Riffing from Levin’s ‘Liberty and Tyranny’ (pt 3)

Posted: May 27, 2009 in Politics
Tags: ,

This article is part of a five-part series. See Part 1 here.

The Linguistic Psy-War Tactics of Liberals
For months now I’ve been collecting articles and opinion pieces about the Orwellian practice of co-opting a positive word or phrase in order to repackage distasteful, criminal, unpopular or abhorrent ideas. It’s an article just waiting to be written.

In that vein, my interest in political wordplay was set off by this quote. It doesn’t really belong to Levin, but in the chapter called On the Free Market he lifts it from Friedrich Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom (Levin was making a different point than I am, so I won’t dwell on it to deeply):

To allay… suspicions and to harness to its cart the strongest of all political motives – the craving for freedom – socialists began increasingly to make use of the promise of a “new freedom”… the word “freedom” was subjected to a subtle change in meaning. The word had formerly meant freedom from coercion, from the arbitrary power of other men. Now it was made to mean freedom from necessity… Freedom in this sense is, of course, merely another name for power or wealth. The demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the old demand for a redistribution of wealth.

We are seeing many, many examples of word games like this in the last four months. Massive unchecked spending is “investing in the future”. The Fairness Doctrine, which eliminates the fairness of airwave access based on public demand, would unfairly regulate radio station content (eliminating conservative talk-radio) but virtually ignore liberal television networks and newspapers. Terrorist attacks are now man-caused disasters. Sending money to people who don’t pay taxes is a tax cut. Finding room to cut one half of one percent of the spending in your newly quadrupled budget is fiscal responsibility. And just when “liberal” has become a dirty word again, they’ve begun referring to themselves as “progressives”… again. Like someone who owns only two pair of jeans, they apparently wear one while the other is being cleaned.

Time magazine wrote about how marvelous it was that Obama used behavioral psychologists to market himself during the campaign, and that many of them are now serving in his administrations. They have been very busy incorporating market-tested focus-group approved phraseology. Orwell would surely have called them the Ministry of Clarity – meaning of course, the exact opposite.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s alarming that these ideas are so bad that we have to be tricked into buying this bill of goods? The very idea of behavioral psychologists shaping policy messages is not “impressively modern”, as Time would have us believe. It’s frighteningly manipulative.

Part 1: World Opinion and American Exceptionalism
Part 2: Economic Intervention
Part 4: Overpopulation and the Green Movement

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