George Updates George

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
At Quillette, George Case takes a look at the continued relevance of one of Pun Salad's favorite essays: Politics and the English Language, 2023.

“Politics and the English Language” addressed the jargon, double-talk, and what we would now call “spin” that had already distorted the discourse of the mid-20th century. “In our time,” Orwell argued, “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. ... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. ... Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Those are the sentences most cited whenever a modern leader or talking head hides behind terms like “restructuring” (for layoffs), “visiting a site” (for bombing), or “alternative facts” (for falsehoods). In his essay, Orwell also cut through the careless, mechanical prose of academics and journalists who fall back on clichés—“all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.”

These objections still hold up almost 80 years later, but historic changes in taste and technology mean that they apply to a new set of unexamined truisms and slogans regularly invoked less in oratory or print than through televised soundbites, online memes, and social media: the errors of reason and rhetoric identified in “Politics and the English Language” can be seen in familiar examples of empty platitudes, stretched metaphors, and meaningless cant which few who post, share, like, and retweet have seriously parsed. Consider how the following lexicon from 2023 is distinguished by the same question-begging, humbug, and sheer cloudy vagueness exposed by George Orwell in 1946.

Case takes on "systemic racism"; "rape culture"; "stolen land" (stolen from you-know-who); "cultural genocide"; "hate/-phobia/denial"; "(m|d)isinformation"; "climate emergency".

Another one of Orwell's observations, unmentioned by Case, that "still holds up almost 80 years later":

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

If you follow Pun Salad, you've seen that one a lot. Unfortunately, I don't think it will go stale in the foreseeable future.

Briefly noted:

  • Another very long headline on Jacob Sullum's syndicated column. Take a deep breath and read: Why Take Responsibility When You Can Blame Somebody Else? The Year's Highlights in Buck Passing Feature Petulant Politicians, Brazen Bureaucrats, Careless Cops, Loony Lawyers and Junky Journalists.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this month blamed Republicans for preventing Congress from enacting legislation that would make it easier for state-licensed marijuana businesses to access financial services. Yet Schumer himself has played a leading role in blocking the SAFE Banking Act, which passed the House last year with support from 106 Republicans and has bipartisan backing in the Senate.

    Schumer, who insisted that his own marijuana bill take priority and warned that approving the SAFE Banking Act would make federal legalization harder, wants reformers to forget that history of obstruction. Schumer's striking attempt to dodge responsibility for his own actions easily qualifies him for my annual review of the year's highlights in blame shifting.

    In addition to Schumer, Sullum names and shames: Mitch McConnell; sore loser Kari Lake; Sidney Powell, still a-waiting' the Kraken; her co-conspiracy theorists at Fox Corporation; the CDC; Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw; Louisville police detective Brett Hankison.

  • Jesse Singal aims his advice at "progressives" but it's more widely applicable: How To Be A “Heterodox” (Or Whatever) Progressive Without Going Crazy.

    I’m on record as saying that there have been some really disturbing and counterproductive trends in progressive spaces for a while now. If you want the short version, the Harper’s Letter holds up pretty well. If you want the longer version, read Ryan Grim’s reporting on all the progressive organizations that have screeched to a halt because of meltdowns that ostensibly have to do with issues of fairness and justice and bigotry, but that are often caused by bad actors weaponizing these concepts to bully colleagues and jockey for professional position.

    This is an issue, and it is harming the left. Progressives — and progressive organizations — who deny it’s an issue do so at their peril. We need to have these conversations.

    That being said, there is a subset of people who join the fight against illiberalism in liberal spaces and who subsequently go a little bit crazy. There’s no need to name names here, but they often start in a relatively reasonable place, as progressives criticizing certain forms of contemporary progressive excess, and mere weeks later they are ranting about how the Powers That Be are attempting to sweep the side effects of mRNA viruses under the rug, how Joe Biden is the most corrupt president in US history, how trans activists aren’t just wrong about specific arguments but are groomers, and so on.

    Friends, can you really say you haven't noticed the same thing happening on "Our Side" (whatever you perceive "Our Side" to be) after making a few easy substitutions?

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Politics ain't beanbag, so the venerable quote goes, Stuart Ritchie takes up a related topic at his Science Fictions substack: Science isn't storytelling.

    And in conclusion, that’s why you should agree that science isn’t storytelling. Thanks for reading the Science Fictions Substack.

    Oh, sorry - did you find that a little jarring? I started this article with its conclusion! That’s because I’ve just read an editorial—first published last year but currently getting some attention on Twitter—from the journal Marine Life Science and Technology, which offers just this advice to scientists: they should write their scientific papers backwards.

    The editorial—entitled “Finding Your Scientific Story By Writing Backwards”—argues that a scientific paper needs to have “take-home messages”. These are the big points that conclude the “scientific story” told by the paper - a story which, developed correctly, will “increase the impact of your work and the likelihood of it being accepted in highly rated journals”.

    Ritchie notes this idea "is a recipe for bad studies."

    Which explains a lot. Especially it explains why Ritchie wrote his book (Amazon link at right).

Last Modified 2024-01-17 12:29 PM EDT