The Word Thieves

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In
George Orwell's novel 1984,
Newspeak
is the government's attempt to control the thoughts of its citizens
through strict control of language. Since words are direct expressions
of thoughts and sentiments, limiting language effectively limits
the thoughts that fill people's minds. Orwell's 1984 takes
place during the transition period from Oldspeak (modern English)
to Newspeak. Once Newspeak becomes fully implemented, the populace
will be unable to express thoughts contrary to government ideals
— these types of notions will literally become unthinkable.

Language
is based on words; words are symbols for things, entities, and concepts.
Look at any text in its original form from more than 100 years ago
— it's quite easy to observe that language is extremely mutable.
Words can morph and change. Gradually, they assume different meanings
over time. They adapt like chameleons to the context of the writer
or speaker. The capricious nature of words is not in and of itself
a good or bad thing. It is, however, a characteristic of language
which holds enormous power. As Orwell establishes, words are directly
tied to thoughts.

A
19th century "liberal"
was ideologically very different than the liberals of today. It
used to be that a liberal was someone who espoused ideals which
we now refer to as "libertarian": free trade, few or no
taxes, ownership of one's body, and so on. But gradually, ideologues
who embraced government intervention when it came to property rights,
gun rights, taxes, social programs, and regulation of business co-opted
the term. Modern liberals claimed for decades to value civil liberties
as well. However, that aspect of the word's definition is becoming
increasingly hazy as modern liberals
champion such legislation as the Patriot Act and national ID cards.

Meanwhile,
in the dialogue among modern libertarians, "liberal" in
its former sense has been replaced by "classical
liberal
." The coinage of this phrase serves two purposes:
first, it clarifies that the word "liberal" has changed
in meaning since its inception; second, it defines and separates
the political beliefs of libertarians from those of present day
liberals.

A
similar change occurred with the word "conservative."
Just decades ago, "conservatives" believed (or at least
claimed to believe) in smaller government, low taxes, and more personal
responsibility. The term is now synonymous
with a government expansion, unfathomable debt, and the waging of
imperialistic wars around the globe. It's amazing that Neocons have
managed to so drastically change the meaning of conservatism within
such a short period of time.

"Conservative"
was, and still is, an adjective often used to describe libertarians.
But clearly under the present definition, that is not an accurate
depiction. Many libertarians have tried to circumvent this by referring
to themselves as "fiscally
conservative, socially liberal
." Unfortunately, the warping
of both terms — "liberal" and "conservative"
— makes this description unacceptable as well.

Some
libertarians may have found these changes in jargon tolerable, or
they may not have cared. But I must call attention to two more words
which are currently being skewed by the maniacs in Washington. You
might have guessed them already: they are "freedom" and
"liberty."

Bush's
inaugural
speech
was a dastardly example of the latest trend in corrupting
these words. In his address, Bush repeats the word "freedom"
27 times and the word "liberty" 15 times. The subtle corruption
of these two words is demonstrated by the context in which he places
them.

"There
is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred
and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward
the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human
freedom." Herein lays the association of freedom with force,
two concepts that were always contrasted before. Bush uses the two
as if they go hand in hand. The "force of freedom" rightly
sounds awkward to most listeners. But in reality, it's more than
just awkward phrasing — it's an association of two concepts which
hardly belong together.

"The
survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success
of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world
is the expansion of freedom in all the world." Here, Bush rallies
the troops by informing the listener that his own "freedom"
is in jeopardy. Only by spreading the Bush brand of "freedom"
can that threat be ameliorated. Implicitly, Bush states that we
must protect our own interests by stopping at nothing to "expand
freedom" around the globe — if this involves unbridled militarism
and imperialism, so be it!

"Freedom,
by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained
by the rule of law and the protection of minorities." Here,
Bush defines freedom as something the State must ensure, while simultaneously
his "defended by citizens" line pegs freedom as a concept
which can justly incite wars. The "protection of minorities"
portion reinforces the victim status that governments often attribute
to minorities of any sort, bolstering their dependence on the State.

Within
the first 500 words of his speech, Bush has already contaminated
the word "freedom" by associating it with force, imperialism,
the State, and war. The remaining mentions of it reveal similar
references.

"In
America’s ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security
of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence.
This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead
Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights."
Economic independence apparently now means State programs. They,
evidently, are "America's ideal of freedom."

Surely
another freedom-laden speech will follow the elections to be held
in Iraq. An additional curious aspect of Bush's definition of freedom
seems to be the simple ability to vote.

My
own observations lead me to conclude that in general, people are
not fond of statist ideas — at least when the ideas are presented
honestly. The only people who really favor the tighter grip of government
on every aspect of our lives are those who compose it. Power is
universally enjoyed, though it can only be held by a few. And as
Lord Acton explained, it corrupts absolutely.

Therefore,
the only real way for statists to sell their ideas is to dress them
up, like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Calling statism by a different
name doesn't fool those who truly recognize it. But to the average
person, branding such things as war, interventionism, and bureaucracy
as "freedom" and "liberty" makes them much easier
to swallow. What if Bush had not said, "we're going to bring
freedom to the Iraqi people," but instead, "we're going
to squander lives, livelihoods, money, and time destroying Iraq
in the name of ambiguous rhetoric and falsehoods?" Who would
have gone along for the ride?

Political
orations tend to be well documented. Accordingly, they easily integrate
with historical records, especially written ones. A particularly
abstract and ideological speech such as Bush's second inaugural
address, therefore, possesses great potential to influence the future
definitions of words such as "freedom" and "liberty."
The address clearly focuses on defining these two words; they shape
its central themes and are repeated an excessive amount of times.

Apparently,
it's not enough for the political elite to steal our peace of mind
by fomenting hatred of Americans with inane foreign policy; our
health and happiness through excessive regulation of our own bodies;
our money through taxation. It seems that they wish to steal our
words, too.

Don't
relinquish liberty and freedom — literally or literarily.

January
29, 2005

Stephanie
R. Murphy [send her
mail
] studies Biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts
at Amherst. She is a member of LifeSharers
Organ Donation Network
.

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