Double Speak: language of Insincerity

Light of truth

Genesis is about “beginnings” or root causes, and so whenever the Scripture forages from Genesis, it’s usually for insight on the root cause, or “genesis,” of why things are the way they are. So why is the tongue so twisted? The first reason has already been inferred – Satan. Second, our hellacious tongue is a result of the Fall and thus untameable and unalterably so. Third, from the garden came the original sin of pride expressed by Adam and Eve in wanting to be like God. As St James has already accused the tongue of prideful boasting (vv.5 and 14), he sources pride as the ultimate and original sin. The garden, the Fall, the Serpent, the Original Sin of pride – this is the genesis and sordid history of the tongues’ restless evil. In chapter 1, James spoke of the “double-minded man” and in chapter 2, he looked at those who would separate faith and works. In this passage, he’s pointing at the “double-talk” or “forked-tongue” of Christians, who out of the same mouth both praise and curse. Hypocrisy is saying one thing and being another. Lying is saying one thing when the truth is another. The art of hypocrisy consists in the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.

The point is that in a totalitarian mind, whether in politics or in religion, it doesn’t much matter what people think, because you can control what they do. But when the state loses the bludgeon, when you can’t control people by force and when the voice of the people can be heard, you have to control what people think. And the standard way to do this is to resort to what in more honest days used to be called propaganda. Manufacture of consent; creation of necessary illusions. We have a serious contagion whose effects are no less upsetting to health and public order.

We live in a world filled with doublespeak. We see advertisements for previously distinguished cars, not used cars, for genuine imitation leather, virgin vinyl, or real counterfeit diamonds. There are no slums or ghettos just the inner city or sub-standard housing where the disadvantaged or economically non-affluent live. Non-profit organizations don’t make a profit, they have negative deficits or they experience revenue excesses. Doublespeak which calls bus drivers urban transport specialists, bill collectors portfolio administrators and door keepers access controller can be considered humorous and relatively harmless. But doublespeak which calls civilian casualties in a nuclear war collateral damage, lies inoperative statements of plausible deniability and missiles designed to kill millions of people Peacekeepers is a language which attempts to make the bad seem good, the negative appeal positive, something unpleasant appear attractive, language which seems to communicate but does not. In the world of doublespeak it’s not dying but terminal living. And when things don’t turn out right, its not a mistake just a shortfall. This is indeed language which, in Orwell’s words, is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

“The great enemy of clear language is Insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” (4:137) “In our time… political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible… Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemisms, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” wrote Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien, Winston Smith’s torturer and guide to understanding the reality of life in Oceania, instructs Winston that “reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.” St Paul said, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

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