02.13.17 | Culture of Spin

There are reports of dystopian novels flying off the shelves these days. People see those old works in terms of life imitating (literary) art. Member Monday regulars already understand this. After all, we covered the use of of language as a mechanism of totalitarian control months ago (11/14) in our discussion of Orwell’s 1946 classic essay, “Politics and the English Language”.

In the political world it's called spin, a term that's spin itself.  On campuses it's sometimes labeled political correctness. Whatever the term, it's the intentional use of language to create a new reality through the elimination or distortion of a discarded truth. Today's easy example, of course, is in the citation of 1984 as the warning of a Trump-driven threat to our Republic ( Why '1984' Is a 2017 Must-Read - The New York Times).

Yet, let us open our discussion to language manipulation from all corners. Awareness lessens vulnerability. We're already inured to some extent as we subconsciously discount much of what we hear. Less and less is taken at face value. Trouble is, different people apply different discount rates. The ultimate discount is the point at which we're so off-balance that everyone doubts something (or, worse, no one sees anything). 

Marketing, advertising, and public relations is about perception management. The tool itself is neutral. The difference is in the motivation. Edgar Papke has had lots to say on the manipulation of the American mind through language/imagery as applied by Edward Bernays e.g. convincing an entire generation of women to start smoking in the 1920-1930s by associating the activity with freedom, power, and liberation.

Let's then discuss the relative importance of truth in our daily communications and interactions. Is truth the absolute? Really? Think of all the other factors e.g. hurt feelings, overly-revealing, damaged relationships, conversation-killer, etc. You might enjoy first reading the attached 16-page treatise written by a Princeton philosophy professor. The title: “On Bullshit.” The subject is far, far more nuanced than you might first think. See others. See yourself.

A very recent advice column responded to a parent asking about the proper reaction when a child tells that first lie. The advice: let the child just continue with it -- it's the beginning of storytelling. That’s one answer. But, seen another way, maybe that's the first encounter with a second language -- a language based upon indifference to truth. 

Your thoughts?

Steve SmithComment