Linguistic Humbug

Monica Wilkie

23 July 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

The culture war — and its current battlefront ‘cancel culture’ —  is exacerbated because the opposing sides are not speaking the same language .

Depending on your beliefs, cancel culture is either  “[a] ‘woke movement’ [akin] to those of Chairman Mao’s Red Guards”  or a myth spread by the privileged “in their war against accountability”  — accountability’ being an equally malleable term.

As Simon Heffer has written, in a free society, the “normal accountability that has always gone with freedom of speech…is an accountability to the rest of society.”  But ‘accountability’ today can mean firing and publicly shaming people for what they say, which is more akin to retribution.

Refusing to put limits on ‘accountability’ suits the cancellers because they can justify all action by simply saying the cancelled were “just being held accountable.”

The debate arena is filled with similar polarised interpretations.

Apparently there are no rioters or looters; only ‘peaceful protestors’ and — as the ubiquitous placard reads — the real violence is silence. ‘All lives matter’ is no longer a universal truism, but seen as ‘a racist dog-whistle.’

These diametrically opposed definitions serve a nefarious purpose.

As Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language words such as “democracy” and “freedom” have several irreconcilable meanings, but this suits many because “words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.”

But consciously using language to deceive creates confusion and division.  Ending racism no longer means judging a person’s character but involves tearing down the system. That’s why you can see a white women yelling at black cops that they are  “part of the problem.”

As academics and prominent hoaxers Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay argue in their critique on Critical Social Justice, the movement “relies on a specific conception of the world: it does not understand or interpret reality in the same way as the rest of us…”

Endlessly reinventing, and inverting language allows a dishonest speaker to confuse and manipulate the hearer — ensuring “lies sound truthful.”

 

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