Saturday, 26 January 2013

Is language communistic?

From Wikipedia


Language has an irresistible tendency to make thought communistic and ideally transferable to others. It forbids a man to say of himself what it would be ridiculous to hear from another.
George Santayana – The Life of Reason

In other words, language has a tendency to presume we are all essentially equal in the sense that we are all the same. After all, the only individuality we have in our language is a name. There are virtually no words or phrases which apply to specific individuals. Even a name is not usually unique.

George Orwell invented the idea of Newspeak as a deliberately constructed communistic language, but a lesser type of Newspeak is already embedding itself in our verbal behaviour. The global reach of the English language plus a lethal combination of political correctness and mass communication may do as much to grind us down as any amount of legislation.

Of course we all have certain characteristic ways to express ourselves which mark us out as individuals, but nothing that isn’t found in the language of other people. When we use language to express ourselves, we have to imitate others. My Santayana quote is an example.

As Wittgenstein demonstrated, there can be no such thing as a private language, so international mass communication may doom us to a slow process of mass homogeneity via our language.

By far the commonest type of argument seen in the media is the argumentum ad verecundiam, the argument from authority. A mature global narrative will be difficult to resist, especially as mainstream media and even specialist publications are already willing to copy and paste the official view.

I don’t know what weight one should give to the emergence of a global narrative, but it niggles away at the back of my mind. Language plays a huge but somewhat shadowy role in how we express ourselves.

Only a few decades ago, our national borders allowed us articulate and debate national narratives, highly imperfect though the process may have been. Now the politically correct view is to dispense with a national narrative in favour of an EU or global narrative.

It surely follows that without strong national boundaries and local customs there will eventually be no national narrative left to debate. Even the idea of having a debate on important social and political matters from a national perspective will seem quaint and old-fashioned.

To our elite classes it already does. 

A global narrative suits their personal circumstances and transnational ambitions. It may not suit our more circumscribed situations, but when did that ever matter?

4 comments:

Roger said...

Once confined to the elite the wider view is now open to everyone - rather like the Ritz. The key seems to be getting the wider view early on in life - being rich helps.

National boundaries seem irrelevant. So national politicians are left in the position of obsequious shopkeepers wringing their hands and being "ever so 'umble". Their big problem is they depend on their local population to vote - the very people the elite have no use for.

The global narrative from Davos was plain, 'humanity is a homogenous marketplace differentiated only by wealth or usefulness'.

Electro-Kevin said...

Esotericism - like manners - is another language.

Designed to exclude rather than unify.

A K Haart said...

Roger - yes, essentially a rich person's world but it always was. Although I think "rich" from a global point of view includes a chunk of our middle classes.

Kev - I don't think any politician wants to unify at a national level these days.

James Higham said...

I don’t know what weight one should give to the emergence of a global narrative, but it niggles away at the back of my mind. Language plays a huge but somewhat shadowy role in how we express ourselves.

Critical role - the modern propaganda is the lexicon.