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Dirty Communist Doublespeak

One [non-] concept that I cannot stand is doublespeak.  Used by every liberal who imagines that s/he is being critical by trotting out this term to attack a political claim or discourse s/he finds uncomfortable, doublespeak is a polemical cipher for "I want to appear critical without having to think critically."  So it's a good thing that George Orwell, purveyor of liberal anti-communist pulp and pseudo-intellectual journalism, has gifted liberals with this pseudo-concept.  The fact that nobody who uses this term without irony bothers to question its origin in thought––and thus wonder why the hell some smarmy petty-bourgeois journalist who writes terrible fables about animals is an authoritative source for conceptual terminology––is not entirely surprising… The same people are happy to employ the equally asinine pseudo-concept of "totalitarianism" whenever they see fit.

People who make use of the term doublespeak usually do so in order to dismiss a position they disagree with; it's a convenient, and conveniently lazy, way of not having to make a real argument.  It serves to terminate critical thinking while, simultaneously, possessing the aura of being a truly critical insight.  Take, for example, an argument I had with a family member around a decade ago about the concept of private property: I cannot recall what the main crux of this argument was, or why it began, but I do recall its outcome––I pointed out that he was using the concept of "private property" inaccurately by pointing out that private property is a social-historical phenomenon that only properly emerged with capitalism, the first example being landed property, and his response was simply to huff and puff "that's doublespeak" so as to end the conversation.  Apparently I was guilty of doublespeak because I was using the words "private property" in a way that undermined the common sense definition that he took to be, quite predictably one might assume, as a universal truth.

So here is what the concept of doublespeak really means for those who resort to its use.  If doublespeak is defined crudely as "language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words" [this is the wikipedia definition, and yes I am referring to wikipedia in this case because no scholarly work that I would ever respect would imagine that doublespeak qualifies as a proper theoretical concept], then its most common employment is in treating all challenges to ruling class meaning and common sense ideology as that which "disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words."  This is because, in the mind of people who refer to this pseudo-concept, the words and ideas to which they declare fidelity possess a universal truth that is somehow not embedded in particular instances of class dynamics.  Truth is x because that is just "common sense"; anything that challenges my common sense understanding and makes the words I like seem like something I don't want to see them as is violating x and is thus guilty of doublespeak.

Wait a minute!  By challenging the concept itself I have just become guilty, yet again, of doublespeak because I am distorting its proper (read: Platonic) meaning… And this is precisely the discursive problem with the term, the reason why it is as useless as the critical faculties of the people who resort to it: you cannot even question the basis of the judgment because you are violating its terms; arguments are short-circuited with this appeal, reduced to name-calling.  Of course, there is always the temptation to use the pseudo-concept against itself, accuse the person who used it first of actually being guilty of doublespeak by virtue of being the one who originally "distorted" the truth––as if fidelity to common sense ideology is a distortion of the real rather than its own procession of truths––but this leads to an infinite regress of name-calling where both sides trade identical charges.

The concept of doublespeak, then, is only a concept, then, insofar as it is a rhetorical concept. Which is to say that it is more of a tactic than a concept, a rhetorical flourish used by garden variety liberals who imagine that they are clever, well-read, and are actually speaking of something that has conceptual depth when they are only declaring alliance to ruling class ideology every time they use the word doublespeak.

This word, which is no more than a tactic masquerading as a concept, reassures its user of the universality of common sense morality and status quo reality, reinforcing this ideology every time it is used.  If someone is contradicting those precious beliefs we have been socialized into accepting as normative, causing words we use without reflection to be called into question inasmuch as they are complexified, every time we take bastion in the belief that this someone is a deceitful propagandist guilty of doublespeak we are saying that we want our ideas of things to remain identical to what we have been taught they are supposed to mean.

The revolutionary communist argues that the destruction of the current class reality requires, by necessity, a violent overthrow of reality as it is––is this not "doublespeak" culled from the pages of 1984 where the totalitarians argue that "war is peace"?  Never you mind that capitalists also argue that war is peace; the more "critical" liberal can at least rest easy that s/he is opposed to violence of all kinds, disdaining the doublespeak of the communist and honest capitalist alike.  But both the communist and capitalist are correct, according to their own class commitments, in asserting this supposed doublespeak: war is the peace of a given class––imperialist war means peace for capitalism, revolutionary war means peace for the proletariat and hopefully peace for humanity––because class war is inevitable, and either side in this war has its own notion of peace.

The marxist argues for dialectical logic, the primacy of contradiction and the universality of the unity of opposites?  More doublespeak!  And we best plug our ears whenever someone tries to challenge the harsh either/or relations of the bourgeois order while still asserting an either/or that, for the liberal terrified of "doublespeak", will be even more repellant––either socialism or barbarism.  It's amusing, really, how those who use this Orwellian term are quite often those who will side with ruling class ideology whenever they are presented with a political choice.

A clever rhetorical tactic, then, on the part of those who have no tolerance for thinking beyond the surface appearance.  The fact that there is a term that appears critical and that allows for this disavowal of critical thought only means that some people are more likely to confuse the categories cunning and critical––and the doublespeak tactic is as cunning as it comes.  Those who use it are generally convinced they are being critical, because they believe they are using a significant concept, when all they are doing is resorting to a tactic of liberal priggishness.

If doublespeak is anything more than a rhetorical tactic––that is, if we are force it to be the concept it desires to be––then it is a concept that is synonymous with one-dimensional thought.  After all, according to the crusader against doublespeak, words must possess narrow meanings; any reference to these words' social historical-dimensions, any argument that language does not exist in the vacuum of Platonic metaphysics, is a deliberate distortion of reality.  This is not stretching this pitiful concept very much; its originator pretty much argued for this impoverished view of existence in Politics and the English Language, a left-liberal favourite, that dismisses complex thought as insincerity and, though perhaps laudable in its desire for clarity, endorses one-dimensionality in its positivist formalism.  It is significant, after all, that he targets "[t]he jargon peculiar to Marxist writing", denying that maybe this "jargon" also contains important historical concepts… concepts far more important and useful than doublespeak––even if they would eventually be classed as such by every modern disciple of Orwell. [As an aside: Mao was also concerned with the overuse of jargon and lack of clarity in communist writing but in a decidedly non-Orwellian way.]

The very fact that the term doublespeak is used by bleeding heart liberals and fascist conservatives alike, and quite frequently in both cases, should tell us something about its usage.  Both of these bourgeois clubs are united in their fear of anything that challenges normative capitalism; everything that makes an argument against their commonly held prejudices must a priori be doublespeak!  So a rhetorical tactic and a bourgeois rhetorical tactic at that.  But I say: let them have their insult, let them apply it to each other and to us, because if being found guilty of adhering to a revolutionary order of truth is "doublespeak" then we should be proud of this charge.


  1. If anything, the scientific foundation of the liberal-Orwellian view of language as a set of ideal Platonic word-concepts, subject to unnatural distortions that can summarily be denounced as "doublespeak," is the linguistics of Noam Chomsky. Conversely, I've always suspected that Chomsky's conception of language deriving from a "universal grammar" filled with innate/inherent meanings that just need to be learned and/or discovered through mechanisms whose character is either unimportant or quasi-metaphysical (which earned Jerry Fodor's rejoinder that "performance mechanisms do for Chomsky some of what the pineal gland was supposed to do for Descartes") is responsible for much of his questionable interpretation of Marxian theory.


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