Thursday, 3 December 2009

The language of 1984

One of the key features of George Orwell's book "1984" is the way language is distorted by power to mean something that it obviously doesn't mean.
For the last two weeks (and longer) I have listened to the Liberal party build up its language of criticism of the Government. Now this is OK on one level, as long as we the public are critical of language and don't just accept it on face value.
It is, for example, OK for them to simplify the Emissions Trading Scheme as a Big Fat Tax.
As a strategy it seems to be working well, but the more knowing public should at least try to take this simplistic analysis for what it is....simplistic. But I have heard all sorts of Liberals use it in the last few days, Abbott, Bishop, Joyce...and no doubt others.

What is not OK is the use of the term Stalinist to describe the Labor Party's decision making processes. This term is of course most derogatory. I have no doubt that some of that mud will stick. I have heard both Abbott and Pyne, and others, use that term in the last week.

History suggests that there is not much to pick between Hitler and Stalin, and no one could imagine that a slur that Labor Party processes were run like the Nazis would have just been allowed to go unchecked.
There is not much to pick between the Labor and the Liberal Party in terms of questions like, loyalty and consistency. And you wouldn't stand in front of many of them with an exposed back on a dark night, but let's not even begin to suggest that the term Stalinist should be applied to any Australian major party. It is at the very least belittling to any and/or all of those who were subject to the violence of Stalinism.


Bruce said...

Having just read Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism, (wherein he vacillates between a definition of atheism almost synonymous with Stalinism and a more garden variety definition of atheism) I spent a portion of last night wondering if he even cared about the victims of Stalinism. I'm sure he does, but still, it raised doubts.

There is a knee-jerk reaction to this made by the attacked, "how dare they call me a Stalinist?", and it's not entirely unreasonable. That is until you realise that the slur isn't even remotely as bad as the belittling of the suffering of the victims - something that to me shares a similarity with Holocaust denial.

Then it just smacks you in the face just how ugly it is, that people can stoop to this level in order to press an advantage, or prosecute a grudge. Even when done thoughtlessly, it's still a shocker.

The observation you make adds a whole new layer to Godwin's law, I must say.

stephen clark said...

Yes, thanks for the reference to Godwin's Law (the Calculus of fascism.)
It seems to me ( I am open to being corrected) that Stalinism is much less of an ideological phenomenon than Nazism; but nevertheless hideous.
It is therefore a perfect nomenclature to slur others because it lacks definition. It also seems to me that it is/was political megalomania gone mad. One mad step leading to another, all intent on keeping power in the hands of the ruling elite. With disastrous consequences for many, it is bizarre to suggest that there is anything like this in present day Australia