Taking Offense, Exaggerating, Admitting Ignorance, and Fact-Checking Books
- Jon Gabriel, "You're offended by this column? So (bleeping) what?", The Republic, 8/11/2017.
Here's an interaction I had on Twitter, the Algonquin Round Table of the digital age. One interlocutor noted that vaccinations might cause autism. (They don’t.) Another wondered if a government can mandate immunization. (Sure.) But shouldn't parents have the right to say no? (Not if they put the community at risk; at least that's how I see it.) All fair questions and a fine debate to have. And on it went until one person replied with what he felt was the trump card: "That really offends me!" To which I said, "So what?" … Harrumphing "that offends me!" has no bearing on any argument, pro or con. It's a non sequitur revealing naught but a delicate constitution.
- Lionel Shriver, "No exaggeration: Hyperbole makes words worthless", The Spectator, 6/8/2019.
See, rhetorical overkill blows up in your face. Hyperbole depletes your linguistic arsenal, and oratorical crying wolf destroys your credibility. … Language inflation has the same effect as the monetary kind: your words grow rapidly worthless.
BEST. ARTICLE. EVER.
- Amelia Tait, "Why we need to hear the phrase 'I don’t know' much more in a world of instant online opinions", New Statesman America, 9/25/2019.
I used to feel ashamed that I was confused and overwhelmed in our confusing and overwhelming times. Now, I'm proud that instead of firing off immediate opinions, polarising the already polarised, I take a while…to consult my books. … “I don't know” isn't sexy. It doesn't win retweets or inspire crosses on the ballot paper. But extreme polarisation is a threat to democracy, and being absolutely certain about absolutely everything only further divides our divided nation. … It is not clever or good or helpful to have a pithy, retweetable opinion three seconds after a piece of news breaks. It is scary to be immediately absolutely certain whether something is right or wrong, to condemn and to praise without asking for more information. Social media rewards those who are certain and who are righteous with that certainty….
The first article is from a couple of years ago, but unfortunately its topic is still relevant.
- "It's a Fact: Mistakes are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry", The New York Times, 9/22/2019.
Publishers have long maintained that fact-checking every book would be prohibitively expensive, and that the responsibility falls on authors, who hold the copyrights. But in today's polarized media landscape, that stance appears to be shifting as some publishers privately agree that they should be doing more, particularly when the subject matter is controversial. "If you're writing a remotely controversial book, there's going to be an active audience that's invested in discrediting it," said Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.
If publishers or the authors themselves don't do the fact-checking, they're just outsourcing it to that "active audience". That's fine, but the consequences to both authors and publishers can be embarrassing.
I don't buy the following:
The economic realities of commercial publishing―make routine fact-checking difficult. Rigorously fact-checking a book-length manuscript, which can involve calling sources and reviewing notes and documents, can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the equivalent of a modest author advance.
Of course, rigorous fact-checking is expensive, but a less than rigorous check is better than nothing. Even a superficial check would have caught some of the errors that are prompting articles such as this. So, I'm not impressed by authors and publishers moaning about how it's so expensive they can't afford to do it. Especially when publishing authors such as Wolf and Wolff, who have a history of getting things wrong, failing to fact-check them is asking for trouble.
The next article, which is from a few years ago, indicates that some publishers are getting the message:
- Boris Kachka, "Will Book Publishers Ever Start Fact-checking? They’re Already Starting.", Vulture, 5/23/2015.
In fact, the practice of checking books is fairly common, though it's also expensive. This fall, for the first time, one publisher is even promising to pay for it. Which is a pretty radical departure. Until now, authors have not just cut the check but decided whether to hire a checker, found one themselves, and directed the process. That's probably not the most effective system, since it means that the most cautious writers are the ones likeliest to end up with fact-checker support, while the writers who need it most are the least likely to get it. That includes, almost definitely, the next big fraud that comes slithering in.
Since this was written both Naomi Wolf and Michael Wolff slithered back.
The next two readings are on the recent weblog theme of fact-checking and book publishing:
A Puzzle in the Wild
Four friends drove to a cabin in the wilderness. When it came time to return to civilization, they discovered that the vehicle that brought them to the cabin would not start. Also, their cellphones didn't work in the wilderness, so they could not call for help. They would just have to hike back to civilization.
Unfortunately, the hike out would take eight days, and each one of them could carry enough food and water for only five days. Of course, it wouldn't be necessary for all four friends to make it out of the wilderness, for if even one could do so that one could bring help to rescue the others. The cabin was stocked with enough food and water to last any who remained behind until help arrived. However, if any of the friends were to hike in the wilderness for a day or more without food and water, that friend would surely die.
Is it possible for at least one of the four friends to make it to civilization without any of the others dying?
Solution to a Puzzle in the Wild: Yes, it is possible. Here's how: the four friends could set out for civilization, each carrying five days worth of supplies of food and water. They would hike for a day, then on the morning of the second day, each of the friends would have four days worth of supplies left. One of the four would distribute a day's worth of supplies to each of the other three hikers, so that the three again had five days of supplies, leaving the fourth with only a day's worth. Then, that friend would head back to the cabin while the other three continued on the journey.
On the morning of the third day, each of the three remaining hikers would again be down to four days' worth of supplies. One of the three would give a day's worth of supplies to each of the other two, keeping two day's worth for the return trip to the cabin. The final two hikers would continue towards civilization while the third would return to the cabin.
On the morning of the fourth day, the two remaining hikers would again be down to four days of supplies apiece. One of the two would give a day's worth of supplies to the final hiker, and use the remaining three day's worth to hike back to the cabin.
The final hiker has already hiked for three days, so that five days of hiking remain, but the hiker has five days' worth of food and water with which to successfully complete the journey.
Disclosure and Disclaimer: This puzzle is a work of fiction provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. The author and/or publisher makes no warranty, expressed or implied, with regard to the wilderness survival tips contained herein. The puzzle was suggested by one from the book How to Ace the Brain Teaser Interview (2005) by John Kador, page 36, but that puzzle had only three hikers.
Rule of Argumentation 81: Consider all the evidence!
This rule could be considered a sub-rule of the previous one to aim at objectivity, because part of aiming for objectivity is considering all of the evidence before coming to a conclusion. However, I have a lot to say about this topic, so I've decided to make it into a separate rule.
The reasoning that you appeal to in your arguments can be divided into two broad categories:
- Deduction: Deductive reasoning has a nice property: if an argument is valid, then it will remain valid if you add an additional premiss―any additional premiss. In other words, a deductive argument that is valid will not be rendered invalid by new evidence. For instance, consider the valid deductive argument:
All swans are white.
Odette is a swan.
Therefore, Odette is white.
No additional premisses added to this argument will create an invalid argument. For instance, what about Odile, who is a black swan from Australia? Odile shows that the first premiss of the argument is false, but the argument itself is still valid, because if the premisses were true then the conclusion would also be true2.
Though new evidence cannot make a valid argument become invalid, it can cause a sound argument to become unsound, which is what Odile does to the above argument. Soundness is a more important property than validity, because it is only through soundness that we know that we're proceeding from truth in the premisses to truth in the conclusion. If any of the relevant premisses of a valid argument are false, then the conclusion may or may not be true. So, false premisses give no good reason for believing the conclusion of a valid deductive argument.
- Induction: Unless you are doing mathematics or logic, much of your reasoning will be inductive. There is a little-known, but important principle of inductive reasoning called "the total evidence requirement3": all relevant evidence must be considered. Inductive reasoning can be weakened by the introduction of new information. Compare the following inductive argument to the deductive one above:
Every swan that I have seen before today was white.
Therefore, all swans are white.
If I then see Odile today, I am no longer justified in concluding that all swans are white4, since the evidence of Odile weakens the argument.
So, whether you're reasoning deductively or inductively, you need to look for all the evidence that has a bearing on your conclusion. If you don't look for the evidence that shows that conclusion false, you won't find it even if it's there.
Moreover, even if you're acting as an advocate, it's still important to examine all the evidence. There are two reasons for this:
- Avoiding Nasty Surprises: One reason that you need to be aware of all the evidence is so that you won't be surprised when your opponent presents it5. If your opponent reveals an important piece of evidence that undermines your case, you will be caught without a defense if you aren't even aware of its existence6. A good advocate will be prepared to rebut any such counter-evidence.
- Planning Your Strategy: Another reason to be aware of all of the evidence as soon as possible is because you need it in order to plan your argumentative strategy. As an advocate, you don't want to take up an indefensible position, since you may lose the battle. As in war, it is sometimes better to make a strategic retreat to a more defensible position than to make a suicidal stand.
For instance, suppose that you are a defense attorney defending a client against a murder charge. If, in the course of assembling your case, you discover evidence that strongly indicates that your client is guilty, you may want to pursue a plea bargain for your client, rather than to go to trial. Either that, or you may suggest that your client plead guilty and then argue for leniency at sentencing.
There are two steps to applying this rule:
- Seek all of the evidence: Before you can consider it, you must gather as much of the evidence as you can. In particular, look for evidence that counts against your case. As I argued in the previous rule, one way to aim at objectivity is to compensate for your own biases. If you are an advocate for a particular position then you are biased in favor of it. The temptation, especially if you're an advocate, is to only look for evidence that will reinforce your case. Instead, make a point of thinking about what sort of evidence would undermine your case, then look for it.
If you don't find evidence against your case, excellent! Then you can be more confident that you have a strong case. If you do find evidence that undermines your case, then you can either prepare a defense against it or consider changing your position to counter it, as explained above. Remember Feynman's principle: don't fool yourself7!
- Weigh all of the evidence: Once you have gathered all of the relevant evidence that you can find, you need to take it into consideration when drawing your conclusions. I'll have more to say about how to do this in a future entry.
There are two problems with applying this rule:
- You never have all of the evidence: If this is true, it may seem that I am once again asking you to do the impossible. However, as in the objectivity rule, I'm not asking the impossible, just that you consider all of the relevant evidence that you find after making a sincere effort to find it all.
The fact that you never do have all of the evidence is a good reason to be cautious in your conclusions. For instance, you may conclude, based on extensive experience, that all swans are white, but a single black swan will overturn that conclusion. If, swan-like, you stick your neck out and claim that all swans are white, your opponent may chop your head off. For that reason, you may want to hedge your claim.
- What counts as evidence?: Not everything counts as evidence. Only facts that are relevant to the claim at issue are evidence. What is relevant? Any fact which changes the probability that the claim is true is a relevant piece of evidence. To return to the defense attorney example: the issue is whether your client is guilty. Thus, any fact that makes it either less likely or more likely that your client is guilty is relevant evidence. I'll have more to say on relevance in a future entry.
So, if you consider all of the evidence that I've given above, I hope you will come to the conclusion that you should, indeed, consider all the evidence.
Next Month: Rule 9
- Previous entries in this series:
- Rule of Argumentation 1: Appeal to reason!, 12/14/2018.
- Rule of Argumentation 2: Be ready to be wrong!, 1/26/2019.
- Rule of Argumentation 3: Focus on claims and arguments!, 2/13/2019.
- Rule of Argumentation 4: Be as definite as possible!, 3/8/2019.
- Rule of Argumentation 5: Be as precise as necessary!, 5/29/2019.
- Rule of Argumentation 6: Defend your position!, 7/7/2019.
- Rule of Argumentation 7: Aim at objectivity!, 8/9/2019.
- This is the definition of "valid".
- See: Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic (10th edition), section 1.4.
- Though I might be justified in concluding that almost all are, or most are.
- Throughout this part of the entry I am going to use the analogy of argumentation to war, fighting, and other types of conflict. I criticized this analogy in a previous lesson―see rule 3, under note 1, above―but as I pointed out in a footnote, it's almost impossible not to use it. Keep in mind that it's only an analogy, and can be misleading, though in this case I hope it will help the reader understand the points I'm making.
- For instance, feminist writer Naomi Wolf was blind-sided by evidence that undermined the case she made in her most recent book, and as a result was publicly humiliated and had the book's publication delayed. See: Wolf's Howler, 5/31/2019.
- The full statement of the principle is: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself―and you are the easiest person to fool." See the entry for rule 6, under note 1, above.
Déjà Vu All Over Again1
The third Democratic presidential forum was three hours long, so there was a lot said, and I haven't even read the whole transcript yet. However, one exchange caused me to experience déjà vu. In the middle of a discussion of education policy, Bernie Sanders interjected: "We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and yet we have the highest child poverty rate of almost any country on earth.2" I seemed to remember logic checking this same claim made by him in a previous debate.
It turns out that Sanders made a similar claim in one of the Democratic debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016: "…[In the United States] today…you have the highest rate of child poverty of almost any major country on Earth.3" The only substantive difference between these two claims is that Sanders dropped the qualifier "major" from the more recent one, thus strengthening what he was claiming. Did Sanders just forget to include it? The original claim was not very plausible, but the claim without "major" is very implausible, especially if "we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world".
As I mentioned in the previous entry, Sanders has been making versions of this claim since at least 2015. In the original version of the claim, he did not hedge the "any" with "almost", that is, he claimed that America had the highest rate of child poverty of any major country. At the time, Politifact judged his claim to be "mostly false", and subsequently he added the "almost".
A problem with all of the versions of this claim are that the sources that are supposed to support it measure "relative poverty" rather than "absolute poverty". For instance, NBC News' fact check of the claim4 points to a fact sheet on child poverty from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development5. "The poverty threshold is set here at 50% of the median disposable income in each country", according to the fact sheet, that is, the percentage of children in "poverty" is the percentage of those living in households whose income is less that 50% of the median income in that nation6.
As a result, the "child relative income poverty rate" is not a measure of what most people think of as poverty, namely, absolute poverty, as I explained in the earlier entry. Moreover, since median incomes differ from country to country, comparing the child poverty rates of different countries is comparing apples to oranges. For example, suppose country A has a median income of $10,000 and country Z has a median income of only $1,000. Then, the poverty threshold in country A is $5,000 whereas it is $500 in country Z. Someone making $4,000 would be poor in A, but not poor in Z―in fact, eight times the relative poverty threshold and four times the median income is probably relatively rich in Z8.
NBC refers to Sanders' claim as "hyperbole"7, which is overly charitable: "whopper" would be more accurate. After all, Sanders was fact-checked on this three years ago, and he seems to have added the "almost" hedge to the claim due to the initial criticism, so he should know better.
Feel the burn, Bernie, your pants are on fire.
- This is a "Yogi-ism", that is, something supposedly said by baseball player Yogi Berra. However, a lot of Yogi-isms were falsely attributed to Berra, as memorialized in another one: "I never said most of the things I said". See: Scott Stump, "'It's deja vu all over again': 27 of Yogi Berra's most memorable 'Yogi-isms'", Today, 9/23/2015.
- The Fix team, "Transcript: The third Democratic debate", The Washington Post, 9/12/2019.
- See: Humpty-Dumptying, 2/16/2016.
- Jane C. Timm & Adam Edelman, "Democratic Debate fact-check: 10 candidates take the stage in Houston", NBC News, 9/13/2019.
- "CO2.2: Child poverty", OECD, 7/13/2018.
- Time also did a fact check of this claim, but cited a different source. However, that source also used a definition of "child poverty" relative to the median income of the nation, in this case below 60%. See: Rachel E. Greenspan, Abigail Abrams, Tara Law & Madeleine Carlisle, "Fact-Checking the Candidates From the Third Democratic Presidential Debate", Time, 9/13/2019.
- The Time article linked in the previous note calls the claim "exaggerated", which is an understatement.
- Correction (9/17/2019): I originally wrote here: "…eight times the median income is probably relatively rich in Z," which is incorrect.
New Book: The Ministry of Truth
Title: The Ministry of Truth
Subtitle: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984
Author: Dorian Lynskey
Quote: "…[T]he fact that the novel speaks to us so loudly and clearly in 2019 is a terrible indictment of politicians and citizens alike. While it's still a warning, it has also become a reminder of all the painful lessons that the world appears to have unlearned since Orwell's lifetime, especially those concerning the fragility of truth in the face of power. I hesitate to say that Nineteen Eighty-Four is more relevant than ever, but it's a damn sight more relevant than it should be.1"
Apropos of Orwell's novel 1984, which I quoted in the previous entry, there's a new book out that calls itself a "biography" of it. There can be, and indeed are, biographies of Orwell―several, in fact―so we probably don't need another one of those. Strictly speaking, since books are not alive, they can't have biographies. However, books can be said to have a metaphorical "life", and 1984 has had an unusually long one. As suggested by the Quote from the new book, above, that may be unfortunate. If only Orwell's book seemed totally outdated today.
Who is Dorian Lynskey? I'd never heard of him prior to this book, which is no criticism―he's probably never heard of me! Apparently, he's a freelance journalist2 who's written one previous book on protest songs3. So, it's not obvious why he's the man to write this book except, perhaps, that he's the one who thought of it.
As with all other "New Book" entries on this weblog, I have yet to read this book in its entirety, though I have been able to read some parts of it thanks to Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature. As a result, I can't review it or recommend it yet, but I enjoyed the parts that I was able to read, and look forward to reading the rest. However, I'm already an Orwell fan, and if you're not as interested in 1984 as I am, you may not be as interested in this book. Of course, you probably shouldn't read a book about another book that you haven't already read, so if you haven't read 1984 then do so first4. Why else should you read it? Because, according to Lynskey:
…Nineteen Eighty-Four is a durable compendium of everything [Orwell] ever learned about human nature as it relates to politics―every cognitive bias, unexamined prejudice, moral compromise, trick of language and mechanism of power that enables injustice to gain the upper hand―and remains an unbeatable guide to what to watch out for.5
Speaking of close encounters with political doublespeak, tonight is this month's Democratic presidential forum6. This time, there will thankfully be only one night of "debating", but ten candidates qualified. So, once again, each candidate will have only about ten minutes to speak, chopped up into one-minute soundbites. There will be four moderators, which is at least moving in the right direction, but why they can't get it down to one escapes me. As a result of all these factors, there will probably be very little debating going on, with dodged questions and canned answers instead.
As usual, I will not be watching it, but waiting to read a transcript. So, I may have something to say about it tomorrow at the earliest. Given the recent theme on this weblog of doublespeak, I'll make a special point of looking for examples of it.
Correction & Update (9/13/2019): I assumed when I wrote the last two paragraphs above about last night's forum that it would be the same length as the previous ones―namely, two hours―but it was three hours long! As a result, the candidates should have had approximately fifteen minutes to speak apiece, instead of only ten. Presumably, this change was in response to the criticism that the candidates were getting so little time that the forums lack substance and are uninformative. It's an improvement in one way, but at the cost of making it even less likely that many viewers watched the entire event.
A better solution would be to reduce the number of candidates on the stage, even if this means splitting the debate up into two: one for the contenders and one for the also-rans. A number of the candidates on the stage last night languish in the polls in the low single digits, within the margin of error of zero, which might well be statistical noise. The Democrats might just as well pull some random person off the street and put them up there at the end of the row. Why not require that each candidate poll significantly above zero7 in at least one poll in order to qualify?
At any rate, the extra length to the debate means that reading the transcript is a longer, harder slog, and I'd almost rather spend my time reading A Return to Love.
- P. xix. All citations of only page numbers are to the new book.
- P. 272.
- P. 359.
- I'm currently in the middle of Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love, which is a book about Helen Schucman's book A Course in Miracles, which I haven't read. So, do as I say, not as I do. However, the only reason I'm reading Williamson's tedious book is because she's running for president and I'm curious about her beliefs. Unfortunately, she failed to qualify for tonight's debate.
- P. 268.
- Madeleine Carlisle, "Democratic Debate Live: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and More Face Off in Houston", Time, 9/12/2019.
- ≥3%, or even >3%. Also, it might be a good idea to require this in more than one poll in order to eliminate outliers―whatever it takes to get the line-up down to a more manageable number.
Close Encounters with Doublespeak of the Third Kind
…[M]odern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning…. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.1
A few years ago2, I criticized a scheme by some parts of the Obama administration to adopt a new lexicon designed to help integrate criminal offenders back into society. The main purpose of the new terms was to conceal the fact that those people had been in prison for committing crimes, that is, the new words and phrases were euphemisms. Presumably, the new language was intended to fool potential employers who might hesitate to hire a "criminal", but be less resistant to employing a "person who committed a crime".
Of course, like most such doublespeak, nobody would be long fooled by such changes. The notion that someone would be more likely to hire "an individual who was incarcerated" rather than a "convict" or "offender" seems to assume that employers, instead of the people who invent such transparent euphemisms, are idiots.
In addition, some of the words that were to be replaced, such as "offender" and "juvenile delinquent", were old euphemisms that had worn out over time and lost their power. The same thing will happen to the new ones, and probably sooner rather than later because they are so easy to see through.
Given the change of administrations, I'm not sure whether the Department of Justice is still recommending the use of this doublespeak, but even if it's dropped it, San Francisco has taken it up, according to the Chronicle:
The words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” would be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under new “person first” language guidelines adopted by the Board of Supervisors. …[W]hat was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a “formerly incarcerated person,” or a “justice-involved” person or simply a “returning resident.” Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a “person on parole,” or “person under supervision.” A juvenile “delinquent” will become a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.” And drug addicts or substance abusers will become “a person with a history of substance use.”3
One of the terms that I discussed three years ago was the adjectival-phrase "justice-involved", which makes a reappearance in the San Francisco guidelines. For instance, "justice-involved youth" was to replace "juvenile delinquent": notice the gain of an additional word and two more letters.
Here is the complete list of examples of "person-first language"4―a name that is itself doublespeak―put out by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors:
|Addict, substance abuser||Person with a history of substance use|
|Convict, inmate||Currently incarcerated person|
|Drug offender||Person convicted of a drug offense|
|Felon||Person with a felony conviction|
|Offender||Formerly incarcerated person, returning resident|
|Parolee, probationer||Person on parole, person under supervision|
|Violent offender, serious offender||A person convicted of a violent/serious offense|
|Returning citizen, illegal alien||Person, individual|
|Juvenile offender, juvenile delinquent||Young person with justice system involvement, young person impacted by the justice system|
These are given as "models of the appropriate use of person-first language", rather than horrid examples. My favorite is "young person impacted by the justice system" instead of "juvenile delinquent": not only is it five words and more than twice as many letters longer, but it makes it sound as though it's the justice system that is acting on the passive youth, rather than the kid getting caught committing a crime. If only the justice system would stop impacting young people!
A close second is "person with a history of substance use" in place of "substance abuser": again, it's five words longer with over twice as many letters. Also, "substance abuser" is already a euphemism5, since "substance" is a highly general word: for instance, water is a substance. Thus, "substance abuser" is the type of euphemism in which a general word is substituted for a more specific one, losing information in the process.
Of course, the substances abused by substance abusers are drugs, usually illegal ones. In contrast, who isn't a person with a history of substance use? If you've ever drunk alcohol or smoked tobacco or marijuana, you have a history of "substance" use, but that doesn't make you a "substance abuser" let alone an "addict".
A feature of these examples is how all but one substitutes a longer word or phrase for a shorter one. William Lutz identified four kinds of doublespeak6, the first kind being euphemism. In addition, he writes:
A third kind of doublespeak is gobbledygook or bureaucratese. …[S]uch doublespeak is simply a matter of piling on words, of overwhelming the audience with words…and the longer the sentences the better.7
"Person-first language" is, thus, doublespeak of both the first and third kinds. The fact that people's eyes will glaze over when they read it is not a bug, it's a feature. It's not language meant to communicate, instead it's designed to withhold information while giving the illusion of communication.
As I mentioned, there is one exception to these phrases being doublespeak of the third kind, and that is a telling one: instead of "illegal alien", we're to say simply "person" or "individual". In this way, all information has been removed from the phrase, except for the obvious fact of personhood. The previous preferred locution "undocumented immigrant8" contained some residual information about the person's immigration status, and it may already have ceased to function as a euphemism as people realized what it means.
So, in the course of a few decades we've moved from "illegal alien" to "individual". This is remarkable "progress" in doublespeak in the sense that all relevant information has now been removed from the term.
As George Orwell wrote about Newspeak, the doublespeak language in his novel 1984: "It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought…should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.9" If you follow these guidelines, the heretical thought that there's a difference between a citizen and a foreigner who has entered the country in violation of the law will be unsayable if not unthinkable.
Orwell also wrote: "It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050.9" We seem right on track to make that deadline.
- George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language".
- Department of Doublespeak, 5/11/2016.
- Phil Matier, "SF Board of Supervisors sanitizes language of criminal justice system", San Francisco Chronicle, 8/11/2019.
- "Adopting and Utilizing Person-First Language When Referring to People With a Criminal Record", San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Resolution No. 336-19, 7/17/2019.
- William Lutz mentioned that "substance abuse" was a euphemism for drug addiction in his book from 1989: Doublespeak: From "Revenue Enhancement" to "Terminal Living"; How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You, p. 64. He included "substance abuser" as a euphemism for "drug addict" in his later book: Doublespeak Defined: Cut Through the Bull**** and Get the Point (1999), p. 67.
- Lutz, Doublespeak, pp. 2-7.
- Lutz, Doublespeak, p. 5.
- Ten years ago, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists was advocating this euphemism; see: Documented Doublespeak, 9/16/2009.
- George Orwell, 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism (1963), edited by Irving Howe, p. 132.
Marianne Williamson Channels Pat Robertson
Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson posted and then deleted the following nitwitticism:
The Bahamas, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas…1 may all be in our prayers now. Millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from land is not a wacky idea; it is a creative use of the power of the mind. Two minutes of prayer, visualization, meditation for those in the way of the storm[sic]2
I can certainly understand why people feel comforted by their own or other people's prayers or good wishes, especially if such things are part of their religion. However, Williamson seems to go beyond that psychological observation, suggesting that "millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from land" will actually cause the hurricane to do so. What else does she mean by "a creative use of the power of the mind"?
A more traditional religious interpretation is that a prayer is a supplication of a god, and it is the god that changes the course of the storm. If the storm doesn't change course that's because the god, for its own inscrutable reasons, decided not to answer the prayer, or at least not to do so in the way prayed for. Under this interpretation, the efficacy of prayer is untestable, since whatever happens is the god's doing―whether that's a bug or a feature depends on your point of view.
That Williamson actually believes―or at least pretends to believe―that the human mind can affect the physical world directly, without the intervention of the human body, is supported by her past teachings. If reality is an illusion and only love is real, then it's not so surprising that she thinks that hurricanes can be diverted by "the power of the mind", or that vaccines are unnecessary and even harmful3.
What I don't understand is why Williamson deleted the message. Doing so only served to draw more attention to it, since it appeared that she was trying to hide it. But it was too late: someone had already taken a screenshot of it.
In addition, her spokeswoman subsequently claimed that what Williamson had written was a "metaphor"4. But what was metaphorical about it? Does that mean we're not supposed to take Williamson's talk of "love" and "miracles" literally? However, Williamson went on to defend the idea of praying about hurricanes, writing: "Prayer is a power of the mind, and it is neither bizarre nor unintelligent.2" Is that metaphorical?
I noted in a previous post5 that Williamson wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to play to her fans who know her from her books and Oprah appearances, while reassuring others that she doesn't really believe what she says in those venues. So, she'll write something, almost immediately delete it, send her spokeswoman out to deny it, then defend what she originally wrote! This is not a singular occurrence, but a pattern in her behavior.
Williamson now faces a problem similar to what preacher Pat Robertson had when he ran for president as a Republican in 1988:
…Robertson, who has long asserted that his prayers spared Virginia Beach, Va., and his Christian Broadcasting Network from destruction by Hurricane Gloria in September, 1985, said he knew he would be “laughed at by people all across the country” and “I knew I could just as easily keep my mouth shut and let the thing hit and not get involved.” But he said that he “couldn’t allow that loss of life” and, therefore, led about a million people watching his television program in prayers that sent the hurricane “harmlessly out to sea.” … “So it was, of course, a miracle. …1 There’s no other explanation,” he said. “The newspaper the next day said we were very lucky. Well, I don’t think it was lucky. I think it was divine intervention.” Residents of the Long Island, N.Y., area “should have prayed too,” Robertson said, because Hurricane Gloria, after veering out to sea, swept back inland and caused 6 deaths as well as almost $300 million worth of damage in what New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo called “the most devastating natural disaster” in the state’s history. Robertson said he had “no control over what happened next” after his prayers caused God to spare Virginia Beach. …[W]hen a hurricane is headed your way, “you just pray for your family and loved ones at that moment and leave the consequences, the rest of it, in his hands.”6
So, I guess if you live on Long Island or the Bahamas, you're on your own. One thing Williamson has over Robertson is that at least she suggested praying for the poor people in the Bahamas, even though those prayers don't seem to have done a whole lot of good7. However, something Robertson has over Williamson is that he didn't back down. Of course, he also didn't get his party's nomination.
- Ellipsis in the original.
- Josiah Bates, "Democratic Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson Deletes Tweets About 'the Power of Mind' Keeping Hurricane Dorian Away", Time, 9/4/2019.
- See: C'mon, Marianne, 7/30/2019.
- Felicia Sonmez, "Marianne Williamson suggests using ‘the power of the mind’ to change Hurricane Dorian’s course", The Washington Post, 9/4/2019.
- See: Wake up, Marianne!, 8/16/2019.
- Jack Nelson, "Robertson Finds Success Means Increased Scrutiny: His Prayer Diverted Hurricane, He Insists", Los Angeles Times, 2/14/1988.
- Holly Yan & Patrick Oppmann, "Death toll in Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian rises to 20 after storm leaves 'generational devastation'", CNN, 9/4/2019.