- The Enterprise
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Are you as exhausted as I am by the manipulative tone of today’s political scene? British author George Orwell blamed the English language for the ease with which it’s manipulated. That’s a bit like blaming the gun and not the shooter, but manipulation has become widespread and deliberate in American politics. Perhaps it’s a price we pay for living in a free society.
You and I decide many things, a fact that makes us vulnerable to persuasion. Advertising is all about persuasion, and so are elections. Thanks to the miracle of electronic communication, persuasion has become heavy-handed. Today’s mass media works as hard at persuading and, too often manipulating, as informing. Perhaps freedom should come with a warning label: “Be very careful what you believe.” Orwell understood that.
In his 1949 classic “1984,” Orwell wrote of a world governed by a totalitarian political party whose most powerful tool is manipulative language — doublespeak. Its party slogan, “He who controls the past, controls the future” deliberately disguises, distorts and reverses meaning in order to suppress the truth. After decades of political doublespeak, humans have lost their individuality and ability to think analytically. Sadly, not all doublespeak is fictional.
Switching the TV from Fox to MSNBC can be baffling. A single event or statement is described one way on Fox and entirely differently on MSNBC. Political ads pull phrases out of context and repeat them endlessly. Sound bites purposely steer us away from context to obscure the truth. We’re expected to believe without knowledge, to ponder without understanding. And you can’t blame the proliferation of doublespeak on a single party or media outlet. They all do it. Would you like to know more?
The League of Women Voters of St. Mary’s County and our co-sponsors — the College of Southern Maryland, St. Mary’s College’s Center for the Study of Democracy, and the NAACP of St. Mary’s County — invite you to a scrutinize manipulative language in politics on Thursday, Sept. 27, at Leonardtown High School at 6:30 p.m. The presentation, “Protecting Our Democracy: Understanding American Political Talk in the Age of ‘Infotainment’” features linguist Kathryn Ruud, an expert on manipulative language. She not only explains it, but also encourages and responds to questions, offering strategies for managing it, so we can all better understand and communicate with those folks who always have political opinions. As are all our programs, it is free and open to the public. Please join us for our mutual peace of mind.
Patricia Dunlap, Tall Timbers
The writer is president of the League of Women Voters of St. Mary’s County.