“Control language and you control thought; control thought and you control action; control action and you control the world.”
For some reason, I’ve always thought that George Orwell said that, but I recently looked it up online and found out that it’s actually a quote by Peter Kreeft, a Boston College professor who has authored of over 80 books on Christian philosophy, theology, and apologetics.
But, in any case, I think Mr. Kreeft is on to something there. All you’ve got to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on your TV or radio or go online using any device and you’ll encounter somebody manipulating language in an attempt to control (or, at least, influence) how you think about this or that.
Heck, I guess you could say I’m trying to do that right now.
But when you’ve got enough people with different aims and ideologies using language as a tool of control and trying to advance a lot of different narratives, then there’s not much danger of any single voice or narrative dominating all the others – and then nobody gets to rule the world.
While all that can be a bit confusing and chaotic, I would say that’s the way it should be in a real democracy with guaranteed rights, like freedom of speech and religion and the press. Everyone gets to speak their mind, and everyone’s free to try all they want to convince other people to line up their opinions and beliefs with theirs, as long as they don’t use coercion or violence or violate anyone’s constitutional rights in the process.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but what worries me is when I hear a lot of different people, particularly those in positions of power and influence, all reading from the same script. It makes me wonder if something’s going on behind the scenes that I’m not in on.
Especially worrisome is when those in my profession (I’m talking about journalists) start sounding like a flock of parrots all lined up on the same branch – all dutifully and unquestioningly regurgitating whatever messages those in power are tossing out there for public consumption.
Now I don’t think that journalists should be viciously antagonistic toward our country’s elected leaders all the time, but I do believe that calling at least some of what our leaders say and do into question and holding them accountable when they step out of line is one of the most basic ethical responsibilities of any self-respecting journalist.
And if journalists adopt the habit or policy of just automatically agreeing with, supporting, and/or running cover for those in power (or at least those they align with politically), well, that’s not really journalism. That’s usually called propaganda.
Sadly, that seems to be what a disturbingly large part of what passes for journalism these day has come to, particularly in the case of both left-leaning and right-leaning national level corporate media entities, which have become manufacturers of strategically-crafted narratives, fighting for control over the national public conversation in what amounts to a political team sport.
Of course, the danger is that if the entire media (or at least a big enough percentage of it) were to completely align with those in power, then those in power would have a green light to say and do dang near anything they want.
And, with cover from the media, our political leaders could use language in all kinds of new and creative ways.
They could, for example, stave off a recession by simply redefining what the word recession means.
They could claim that excessive government spending and money printing doesn’t cause inflation – and top economists could be found to back them up on cable news shows.
They could shamelessly blame the negative results of their own policies on foreign dictators.
They could say a border is secure when that’s obviously not the case.
They could frame a disastrous military withdrawal as a big success.
They could expand the traditional meanings of words like racist and white supremacist and insurrectionist and domestic terrorist beyond reasonable limits and then weaponize those words against their political opponents.
And if enough of our elected leaders, top-tier bureaucrats, big global corporations, super wealthy elites, and the corporate media were all to make common cause with the aim of controlling public information and speech, coordinating their efforts toward securing mutual power and privilege as a permanent ruling class and removing any threat of real accountability – well, I dare say it wouldn’t be too long before the ways we resemble places like China and Russia would greatly outnumber the ways we differ.
So, while I would certainly prefer it if big corporate media would discover a little ethical integrity and disentangle itself (at least in part) from partisan politics, for the time being, I’ll take its current divided state.
Until one side figures out how to completely silence the other, then no-one gets to completely control language or thought or action or the world. And that, I would say, is a good thing.