

As Wikipedia says: The novel has become famous for its portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication, many of its terms and concepts, such as “Big Brother“, “doublethink“, and “Newspeak” have entered the popular vernacular.

Indeed, the phrase “Big Brother is watching” is synonymous with too much government control, or the totalitarianism that Orwell feared. After 9/11 and the right-wing paranoia of the Bush administration we saw the rise of Homeland Security, where people’s rights were taken away. Some disappeared into Guantanamo without anyone knowing where they went, without any legal aid or advice. Others, while flying through the US, were shipped off to other countries for torture, regardless of what their citizenship was.  The phrase “Homeland Security” is reminiscent of the Fatherland (Hitler’s Third Reich) and the Motherland (Communist Russia). Though these last two are examples of extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments, they both encompass a totalitarianism and the circumventing of the rights of the individual, for the greater good, for the country.

It used to be that a camera trained on you and watching your every move was considered an invasion of privacy. Many years ago, before Homeland Security, my boyfriend had a friend in Calgary that worked for the local telecommunications company (at that time AGT–Alberta Government Telephones). He could not say what he did but it involved hidden cameras trained onto the streets outside the buildings. Every war commander knows that the way to break the enemy, to overcome them, is to either hinder or monitor their communications.  So every wise nation protects its communications and every ambitious or suspicious nation spies on its perceived enemies and communicates what it sees.

There are numerous instances of spy planes and spies. We accept that that is what countries do. There are cameras on you at the border or at your bank machine, to protect you. There are cameras on the roads now, webcams we call them, that show us the line-up at ferries, or freeways, or intersections, or borders. These are all informative pictures that we can use to plan around daily obstacles. But that is not their main purpose. They are surveillance methods to watch and control people, and to identify someone should there have been an accident, a murder, an escape.

There are those that argue that we need the greater security. We need protection from the evil terrorist/mugger/alien/your favorite bad guy. And yes, we do need some form of security, but there comes a time when government or police forces are also watching too much and our individual freedom is curtailed. I would say there is not one person who has not committed a small crime or infringement, whether it’s lying, cheating, jaywalking, running a yellow light, or drinking too much. Which means, that we’re all human and if allowed our little indiscretions, will most likely not make the bigger ones.

When I worked for Nokia, there were cameras everywhere. Corporate espionage is high. However, with all those cameras in the halls and the reception area, they were not allowed to train cameras on our workspaces, nor in the bathrooms. I’m not sure what the exact law it but watching someone 24/7 is not allowed. The head of security also told us that though they viewed all video footage they could not report on such things as two people having sex in the office. This video footage was only for such crimes as theft and breaking and entering.

Sarnia, Ontario is upset over a US surveillance balloon that watches over the river. The company claims it can be used for disaster planning, and other situations that arise. However, the mayor of Sarnia says that when the balloon (with camera inside that can see for 5 miles) first went up the company said it was for Homeland Security, but now they sing another song and say it’s not trained on Sarnia and it’s just research.

Google Earth has already heard concerns about their filming of much of the world, down to vans with cameras driving on the streets. And that many of these cameras take a picture of everything on the street, including you getting into your car, coming and going, and in some cases right into your windows to see what you’re up to. Sure, they claim it’s inadvertent but the pictures of us are showing up everywhere, even if we eliminate You Tube.

The 2010 Olympics will see a gigantic increase in security forces in and around Vancouver. They will be putting up many more cameras than are already up, by government and private businesses. After the Athens Olympics all extra cameras were supposed to come down. Instead the police turned them into citizen surveillance systems. Hello, Big Brother. BC’s privacy commissioner has promised that we won’t have the same situation.

Taken from A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada: “Despite the growth in CCTV, there is not convincing  research evidence that it aids in deterring, responding to and investigating crime.” That’s just one study but the Big Brother security folks want to sell cameras and keep their jobs and probably think we should live in a society that watches your every move and therefore you must behave. http://www.surveillanceproject.org/files/SCAN_Report_Phase1_Final_Jan_30_2009.pdf

There is a group counting the cameras in Greater Vancouver before the Olympics so that people can, in general be aware of how much surveillance there always is. But if you plan to come to the Olympics and actually venture anywhere public in Vancouver, you can bet that you’ll be filmed. In fact, there is probably not a street in any commercial area that doesn’t have one camera or another. It’s pretty impossible to remain invisible these days unless you’re in the boonies. Big Brother is here, and is watching all of us right now.  And maybe, just maybe, Big Brother likes to watch.

 

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