Max Maxwell and Melete
The dark and terrifying descriptions of the absolute thought control of an authoritarian dictatorship in George Orwell's novel 1984 gave rise to our use of the adjective "Orwellian". Here are three illustrative quotes from the novel 1984:
"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it."
"The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
"In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense."
The novel 1984 is about the fictional government of "Big Brother", whose use of a language called Newspeak helped to destroy the people's capacity to reason about social and political issues. We will demonstrate that the treatment of language and thought in George Orwell's 1984 is highly relevant to understanding the United States' most devastating political problems. The most severe U.S. political problems can be understood and solved through a few easy to comprehend truths about our use of language and our capacity to reason. The truth is that the people of the United States are well practiced at solving daily problems through the ordinary use of language and reason. This truth tells us that the most powerfully effective political reform in the United States is solidly in the hands of the people. Our essay will offer a simple perspective on the central importance of knowledge, reason, and honesty in language and thought concerning its relevance for the reform of politics and the freedom of speech in the United States. We will illustrate the dystopian character of U.S. politics by comparing the Newspeak language from George Orwell's 1984 with the dominant model of public political talk in the United States. We will then contrast our dystopian political obsession with making false claims of knowledge in U.S. political talk with Plato's presentation of the importance of honesty about our own ignorance in order to light up the path citizens must take to reclaim the power of their freedom of speech. We present our solution in the Guide to Engaging in The Power of Real Political Talk that follows. There we show how a common-sense implementation of Socrates' ideal of a useful conversation is all that is necessary for the people to overthrow decades of Orwellian propaganda. To reform U.S. politics, We The People need to reform how we talk about politics in the United States. The functioning of knowledge, reason, and honesty within the expression of our freedom of speech are powerful tools that must be restored to popular use in political talk if We The People of the United States will ever be able to reclaim a stolen nation.
In every nation, among every people, and in every historical period time, the vast majority of humans have given the thoughtfulness of their minds, the depth of their hearts, and the sweat of their labor unto the last breath in order to survive and thrive in life. The most fundamental truth, which underlies the most serious political problems in the United States, is that there will always be thieves who will gladly steal the fruit of the people's labor. This process of stealing has some essential truths we must consider. The first truth is that people do not want you to take from them what does not belong to you. The second truth is that stealing from the unwilling must involve at least one of two kinds of force. Brute force and subversive force are the avenues of action involved when a thief steals from the unwilling. In the absence of the power to steal by simple, physical, brute force, those who want to feed off other human beings like a thieving vampire must subvert the will and power of their victims in order to gain their duped cooperation to the theft.
The most fundamental truth that repeats over and over in the course of subverting the will of people is the absolute necessity of disabling their powers of reasoning. You cannot steal through subversion if you do not undermine your victim's powers of reasoning. The tactic of stripping people of their ability to reason effectively about political and social issues is the thieving method of choice in the United States. The ambition of wealthy powers is to steal as much as possible from every aspect of existence. The U.S. political and media organizations, which are owned and controlled by wealthy powers dedicated to the goal of taking as much as possible from the people, have evolved an Orwellian model of public discourse that functions to destroy the people's ability to reason in order to facilitate the theft of a nation. The subversion of the reasoning powers of the citizens of the United States is the topic of this essay.
The subversive model of public discourse favored by political and media entities can be described as Orwellian because the model conforms to the purpose and operational principles of George Orwell's vision of Newspeak from his novel 1984. In 1984, the people's capacity to reason is attacked by avoiding real knowledge through editing the nation's literature and history, reducing the vocabulary of their language, and limiting the full range of perspectives available to their minds. Orwell's Newspeak sought to greatly reduce the number of vocabulary words necessary to communicate ideas. The design of Newspeak also sought to reduce the diversity of perspectives available to the people so they could only express state-approved perspectives. This also added to the effect of avoiding real knowledge because of the inability of newspeak to express nuances of meaning necessary to articulate accurate knowledge. The reduction of vocabulary and perspectives in Orwell's Newspeak, combined with deliberately depriving the people of correct knowledge through editing their history, was implemented to make it impossible to reason effectively on political and social issues. The U.S. version of dystopian political talk also avoids real knowledge, reduces vocabulary, and limits the full range of possible perspectives so that the people will be ineffective in their reasoning about social and political issues.
Our habits of public political talk can also be described as Orwellian because it depends on government and business forces convincing people to defy their own common sense and knowledge. Convincing the people to say and do that, which our own experience of life and shared common sense tells us is just plain wrong, has become the great Orwellian theme of U.S. politics. The extraordinary dominance of the Orwellian model of U.S. political discourse is, in all practical effect, a political lobotomy on the minds of the citizens of the United States. If the people cannot reason effectively about political and social issues, they can have no effective influence on the nation's politics. In the absence of asserting our powers of reasoning, we give permission to thieves to have their way in U.S. politics. The dominant Orwellian model of U.S. public discourse so effectively prevents people from reasoning about political issues that it is killing the nation. The democratic republic of the United States cannot survive if the people have given up on reasoning effectively and talking productively about the political issues involved in governing the nation. We The People have a responsibility to express our capacity to reason about the public good of the nation.
In the United States, corporations and wealthy special interests, political parties, and corporately owned media outlets have been working very hard for many decades to subvert the people's will into a stupor of irrational compliance with the wealthy powers' ambition to steal as much as possible. A few examples, which illustrate the fact that taking what does not belong to you is the favorite habit of wealthy business interests, are:
wage theft (when employers steal from employees) of almost 40 billion dollars a year, businesses deceiving customers with unjustified stealth fees; lying about the quantity, quality, or price of products and services; predatory loan practices that obscure the truth to rip off borrowers; ignoring requests to cancel services; people held hostage to absurdly high college costs (increasing at twice the rate of inflation); banks opening accounts for customers without permission and charging them for it; the high cost and relative ineffectiveness of the U.S. healthcare system; companies skimping on consumer safety and the quality of products to maximize profit; restaurants using thicker glass to give less beer than advertised; the price of a life-saving drug going up 5000% for no reason other than that they can get away with it; big businesses extorting tax breaks from local governments in order to locate there.
These examples show the theft of resources. The theft of a nation is more than stealing cash. In order to steal as much as possible, the three branches of the United States government must be corrupted to serve the interests of the wealthy powers.
Corrupting the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are the primary goals that must be achieved so that the writing and interpretation of the nation's laws are unfairly influenced to favor corporations and the wealthiest 1%. The result is that our democratic republic, in which Congress was supposed to represent the people, is transformed into a plutocratic oligarchy where Congress is a group of paid employees of the wealthiest business interests. Expressions of this corrupting influence are:
disproportionate tax cuts for the rich; eliminating corporate liability; corporate representatives placed in positions of oversight, slap-on-the-wrist fines instead of putting CEO's and board members in jail; undoing laws restricting unfair or corrupt financial practices; and other legislation that disproportionately benefits the wealthy powers while placing extra burdens on the poor.
Corrupting the three branches of government is more than the theft of cash. It is the loss of a nation. When the people are effectively excluded from political decisions, the poor get crushed, the middle class disappears, and the wealthiest powers pig-out on an ill-gotten feast of gargantuan proportions. However, in "the land of the free", wealthy business interests cannot simply take by brute force. In order for the thieving habits of U.S. corporate and wealthy special interests to be so successful, there must be an effective subversion of the people's will.
This essay will expose the subversive habits of popular U.S. political talk, which make the theft of a nation possible by destroying the people's capacity to reason. By understanding how the collapse of public reasoning on politics in the U.S. serves to hand over the nation to thieves, we will also understand the pathway that the citizens of the United States must travel in order to regain their political power as citizens and the rightful leaders of a democratic republic.
Thieves love to steal candy from babies because it is easy. The dominant model of public discourse on politics has been deliberately shaped to infantilize the citizens of the United States in order to make them the ideal victims of larceny on the grandest scale. Almost all public political talk in the United States is an exercise in the art of reducing a population of thinking adults to distracted babies. When stealing through subversion, adult knowledge and adult reasoning is the enemy. It is difficult to subversively steal from knowledgeable people, who are in the habit of giving due diligence to their adult responsibility to express their capacity to reason about issues. The thieves must sabotage the people's relationship to knowledge and reasoning in order to steal through the subversion of their political will. The number one tactic for the goal of compromising knowledge depends on lies. In order to subversively steal as much as possible, the people's reliance on knowledge and their willingness to be honest about their knowledge must be destroyed. Human well being must be compromised in order for the activities of the subversive thief to be profitable. Knowledge, reasoning, and honesty are universally necessary to all human beings' survival and health, which is why they are the number one target of attack when the theft of a nation relies on subversive force.
The idea that knowledge, reason, and honesty are necessary for all human good is not a fancy philosophical theory, a mystical religious proclamation, or a partisan ploy. This idea stands up for all human beings and substantiates itself through a simple confrontation with our own common sense. Everyone already knows that the acquisition of knowledge and the use of reason are absolutely essential for human survival. Nobody is born knowing how to tie their shoes, how to screw in a light bulb, or how to bring wisdom to stressful circumstances. We learn everything we need and learn how to reason about what we know. As we gain knowledge and develop our capacity to reason, we improve the chances of our survival. The ability to recognize our knowledge and to honestly refer to facts is the human prerequisite for our capacity to reason. In the complete absence of usable knowledge, humanity dies. A human being that literally never learns anything is a human being who is incapable of surviving into adulthood. The essential point of understanding in this essay is that knowledge, reason, and honesty are necessary to realize or use any good in life. In order to think further about this, consider freedom.
Perhaps the most discussed and manipulated concept in U.S. politics, which pertains to the subject of living well, is the ideal of freedom. That some measure of freedom is good for human living is undisputed. However, in the absence of the ability to honestly recognize our knowledge, the concept of freedom becomes absurd. What good is the freedom to choose to make yourself a cup of tea if you do not know how to do it, and nobody will tell you the facts you need to get it done? How can our freedom be well if we strive mightily towards building a good life while remaining ignorant of what is good in living? What good is the freedom to choose your destination if you do not know where you should go? What good is the freedom of speech if we are negligent and allow the quality of our speech to be harmful or do not know what to say at all? And if freedom includes the capacity to choose what we ought to do, we cannot be free if we do not have the knowledge we need to guide our choices. The importance of acquiring knowledge, the expression of honesty about our knowledge, and our capacity to reason are essential to the functioning life of all human beings. Freedom is absolutely no good in the absence of the knowledge and reason needed to make it stand up and live. And if we are not able or willing to honestly refer to the facts of our knowledge, then knowledge is useless. Therefore, telling the truth about our knowledge is as necessary to freedom and to every other good of life as knowledge itself.
In George Orwell's novel 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith, who worked in the "Ministry of Truth", writes in his secret and illegal diary where he records his thought crimes. Smith defines freedom in a way that lights up the importance of being able to tell the truth about what we know.
"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
This definition of freedom is significant in the novel because if Big Brother (Smith's government) said that 2+2=5, you would be forced to believe it. The idea of forcing human beings to believe and act in ways that are opposed to their own honest understanding is not new with the novel 1984. Hermann Göring, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi party, said, "If the Führer wants it, two and two makes five!" There is no substitute for the freedom to tell the truth about our knowledge. The ability to honestly recognize our knowledge is fundamentally necessary to human life. Our ability to tell the truth about our knowledge is the beginning of all possibilities of freedom. When we lose the ability to tell the truth, we lose the power to be free.
Knowledge, reason, and honesty have a similar bearing on everything we consider to be good in life. Without knowledge, reason, and honesty, humans cease to function well. We cannot realize our freedom or any other good in life without our capacity to reason about our knowledge. Our knowledge, reason, and honesty are needed to make all possible good in human life accessible and expressible. So it is that the primary tactic in subversion based theft is, by definition, the destruction of knowledge, reason, and honesty. The goal of destroying the people's reliance on knowledge, reason, and honesty is a blueprint for the dominant Orwellian model of political discourse in the United States.
The process of reasoning is continuously in use in the daily life of a human being. We cannot fulfill even the smallest goal or desire in the complete absence of our ability to reason. Whether we are executing a plan to make breakfast, making an important life decision, or fixing a nation's problems, our ability to reason is the road upon which we all must travel to succeed at anything. There are no exceptions. Reasoning is like breathing to the conscious life of a human being. The unreasoning mind suffocates in the decay of its own stagnation. Without the ability to reason, we die. The process of reasoning is active when we are making sense of our environment, working out how to fulfill a purpose, responding to a desire, interpreting data, or analyzing the structure of an idea or argument. To disrupt a person's ability to reason about a particular issue is to deprive them of any power of influence on that issue.
In the complete absence of knowledge, reasoning is impossible. Any process of reasoning requires data. The facts of our knowledge make up the data, which empowers our reasoning. This data is the ground of all meaning in the human mind. The facts of our knowledge allow us to make associations, formulate premises, and determine conclusions. Reasoning without any knowledge at all is like a car without gas. You can't even turn it on. Even when our "facts" are nothing more than false beliefs, our false beliefs function to empower the process of reasoning because we use false beliefs in the same way we use true facts. It is the one who has no knowledge or beliefs at all, who has no power of reasoning at all.
The difference between "true facts" and "false beliefs" is often non-existent during the process of reasoning itself. Whether we are reasoning about the data of our verified knowledge or reasoning about what we merely believe to be true, both cases function with the same dynamic in the reasoning process. However, when it comes to the results of our reasoning and the actions we take in response to our reasoning, the difference between true facts and false beliefs can be like night and day, life and death. During a process of reasoning about an issue, the belief that 2+2=5 is no different than if we know that 2+2=4. The process of reasoning can often function in the same way with false beliefs as it does with true facts. However, any conclusion or action that absolutely depends on the correct result of 4 will not be successful if you give it the result five. In our reasoning about an issue, we can rationally interpret the available data, make good associations based on the data, construct useful premises, and draw apt conclusions to make a valid argument. Yet, if the data that we "know" about the issue is false, this affects the outcome even if it does not affect the process. Our argument can still be well reasoned and logically valid with false data, even if it is not sound or true.
The sharpest line of attack in subverting the reasoning of the people is to corrupt the data they must depend on in their reasoning. Supplying the people with misleading or false information and denying people the full depth of information they need to think clearly is the common behavior of the corporate media and the political parties. Encouraging bad habits of conversation that disable the people's reliance on their knowledge of the issues is the primary set of tactics that the corporate media and political parties use to dupe the people into cooperating in their own disempowerment.
All of our talk about honesty in this essay has a defined and limited scope. In a larger cultural context, honesty has a very broad scope of moral considerations that must be set aside for our purposes. Relative to its relationship to knowledge and reason, think of honesty merely in terms of accuracy and connectivity. Honesty is the cognitive connective tissue that holds our knowledge and reasoning together. It is difficult enough to vet facts without adding another layer of distortion because we are deceiving ourselves or are lying to others. We are not making a claim that we must always be honest. Sometimes people have good moral reasons to lie. Imagine a killer is at your door and asks you to reveal the location of the person they want to kill. Do you tell them the truth? If an extremely emotionally sensitive person asks you about their new horrible looking hairdo, do you tell them the truth on the day of their wedding?
In this essay, we are not seeking to define in what limited scope we are morally obligated to be honest. We are setting aside moral considerations all together in favor of a non-moral focus on the function of honesty as the connection between knowledge and reason. When honesty works to connect and transform our knowledge and reasoning into a functioning whole, the scope of the necessary honesty is always relevant to the subject and purpose of our reasoning. If the topic is the economy, our reasoning about the impact of raising interest rates would require that we are knowledgeable about the issue and honest to ourselves and any other person reasoning with us about the facts involved. However, this does not require a person to be honest with a spouse about one's relationship. Dishonesty on a personal matter does not necessarily affect our reasoning about other issues. It is possible for a judge to be meticulously honest in her judicial ethics on legal issues and in her reflections on the Constitution while being a dishonest mess in some other area of her life without affecting the integrity of her judicial reasoning.
Dishonesty can also be part of the context of useful reasoning. When deciding if we should be honest and tell a killer where he can find the person he wants to kill, we may recognize that lying could serve a knowledgeable, rational, even noble, purpose. If we choose to save a life, we can incorporate lying to the killer, who is not reasoning with us about anything, while being honest to ourselves about why we are lying. However, suppose we are reasoning with another person cooperatively. In that case, we must be honest about our motivations, about our focus on the agreed-upon subject, and about the facts of our own knowledge in order for our reasoning together to be optimally productive. All processes of cooperative reasoning require this kind of honesty. Destroying the power of the people to reason by disabling their reliance on knowledge and honesty is the core focus of the most popular model of U.S. political talk.
We do not claim that those with the power to shape our political conversations in the United States have self-consciously modeled their work on Orwell's Newspeak. What has happened instead is that the ordinary human practice of stealing through subversion always focuses on the necessary destruction of human reasoning powers. It just so happens that this focus matches the purpose and operational principles of Orwell's treatment of language and thought in his novel 1984. The philosophy behind the Newspeak language in Orwell's 1984, which was created by the government of Oceania to help destroy the people's ability to reason about political and social issues, provides a vivid illustration of the fact that our habits of political talk in the U.S. have reached dystopian levels of harmfulness.
The dark truth is that Orwell's vision of Newspeak is an amateur hour of wasteful incompetence compared to the efficient and systematic destruction of the people's capacity to reason, which has already occurred in the United States. Before detailing how the dystopian virtues of U.S. political talk vastly outperform Orwell's vision, let's examine the Newspeak language in Orwell's novel 1984.
Orwell's Newspeak in 1984 is linguistically unrealistic and functioned through an impossible level of the control of printed language resources. Newspeak's purpose of destroying the practice of reasoning through the minimization of vocabulary and reduction of the diversity of perspectives functions through the physical means of creating a Newspeak dictionary that would replace the old language. In addition to the dictionary, rewriting all literature and historical materials in the Newspeak language, destroying state rejected printed materials in "memory holes" (incineration), and altering the inscriptions and structures of historical architecture and artifacts completed the physical control of language and knowledge. The reduction of vocabulary in Newspeak was intended to eliminate the full complexity of thought and the full range of possible perspectives by removing shades of meaning. The possibility of nuanced thought is eliminated along with the vocabulary in order to secure the absolute dominance of simplistic dichotomies in the people's use of language (good vs. ungood, pleasure vs. pain, goodthink vs. crimethink). The acceptance of oversimplifying dichotomies helps the people submit to a reduction of the range of perspectives available to their thinking. The purpose of newspeak and Orwell's overall handling of language and thought in 1984 is to make it impossible for people to independently think socially or politically beyond repeating state approved ideas. Compliance was enforced with omnipresent surveillance and torture.
Here are some illustrative quotes from 1984 that gives us a glimpse of Newspeak in Orwell's own words:
An acquaintance of Winston Smith comments on the process of reducing vocabulary:
"You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We're cutting the language down to the bone"
The use of fewer words in Newspeak will replace the normal habits of vocabulary use:
"Countless other words such as honor, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. A few blanket words covered them, and, in covering them, abolished them."
Regarding the purpose of the reduction of vocabulary in Newspeak, Orwell wrote:
"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten."
The literature and documentation of the past are either destroyed through translation into Newspeak:
"The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be."
Or the literature and documentation of the past would be destroyed through burning:
"In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices...This last (orifice) was for the disposal of wastepaper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of wastepaper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building."
The absolute control of printed resources to limit the use of vocabulary and reduce the variety of perspectives serves to stop the powers of human reasoning. In 1984 the only politically correct thought was not thinking at all:
"The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
In 1984 the people gained freedom by giving up their capacity to reason. O'Brien (Winston Smith's torturer) illustrates this with his comment on liberty:
"What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect."
In George Orwell's 1984, enormous efforts went into the almost unimaginably difficult task of physically rewriting a language, its literature, and its history. Orwell gives a clear picture of the immense job of physically changing everything relevant to thought:
"Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been re-painted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."
Through fire and ink, the people of Oceania's entire history and their potential for knowledge and reasoning were burned and rewritten. This stands in sharp contrast with the United States, where a model of public discourse evolved over many decades that is capable of destroying the people's ability to think about social and political issues without the need to write new dictionaries, rewrite literature, or burn books. The U.S. style of attacking the people's capacity to think is extraordinarily more efficient than Orwell's linguistically impossible, print controlling Newspeak. Instead of changing the whole language and controlling the entire printed record of a nation, the U.S. model of Orwellian talk has taken control of the people's speaking and reasoning habits. Imagine that you can get the people to voluntarily reduce their vocabulary, willingly give up a larger range of perspectives, and freely abandon their reliance on knowledge in political talk. In that case, you can destroy their reasoning powers without ever editing a single dictionary and without ever burning a single book.
The structure of the dominant model of political talk in the U.S. makes for an extraordinary lesson in how to weaponize the freedom of speech. When you can seduce a people to express their freedom of speech without the exercise of reason, the slogan from Orwell's 1984, which is "Freedom is Slavery", takes on a new reality that is clear as the light of day in the United States. For what good is the freedom of speech in the absence of all reason? Without exercising our capacity to reason our speech becomes no better than the screeching of animals and the genuine human freedom that we find in the rational expression of our speech dies. The Orwellian model of political speech has enslaved most of the United States population to their lowest impulses. We are enslaved because we have learned to freely speak without taking responsibility for giving due diligence to thoughtful reasoning when we speak. Leading us to express our freedom of speech without making sure that our speech has the qualities and powers that come with knowledge and reason is the highest goal of the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk.
The destruction of reason in free speech is how our freedom of speech has been transformed into a weapon of tyranny. Remember O'Brien's evaluation of the people's liberty in Orwell's 1984,
"What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect."
Disabling the American people's intellect on political and social issues makes stealing the nation as easy as taking candy from babies. In the U.S. model of public talk on politics, the 1984 slogan "Freedom is Slavery" is the natural result of removing our capacity to reason from our freedom to speak on social and political issues. Instead of the name "Newspeak", the U.S. version of Orwellian political talk might be better thought of as "Freespeak".
There are two categories of methods that serve the Orwellian purpose of destroying the exercise of reason in U.S. political talk. The first category is all about avoiding knowledge. The second category of methods works to reduce the complexity of talk by reducing vocabulary and perspectives. Both categories cooperate together and overlap. Avoiding knowledge automatically works to reduce the full range of vocabulary and perspectives. Working to reduce people's vocabulary and range of perspectives automatically serves to avoid knowledge.
Avoiding knowledge and reducing our vocabulary and the range of our perspectives in political talk are extraordinarily efficient methods to attack and destroy the people's ability to exercise their capacity to reason. In contrast to Orwell's 1984 there is no need to create a new dictionary, rewrite the literature of a society, or burn the books that the state rejects in order to avoid knowledge and reduce vocabulary and perspectives. If you can convince most of the population to give up all knowledge-based talk, freely reduce their vocabulary, and limit their perspectives, the same destructive effect on language and thought as was envisioned in Orwell's 1984 is achieved. The result is that our freedom of speech, without knowledge and reason, puts us in bondage to the tyranny of thieves.
When we speak in the U.S. style of Orwellian political talk, we are free to choose to speak about any political topic that we desire using any vocabulary, knowledge, and reasoning we desire. However, we will not. Instead, we will only speak about the subjects that have been chosen for us. We will speak only in the manner of thinking that has been corporately approved and presented to us. We will speak only through the vocabulary and ideas that the wealthy powers have allowed to be repeated often in public media. Through the U.S. style of Orwellian political talk, our great and powerful freedom of speech, which we value so much in the United States, is transformed into a stupor of irrational cooperation with the tyranny of thieves. This transformation occurs when we are trained to express our freedom of speech as we voluntarily give up everything that makes the freedom of speech worthwhile. The knowledge and vocabulary that are scrupulously and selectively avoided in the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk are the knowledge and vocabulary required to speak about the governance of the nation. Any detailed, knowledge-based focus on the goals, issues, problems, structures, ideas, principles, and tactics for governing the most powerful nation in the history of humanity is rigorously avoided in virtually all corporately mediated U.S. political talk. In order to facilitate theft on the grandest scale, all knowledge-based talk about the public good must be strictly avoided as much as possible. In U.S. political talk, the basic goals of Orwell's Newspeak are achieved as citizens use their freedom of speech to freely subordinate themselves to wealthy thieves.
It is important to note that we are not claiming that the Orwellian structures of U.S. political talk, as described below, were invented out of thin air by the corporations, wealthy special interests, or U.S. political parties. They arose as an organic blend of the people's natural inclinations combined with the willful manipulations of those who seek to take advantage of the people's inclinations. For example, turning the news channels away from real journalism towards being a salacious soap opera that reports as few facts as possible requires cooperation. The corporations cannot fill in their 24/7 air time regurgitating irrelevant gossip, innuendo, rumors, partisan bigotry, and massive amounts of non-journalistic opinionated fluff without a market demand that would support this destructive change. You cannot run a business that stops the people from consuming rational, knowledge-based reporting of social and political issues unless they are inclined to willingly consume the offered alternative.
Below we will describe ten methods used in the popular style of U.S. political talk to avoid knowledge, reduce vocabulary, and reduce perspectives in order to destroy the people's ability to reason about social and political issues. Both in Newspeak and in U.S. political talk, the nuances of meaning and the power of creativity that would naturally accompany a depth of knowledge, a rich vocabulary, and a broad range of perspectives are eliminated. The Orwellian methods of the wealthy powers have almost completely destroyed the people's capacity to reason about political issues. These methods are all structurally interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The functioning of one method relies upon and also reinforces the functioning of another method. The reason killing methods of the corporate media and the political parties also reinforce and are reinforced by the people's natural habits and inclinations. With regard to the mutual dependency of the categories of methods described above, we cannot avoid knowledge without reducing our vocabulary and the range of our perspectives. We cannot reduce our vocabulary and the range of our perspectives without a resulting avoidance of knowledge.
The specific methods are mutually dependent and reinforce one another. "Avoiding knowledge Through Irrelevant Gossip" and "Avoiding Knowledge Through Partisan Bigotry" work hand in hand with the method of "Avoiding Knowledge Through Changing The Topic". Avoiding knowledge through the cultivation of partisan bigotry also effectively supports the method of "Reducing Perspectives Through Simplistic Dichotomies". In U.S. political talk, the full range of perspectives on issues is always discarded in favor of the simplistic dichotomies that partisan bigotry reinforces. The use of the method of "Reducing Vocabulary Through One Word Translations and Arguments" amplifies the Orwellian power of "Reducing Perspectives Through Simplistic Dichotomies". The method of "Destroying American Reasoning Through Time and Space Constraints" is mutually reinforced with the methods of "Reducing Vocabulary Through One Word Translations and Arguments", "Reducing Vocabulary Through Slogans, Memes, and Talking Points", and "Reducing Knowledge Through Selective Focus". "Avoiding Knowledge by Replacing Facts with Opinions" reinforces and is amplified by the methods of "Reducing Perspectives Through Media Echo Chambers", "Avoiding Knowledge Through Irrelevant Gossip", "Avoiding Knowledge Through Partisan Bigotry", "Reducing Vocabulary Through One Word Translations and Arguments", and "Reducing Vocabulary Through Slogans, Memes, and Talking Points". Other patterns of mutual dependency and reinforcement accompany the simultaneous use of all ten methods described below. Suffice it to say that the methods listed below reinforce and amplify one another. The organic whole of these methods is a more potent dystopian nightmare than any of them could ever be individually.
In Orwell's 1984, if the authoritarian government told you that 2+2=5, you would have to believe it against your own knowledge and common sense. The fundamental essence of the Orwellian in U.S. political talk is that the methods below work through the expression of our own freedom of speech. Through the expression of our own freedom, we have learned to deny our own knowledge and common sense to say and do that, which we all know is wrong. The result of the mutually reinforcing methods of popular U.S. political talk is that we have created a reason annihilating, perfect Orwellian storm that has transformed our freedom of speech into slavery.
THE METHODS OF THE
ORWELLIAN STYLE OF
U.S. POLITICAL TALK
"Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show."
- Umberto Eco, Ur-Fascism, 1995.
Nobody wants to hear sleazy personal gossip when talking about the real knowledge of the issues is required in our daily lives. Yet, in politics, it has become the norm. In the United States, it is almost impossible to bring up a mainstream media source to see an in-depth, knowledgeable discussion of a real political topic, such as an hour-long talk focusing exclusively on the long term implications of implementing a policy position. Instead of finding an abundance of thoughtful, detailed, in-depth talk on real political subjects about governing the nation, we are virtually guaranteed to easily find an endless stream of vulgar gossip. We immerse ourselves in questions about which political actor did what with their genitals, who is the biggest liar or the worst cheater, who has impure motives or selfish ambitions, who is the most disrespectful, the most hateful, the most unpatriotic, has the tiniest hands, or an orange face. All such talk is a ridiculous substitute for real political discussions. It may seem strange to some readers to think that much of the political talk we are most accustomed to hearing in the United States is not political talk at all. However, this is an easy truth to understand.
Nobody talks about the human character of physicists regarding questions such as, "Are they perverts?", "Do they lie?", "Are they trustworthy?", and then proceed to delude themselves into thinking they are talking about the science of physics. Nobody talks about the personal ethics of a carpenter and then suffers from the delusion that they just talked about how to make things out of wood. The subject of human character is not the subject of physics or carpentry. This is true of the subjects of every art, trade, and science we use in daily life. Nobody ever confuses a talk on human character with the talk on any other subject because everybody knows this is very wrong. Human character is always and obviously a separate topic except in a field such as psychology where human character can be a topic of study.
To talk about physics, we all know that we must rely on physics knowledge, not the knowledge of which physicist is personally the most corrupt human being. To talk about carpentry we know that we must rely on the knowledge of how to make things out of wood, not on the knowledge of which carpenter is the biggest hater. To talk about United States' politics, we must rely on the knowledge related to the nation's governance. Talking about the failure of our nation's political actors' human character is not a political discussion. As if by a common sense that we all share, we easily reject the idea that human character can replace the talk about any topic in ordinary life. Yet, we have been convinced to allow it as a substitute for the topic of politics. As in Orwell's 1984, where being forced by authoritarian dictatorship to embrace logical contradictions is a way of life (blackwhite, doublethink), we also embrace an Orwellian bondage as we defy our own knowledge and common sense when it comes to political talk. However, unlike Orwell's 1984, we have done so out of our own freedom to speak as we please.
Ad hominem argument, when a person is attacked instead of the idea, is a recognized logical fallacy. It is common knowledge that discrediting an idea based on discrediting a person is wrong. If a mathematician says that 2 + 2 = 4, it does not matter if he plays with his genitals in a way that you dislike. It also does not matter if your favorite political leader tells us that 2 + 2 = 5. It is the knowledge of mathematics that should determine any judgments about his mathematical statements, not the knowledge of his sexual habits or our political affiliation. Political talk in the United States must, like any other problem we handle in daily life, focus the structure of issues and the exchange of ideas, not on our gossip about the defects of the character of politicians and other individuals and groups.
Some might think, "Hey, human character is a political topic because the character of people affects how the nation is governed." This is a true statement. Character does affect performance. We also want to trust the character of people who know more than we know. If a political leader speaks of things much more complex than 2+2=4, our ability to independently handle their talk decreases. What if a politician had to speak about:
Suddenly, a lot of people no longer can decide for themselves about the quality of the talk. There must be trust in people who manage things on our behalf for which we do not possess sufficient knowledge to do it ourselves. We trust the electrician to install electric wiring because we do not know how to do it ourselves. We trust a computer expert to fix our computer us because we do not know how to do it ourselves. Many political problems are much more complex and ambiguous than complex mathematics and these complex political problems place a great demand on citizens' trust. We naturally want our politicians to have good character.
Although it is true that character affects performance and it is true that we must find good character in those who require our trust, this is true of all human performance in all of the arts, trades, and sciences. Nobody wants their auto mechanic to be a serial killer who is rigging their car to kill them. We want our auto mechanic to have good character. We must trust the character of the doctor who possesses knowledge that we do not. Nobody wants the surgeon, who will operate on their brain, to be a lazy alcoholic who cheated in medical school. We want our surgeon to have good character. Yet, nobody ever confuses the talk about the character of an auto mechanic with talk about how to fix a car. Nobody confuses the talk about the character of a surgeon with talk about the issues involved in brain surgery. Human character is important to human performance in every art, trade, and science. In spite of this importance, we never make the mistake in daily life of confusing the talk about human character with the talk about other subjects.
The great and very dark exception to our common sense rejection of confusing character with other subjects is in our talk about politics. The dominance of the ad hominem framing of almost all U.S. political talk, which focuses on the character of people instead of ideas, is clearly an obvious violation of our common sense. This violation of our own common sense is also a violation of our capacity to reason and therefore represents a loss of political power and freedom. The capacity to willingly engage in the contradiction of our own knowledge and reason is a theme in Orwell's 1984. There are two terms in Orwell's Newspeak that relate to the contradiction of common sense. One of the terms, blackwhite, refers to
"a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary."
The second term is the Newspeak term doublethink,
"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary."
Doublethink is a willful oblivion to the implications of contradiction that is different from the healthy habit of tolerating contradictions and ambiguities in a way that supports our full reasoning powers. Doublethink is not the ability to hold contradictory ideas in the mind so that we have the power to carefully consider an issue from all angles. Doublethink is a willful numbing of the mind where remembering or forgetting whatever is convenient to the moment simply makes the contradictions invisible to us. Doublethink is the ability to remain on point with the party message no matter what contradictions or false information is present. There is no thought in doublethink except the ability to mindlessly repeat and support the party line. When our common sense would demand we consider the implications of a contradiction, doublethink erases that impulse to make all contradictions null and void. To hear some of our politicians, political advocates, and citizens speak, one could be forgiven for believing that doublethink must have become an official political philosophy in the United States. When we deny our common knowledge, common sense, and common reason, we manifest the worst of the Orwellian nightmare we are creating for ourselves.
Our common sense forces us to reject the idea of allowing the talk of human character to replace the necessary talk about our knowledge of any practical topic that is useful for daily living. When we are solving our own daily problems we know the truth. Yet, we contradict our own common sense with a measurable lack of self honesty when we allow our political talk to obsess on people to the neglect of discussing politics with a proper focus on knowledge and ideas. When the people's reliance on knowledge collapses, when their will to give due diligence to the exercise of reason is abandoned, when honesty even to oneself dies, then the darkest flavors of the dystopian nightmare from 1984 are a living reality in the lives of the citizens of the United States. Some may argue that the torture of human beings is the worst part of the tyranny of Orwell's 1984. Here it should be noted that even severe physical torture may be faced with an excellence of integrity that manifests the best and most noble aspects of human character. However, when the integrity of our capacity to reason dies, most of what is best and noble within us dies with it. The darkest theme of Orwell's dystopia, which is all about killing the people's capacity to reason, is on a very public, very visible murderous rampage in the democratic republic of the United States. The U.S. model of public talk on politics is truly Orwellian in its devotion to allowing the knowledge, reason, and honesty of its citizens to die.
Webster's dictionary defines bigotry as an "obstinate or intolerant devotion to one's own opinions and prejudices". This definition of bigotry also clearly defines the communication habits between Republicans and Democrats. Blindly holding onto one's own opinions and prejudices in their refusal to even listen to one another characterizes most communication between partisan political interests. It is the nature of the most common communication style between conservatives and liberals to abandon the great American tradition of the free exchange of ideas, refuse to hear one another, and blindly plow forward, grasping only what one wants to believe. Holding on to one's own opinions without regard to giving due diligence to listening to and reasoning about the ideas and information that others bring to the conversational table is a manifestation of pure bigotry and serves the avoidance of knowledge. Inherent to the nature of the blind partisan bigotry that dominates politics in the United States is the breakdown of productive communication and the avoidance of any talk that has the potential to create new knowledge or understanding. Promoting bigotry in public political conversations is an important method in the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk. The political parties and corporate media use partisan bigotry to avoid knowledge and to destroy the people's capacity to reason. The exercise of reason in public conversations about political and social issues must be avoided at all costs so that the increasing corruption of the three branches of the U.S. government may continue to grow with a minimum of public interference.
The easiest path to dispel reason from political discourse is to inject a dose of emotion. In Oceania (the country governed by Big Brother) it was very important to keep the people emotional. A method in 1984 for getting the people into a highly emotional state is called "Two Minutes Hate". Every citizen of Oceania is obliged to join group sessions which whipped the people up into a frenzy of hatred for their country's enemies. Winston Smith said of the Two Minutes Hate sessions, "The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.". Later, O'Brien, the inner party member who tortured Smith, tells Smith that Oceania was "founded upon hatred.".
In the U.S., the wealthy powers who want to steal the nation are not interested in unifying all of the people. The wealthy powers want enough emotionally intense partisan, sexual, religious, racial, gender, ethnic, and other divisions burning in the hearts and minds of the people to distract them from ever paying attention to the essential class divisions that define the presence of a thief in the house. There is still a desire in some to cultivate hatred towards outsiders as was done in 1984, but by far the main focus is on inducing the blind, irrational hatred of one American citizen towards another. The most active, virulent, and politically subversive bigotry functioning in the U.S. is the hatred between Republicans and Democrats. This partisan bigotry also simplistically tags people with the labels conservative-right and liberal-left respectively. An artificially exaggerated, intellectually degenerate, and emotionally melodramatic war between these two partisan demographics has been staged in the media for decades, which has worked very effectively to bring about the decline of political reasoning in the United States. The primary outcome of allowing and promoting partisan bigotry in public political talk is to avoid knowledge through shutting down all productive conversation as irrational partisan hatred abounds. Hating one another and fighting against one another stops the people from thinking about the issues the corporate media wants to avoid. This has been going on for a long time, as Chomsky noted in 1994:
"There are growing domestic social and economic problems, in fact, maybe catastrophes. Nobody in power has any intention of doing anything about them. If you look at the domestic programs of the administrations of the past ten years-I include here the Democratic opposition-there's really no serious proposal about what to do about the severe problems of health, education, homelessness, joblessness, crime, soaring criminal populations, jails, deterioration in the inner cities - the whole raft of problems... In such circumstances you've got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this they may not like it, since they're the ones suffering from it. Just having them watch the Superbowl and the sitcoms may not be enough. You have to whip them up into fear of enemies."
Millions of Americans, who think that partisan division is the actual functional focus for talking about U.S. politics, do not realize that the nature of the talk about partisan division is nothing more than a complete distraction from real political issues. Instead of being actively involved in thinking about the structures, ideas, principles, and plans related to solving the problems of the nation, almost all publicly presented political talk in corporately owned media reduces us merely to listening to Democrats and Republicans whine about each other. The constant, infantile squabbling between conservatives and liberals has become the whole of U.S. politics. We are exposed to an endless dirty stream of partisan politicians, political operatives, and bigoted advocates accusing each other of the corruption of character and of having evil motivations. We are forced to constantly listen to them expressing their overly emotional loathing of one another with their absurdly limited vocabulary. When bigoted talk reaches its peak, emotional ranting against people replaces the rational analysis of ideas, values, principles, issues, and goals. The horrible thing about constantly witnessing Republican-Democrat, conservative-liberal hate in the media is that for millions of Americans, as Winston Smith said in 1984, it is impossible for them to avoid joining in.
Instead of exchanging ideas to improve our understanding of the most important issues facing our nation, the dominant habit in the U.S. of talking to people who think differently is to stop talking about the actual issues. The Orwellian model of U.S. political talk routinely seeks to change the topic by simply calling people names or labeling them, questioning their motivations, moving to the conversation to examining their human character, or questioning their group affiliations on the basis of simplistic preconceptions. Changing the topic, which will be detailed in a later section, is a technique that is regularly used to avoid the knowledge of issues. The hallmark of popular U.S. political talk is to just stop listening to anyone who does not think the same as you. This posture of disengagement for political talk in the U.S makes having a productive political conversation impossible. This is the goal of the Orwellian model. To make people willfully blind and deaf to their own neighbors as we abandon our adult responsibility to reason together is the Orwellian version of patriotism in U.S. political talk. The wealthy powers work through the parties and the media to manipulate the people's freedom of speech in order to help the people avoid knowledge and disable the peoples' honesty about facts. This thieving subversion is most commonly expressed in the promotion of partisan bigotry, which gives birth to a nightmare of irrational political talk. Partisan bigotry giving birth to irrationality is one manifestation of the wealthy powers' Orwellian vision of the perfection of U.S. political talk. When partisan bigotry affects political speech, our capacity to reason is replaced with the emotional and unreasoning regurgitation of memorized information. Simplistic party talking points, stereotypes, slogans, and memes become the whole of talk when we reject real political talk in favor of bigoted partisan bickering.
The model and training for the practice of disrespect and hatred of our fellow citizens has been in place in the media and the political parties for decades. Nobody is born with an instinct to loath Republicans, Democrats, or anyone else. We learn it. The primary training ground is watching the leaders of our nation and other talking heads in the media either model or accept this behavior. When disrespect and hatred are practiced enough to be automated and thus function independently from the exercise of our capacity to reason, we produce the full measure of bigotry. It is easier to hold onto our own ideas when we have an irrational personal excuse to not listen to another human being.
The exercise of our capacity to reason requires a persistent focus on the acquisition of new knowledge, but the heart and soul of all bigotry is the avoidance of new knowledge. The difference between merely repeating what we think we already know and learning new things is the key to understanding bigotry. In the bigoted aspect of Orwellian U.S. political talk, we are programmed to prefer to avoid new knowledge if it is easier to use that which we already know. Using the knowledge we have memorized to get through life faster and more efficiently is a vital survival strategy that appeals to our natural sense. If we always had to interpret everything as if it were new, humanity would have long ceased to exist. However, this human instinct for repeating our knowledge has severe limits.
For example, when I was a child, I acquired the knowledge I needed to tie my shoelaces. I learned the method and practiced it until I mastered it. Ever since then, I have been blindly repeating the tying of my shoelaces like a machine. I do not express my capacity to reason about shoelace tying. I am not open to asking new questions about shoelace tying. I know it and do it automatically. And it works fine. However, there is a serious limit to this kind of automation, which I first learned about from my reading of Plato, whose dialogues are part of the rational foundation of western civilization. The great message of Plato is a warning through the character of Socrates, who tells us that we must not merely repeat what we have memorized in our youth when it comes to our understanding of the justice and virtue of human character or the beauty and goodness of life. On more complex subjects and tasks, including the very demanding task of interpreting other human beings and the political task of governing a nation, we must remain open to basic questions and always be willing to question ourselves and learn new things. Justice is not as simple as tying our shoelaces. And nobody is capable of reasoning about the justice of a society if they refuse to question their own understanding.
With regard to our understanding of people, Plato's warning also tells us that we cannot afford to interpret others as if a single person can be understood through group identity labels and group identified stereotypes. Doing nothing more than memorizing group identity labels and characteristics such as those relative to being a Democrat or Republican, black or white, Christian or atheist, and so on, will always fail to help us to understand a unique person. Failing to interpret another human being as an individual person, which is a reliable effect of bigotry, reduces our ability to rationally relate to and talk with that person. Interpreting people individually takes significantly more attentive work than assigning labels and ideas to whole groups, but this is the reality of the task at hand if we want to communicate productively with one another.
Millions of U.S. citizens often reject the more difficult task of actually interpreting a person. They replace the need to interpret a person with the bigot posture of using their memorized knowledge of that person's group identity to convince themselves that they already know everything they need to know about a person. This is how bigotry helps us avoid new knowledge. Instead of learning about a person, we hold onto our preexisting knowledge of that person's group affiliations or some stereotyped characteristic of their ideas, motivations, or being. Bigotry helps us avoid gaining any knowledge of that person's ideas because we have an excuse to stop listening and interpreting. The avoidance of knowledge inherent to bigotry serves the goal of the wealthy powers to shut down effective reasoning in public talk.
The ease and popularity of allowing partisan bigotry to have its way in U.S. political talk is not just a manipulation of corporate powers. It is also a human inclination. Think of it this way. If I believe I already know everything I need to know about you (the classic bigot posture), then it will be natural for me to stop interpreting you. Why would I extend the effort to interpret you if I think that I already know everything I need to know about you? I will naturally and automatically avoid learning anything new about you because I will trust my memorized knowledge instead. If I think that I have already learned of your "kind" and believe that I already know everything I need to know about your perspective, then the real person standing before me with real ideas becomes completely invisible and irrelevant. It is natural that I will project my memorized knowledge onto you, and in that act of projection, avoid any new knowledge about you. The mechanism of action of all bigotry is the rejection of new knowledge.
The essence of bigotry's effect on our social relationships is that we cease to open our hearts and minds to one another in an act of fresh interpretation. The most consistent structure underlying all bigotry is the closure of the mind to the possibility of learning something new from another human being. The soul of all bigotry is the avoidance of new knowledge. Promoting our instinctual inclinations to bigotry helps corporations, the media, and political parties, train us like pavlovian dogs to be vigilant at avoiding new knowledge in any political conversation that is affected by our bigotry. When the exercise of bigotry replaces the exercise of reason, the avoidance of knowledge inherent to the nature of bigotry teaches us to stop interpreting another person's ideas, reasons, experiences, principles, and understandings of life. This is a disaster to the extent that genuinely rational conversations, which are always vitally open to new knowledge, are absolutely necessary to the well being of politics in a democratic republic. Much of the Orwellian lobotomy of politics in the United States dwells in our capacity to play the bigot to one another.
The deliberately staged displays of public partisan bigotry between Republicans and Democrats by the nation's leaders and talking heads in the media are the greatest theater trick in U.S. politics. The melodramatic theatrics of partisan bigotry are being deliberately emphasized in order to increase voter loyalty while simultaneously decreasing the rational content of political conversations. The partisan polarization of political talk serves to increase the predictability of voter performance. By deliberately cultivating the bigotry of partisan divisions, the corporately owned media and political parties effectively reduce the range of perspectives on issues to the simplistic dichotomies that bigotry reinforces. Our public political conversations' intelligence and productivity are severely damaged through the public modeling and promotion of the knowledge avoiding behavior of partisan bigotry that we see in the media.
A blunt truth about our common sense is that we do not accept the dysfunctional behavior of bigoted talk in real life problem solving. If we have to solve a real problem, we all know that the knowledge relevant to the problem is the necessary focus, not bigoted talk against a person. The Orwellian characteristic of guiding a population into the denial of their own knowledge and common sense is fully present when the people play "follow the leader" and allow partisan bigotry to have any place in our political talk about the nation's problems. We all know how to hold ourselves accountable to knowledge in daily life. Nobody talks about solutions to their daily practical problems without reasoning about their knowledge. Nobody ever solves a practical problem without relying on the knowledge necessary to get it done. If we fail to fix a problem the first time, we all know that the original knowledge or skill we brought into the task was inadequate. In the face of failure, we follow our common sense to seek out and embrace new knowledge in order to solve ordinary problems in daily life. In terms of applying knowledge to problems, we have higher standards for our conversations about fixing a car or replacing a light bulb than we have for governing the most powerful nation in history.
If you were in front of a team of doctors who refused to discuss their knowledge of medicine, the details of their diagnosis of your condition, and their treatment plan, but instead spent all their conversational energy accusing each other of being corrupt (in other words they talked like politicians). You would run for your life. And you would be right to run. Doctors, electricians, and the practitioners of all the trades and sciences do not resolve their differences on how to solve a work problem by ranting like bigots at each other. We all know they must rely on the knowledge of their respective trade or science to get the job done. It is obvious to all of us that bigoted talk, emotional hate talk, and personal gossip are irrelevant to discussing any practical problem that requires knowledge to play a role in the solution. The entire model of U.S. political discourse, insofar as it is dominated by partisan bigotry, can be summarized as a contradiction of our own common sense as we willfully throw out any idea of having knowledge-based conversations with one another in exchange for just pissing in each other's faces like enemies. The betrayal of our own common sense and our own knowledge is the defining characteristic of all that is Orwellian in U.S. political talk.
The natural standards for relying on knowledge and reason to solve problems in daily life is a part of our shared objective reality, yet we deny the existence of this objective reality for political discussions as we allow bigotry to rule in an act of avoiding knowledge and reason in political talk. This denial of objective reality for politics is a kind of Orwellian doublethink. Winston Smith mused about how the functioning of doublethink made a person able to "deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies". This degenerate form of the freedom of speech in the United States, which destroys the people's capacity to reason about politics, is a dystopian nightmare. To the extent that partisan bigotry is a dominant feature of the Orwellian U.S. model of political talk, we might be tempted to say, as O'Brien said about the foundation of his country, that it is "founded upon hate". However, when hate or any other emotion devoid of knowledge replaces our capacity to reason about the public good, it is more accurate to say that our country is being destroyed by hate. One thing is certain. Hate and bigotry are no substitute for knowledge and reason. They do not belong in useful political conversations. We all know this. We all know that the bigotry of partisan politics is wrong.
The most common way to avoid the knowledge of any subject is to quickly change the topic. It is cheap and easy and it is rampant in our political talk. Changing the topic is often done in connection to other methods such as the ad hominem framing of gossip and the partisan bigotry discussed above. When you shift the talk to a focus on the defects and virtues of human character, the actual issues of the governance of the nation are ignored and any knowledge required for a real political conversation are effectively avoided. A major technique that works with gossip and bigotry is "Whataboutism". In "whataboutism" the topic is changed and the person avoids the possibility of rational talk that naturally comes when we remain properly focused on a single topic by saying, "What about such and such". This has the effect of shutting the original conversation down. Whataboutism works well with the ad hominem focus because it is easy to trade observations about personal defects or to trade personal insults. If the focus is on the defects of one party, the avoiding response is "What about your party?". If the talk is focused on an single person, such as a political candidate, then the avoiding response is, "What about your candidate?". With whataboutism, nobody maintains a focus on one subject long enough for the conversation to have rational integrity. Even the knowledge required to talk about people's character in a rational way, which is not a proper focus for most political conversations, is scrupulously avoided when we are just throwing quick flashes of talk back and forth in constantly changing series of topics.
Ad hominem personal attack talk and bigotry are commonly seen in conversations as they are introduced into the conversation through whataboutism. If the topic is on a structure of the economy, suddenly we are talking about the personal defects of a single person or a group that is not related to the knowledge of that economic structure. If we are talking about a policy position that has an effect on foreign policy, suddenly we are expressing stereotypes about people. This kind of topic change ensures that real, knowledge based talk about political and social issues will be avoided as much as possible. Politicians are in the well-practiced habit of avoiding getting into any depth of conversation over the details of their positions. Politicians would rather attack people, misdirect people away from issues they do not want to discuss, or simply run away from the camera (literally). Engaging in evasion is the habit of choice that politicians prefer over talking honestly and in-depth about the issues and their supported policy positions.
That we allow politicians to engage in this atrocious and obviously incorrect behavior is a violation of our own common sense. Nobody does business with a person who refuses to talk about the details of your business with them. We do not trust doctors who run away from the opportunity to detail their diagnosis and treatments. We do not look up to friends or family members with respect who avoid talking about necessary issues. Yet, we keep electing politicians over and over, who evade talking about issues as if the whole of our own common sense dies a quick death at the first mention of politics. This Orwellian tolerance of obviously wrong behavior by politicians, which defies our common sense, helps the wealthy powers steal a nation by securing the careers of public servants who are too busy being sycophants to their wealthy donors to represent the people.
If I can make you lose your ability to discern the difference in the value of opinions versus the value of facts, then I have robbed you of something essential. The wholesale marketing of unsubstantiated opinions has succeeded to the point that mere opinions have become the primary product of corporate news media. The corporate philosophy of doing as little as possible in order to take as much as possible has affected the quantity and quality of information given to us by corporately owned mainstream news networks, which run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The news channels and other corporate media have perfected the art of giving the least amount of information possible to make their money. One can learn more facts about the world in one hour on the internet, than can be learned watching all three major news networks 24 hours a day for several days. This is particularly obvious when a major story breaks and all the news networks talk about one story 24 hours a day for days. When the news networks minimize the amount of facts they present, there is a lot of air time to fill. The primary content filler substitute for factual reporting is the presentation of opinions, which fills the vast majority of news network air time. The need to avoid knowledge through the sabotage of the news is fulfilled with dramatic effectiveness by this practice. Simply giving the people as few facts as possible keeps them uninformed automatically.
The concept of "fake news" in the mainstream media is not about true and false. This incorrect but extremely popular conception of "fake news" is a complete distortion of the reality of the game being played by corporate news networks. The fact is that a major news network can still be embarrassed if it is proven they got the facts wrong. The major networks will even fire people who screwed up the facts. Fake News in the mainstream media is really about the difference between actual journalism that is focusing on the facts verses the non-journalistic presentation of opinions about facts. Why do major newspapers have an editorial section where opinion pieces are presented? This section exists because it is a journalistic standard to keep opinions separate from the news. What the corporate news networks have done is to collapse the two together, such that we have three major opinion networks that report as little real information as possible (MSNBC, FOX, CNN). Opinions are not news unless they are the factually reported opinions of a newsworthy person. Newsworthy facts are not the opinions of talking heads. Real journalism deals with reporting news stories on a factual basis. Presenting endless opinions in the guise of news reporting is why most mainstream news reporting can be called fake news. If the dominance of opinion was just as severe in a major newspaper, it would be as if their editorial section of that newspaper expanded to the whole paper without any mention of the difference between editorials and the news.
It is a major task at MSNBC, Fox, and CNN to figure out how to fill up air time 24 hours a day while still giving the impression they are an actual news network. Fortunately for them, the public has accepted second-hand opinions as the norm for so-called news. The normal experience of watching the 24-hour network news channels is to get a few facts in an hour of programming and then spend the rest of the hour listening to opinions. Today, an ocean of mere opinions is what passes itself off as news. An editorial hour of opinions is not an hour of news reporting. Opinions passed off as news is fake news. Today, millions of people are confused about the difference between the value of opinions about facts and the facts themselves. This is a major problem in the U.S. and a good example of the success of the Orwellian model of political talk's ability to destroy the people's reliance on knowledge. Think of the hideous irony. Today, we have multiple 24 hours a day, 7 days a week news channels. However, we now get less actual facts and perspectives than ever before. Now that is an Orwellian touch with deadly consequences.
This phenomenon goes beyond the behavior of the news networks. Millions of U.S. citizens strongly believe that their personal opinions on the technical subjects that have been effectively politicized are just as valid as the consensus of the scientific community. It is odd that we still accept the value of expert knowledge when the topic has not been politicized. We trust expert knowledge with our money, our possessions, our homes, and our lives. The instant a topic gets politicized, such as masks or climate change, suddenly our trust of expert knowledge falls to the ground. This bizarre, irrational, and suspiciously politicized disavowal of knowledge is a sign that the agenda to destroy the people's reliance on knowledge when discussing political and social issues has been successfully advanced. As far as the wealthy powers are concerned, persuasion without the need for knowledge is the holy grail of U.S. political talk. Securing predictable voter performances without ever having one rational, knowledge-based conversation with the public is the Orwellian vision of perfection for U.S. political talk. The structure and functioning of the corporate media and the political parties' behavior, who regularly prioritize opinions over facts in the public eye, reveals that a lot of time and money has been spent on elevating opinions over facts and reason. Damaging the quality of our reliance upon knowledge in political talk has been the plain result.
When the corporate media and political parties simply refuse to report on or talk in-depth about the issues they wish to hide, we are deprived of knowledge about those issues. Corporate news and the political parties deliberately obscure the knowledge of key legislative issues. This obscurity is focused on issues that affect the bottom line of the wealthy powers. When a broader range of issues is hidden, the public does not get the opportunity to think about them. There are topics that the wealthy powers care very much about and topics about which they care very little. In the U.S., one could have a detailed conversation utilizing extraordinary in-depth knowledge of the topic of weather, and the wealthy powers will not bat an eye. However, in-depth knowledge-based talk on key economic policy positions is publicly avoided at all costs by the corporately controlled political parties and media. The more the wealthy powers can get people to talk about issues they do not care about, the less the public will focus upon and productively discuss the issues the wealthy powers do care about. This kind of distraction makes it easier to get away with massive theft through corrupting the political process to influence the legislation on their chosen issues.
On the three big networks, you will often see immensely detailed coverage of a hurricane but almost never see detailed reporting on the long term implications of implementing a legislative package beyond superficial slogan-like references discussed with a shallow level of detail. The news networks will gladly report every dramatic and gory detail of the riots over racial injustice for days, weeks, or months. However, you will be hard-pressed to find any detailed reporting on racial justice issues relative to the need for prison reform, problems with jury selection, issues with low levels of training of police, or legislative issues on the racial injustice of institutional racism. You will always see reporting on the facts of politicians' personal corruption but will never see any real investigative journalism on corporate corruption. Superficial reporting on corporate corruption occurs if a particular corporate bad actor gets caught publicly with their hand in the cookie jar. Only public exposure forces corporate media to report on specific examples of corporate corruption, but the corporate media never thoroughly investigates corporate corruption at a systemic level.
Avoiding knowledge through selective focus is also part of the operations of the political parties in public conversation. Conservatives are a little bit, but not much more prone to being manipulated in this fashion. (For our perspective on the collapse of traditional conservatism in the U.S. see our essay, The Beauty of The Conservative Mind: Conservatism and The Examined Life) Issues such as the war on Christmas, LBGT issues, abortion, and ad hominem rants against Democrats, are some of the selected topics that the GOP will eagerly discuss at length any day of the week. The more they talk about these issues, the less they have to be held accountable for their policy positions that directly affect the bottom line of wealthy powers who are their largest donors. If you try to pin down a GOP politician to discussing key economic policies in detail, they will shut down the conversation, change the topic, or literally run away. It is all about money. In order to maximize their profits, the wealthy powers must succeed at keeping the people from focusing on, reasoning about, or talking about, the core policy issues that affect their bottom line. The GOP must also keep the people from focusing on core policy positions in order for their complicity with their wealthy donors to remain as stealthy as possible. When the wealthy powers and the political parties are successful at keeping the people from talking about key issues, the theft of a nation can proceed with maximum stealth.
Selective focus is an important tactic for the GOP, who works very hard to make sure conservatives are more interested in discussing family values than discussing the value of key policy positions that impact U.S. corporations' wealth. The wealthiest business interests prefer that we engage in heated discussions about the morality of individual living and to never, ever discuss the ethics of corporate behavior. The 1% prefers that we talk against one another as divided enemies than to knowledgeably discuss the problems of class division and systemic political corruption that define the theft of a nation.
Distraction issues for the Democratic Party (DNC) function to limit the range of progressive talk. DNC distractions work by the DNC playing the role of the opposition party through an ad hominem focus on the personal corruption of the GOP. Recently, the target has been almost exclusively Trump and those cooperating with the Trump administration. Instead of publicly expressing a systemic critical analysis of core policy failures that open up the full range of possibilities for progressive knowledge-based talk on the nation's issues, the DNC has obsessed over every detail of Trump's perversion and corruption. This obsession works perfectly to help give progressive talk less room to focus on knowledge-based issue analysis. There is a big difference between obsessing about an individual politician doing wrong and engaging in knowledge-based analysis of the nation's core issues. The former is merely an ad hominem distraction because Donald Trump is not the problem. Trump is the result you get from a corrupt political system that is already hostile to the people's reliance on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty in public speech. The latter, which is a reasoned analysis of the nation's issues and policy positions, is an important part of the real work of political talk that is suspiciously absent in the United States. In the last few years, talking about the personal corruption of Donald Trump has been the primary distraction issue for Democrats and other progressives.
Allowing people to habitually speak rationally in knowledge-based conversations on political and social issues is the worst-case scenario that the corporate media and the political parties want to scrupulously avoid as much as possible. It compromises the goal of stealing as much as possible if the people are allowed to expect intelligent and rational speech on political issues from the parties and the media. Better is to train them to avoid reasoning by tolerating irrelevant, personal, bigoted, and off-topic babbling as a replacement for intelligent, knowledge-based talk on political and social issues. Best is to get them to not discuss certain issues at all and replace those issues with distracting topics, which the corporations do not care about at all. When the parties and the media disproportionately talk about their favorite distraction issues, then the knowledge of crucial social and political issues is successfully avoided. Mission accomplished. If the voters can be persuaded to commit to the wealthy powers' targeted voting outcomes without ever rationally discussing the issues they are concerned about, then the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk has achieved a perfect result.
Imagine if one word could translate a whole paragraph or book. Such a one-word translation is the ultimate destruction of knowledge, meaning, and reasoning through the reduction of vocabulary. In the Principles of Newspeak appendix of the novel 1984, we find the second paragraph of The Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government . . ."
With regard to translating this paragraph into Newspeak, Orwell writes,
"It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink."
The reduced vocabulary and the elimination of shades of meaning in Orwell's Newspeak made it impossible to translate the ideas in this paragraph from The Declaration of Independence. As all of the ideas in this paragraph were criminal in Oceania (the country governed by Big Brother), only one word was needed to communicate the only possible remaining meaning. The one word erases any knowledge of the original text merely to say that it is a crime (crimethink). This bizarre translation act eliminates knowledge as the details of a text are replaced by a single word, which represents a single evaluation. In this case, a negative value is passed onto the paragraph. The one-word translation is meaningless to the original paragraph. This technique of using one word to translate many is as blunt and dark as its purpose in 1984.
"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to
narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally
impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every
concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with
its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and
(Bold Emphasis Mine)
This one-word style of translation seems to be impossible in real life. However, the blunt and dark irony is that the use of only one word to interpret and replace any speech or writing act, whether it be a paragraph, a short statement, a whole argument, or an entire world view, is a standard habit of conversational disengagement in U.S. political talk. Avoiding knowledge, disregarding meaning, and ending a conversation through the use of a single word to cast a simple yes or no evaluation on any speech act, is a powerful Orwellian habit of political talk in the U.S. that works to eliminate reasoning. What seemed impossibly impractical in the fiction of Orwell's newspeak is a living reality in the United States.
Regarding the idea that one word can replace a whole argument, there are six related words used in this way in our political talk in the United States. These six words are used to frame all political issues so that any speech or text can be accepted or dismissed with a single word. Tragically, these six words are meaningless to any properly focused political talk about the actual issues, ideas, and principles involved in governing the nation. Millions of citizens do to political arguments with one word what Orwell did to the second paragraph of The Declaration of Independence. The habit of many millions of American citizens is to accept or reject any political argument on the basis of just one of these six words. Whole arguments can be swallowed up by any one of these six powerful, reason annihilating words. When these six words are used, knowledge is avoided as the actual meanings of speech and texts are ignored. The more these six Orwellian words are used in our talk, the less we will reason about our knowledge in political conversations. The use of these six words closes hearts and minds, disengages our powers of reasoning, and stops all useful conversation on political issues. The six words that have almost completely killed reasoning in political discourse in the United States are Republican, Democrat, Left, Right, Conservative, and Liberal.
Like Orwell's Newspeak, where one word, crimethink, can replace a whole paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. rendition of a dystopian language can take any one of these six words and replace any speech act no matter how many words it contains. This reduction in vocabulary is entirely based on partisan bigotry, which makes it possible to replace the dozens or hundreds of words in any act of writing or speech with only one word. As soon as one of the six words is used in a conversation, the exchange of ideas necessary to reason about politics stops dead in its tracks. Americans are well trained in their own version of "Two Minutes Hate". The instant most U.S citizens are able to apply one of the six partisan words to the speech of another citizen; the ability to listen to the other person's point of view starts to die. This refusal to interpret another citizen is the standard knowledge avoiding posture of partisan bigotry, which can be initiated by any one of the six words.
The instant most conservatives hear the word "liberal", "Democrat", or "left", they stop interpreting the other person and simply regurgitate what they have memorized in association with those words. By applying one of the six words as an adjective, the whole speech or text is replaced by a yes or no evaluation based on one word. A five-thousand-word dissertation on any political topic instantly becomes void the moment a partisan conservative hears it referred to as "liberal". No reading, context, explanation, or evidence is required to support this partisan value judgment. The same is true when a partisan liberal hears one of the words, "conservative", "Republican", or "Right", and stops interpreting a speech act or text in order to apply a stereotyping judgment based on a single word. As soon as any talk or writing on any subject becomes known as a "conservative", a large number of liberally inclined progressives in the U.S. are inclined to assume its intellectual integrity is poor without even reading it. Allowing one word to trigger a yes or no judgment about other people's ideas, perspectives, and speech in the absence of a fresh interpretation diminishes our capacity to exchange information and reason about ideas. The blunt and dark truth is that on precisely the issues we need to exchange ideas in open and free discussion, millions of us are triggered by single words to avoid new knowledge and to minimize our use of vocabulary. These six single words regularly function to shut a useful conversation down.
There are other words that have the dystopian power to kill reasoning in conversation. Imagine a talk from someone on the so-called "left", who articulates a well thought out five-point argument on some economic issue. All that needs to be done is for the opposing argument is to say one word, "socialism", and for millions of conservative citizens, the conversation is over. If so-called conservatives accuse any economic argument of being socialist, then that is the only word they need say. There need be no exchange of ideas, no evidence, no explainations, no sound arguments, no knowledge, just...one...word. Allowing one word arguments to be enough to produce a judgment is a response that is more akin to the pavlovian drooling of dogs than the exercise of our capacity to reason. Single words like this provoke an automatic response in the darkest, dystopian, thought controlling way. Other words such as "patriotic", "unpatriotic", "godly", "ungodly," "activist," "hater," "green", "not green" are also used to pass yes-no evaluations onto any statement or argument. The example of socialism does not imply that this is a conservative phenomenon. Many so-called liberals also get caught up in the dismissal of reasoned discourse on core political issues as they embrace and express gossip, engage in bigotry, use whataboutism, value opinions over facts, and respond to one word triggers like a Pavlovian dog. When single word triggers are used, many conservatives and liberals in the U.S. function by erasing the knowledge of whatever speech or text is in focus and proceed to pass a simple value judgment of thumbs up or down, yes or no. Knowledge is erased and value judgments are made in the absence of the exercise of our capacity to reason. The use of a single word to replace a whole translation or argument sounded impossible when described in Orwell's 1984 Appendix: Principles of Newspeak. However, the use of just one word in this exact Orwellian style is alive and well in U.S. dystopian political talk.
A very destructive vocabulary reducing habit is our overwhelming reliance on slogans, memes, and talking points to express the whole of our talk on political issues. The repetition of brief talking points, glib platitudes, shallow marketing slogans, and hideously abbreviated memes is the dominant habit of politicians, media talking heads, and the American people. Why bother with the tedious chore of responsibly examining the values, principles, goals, and problems of the nation through lengthy rational dialogue when we can just utter a single sentence or phrase, then shut down the conversation as we pretend to win an imaginary contest? When the parties and the corporate media allow detailed discussions, we see the time and space devoted to the bulk of the details are filled in with selected distraction issues, off topic gossip, bigoted ranting, or explanations of what a speaker wishes to be true. However, real knowledge-based talk and analysis, which require people to focus on the structures of issues, the detailing of facts, and the exercise of our capacity to reason about our knowledge are missing in action.
We are addicted to the use of slogans, memes, and party talking points. Instead of having thoughtful in-depth conversations about the goals, principles, ideas, and values that must be a part of the United States' necessary government, we communicate like advertisements. A significant number of voters prefer to express the whole of their political talk by merely wearing a meme tee shirt, placing a bumper sticker, planting a sign with a marketing slogan, reciting a short party talking point, or donning a hat with a slogan or meme printed on it. The art of well reasoned political conversation in the country has died. At the same time, tasty and time-efficient fragments of incoherent sayings and memes are consumed in mass through our American obsession with "tidbit understanding". When we abandon knowledge and reason in exchange for our obsession with slogans and talking points, we are participating in political talk like passive observers at a sporting event. We are not actually in the game but are merely rooting for our chosen team. In the United States, the repetition of superficial marketing slogans, memes, and talking points far outnumbers the in-depth dialogues that take seriously the need to rationally examine the issues in detail. A large number of United States citizens regularly mistake the utterance or transmission of a meme for a rationally competent response to dialogue.
When the height of human understanding reduces itself to the meager measure of mimetic competence, the best of our capacity to reason has died.
For most citizens, the centrally important play of the thoughtful free exchange of ideas is absent while the automatic, mindless regurgitation of slogans, memes, and party talking points fill up our conversations to make up the whole of political talk. When most of the public has been made content to sit on the sidelines to do little more than chant slogans, the real work of productive political discussion is abandoned. Putting a political sign in your yard, wearing a tee shirt, and chanting slogans is the cheering of a fan, not the work of a player who is in the game. Trading jabs back and forth against the perceived integrity of the parties is not a political discussion. It is a verbally abbreviated soap opera. Memorizing a meme does not constitute understanding. Relying on memes is intellectual passivity. The pathway to understanding is not competence at repeating memorized talking points and slogans. The only pathway to understanding is the real work involved in the free exchange of ideas, which employs our capacity to reason about our knowledge as we examine our values, principles, goals, and plans together. Hi-quality, rational political talk cannot be communicated through memes and slogans.
The most Orwellian thing about our obsession with fewer words is that we know better. It goes against our own common sense to allow for the breakdown of language and thought in political talk, when we do not tolerate it anywhere else. Nobody buys a home on the basis of a slogan. The home buyer gives due diligence by asking questions and examining the house thoroughly. If you met a seller who only had slogans to offer you in the sales pitch, but would not let you checkout the house, you would not do business with that seller. In practical affairs, nobody thinks a meme is enough to create an adequate understanding of any complex task. More detail, more dialogue, more thought, more skill is needed to understand and address complex issues. Yet we give politics a pass. We allow the parties and corporations to reduce the greater part of our political conversations and understanding to single word labels, slogans, memes, and short party talking points. When the full depth of detailed, rational political dialogue is abandoned in exchange for cheaper, shorter, and shallower tidbits of slogans and memes, we must admit we have failed our country and ourselves by allowing our reliance on knowledge and reason to die in our political talk.
Every time I hear a citizen of the United States claim with an air of satisfaction that they got "both" sides of the story, I feel an Orwellian chill rising up my spine. On the most important issues in the governance of the United States, there are a range of perspectives and not just two. In the United States, we have the extraordinary habit of reducing everything down to only two sides. The top five dichotomies most used in the U.S. are Republican vs. Democrat, left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, religious vs. atheist, capitalism vs. socialism, and in general, us vs. them. Simplistic dichotomies are an element in the dominant style of framing issues. As we said earlier with regard to the operation of the Newspeak language, "The possibility of nuanced thought is eliminated along with the vocabulary in order to secure the absolute dominance of simplistic dichotomies in the people's use of language." By arranging all political talk in terms of simplistic dichotomies, the U.S. style of Orwellian talk effectively reduces vocabulary and removes shades of meaning from public discourse. It is unnecessary to edit the language of a people or burn books in order to stop them from using their freedom of speech for all it is worth.
Reducing the perspectives available to the public for consideration is a primary function of the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk. The full diversity of perspectives cannot even occur to most people if they never get the opportunity to witness them. If an issue is always spoken of in terms of being either "X" or "Y", then the "A, B, Cs" of any issue will never be known. The complete knowledge, thought, and meaning that comes with allowing the discussion of a full range of perspectives dies. This effect of eliminating the possible nuances of meaning, which comes with thinking about a greater range of perspectives, is the same effect that was sought through the reduction of vocabulary in Orwell's 1984.
We see this when Syme tells Winston Smith, "Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller."
A greater level of reduced vocabulary and perspective is achieved by simplifying the top three dichotomies in the U.S. and merging them into one super dichotomy. This super dichotomy is continuously being used to restrict the range of perspectives allowed in public talk about political and social issues. It is structured around the six words we discussed in the "One Word Translations and Arguments" section. In all media following the corporate Orwellian model, every issue is presented in terms of one vastly oversimplifying dichotomy using the six words. Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, left and right, are used almost all the time to reduce the full range of perspectives on complex issues so that everything is falsely associated with two simplistically defined categories. The two fake positions, Republican-Conservative-Right (RCR) and Democrat-Liberal-Left (DLL), do not exist as clearly definable perspectives. Although the terms Republican and Democrat are precisely defined, the terms conservative-liberal and left-right, which are most often used to refer to imaginary demographic categories, are just fake labels that function to cover up the extraordinary diversity of perspectives available to the public conversation in the United States.
The abbreviated representation of political talk on issues in terms of only a single RCR and DLL point of view creates simplistic binary opposition that is an imaginary construction based on the false unification (or elimination) of a larger range of perspectives. The full diversity of perspectives within conservatism (detailed below) and the full range of the perspectives within progressive thought are massively reduced down to a binary representation of the RCR-DLL dichotomy. This binary representation only presents perspectives that are more favorable to corporate interests. A narcissistic duopoly of the parties publicly reinforces this imaginary RCR vs. DLL super dichotomy. The leadership of the two dominant parties are all about getting the nation to pay attention only to them. Of course the GOP wants to be seen as representing ALL conservative and right-oriented perspectives. Of course, the Democratic party (DNC) wants to be seen by ALL liberal-left people as being relevant. The corporate media are also very eager to restrict the range of possible perspectives down to just the two parties who function as wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate America. Neither the RCR nor the DLL is a single demographic with a single perspective.
There is more principled diversity of thought and perspective in conservatism alone than is ever allowed to be regularly presented to the public by the parties or the media for the entire RCR-DLL super dichotomy. (See our essay "The Beauty of The Conservative Mind: Conservatism and The Examined Life" for our take on the foundation of conservative diversity) The GOP policy positions, platform, and party behavior do not represent the full diversity of conservatism. The full diversity of the perspectives within the Republican Party alone includes but is not limited to: traditional Burkean conservatives, Libertarians, Neoconservatives, Paleoconservatives, the Christian right, moderate and liberal Log Cabin Republicans, the Tea Party movement, and QAnon adherents. There is also a measurable diversity of thought and perspective within each of the conservative groups listed above. The full range of conservative or so-called "Republican" perspectives is never allowed into the discussions about politics in the mainstream media, not even close. The reduction of all public political talk to mostly GOP approved party talking points, slogans, and partisan rhetoric constitutes the destruction of real diversity within conservative perspectives on politics as seen in the media in the United States.
Making out the fake Republican-Conservative-Right (RCR) to be a true representation of conservative perspective is a false equivalence that has been deliberately constructed by the GOP and corporate media. This false equivalence is a mendacious effort to associate "Republican" with all that is conservative and right. It is incoherent nonsense. The fake RCR is merely an attempt to manipulate a larger demographic into predictable voting performances. The truth is that there is more diversity of thought and perspective in the Christian right alone than is ever allowed to be presented by the corporate media or represented by the policy positions, platform, or behaviors of the GOP. Christians can have extraordinary diversity of thought, yet remain identified with the "right". From those who want Christian theocracy, to Christians who put the U.S. Constitution just under the Bible, to Christians who identify as "right" but whose perspectives resemble the best of socially progressive thought, the full range of Christian thought alone within conservatism exceeds the corporate tolerance for the range of perspectives that is allowed in public political talk.
The same problem exists with the false equivalence of Democrat-Liberal-Left. The DLL is an imaginary consolidation of progressive perspectives created to manipulate the public into falsely limiting all possible discussions of progressive values, thought, and perspectives to those sponsored by the corporately controlled Democrat Party. The DLL is promoted publicly to secure predictable voting performances. The full range of progressive thought could generate a list longer than the one above for the Republican Party. Suffice it to say that the corporate aligned centrist perspectives of the fake Democrat-Liberal-Left category are the only views allowed to be regularly represented in the mainstream media.
Another popular media and party trick is to call out a center-oriented position as being "extreme", "radical", or "far left". They do this to ensure that centrists, whose positions are more favorable to corporate interests, are the only publicly visible left. The media labeling President Elect Biden as a "Socialist" or "far left" is a good example. Biden is a centrist politician who has a closer resemblance to Republicans than to anyone on the far left. When the people are conditioned to think of the center as socialist or far-left, then the media has successfully reduced the range of possible perspectives that can be considered by the public to those that most favor corporate interests. The actual left is never seen on corporate media unless it is done in order to present a strawman. Similarly, traditional conservatives, who actually have an esteemed heritage, values, and principles that are more important to them than the GOP are never regularly allowed to have their say in the corporately sponsored public spotlight.
The media does not give us anywhere near all of the diverse perspectives, which the six words naturally imply. They only give us their truncated, corporation-favoring version of the two fake super dichotomy perspectives (RCR, DLL). These two fake perspectives function in the context of removing our knowledge of diverse perspectives on issues, removing principles for the guidance of thought, and removing as much vocabulary for the expression of knowledge as is possible. The fake RCR and DLL positions that are regularly presented in the media serve the interest of corporations to restrict the creative breadth of thought about political issues. All issues are framed in a simple, manageable dichotomy that is more closely aligned with corporate interests than would ever be possible with a full range of real-world perspectives. The maximum effect of this dichotomy occurs when in combination with the principle of "One Word Translations and Arguments". All the people need to hear is left or right, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, and they are ready to make a choice. The publicly visible understandings of the two fake RCR-DLL perspectives are already well known, and no new thoughts are required. Combine this with a bit of partisan bigotry, and just labeling a person or idea with an RCR or DLL label ends the need for thoughtful conversation. A simplistic yes or no is brought forth not by the reasoned examination of ideas on the issues but through the knee-jerk pavlovian drooling that pours forth when hearing a reference to one of the six words associated with the RCR-DLL dichotomy.
When the full range of perspectives is hidden from public view, the absence of diversity of perspectives helps the six words have that "one-word" power. This tends to manifest in a simplistic yes-no dynamic in conversations. Persuading without knowledge and getting people to give a simple "Yes" or "No" for political parties and their policy positions is the primary marketing interest in the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk. Giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to policy positions without using our capacity to reason about different perspectives because we are committed to one of the sides in the fake RCR-DLL dichotomy is the wealthy power's ideal of perfect political talk. When knowledge is avoided, vocabulary reduced, and perspectives limited, then the people's reasoning is reduced to its simplest form. Voting without giving due diligence to reasoning about the issues is the payoff for corporate business interests and the corporately controlled political parties. The perspective eliminating simplistic dichotomy of Republican-Conservative-Right vs. Democrat-Liberal-Left is the reason for the Orwellian chill we should all feel when someone says about a complex social or political issue, "I got both sides of the story.".
The last person you should want to talk to is the person who always thinks exactly like you. That is not a conversation. It is an echo. Getting trapped in "echo chambers" is something to be avoided. When we do all of our talking on the issues with people who already think just like us, we have entered an echo chamber. We enter an echo chamber when we watch only news sources that are similar to our own perspectives. We are merely listening to the echo of our own voice when we read or interact with internet social media sources that simply repeat our own perspectives. This carries the same weakness as being unreceptive to different ideas. It is a way of avoiding knowledge by constraining ourselves to merely hearing an echo of what we already think. It is a way of reducing vocabulary by only talking in ways that fit our preapproved narratives. It is a way of reducing the range of our perspectives because the only thing you ever see, hear, or read is what you already know, think, say, and believe.
When we know our first attempt at solving a problem fails, common sense tells us that we need more perspectives than the one that just failed. This is always true. Nobody thinks, "Hey, I will just keep repeating the same ideas and doing exactly the same thing again and again until it turns out differently and solves the problem." Nobody believes this is sound advice for ordinary problems in daily life. Einstein believed that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results was a definition of insanity. U.S. politics has a rich history of failing to solve problems time and time again. U.S. political talk also has a rich history of saying and doing the same broken things over and over and over. Echo chambers are pathways to delusions. Our rationality stagnates like still waters that become putrid over time in the absence of the diversity of thought and ideas.
We all know the benefit of a diversity of perspectives when we fail to solve a problem in daily life. When we fail, we always want to do it better or differently. We never believe that the exact same failed knowledge and performance is going to solve the exact same problem if we just keep repeating ourselves. Yet we defy our own common sense with politics and allow ourselves and our political representatives to rehash the same failing frameworks of talk over and over. We over indulge the bad habit of talking only with those who think like us. When we voluntarily exclude a diversity of perspectives, we do with our freedom of speech what Orwell's authoritarian government sought to do through torture and censorship. In our delusional overconfidence in our own claims of knowledge, we allow the whole of political talk to be reduced to an echo of our own voice. As a consequence, we wind up staring into a dirty, broken mirror where we see nothing new, gain nothing, learn nothing, and hold ourselves accountable to nothing.
What do frozen dinners and the network news have in common? The answer is that we know how to get a low-quality product fast. A few minutes in the microwave or a few minutes of political discussion between commercial breaks is all the time it takes to reduce our standards of consumption. The time and space limitations in our most popular network programming and social media regularly fail to offer enough room to exercise our capacity to reason about issues effectively. This has the effect of massively reducing the knowledge, vocabulary, and perspectives that can be expressed within the media's time and space constraints. The time and space limits within our network and social media formats force the participants to speak and write with an excessive concision that works to cut short the due process of our reasoning powers.
Concision is not a bad thing when used properly. It is good to be concise when we do not use unnecessary words and are doing a good job avoiding unnecessary redundancy in our speech and writing. It is an excellent thing to spell out the essentials of our meaning in an efficient and clarifying manner. However, we exceed a point of diminishing return with the kind of forced concision that comes from the media's time and space limitations. The media's time and space limits force people into an unrelenting need to use as few words as possible in their speech and writing. Their attempts to be concise while speaking about complex social and political issues end up destroying the full process of reasoning about the issues. It is a good thing when we are concise in describing an idea, a value, a principle, a problem, or a solution. Being concise while describing things is a great benefit to the clarity of conversation. But reasoning about an idea, a value, a principle, a problem, or a solution is not a description. It is a process. This process takes more time and space in order to be complete than is typically available in the network and social media. Reasoning will often be a prolonged affair due to the complexity of issues or the inability to find satisfactory solutions.
Effective concision that efficiently describes our meanings is very different from the idea of forcing people to try to be too brief when it is time to exercise a capacity to reason. Reducing the number of words used in order to increase the clarity and quality of our speech is good. Shortcutting the full process of examining the issues in a way that damages the exercise of our capacity to reason is an Orwellian nightmare in U.S. politics. Using only 15 words instead of 100 words to effectively describe a policy position so that it fits into the time slot of a program or the character limit of a tweet is a good thing to do. Giving up on examining different perspectives or asking important questions about a policy position because there is not enough time or space in the chosen media destroys our ability to publically reason together about the subject under discussion. Voluntary concision always works to communicate our descriptive meanings with clarity and efficiency. The involuntary concision that is forced upon conversation participants, who have no choice but to always meet the time and space limits of the corporate media with as few words as possible, works to make it impossible to have a higher quality of rational conversation.
This method to reduce the diversity and quality of public talk has been going on for a long time and had its first notable mention by Noam Chomsky in the 1990's. He described the media as serving a propaganda function where the time limits of the corporate media were too severe to allow for any talk except what was already widely known and approved. This worked because only conventional, widely known and accepted statements and claims could be uttered without being forced to provide additional explanations, context, evidence, or valid arguments. The unconventional or unexpected ideas and narratives that exist outside of what is most familiar, approved, and repeated require significant explanation, which just takes too long. Chomsky spoke of the problem of trying to express unexpected ideas in the concise U.S. media format,
"The beauty of concision, you know, saying a couple sentences between two commercials, the beauty of that is you can only repeat conventional thoughts...I don't need any evidence, everybody just nods. On the other hand, suppose you're saying something that isn't just regurgitating conventional pieties, suppose you say something that's the least bit unexpected or controversial...people will quite reasonably expect to know what you mean. 'Why did you say that? I never heard that before.' If you said that you'd better have a reason, better have some evidence...You can't give evidence if you're stuck with concision. That's the genius of this structural constraint. "
Only a small range of known conventional perspectives can be expressed without explanation within the time limitations of network media programming. This convenient formatting trick allows corporately owned media to automatically exclude the possibility of the rational discussion of ideas and narratives they do not want the public to see. When time and space are scarce, we give up accountability to knowledge, use less vocabulary, and drop the full range of perspectives needed to express productive and creative political talk. We give up what is necessary to be useful in exchange for the mechanical, time-efficient repetition of conventional ideas that are often expressed as pat answers, brief slogans, and short party talking points.
When corporations work to control what "conventional pieties" will become the focus of our highly repeated conventional understandings (Piety: a natural obligation; dutifulness in religion; a conventional belief or standard), the media's overly brief time limits do the rest of the work to exclude all other perspectives. Network programming does not provide the time required for the full benefit of rational discussion. This limitation is often amplified by the common practice of using too many people than is appropriate for the time involved. When the time between two commercial breaks is filled in with half a dozen people who are just trying to get a word in edgewise, there can be no depth or substance of reasoning. The time and space limits of the media eliminate the possibility of working together to discover new ideas and perspectives.
When people are forced to be optimally concise at all times, this constrains their talk to what is most commonly repeated in the absence of an adequate amount of questions and examinations. This is a significant problem because what is most commonly repeated should also be regularly questioned and examined. However, severe time and space limitations in the media work brilliantly to guide viewers' attention onto our accepted conventional agreements without the time needed to ask any fundamentally useful questions. As our conventional agreements are repeated over and over, we find that the full scope of their meaning, the nature of their assumed values and principles, and the underlying normative claims that come with our "conventional pieties" are left unexamined and invisible. Overly concise talk short cuts our reasoning to the effect that all conversation involving any controversy will be a plain grasping for a simplistic yes or no result. Severe time limits do not allow for nuances of meaning, diverse perspectives for complex issues, or the questions needed to advance thought. When the corporations and the political parties control the public visibility, and therefore the possibility, of all of our yes's and no's, the work of the Orwellian U.S. political model of talk is complete.
The power of the media's time and space limitations to destroy the opportunities for reasoning together is reinforced by the general decay of substantive content in the media. In the 1990's, Carl Sagan noted the decay of our society in terms of the decay of our reasoning powers. Sagan saw a day in the future when,
"awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when...our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness."
Carl Sagan saw us moving towards the stupefying decay of our capacity to reason about social and political issues. Sagan drew a correlation between our mental decline and the quality of what is presented in the public media. Regarding the role of the media in our mental decline, Sagan wrote,
"The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers. The plain lesson is that study and learning - not just of science, but of anything - are avoidable, even undesirable."
The Orwellian tasks of avoiding knowledge, reducing vocabulary, reducing the range of perspectives available to the public, and destroying the public's ability to reason are supported through the media's inappropriately restrictive time limits of time and space for political talk. These tasks are also supported by the characteristics noted in Sagan's description of the "dumbing down of America". The increasing shortening of sound bites, which Sagan noted, complements media time and space limitations very well. When the quickly expressed tidbit understanding provided by short sound bites, slogans, and memes becomes the whole of public talk, the decay of the people's capacity for reasoning is at hand. Sagan also noted the decay of the quality of content in the media. The media's abundant focus on "lowest common denominator programming" works to reduce the full range of perspectives available to the public. The pretense of rational examination that goes with the "credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition" leads people to lower their standards for the examination of claims of knowledge. The overwhelming popularity of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, sports, video games, and other distractive entertainments fills up the airtime and our spare time, creating less time and space for the people to exercise their minds in a useful manner. The "celebration of ignorance" and personal dysfunction that we see in the distractive entertainments promoted by popular media lay hold to much of our attention span. This media focus encourages us to cultivate a tolerance for using less knowledge, less vocabulary, and fewer perspectives than are required for the expression of productive, useful thought.
It is not enough for the corporate media's time limit's to constrain our talk to the conventional pieties that are accepted by the masses. The nature and content of the conventional understandings, which will be widely accepted and repeated in public, must be controlled and restricted so only the ideas that help corporations take what they want will be publicly repeated. Since the primary tactic of subversive theft is to destroy the people's capacity to reason, you cannot have conventional pieties that inherently call people to exercise their capacity to reason. For example, you will never see the corporate news promoting an idea such as "Question Everything!" so that it can become the most widely accepted slogan of American political thought. The network media's vision of convention perfection is that the set of widely accepted conventional ideas and ways of interpreting the world must never lead people to a more thoughtful conversation, or to encourage the people to indulge in the independent interpretation of values, principles and goals. Avoided as much as possible and at all cost is anything that opens up the people to conversations requiring more time and space devoted to effective reasoning about the issues. Such an anti-Orwellian convention as "Question Everything!" challenges the function of concision and works against all the rest of the Orwellian methods. A consumer market that loves to question everything will not support a media product that forces them to cut short their passion for questions. A consumer market that loves to indulge many questions will never buy (vote for) a party who only wants their followers to mindlessly repeat what the wealthy oligarchs want them to say. The perfect consumer in the Orwellian environment of political talk is the one who pays the wealthy powers to tell them what to think and say. Developing this kind of consumer market is the holy grail of the Orwellian-style of U.S. political talk. The possibility of widely accepted conventional agreements that call people to question and think responsibly is anathema to the Orwellian system of political talk in the United States.
Therefore, it is impossible for the anti-Orwellian conventional piety of "Question Everything!" to be promoted by the corporate media or the political parties. The nature of such a convention is antithetical to the public communication goals of corporations, which are well served through forced concision and the popularity of abbreviated, thoughtless talk. The perfect corporately approved conventional piety, which will be repeated often in front of the public, is any notion that can function like an empty cliché, which can be simultaneously the home to everything and the home to nothing. The perfect Orwellian conventional saying must also function in a context that does not offer people the opportunity to give due diligence to question and define what they are agreeing upon.
A natural result of time and space limitations is to destroy the meaning and power of our conventional agreements. This destruction happens regularly because it is easy for anyone to make a time-efficient generic claim that we should support values and principles associated with freedom, democracy, justice, patriotism, morality, godliness, or country. People make such claims without defining either what these ideals mean or how we can identify what kind of support is useful, honorable, and consistent with our known ethics and goals. When most people hear such basic claims, they just nod in agreement. Who doesn't agree with the simple and appealing forms of undefined value statements such as "We should secure our freedom!", "We must have justice!", or we should all want to "Make America Great Again!". Yet without defining exactly what these things mean in rational conversations devoted to questioning our ideas, values, principles, and goals, we are ignoring the real work it takes to make our values and principles stand up and live. The travel time from a conventional piety upheld with knowledgable agreement to an empty abomination of conventional neglect is short. If We The People desire to be able to live in more perfect union, live out the fullness of our established Justice, have confidence that domestic tranquility is being insured, participate meaningfully in a common defense and the general welfare, and enjoy the blessings of liberty, we must not let these constitutional goals become empty clichés that we allow to remain undefined. A nation cannot implement and fulfill a Constitution, which serves these purposes, if the people do not know or agree upon what these purposes mean.
Producing programming content and providing social media that continuously replaces whole conversations with fragments of ideas and replaces principled wisdom with mere wit is the high achievement of the corporate media. A clichéd slogan replaces a whole perspective. A meme fragment replaces a cogent argument. A short party talking point replaces the necessary length of the questioning and examination of issues. The result is that the power, the genius, and the productivity normally available to rational conversations about social and political issues are destroyed in a cloud of disconnected fragments. When time and space are short, and the people are always forced to be too concise, only that which is easy to repeat in a short amount of time is shown to the public. Only that which can be spoken without too much reasoning will be allowed to be consumed.
The only time a cogent narrative with proper questions and examinations is allowed to be seen is when the topic is focused on one of the distractions described by the Orwellian methods in this essay. For example, it is easy to fit irrelevant gossip and bigoted partisan ranting into the constraints of concision. Bigoted gossip has no need for any context of relevance to social and political issues past the ad hominem barking of the moment. Therefore bigoted gossip is fast and fragmented by nature. Partisan bigoted gossip is perfect for the Orwellian time and space limits forced on us by network programming and social media. When the focus is on a proper political subject, the function of the Orwellian style of talk is to destroy the possibilities of having a cogent, principled narrative emerge from rational discussion. Real political talk, which by definition requires the exercise of our reasoning powers about our values, principles, and goals, is replaced at best with the rapid-fire exchange of empty clichés about values, principles, and goals. At worst, a powerfully useful rational dialogue is replaced with empty bigoted ranting, finger-pointing, name-calling, and other distractions useful for throwing real political talk into the trash. Turning rational talk into trash is what naturally happens when people are always forced to be as concise as possible in an environment where "lowest common denominator programming" becomes the highest achievement in the tactics of theft. It is the agenda of corporate news and social media to work towards the goal of ensuring that oversimplified, unprincipled, and irrational social and political talk is the only social and political talk. The Orwellian function of the media's time and space limits is to make invisible the real purpose of political talk, which is to rationally examine our values, principles, goals, and plans in the context of governing the nation. The thieves who want to steal the life right out from under you can never allow you to witness the rational examination of this nation's values, principles, and goals. All that is visible when the dust of forced concision settles is that which the corporations want to promote.
The decay of substantive content programming throughout the media helps prepare the people to accept the degeneration of political talk into a steaming pile of useless nothing. Nothing helps us digest useless political talk quite as well as decades of consuming a big steaming pile of the media's "celebration of ignorance" and "credulous presentations of pseudoscience", all served up on a smorgasbord of "lowest common denominator programming". The deadly result is that the important task of defining our nation's most sacred conventional agreements does not occur in the rational examination of our values, principles, and goals, but occurs in the absence of rationally defining or examining anything at all. This is how a decayed and corrupt national media does social and political talk. A common form of abuse is to support a policy position or a candidate with generic, empty claims about values, principles, or some derivative benefit that pass before the public without ever defining what these things mean. We throw talk about values, principles, and goals around without ever having a rational conversation about how supporting the policy or candidate in question will cohere with the fulfillment of our values, principles, and goals. Instead of having productive conversations that focus on making sure our conventional pieties are not an empty wasteland of meaningless clichés, we allow ourselves to get lost in the destructive irrelevance of the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk.
The full amount of knowledge, vocabulary, and perspective that are required to reason about politics are reduced to the repetition of empty, unexamined conventional pieties, which are expected to be automatically repeated without evidence, context, background, or thought. The annihilation of reasoning in our political talk, as our talk degenerates into the time-efficient repetition of empty clichés, irrelevant gossip, partisan bigotry, and other distractions, is brought forth through the corporate news and social media to the public in order to make us free. The wealthy oligarchs want us to be free. They want us to be free from our own unique perspectives; free from the dictates of our own reasoning; free from the burden of examining our own values and principles; free from evidence and context; free from logically valid arguments; free from the labor of questioning anything effectively; and free from all the demands of intellect so that we may obtain the same glorious liberty that was possessed by the citizens of Orwell's Oceania,
"What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect." - George Orwell, 1984
In the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk, "Freedom is Slavery". Today the corporate media manifests the most severe time and space limitations ever. Many speakers on commentary programs no longer plan to make valid arguments. Instead, they merely hope to score a tasty five to ten-second sound bite, whose intellectual integrity is more at home in a supermarket tabloid than in a substantive political discussion.
The phenomenon of the media's time and space limitations harming the quality of our conversations is much broader now than when Chomsky and Sagan made their observations in the 1990s. The effect of the time and space limitations found in TV network programming, whose brevity forces the people's conversational concision into excess and diminishes the possibilities of human reasoning, has extended to our personal communication habits. The blip of words that comes with a tweet or the flash of an image and a phrase that comes with an internet meme are examples of the fact that our most popular communication formats continue to get more and more abbreviated. Rationality has less room than ever to express itself in a single act of communication. When we express our freedom of speech through the limitations of social media, which is given to us without cost, part of the real price we pay is the freedom we lose when we fail to take the time and space necessary to give due diligence to grounding our communications in knowledge and reasoning. Such ground requires giving explanations of context, background, and logically valid arguments that will never fit into a single tweet or a meme. The super concise internet formats of communication dramatically increase the phenomenon of people speaking "at" one another without listening to or talking with one another. What is most suitable to being repeated without thought is what tends to go viral the most in the social media. It is the conventional pieties of a meme culture that fits best with the concision that is forced upon us by the limitations of space in the most frequent expressions of our social media.
Even the presidential debates illustrate the harsh impact of time limits where candidates competing to be the leader of the most complex and powerful nation in the history of humanity only have the ridiculous time of a minute or two to answer a question vital to the interest of the whole nation. With such presidential concision, reasoned discourse about the public good gets replaced with the sloganeering marketing of parties. Expressing our capacity to reason in words take time and space. Our most popular media's time and space limitations are formatting the possibility of high-quality rational conversations right out of existence.
When our politics are conformed to the requirements that come with just being another consumer product, the habits of political talk in the U.S. will also conform to our consumer conditioning, which embrace the time limits of instant gratification. People are conditioned for instant gratification in many aspects of our culture. The speed of microwaves, delivery pizza, playing video games, the pattern of doing everything between commercial breaks, all help condition us to go for the fast resolve instead of seeking quality. Our addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, binge eating, cell phones, online shopping, gambling, video games, and risky behaviors are all signs that we are in the grip of a culture well acquainted with indulging our lust for instant gratification.
Our massive conditioning for instant gratification is deadly to the patience and persistence required for high-quality reasoning. We are naturally conditioned to follow our instincts more reliably than our reason. We yield to desire and seek to eliminate uncertainty quickly. We are more focused on generating the dopamine rush that comes with instant gratification than on giving due diligence to the comparatively tedious work of thinking. We are conditioned to respond to distractions and give up a quality focus on the real work of effectively examining our values, principles, and goals. We trade serious political talk for focusing on what is more entertaining. The intense desire for a quick "win" in political talk reduces the quality of and motivations for our political dialogues to the interactive rush we get from a free video game. Tedious things such as holding ourselves accountable to verifying knowledge, reasoning about issues, and being honest about our values, principles, and goals cannot compete with the rush of instant gratification. We have been conditioned to drool on single word commands like pavlovian dogs instead of working diligently to ensure that our political talk is of a high quality. The lure of instant gratification helps us embrace the media's time and space limitations as the way to be. Our conditioning in favor of instant gratification is in itself a form of forcing excessive concision where the time and space devoted to our rational process is cut short by our intemperate lust to be satisfied now.
With the help of time and space limits, our most commonly expressed habits of talk have been guided through corporately owned networks and social media to an austere minimalist posture. This broken posture is focused on producing the unreasoned yet instantly gratifying repetition of disconnected talking points, irrational changes of topic, insults, memes, marketing slogans, and other random distractions. We rapidly repeat these broken tidbits of fragmented understanding without the need for the tedious work of providing context, evidence, valid arguments, or paying rigorous attention to the facts of the issues at hand. Even when we are saying conventional thoughts that are familiar to everyone, forced concision demands that our conventions be spoken or written without evidence, context, or thought beyond that required for repeating a cliché. The corporately owned media's time and space limits makes fully reasoned argument, even between two conventional and familiar positions, nearly impossible. When the time and space given to our communication shrinks, reasoning dies proportionally. Ensuring that there is not enough time, space, vocabulary, differences of perspective, accountability to knowledge, or gratifying interest needed to have a fully rational conversation about political issues is the ground upon which the Orwellian model of U.S. political talk walks in order to achieve its goal of destroying the people's capacity to reason.
The bottom line is that we must pay more attention to holding ourselves accountable to knowledge, give more direct effort to our reasoning, and dedicate more work to our political talk than we give to acquiring fast food. Nobody would accept a lack of provision for the time, space, or resources necessary to accomplish a practical task, such as painting a house, or fixing a car, tying our shoelaces, or picking up a happy meal from McDonald's. Yet, we have allowed ourselves to flagrantly give up on ensuring that we make sufficient time and space necessary to exercise our ability to reason about the issues of governing our nation. Nobody would accept an empty cliché as the principled foundation of running a business. Yet, we have denied our own knowledge and common sense by allowing our political talk to be filled with nice-sounding but empty clichés. We neglect to give due diligence to examining what we believe with the efforts of our own reasoning. We deserve to demand from our congressional representatives, our president, and ourselves at least as much accountability to knowledge, reasoning, and honesty in our political talk as we demand from the cashier at McDonald's when we buy a cheeseburger. Instead of giving sufficient time and space to exercise our capacity to reason, we have allowed our reliance on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty to die in our political talk. Out of our own freedom of speech, We The People of the United States have given birth to a perfect Orwellian storm.
"Who controls the
ran the Party slogan,
"controls the future:
who controls the present
controls the past."
- George Orwell, 1984
A Hopi proverb brings forth the essential meaning of the Orwell quote above into its simplest form. The proverb is,
"The one who tells the stories rules the world."
In both George Orwell's 1984 and in U.S. political talk, the primary theft that underlies the theft of a nation is the hijacking of the public narrative by wealthy powers. Controlling the content of the public narrative on the nation's social and political issues is the end goal of the corporate corruption of political talk in the United States. We The People, through our free and willful abdication of knowledge, reason, and honesty in political talk, help them get away with it.
The one who disregards their own knowledge and reasoning is not the one who tells their own stories, but is the one who mindlessly repeats the stories that others tell. In the abdication of our reliance upon our own knowledge, what stories can we tell? What narrative can we craft? The one who only uses a few borrowed words is not the one who tells their own stories. In the absence of using our own words and our own thoughts, we use the words and thoughts that others have shaped for us. What narrative about the public good can we author when we merely repeat what others tell us? The one who does not reason is not the one who can regale a nation with their own story. When our own reasoning dies, we become the servants of the reasoning of others. When knowledge, reasoning, and honesty die in political talk, the storytelling power of the people dies with it. Instead of being a force of creation that relies on our own knowledge of the heritage of our past and our own independent reasoning to interpret the present, we learn to faithfully repeat the stories that others are telling. In our mindless repetition of the parties' marketing slogans, memes, and talking points, we allow others to interpret the past for us. When we give up our own command of the past, we allow others to tell the stories that rule our world.
In 1984 a slogan of the party said,
"Who controls the
controls the future:
who controls the present
controls the past."
When we learn to disregard the vetting of knowledge, the use of reasoning, and the value of honesty in political talk, we have give up our control of the past to others. There is no need to do as Big Brother did in 1984. The wealthy U.S. powers did not have to burn books, rewrite literature, or physically force people through torture to abandon their knowledge of the past. The Orwellian style of U.S. political talk does all of this by seducing the people to relinquish their command of the past voluntarily. From the hideous fact that a meme fragment can have more influence on millions of voters than the entire history of the heritage of their own values, principles, religion, and country, which they claim they want to conserve, to the disturbing reality that most American citizens behave as if they have the memory powers of a gnat, so easily forgetting tomorrow what was clearly said on video today, the citizens of the United States have lost their grip on the past. This is far more efficient than Orwell's vision of Newspeak. Today, the stories told by the wealthy powers and parties replace our own knowledge of the past because we have freely abandoned our reliance upon knowledge in political talk. Today, the corporate-sponsored storytellers are able to impose their narratives upon our minds. They can do this to the extent that we have given up on exercising our capacity to reason and therefore are more inclined to simplistically repeat that, to which we are exposed. In this Orwellian present, we lose the past because we have lost knowledge, reason, and honesty in our political talk. Accepting and repeating any and all lies for the sake of a partisan win destroys the power of the real, the factual past to have any influence upon our minds and lives. When we fail to use our own reasoning to interpret the past, we allow the corporations, the parties, and the wealthy special interests to override our own understanding of the past to become the ones shaping the stories we tell. They, the wealthy storytellers, are the ones with the power to rule the world in which we live.
The demographic in the United States most visibly devastated by the Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk is conservatives. Conservatives are the ones who most vigorously claim to have the stories to tell. Conservatives are the ones who claim to have the esteemed heritage, which contains the traditions, values, principles, and stories that ought to influence our thinking. Conservatives are the ones who most desire to bring the stories of the past to life in the present day. It is precisely the conservatives, the ones with the esteemed traditions, that are harmed the most when they are seduced into letting their heritage go. Trading in the heritage of an ancient civilization for the cheap talk of the moment defies common sense. Trading in the wisdom of time immemorial for empty marketing slogans, partisan bigotry, and the irrelevant gossip of the present hour is to kill the power of our past heritage to influence the present. This brings forth the death of conservatism. From "The Beauty of the Conservative Mind: Conservatism and The Examined Life",
"A deadly force that is destroying American conservatism on a massive scale is the dominance of forgetfulness and ignorance in the minds of self-proclaimed conservatives with regard to the heritage that they want to conserve. When we forget the moral, social, and political legacies of our civilization, our nation, our religions, and the history of thought, which have been vetted over many generations and centuries, the best of established customs and conventions cannot influence our thinking on current issues. Today, it is so common that the cartoonish meme of the current hour has more power of influence over the average conservative than the whole history of the established conventions and customs of an entire civilization. Today, a 10 second sound bite from some TV talking head has more weight in the thinking of many conservatives than the whole history of a nation or a religion. For many conservatives today, the life giving continuity with our heritage, which is the very soul of conservatism itself, is murdered in the sleep of forgetful ignorance."
The rest of America is not far behind. Few are the people who claim they have absolutely nothing to learn from history. Yet many are those who have lost some measure of their grip on the past. When we trade in the values, principles, governing priorities, and vetted conventions of the past for whatever cheap talk wins today, we lobotomize ourselves. When the past can no longer influence us, we give up the power to be the authors of our own present. We give up the power to write our own narratives and the wealthy storytellers have won. By not taking responsibility for our freedom of speech, we have given control of the past to others. We have become the servants of wealthy storytellers who control our futures by interpreting the past on our behalf. We have become so familiar with the concept of freedom that contempt is all we have left for it. In our contempt for our own freedom, we have neglected our responsibilities as free citizens of a democratic republic. We allowed ourselves to be seduced into not relying on our own knowledge, not expressing our own capacity to reason, not daring to use our own understanding for the issues of the day, and therefore not standing up as powerful citizens who have their own say in the affairs of the nation. We freely gave up our power and allowed the thieves to rule the day. We have created an Orwellian nightmare out of our own freedom to speak. Through the abdication of knowledge, reason, and honesty in U.S. political talk, we have voluntarily given up our power to tell our own story. Through the daily practice of the Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk, we have ensured that, "Freedom is Slavery".
The Orwellian habits of political talk rigorously work to avoid knowledge, reduce vocabulary, and restrict the range of our possible meanings and perspectives in order to destroy the people's capacity to reason. A common theme between Orwell's Oceania and the United States is that the complexity of our thought, the nuances of meaning in our speech, and the exercise of our capacity to reason are dramatically reduced so that simplistic binary options are all that is left. Yes-no, either-or logic dominates our partisan Red-Blue politics in the absence of substantive reasoning. The result is for all issues to be artificially framed by simplistic dichotomies in order to manipulate yes or no evaluations from voters in the absence of knowledge and reasoning. Producing predictable yes/no voter performances in the absence of the persuasion of knowledge and the nuances of meaning that come with the exercise of our capacity to reason is the holy grail of the Orwellian habits of U.S. politics.
A similar binary reduction is also present with the theme of pure power that exists both in Orwell's 1984 and in U.S. politics. Look at the description of Orwell's Oceania below. All of the nuances of meaning and diversity of perspectives in 1984 are stripped away until the narrow either-or binary logic of pure power is all that is left.
"There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever."
Does it seem impossible to you that this could exist in the U.S.? And yet, here we are. We live in a society where loyalty to the party is above loyalty to principles for many millions of citizens. No love has any meaning in the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk except the love of the party or a party leader. The love of power is true love in U.S. politics. There is no laughter in our partisan political talk except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. The great joy in the Orwellian style of U.S. politics is not about serving the public good. It is about gaining victory over partisan enemies. There is no art, no literature, and no science that has any meaningful influence on the raw grab for power that has become dominant in U.S. politics. In the dystopian form of U.S. political talk, art, literature, and science, no matter what principles they articulate, are obsolete for influencing the loyalties of dedicated party fans. When we abandon knowledge, reason, and honesty in our political talk, only the binary logic of power means anything. For the partisan fan, truth has become irrelevant. The only truth is winning or losing. There is no beauty or ugliness in our dystopian form of political talk except that of winning or losing. In the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk, there is no curiosity or enjoyment about anything other than the prospect of gaining power. Only the beauty of gaining more power entices the loyal attention of the party fans. The lust for power allows the party fan to stomp on any truth, break any principle, and destroy any trusted convention of their heritage. In the dystopian habits of U.S. political talk there is only the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there is only the thrill of victory in the Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk.
Real politics is about the governance of a nation in service to the common good. So it is that the all-consuming lust for power is the birthright and end goal of all fake partisan politics. The Orwellian style of fake U.S. partisan politics cheapens and perverts real politics into everything it is not supposed to be. Partisan politics is a fake politics that puts serving the Red or the Blue Team above serving the public good of the United States. Fake partisan politics is about indulging in irrelevant gossip and partisan bigotry. But real politics focuses on cooperative conversations. Fake partisan politics is always changing the topic, boasting about unsubstantiated opinions, and selectively focusing away from the most important issues. But real politics knows how to stay focused on real political issues, relies on knowledge and reasoning, and zeros in to focus on what is most needed to serve the good of the nation. Fake partisan politics is always reducing everything to a single word, a marketing slogan, or a meme as if the whole of political knowledge can be reduced to a blip of words that is mindlessly repeated. But real politics allows for the unfolding of knowledge through real conversations that are filled with questions and filled with our good faith towards one another as we reason together. Fake partisan politics wants to complete everything before the next commercial break, to finish the talk before the microwave is done cooking, to express the whole of our knowledge and perspectives in a tiny tweet or meme, to treat our political talk like a junk food addiction. But real politics takes the time, the effort, and the good faith given to our neighbors to realistically participate together in the difficult task of considering the issues of the nation. Fake partisan politics is repeating, in prison-like echo chambers, the same clichéd messages, which revolve around oversimplified dichotomies about the fake conflict between the Red and Blue Teams. But real politics feasts on the diversity of perspectives and knowledge, which lives in the minds of citizens seeking to serve the country. Fake politics does everything it can to disrespect our neighbors. But in real politics, the hospitality we offer our neighbor in our political talk is the true measure of the strength of our nation. In real politics we extend the good faith to listen to one another when we all work together as members of team U.S.A..
If we do not use our freedom of speech to honor one another with knowledgeable, rational, and honest political talk, then we are using our freedom to enslave ourselves to what is worst within us. The great Orwellian theme of U.S. politics is the transformation of our freedom into a weapon of tyranny. In the expression of our own freedom of speech, we are enslaving ourselves to everything Orwell's dystopian government of Big Brother sought to achieve. Orwell wrote in 1984 that one of the aims of the party is "to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought." In the United States, we engage in habits of political talk that also serve this dystopian aim by voluntarily reducing our reliance on knowledge and reasoning in our political thought, reducing the diversity of vocabulary and perspectives in U.S. political talk, and by eliminating all motives in our partisan dominated political conversations except the lust for power. In U.S. political talk, "Freedom is Slavery". In the United States there most certainly is a dystopian boot stamping on a human face; but it is our own boot stamping on our own face. We have the power to change this.
THE ART OF POLITICAL REFORM
life is not worth living."
- Apology, 38a
"One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken." - Carl Sagan
It is always true that in order to reform anything, one must first recognize that something is wrong. In the absence of sufficient honesty to self and others, we are incapable of such recognition. If we cannot be honest about what is wrong, we cannot make it better. Honesty is not just the beginning of reform. It is necessary at every step in making anything better. If the solution to a problem or the way to optimize our ability to function requires that we relate to facts, we must do so accurately. We cannot do well in a task that requires using the knowledge that 2+2=4 if we are lying to ourselves or others by insisting that 2+2=5. Being honest about the facts of our knowledge is essential to living well. Being honest about the nature of our understanding is a prerequisite for human integrity, health, and power. Doing anything well, which requires knowledge, demands that we are able to be honest about our knowledge. If we want to reform political corruption, we must be honest about the origin and nature of our political corruption. Now, here is a bit of honest talk about what is wrong with our republic.
The government of our democratic republic, which is by design meant to represent the people, is corrupt to the extent that it no longer represents the people. It is not corrupt because a handful of powerful and wealthy bad actors have taken advantage. It is corrupt because We The People of the United States have fallen down on the job and abdicated our responsibilities as citizens. How can the government of a democratic republic represent the people if We The People have withdrawn from knowledgeable, rational, and honest participation in the politics of our nation? We defied our own common sense by allowing ourselves to abandon our natural and necessary capacity to reason in political talk and thereby allowed the government of our country to grow weak and sick. We despised our own knowledge by allowing ourselves to passionately indulge in irrelevant gossip, and thereby neglected the relevant knowledge, values, principles, and issues demanding our attention. We closed our hearts and minds in partisan bigotry towards one another and thus killed the patriotic cooperative unity, which is necessary to keep our country healthy.
We shunned the necessary use of words by allowing marketing slogans to replace reasoned arguments, allowing simplistic memes to replace whole perspectives, and allowing empty labels to replace understanding. We disrespected the demands of knowledge and reason by not allowing enough time and space to do justice to having useful and rational dialogue on important issues. Tweets, memes, and the short time between commercial breaks became the abridged and overly limited horizons of time and space allowed for the exercise of reason. We allowed the wisdom of our ancient civilizations, the perspectives of our religions, and the entire history of our values, principles and ideas to be replaced by marketing slogans, party talking points, ad hominem arguments, and pat answers. Through the willful expression of our own freedom of speech and a lack of being honest about the dictates of our own common sense, we have allowed knowledge and reason to die in U.S. political talk.
In Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith was forced, through extreme torture, to change his habits of thinking, writing, and talking so that he could not reason effectively about his country. In the United States, the wealthy powers do not torture. They have simply manipulated our freedom of speech to give us enough rope to hang ourselves. We know better than to allow our political talk to become so childish, empty, and useless. We know that we know better because we do not tolerate such poor behavior when solving our own problems in daily life. However, in politics, we defy our own knowledge and break with our own common sense in order to lay waste to our capacity to reason about political and social issues. Defying our own common sense and disregarding our own knowledge in order to stop reasoning about social and political issues is the essence of all that is Orwellian in the United States of America.
We do not speak Orwell's Newspeak in the United States. We speak in Freespeak, where our own freedom of speech has put us in bondage. We are free to speak, but are negligent about the quality of our speech. We are free to think, but fail to be diligent about attending to knowledge. We are free to contemplate and speak about all the values, principles, ideas, perspectives, issues and goals pertaining to governing the nation and the nature of the public good. We are free to benefit our country with our political speech. However, instead of honoring that freedom with our best effort, we resign ourselves to obsessing about a sleazy national soap opera of personal failures. We are free to relate to one another with the full depth of our attention and creativity, but we freely allow inattentiveness, gossiping, the uncreative bigotries of partisan division, and a myopic vulnerability to being distracted to butcher the competence of our pursuit of happiness.
We are killing our nation with our freedom of speech, because we do not heed our own common sense about what it means to be responsibly free. Why do we acknowledge the absolute necessity of knowledge, reason, and honesty in solving the smallest problems in our daily life, but let them die when it comes to handling the most important issues of the nation? Are we really this blind or have we simply fallen asleep at the wheel? Most people in the United States do not responsibly talk politics on the basis of knowledge and the capacity to reason. We talk politics like we are playing a game. There is a serious lack of honesty in playing politics like a team sport, where you root for your team no matter what. Claiming to be correct on political issues because we have to root for the team no matter what the facts say is the deadliest habit of political talk in the country. The most common bad habit of U.S. political talk is the habit of people refusing to admit errors. When we never admit to being wrong or ignorant, we have thrown the possibility of responsibility in the trash. The philosophy of, "I don't care what is true. Just give me what I want." is the philosophy of babies. We all know this is true because we all know we would reject this kind of whining in any aspect of our real daily lives.
Yet, in U.S. politics, we allow the contradiction of our own conscience and common sense in a way that we would never allow to pass in daily life. Far too many Americans follow a popular unspoken political dictum,
"Principles for thee but not for me."
This is the essential heart of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy has become a fundamental necessity of playing a zero sum partisan game of Red Team vs. Blue Team. If you know in your heart that what you forbid for your opponents' candidate and party you will allow for your own candidate and party, then you are being a hypocrite. In ordinary daily life, we do not accept blatant hypocrisy. Nobody would want to stay married to a spouse that demanded you be faithful in all things, but they can do whatever they please. Nobody wants to do business with a person who demands you obey the contract while they can do what they please. But in politics, the fans of one party often have no qualms demanding the opposing parties maintain higher standards of conduct and follow principles with greater fidelity. However, they are ok with letting their own party do whatever they can get away with in order to "win". Hypocrisy is the soul of partisan politics when the people fail to hold themselves accountable to the same standard of knowledge that we apply in ordinary life.
When we fail to hold ourselves honestly accountable to knowledge and reason, we let the integrity of our political talk become corrupt in one of or some combination of three ways.
1. Ignorance: We allow ourselves to remain ignorant because we failed to give due diligence to gaining and verifying knowledge. We allow ignorance to inform our priorities and choices. We are incapable of being accountable to knowledge that we do not possess. We are incapable of improving ourselves to the extent that we do not even know we are ignorant. Democracy dies in ignorance.
2. Hypocrisy: We have knowledge but fail to consistently apply our understanding of our values and principles. Thus we behave more like a hypocrite than an honest citizen. When what we allow for ourselves and our party is blazingly in contradiction with what we allow for others and their parties then we have disregarded our own knowledge hypocritically. If we criticize the candidate of an opposing party for saying or doing something but remain silent or even defend our own candidates when they say or do the same thing, then our knowledge, reason, and honesty are corrupted. In hypocrisy, the rational power of our political speech dies in a cesspool of our own dishonesty.
3. Criminality: We have the knowledge of what is best but disregard our knowledge and principles because we believe that we will be financially or otherwise advantaged by allowing lies and ongoing corruption to have their way. When we are playing the criminal card, we do not want to allow real knowledge and the country's foundational principles to influence politics because we have become thieves. When we allow lies and corruption because we believe that we will get what we want through corruption, we have committed an act that is criminal in nature.
In U.S. politics, millions of citizens defy their common sense on a massive scale to commonly permit grossly inferior behavior in our political talk that we would not otherwise permit in daily life. In the denial of our own common sense and knowledge, we have robbed ourselves of our own power and handed it over to wealthy forces who are only too glad to take it from us. We live in an Orwellian nightmare of our own creation, and only We The People have the power to fix it. It is now time that we stand up as responsible citizens of the republic and deploy the knowledge, reason, and honesty necessary to clean up the swamp that We The People have created. When we do not hold ourselves accountable to our own knowledge, reason, and honesty, then our choices and commitments are shaped in the absence of the influence of our own knowledge, values, and principles. When this happens, we must ask ourselves a very blunt question.
"How has this happened? Am I ignorant, a hypocrite, a criminal, or some combination of the three?"
The only alternative to holding ourselves accountable to knowledge, reasoning, and honesty in political talk is to allow the poisoned fruit of our own corruption to kill our nation.
Let's be honest. We screwed up. We screwed up badly. We now allow cartoonish, useless talk to take the place of responsible political discourse. It is not the corporate or wealthy powers that are oppressing us, even if they do play the thief and take advantage of our weaknesses. We are responsible for upholding our end of the bargain that belongs with being a citizen of a democratic republic. We have fallen down on the job and have allowed our reliance on knowledge, reason, and honesty in political talk to die. We must stand back up, take control of ourselves, and once again assert our full powers of reasoning.
In the following two sections, we will outline how the U.S. obsession with false claims of knowledge compares with one person's confessions of ignorance. Socrates' confessions of ignorance, which have been the cornerstone of western philosophy for thousands of years, lights up the path we must travel to reclaim the power that comes with restoring our reliance on knowledge, reason, and honesty in political talk.
If all of the workers in the arts, trades, and sciences lied as much about their knowledge as we allow for our political talk, modern civilization would have already collapsed. The most destructive bad habit of U.S. political talk, which underlies many of the Orwellian habits of talk discussed above, is the habit of lying to ourselves and to others about our knowledge. In political conversations, we regularly lie to ourselves and others in order to pretend that we are correct. We are in the habit of claiming to have definitive knowledge of political issues when the truth is that we have little to no idea of what we are talking about most of the time. We regularly lie to ourselves by thinking that memorizing a few slogans, memes, and talking points constitute sufficient knowledge of a political issue. We lie to ourselves in thinking that slinging memes and insults back and forth constitutes a political discussion. We lie to ourselves and others by claiming to know the thoughts and motivations of people who think differently because we are more interested in projecting a strawman onto them or attributing evil motivations to them than we are interested in listening to and learning from them. We falsely claim knowledge as we assign a label to the one that thinks differently instead of giving due diligence to the adult responsibility of extending the effort to interpret that person's ideas. We use labels on those who think differently under the false pretense of knowledge so that we can erase any real knowledge of other citizens by reducing them to as little as a single word in order to pass our judgments upon them in the absence of reasoning.
Unsubstantiated and false claims of knowledge abound in U.S. political talk. Nobody who is invested in the partisan game of Red Team vs. Blue Team wants to admit either ignorance or error in a political conversation. Partisan enthusiasts in the U.S. have been conditioned not to embrace the basic human need to verify knowledge in political talk. Simplistic back and forth claim and counterclaim bashing, where people just make endless assertions without ever admitting error, asking responsible questions, or examining their own claims, is the norm for U.S. political conversations. Instead of having useful knowledge-based conversations guided by many questions, the partisans are merely competing in a game where they want to score a quick win. Their political conversations do not serve the interest of effectively addressing the nation's problems through the exercise of our capacity to reason. The partisan enthusiast is only interested in racking up a few more political points for their team as if they were playing a game instead of having a real political conversation. And the win has to be quick because the one certain thing in U.S. political talk is that most of us are not interested in giving the time, patience, and work required for quality reasoning about a political issue. Instead of taking responsibility for being useful in our talk, we lie about our knowledge so that through the pretense of winning, we can abandon the tedious necessity of reasoning about political issues and move on with our day. In our false claims of knowledge we put a quick end to a political conversation and to the possibility of discovering new knowledge.
We are obsessed with oversimplifying issues and claiming to have definitive answers because we play at political talk exactly as if we are playing a team sport or a video game. We are only looking for a quick win, which has the real world effect of merely shutting the conversation down. The purpose of the quick win is to walk away from our responsibility to exercise our capacity to reason. Instead of the song of knowledgeable reasoning, we have the empty music of memes, marketing slogans, and party talking points repeating in our heads. False claims of knowledge flood the political sphere while we dance to the tunes composed by our corporate puppet masters as if somehow the well being of our lives depended on the avoidance of knowledge.
The plain truth is that unsubstantiated claims of knowledge dominate our Orwellian U.S. political talk. These claims are simplistically focused on the mindless repetition of the party talking points, slogans, and memes that have been handed to us by party leaders, media talking heads, and anonymous internet sources. Our political talk is filled with false claims of knowledge, which are made without offering any context, evidence, or rational argument. We are not publicly invited to examine political claims rationally. Instead, people simplistically bash each other with claims and counterclaims in the absence of effectively examining any of the claims. Attempts at reasoning responsibly about political claims are typically met with personal attacks, bigoted dismissals, and quick changes of topic, which instantly shut down the process of examining claims of knowledge. Because of the public acceptance of unsubstantiated claims of knowledge, we have allowed unvetted claims using single word labels, marketing slogans, memes, and short talking points to be the whole of political knowledge for millions of U.S. citizens.
False claims of knowledge are a tactic we use as we merely play a team sport and root for our political team no matter what the facts are saying. In this terrible habit, we have abandoned all responsibility. We have given up our reliance on knowledge, our respect for truth, our need for honesty, and our capacity to reason in exchange for pretending to win. In the political realm of false claims of knowledge, we do not have real debates or the rational examination of ideas. We merely seek to compete with one another to see who can sling out the best memes, marketing slogans, and insults in order to foster the delusion of winning. Unfortunately, unsubstantiated claims of knowledge and false winning make us all losers. This cheap obsession with vague and undefined notions of winning is the dominant reason why the people have abandoned knowledge, reason, and honesty in their journey to losing all real influence in the politics of the nation. When we recognize that the real human capacity to have any impact in this world only exists in our ability to reason about our knowledge, the Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk show themselves to be a highway to helplessness.
In Orwell's 1984, O'Brien, who is speaking as a representative of the authority of the party to determine what is believed to be true, led Winston Smith to reveal the elaborate self-deception that is needed in order to believe any lie the government of Big Brother saw fit to speak,
"The law of gravity was nonsense. "If I wished," O'Brien had said, "I could float off this floor like a soap bubble." Winston worked it out. "If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens." Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: "It doesn't really happen. We imagine it. It is hallucination." He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a "real" world where "real" things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens."
Today in U.S. politics, there is no shortage of people willing to believe that up is down, a square is round, weakness is might, and wrong is right. No lie, no matter how stupendously obvious, is unacceptable to the dedicated partisan. In U.S. partisan politics, doublethink becomes patriotism. Hypocrisy becomes a service to the country. Greed becomes the new Constitution. In the destructive path of Orwellian political talk, the philosophy of "I do not care what is true. Just give me what I want." is all that is left of our values and principles. Are we really all that different in our habits of political speech from the society of Orwell's novel 1984, where slogans such as "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery", and "Ignorance is Strength" dominated their political landscape?
With the U.S. habits of Orwellian talk, blind party loyalty always roots for the team regardless of the dictates of our own knowledge. Party loyalty replaces loyalty to truth. Party loyalty, when it replaces our reliance on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty in political talk, is the cancer of U.S. politics. Just like the spectators at a sporting event, our laid-back consumer philosophy of "let the professionals handle it" leads us to focus on simplistic passive cheerleading support for parties and leaders. The consumer version of party loyalty ensures that we merely participate in politics like spectators who allow others to play the game for us.
In 1984, Orwell described precisely the kind of leader that our passive consumer philosophy wants for its politics:
"Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration."
The perfect consumer leader is the one who, all alone, can fix everything. When we play the faithful consumer, we dearly want to surrender our will to allow others to do the work for us, do the thinking for us, and achieve for us. In the politics of the consumer mentality, all political reasoning and action is a service provided to consumers. Rejecting our own thinking is the subscription fee required in order to passively consume the political and ideological products that are offered to us. The good consumer passively absorbs and repeats the dogmatic marketing slogans, memes, and formulaic party talking points, which are created for them. In his essay "What is Enlightenment?", Immanuel Kant warned against the danger of the passive acceptance of ideas and formulas worked out for us by others who profited off of telling us how to think. Kant described them as taking over the thinking of a population of citizens as if they were domesticated animals,
"Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided."
For Kant, immaturity (not thinking for ourselves) and permanent dependence on those who profit off of our immaturity was the destiny of those who allow others to do the work of thinking for them,
"Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to
work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to
him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of
using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt. Dogmas
and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse)
of his natural endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent
Our consumer philosophy of "let the professionals handle it" produces the diseased bondage of our own intellectual immaturity when applied to political thinking. The ball and chain of partisan dogma is the death of our freedom of speech and thought in politics. The result of allowing others to do the work of thinking for us has us left wide open to the Orwellian habit of passively and mindlessly repeating the dogmatic slogans and formulaic partisan talking points that are provided to us. When we merely repeat the dogmas and formulas created by others without reasoning, the expression of our freedom of speech becomes the bondage of our slavery. When we abandon our reliance on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty in political talk, we enslave ourselves to those who do the thinking for us. Kant wrote about the freedom that is most relevant to overthrowing the Orwellian in U.S. politics.
"For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is freedom. And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all—freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters."
Real freedom requires real responsibility. However, the responsibility needed to do our own reasoning on social and political issues demands too much real freedom for our passive consumer inclinations. Our consumer philosophy leads us to the passive resignation that we prefer our politics to remain a spectator sport. When consumer philosophy reaches its toxic height, we bear a closer resemblance to domesticated animals than to thinking citizens who act on the basis of our own values, principles, and capacity to reason. At the height of our consumer inclinations, what is true gives way to what is easily repeatable. What is righteous gives way to what can be delivered to our door with a discount. The number one characteristic of the habits of the political talk of faithful consumers is passive resignation. Passively allowing others to determine what is possible for us to think, allowing others to do the thinking for us, and passively allowing others to determine what is possible for us to say is true or false, is the sacred religion of passive resignation that our philosophy of consumerism brings to life in U.S. politics. In U.S. politics, the passive resignation of consumers is the most powerful basis for repeating false claims of knowledge because it assumes the abandonment of our own capacity to reason independently.
In 1984, as he speaks of his government's assertions about what is true, Winston Smith revealed the full extent of the intellectual breakdown that comes with the passive resignation that disregards our civic responsibility to think for ourselves,
"In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable?"
Is our faith in any of the many nonsensical and grossly oversimplified political claims, or our belief in any of the extraordinarily obvious lies, or our tolerance for irrational and irrelevant personal attacks any less bizarre than giving up our ability to know that two and two make four? The power of consumer passivity makes any particular fact or principle optional when we give up our ability to use our own reasoning in exchange for partisan belief. Lazy consumer obedience to a party leader wins out over our obligation to be free through the expression of our own independent thinking. Truth no longer matters when all the complex issues of the nation are replaced by the fake fight between the Red Team and the Blue Team. In partisan politics, winning is all that matters. We do not take responsibility for our freedom of speech. Our freedom to do our own reasoning takes a back seat to the consumer convenience of just repeating what we are told. The results are no less bizarre than believing a party representative can float off the floor like a soap bubble. With blind party loyalty, false claims of knowledge only serve our blind cheering for the team of our choice in their raw grab for power. Most tragically, we do not even know what winning really means. Abandoning knowledge, reason, and honesty in exchange for the false certainty of the blind believing that is based on partisan loyalty is how you hand over the nation to thieves. This is a definition of losing.
In 1984, Orwell described what happens to be the most widely assumed yet unspoken dictum in the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk,
"The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."
In the command to reject the evidence of our eyes and ears, which is powerfully present in the Orwellian habits of U.S. politics, citizens are taught to love the ball and chain of their partisan bondage over their civic responsibility to exercise their freedom to speak and reason. When our freedom to speak merely serves the love of our own bondage, our freedom of speech becomes a weapon of tyranny. Even those with no strong partisan affiliations are affected by the omnipresence of the U.S. Orwellian habit of making unsubstantiated claims of knowledge. However, those who are die-hard party fans are the most affected. There is no amount of lying, cheating, criminal activity, or betrayal of our fundamental principles that can discourage the dedicated fan of the party. The party fan "knows" their party is always correct. The party fan always believes any claim to knowledge that the party makes. The party fan does not need to examine claims of knowledge because they will faithfully repeat whatever they are told. There is no external reality that is able to discourage the party fan from believing what the party says. The party fan does not need to reason about the issues because they have already chosen their team. The party fan does not need to fully participate in real political conversations focused on the examination of ideas and the exercise of reason because the party fan is just a passive spectator cheering for their team regardless of the truth.
Accepting and making false claims of knowledge becomes the social norm when the responsible discussion of political issues is discarded in order to feed our obsession with the incompetent and broken ranting of partisan bickering. We have allowed our political talk to degenerate into empty, meaningless conflict. Obsessing over a salacious, sleazy partisan soap opera is no replacement for responsible reasoning about the issues. Embracing the titillation of winning for its own sake degenerates the productive use of knowledge, reason, and honesty in our political talk into a desperate exercise of dysfunctional and childish one-upmanship, where winning is more important than truth. Prioritizing the quick and satisfying rush of an entertaining, combative high over the real work of making a productive contribution through responsible reasoning and competent speech kills most of the value in political talk.
The habits of our political talk more closely resemble the enslaved habituation of an addiction than they resemble the prudent habits of responsible reasoning about important issues. Through the decadence of the instant gratification of the partisan lust to win, which always works to shut down productive conversations, pretending to know has become the primary defect of American politics in the United States. The abundance of false claims of knowledge, the lack of reasoning, and the destruction of honesty is killing us. False claims of knowledge always set us up for failure in our political conversations. False claims of knowledge are so abundant on so many levels that our political conversations operate in a thick haze of delusion. The primary defect that leads to false claims of knowledge is a defect in our habits of verifying knowledge. We quickly claim to know what we do not know in our rush to win. We The People of the United States are lost in a delusional haze, but we can find ourselves again.
Here we turn back to the idea that honesty is the foundation of all reform. As hideously screwed up and broken as our habits of political talk may seem to be, the solution is simple to understand. It is as plain as the noses on our faces. This simple solution does not rest in the hands of powerful people who control the systems of the world. This simple solution rests entirely in the hands of ordinary people who live in the world. We The People have the power to change how we talk politics. The wealthy oligarchs cannot stop us. The corporate news organizations cannot stop us. The political parties cannot stop us. Only We The People can stop ourselves. We can choose to trip over our own faces by allowing ourselves to continue to talk like immature babies who will not reason about the most important issues of the nation. Or we can choose to allow our common sense to lead the way to talk politics in a manner that reclaims our power to influence the nation. As with all of life, living the answers is more difficult than speaking the answers. Although it is true that this solution is easier said than done, it is incredibly significant that it is very, very easy to say. Everyone can understand this and everyone can do it!
The simple answer to correcting all of our broken habits of political talk is given to us in Plato's dialogues. The dialogues of Plato, which illustrate Socrates' habits of questioning and reasoning, have been a part of the foundation of reasoning in western civilization for thousands of years. The ancient Athens of Socrates' time had some of the same problems with the talk about governing individual and social life as we now have in politics. Stealing through subversion is not a modern invention. Persuading people in the absence of knowledge was not invented by corporate television or the political parties in the United States. In Socrates' Athens, the art of persuading people in the absence of knowledge was practiced by professionals known as "Sophists", who were portrayed in Plato as teachers and speakers who could get people to vote for or otherwise support the positions they were commissioned to represent. The sophists also taught their students the practice of persuading in the absence of knowledge. It is unclear how accurate Plato's representations of Athens' sophists are in the dialogues. It is clear that the idea of persuading people to support actions in the absence of proper knowledge was a recognized practice in the time of Socrates. False claims to knowledge existed in the social and political life of ancient Athens and were perceived by Plato as being harmful to the governance of a society.
The basis of Socrates' unique contribution to Plato's great legacy is not a claim to possessing masterful knowledge of any of the answers for the big questions asked in the dialogues. In sharp contrast to the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk's obsession with pretend knowledge, Socrates' unique value and contribution is his claim to ignorance. Socrates is famous for claiming to know nothing. Reading Diogenes Laërtius, a historian in the 3rd century AD, one might get the impression that Socrates' claim of ignorance pertained to everything. In his work, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Laërtius wrote that Socrates "knew nothing except that he knew that very fact (i.e. that he knew nothing)". One of the most famous quotes misattributed to Socrates is, "I know that I know nothing." To say that Socrates knew nothing at all is an exaggerated misstatement of the meaning of Socrates' confessions of ignorance. In Plato's Apology, we find a more precise meaning of Socrates' ignorance expressed in terms of Socrates' odd brand of wisdom. Socrates, who had a long term habit of trying to find wise people to talk to, said this of his only capacity for wisdom:
"I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us
knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not,
whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be
wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not
- Apology, (21d)
In Plato's dialogues, Socrates is presented as the absolute opposite of the bad habit of holding onto false knowledge and therefore allowing ignorance to go unrecognized. For example, when Socrates' contemporaries were absolutely sure that a particular action or law was just or in some way virtuous, Socrates would tell them that he did not know if this was true. He had a habit of explaining that he could not know if some particular thing was just, virtuous, or pious if he did not understand the nature of justice, virtue, or piety. He would proceed to ask others to provide a definition of important concepts. Socrates asks questions designed to get people to define important ideas such as the concept of justice. In the dialogues of Plato, people could not just assume they had a sufficient understanding of the most important ideas in human living. Claims of knowledge were always questioned. The questioning of Socrates is the primary difference in the dialogues of Plato vs. Orwellian U.S. political talk. Claims are almost never properly questioned in U.S. political talk. In Plato, when people answered a question such as "What is justice?" with their definition of justice, Socrates followed up with further questions that led them to examine their claim of knowledge instead of just allowing them to mindlessly repeat what they believed they already knew. The same style of questioning is also applied in Plato to claims of any knowledge about virtue, piety, courage, beauty, friendship, and goodness. Claims of knowledge were always questioned in Plato.
The most important characteristic of Plato's dialogues is the asking and answering of questions. The abundance of questions about people's ideas, which are examined in detail, is the starkest contrast between Plato and the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk. In U.S. politics, we do not ask many useful questions. We spend most of our time making many claims and counterclaims, and none of the claims are questioned or examined in detail. We boast about unverified knowledge without allowing any real questioning to have a proper place in our conversations. In the partisan style of Orwellian U.S. political talk, we do not examine our values, principles, knowledge, beliefs, and behavior. We just brag about always being right. Plato's dialogues show us Socrates expressing his daily habit of engaging in the rational examination of people's values, principles, ideas, knowledge, and behavior in order to improve himself and others. This daily habit is at the heart of what has become known as living an examined life. In Plato's Apology, Socrates tells us that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Apology, 38a). The unexamined life is a life where we abandon our reliance on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty to ourselves and others as we discard the need to examine our values, principles, and goals in life. The unexamined life is not worth living. Translating Socrates' statement into the focus of this essay, we say that the Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk, which refuse to question and examine our values, principles, beliefs, and goals, are not worth practicing.
This is not to say that we should never repeat what we already know. Repeating what we think we know in an automatic, mechanical manner is part of our instinct to thrive. However, in the complete absence of rationally examining what we think we know, we eventually run into serious problems sooner or later. If our knowledge is correct and appropriate for the context, the fast and mechanical repetition and application of knowledge is a powerful tool. If our knowledge is incorrect, or we are just plain ignorant, merely pretending to know and then acting upon our pretense of knowledge destroys the quality of our life and ruins our ability to optimally thrive. Plato warns us through Socrates that we need to realize that this instinctual habit for the mechanical repetition of what we think we know has severe limitations. When this kind of mindless repetition is always applied in our discussions of the personal, social and political issues, which pertain to our capacity to live and govern ourselves, the wellbeing of our thinking and behaving sickens and dies. Merely repeating what we learned in our youth, in an automatic and mechanical manner, about governing our individual and social life is the opposite of the examined life. When knowledge is false and we are unwilling or unable to admit ignorance, our thinking, choices, and actions all go wrong.
In Plato and in modern life, embracing and acting upon false claims to knowledge is the great highway to wrongdoing. Socrates' honest willingness to admit ignorance is the starting place for making things right. In political conversation, recognizing and admitting our ignorance is the beginning of all possibilities of responsible behavior when we want to make things better. Remember that it is always true that in order to make something better, one must be honest about the fact that something needs to be improved. The partisan party habit of always denying error and ignorance is the death of adult responsibility. Politics is not a game for children. The good news is that we know how to grow up.
We commonly agree with Socrates' understanding on the importance of recognizing our ignorance. We know from our practical experiences living our daily lives that there is no point in using knowledge when it is false. There is no sane person who keeps implementing the same false knowledge over and over after failure upon failure and thinks it will suddenly solve the problem. When knowledge is critical to solving a problem, we all know that we want to verify the truth of our knowledge. We want to know if we actually know or just incorrectly believe that something is true. We want to understand the relevant facts and principles needed to solve our problems. We never accept less than this in our daily practical life. Nobody consciously commits to making error after error forever so that they can hold onto false knowledge. We never cling to marketing slogans and keep pretending they mean anything when real problem solving has a priority. Nobody buys a house on the basis of an unverified claim. Nobody believes that their car cannot be in need of repair just because the marketing slogans praising the car in the TV commercial sound so good.
Yet the vast majority of us continue to accept and repeat the marketing slogans and talking points of the political parties without having the same desire to determine what is true and false. We give blind approval to the sayings of the parties and leaders without giving priority to deciding what is real and what is a fantasy. We act without verified knowledge and give support to political parties, religious leaders, and a circus of talking heads regardless of what does or does not honor our values and principles. We do this because we have stopped thinking about our values and principles. We have stopped examining our values and principles because we claim to know more than we really know. Nobody keeps failing in the same way in practical life without eagerly desiring to use different knowledge or develop some better skills in order to try to succeed. Yet in U.S. politics, most of us just keep doing the same things over and over, expecting different results as if by magic, we will be proven not to be insane. In this denial of our own common sense, we have manifested an Orwellian nightmare of our own making.
We all know that in practical and technical things from tying our shoelaces to traveling to the moon, we benefit from the mastery of knowledge and skills that allows for efficient repetition. We learn to tie our shoelaces when we are young, and we can mindlessly repeat the act of tying our shoelaces. It works fine. Plato's great warning to us is that we cannot treat our understanding of the justice and virtue of human character, the beauty and goodness of life, the nature of the public good, the validity of our values and principles, or the necessities of governing a nation in the same manner as we tie our shoelaces. Social and political issues are more complex than tying shoelaces or replacing a light bulb. We cannot assume that our take on our values and principles, which we often learned when we were young, are correct and sufficient for the future. Social and political issues embody complexities that can easily defy our understanding and are also always changing. Therefore, we cannot just memorize what we learned in earlier years and then repeat, without thought, the dictates of an unreasoning pretense to knowledge. Persistent reliance on continued reasoning is required to ensure we are doing our best. Continuing reasoning is required to hold ourselves accountable to our own knowledge, values, principles, and goals. Unless you are prepared to believe you are already perfect, you better keep questioning and thinking.
In ancient Athens, it was Socrates' ability to recognize and admit his own ignorance, which is the foundation of Plato's great legacy in the history of western civilization's capacity to reason. In the United States, it is our own ability to recognize and admit ignorance that is the beginning of saving ourselves from the Orwellian pretense to knowledge that has destroyed our political talk. This ability to have the honesty necessary to both recognize and admit ignorance is the beginning of the most important political reform in the history of the United States. The usefulness of dropping our false pretenses of knowledge in all political talk cannot be underestimated. The most common posture of communication in the Orwellian U.S. style of partisan political talk is to say in essence, "I know everything, and you know nothing. I am always right, and you are always wrong." When all the issues of governing the nation have become a zero-sum partisan game of Red Team vs. Blue Team, the pretense of knowledge is the ground upon which the partisan betrayal of the nation walks.
The beginning of the healing of our habits of political talk can be expressed with one statement and one question. They are a statement and question that need to become the most repeated sayings in U.S. politics. They are a statement and question that illustrate our most basic truth and our most basic need. The statement is an act of honesty where we refuse to claim to know what we do not know. The question is an invitation to others to share their understanding.
In essence, the most productively powerful act of political reform in U.S. politics says,
"I do not know the
answers to everything.
Will you please work with me to understand?"
This statement and question is the foundation of useful political dialogue, where people work in good faith as one team for the public good. This basic cooperation between citizens is absent on the political stages of the United States. Like Socrates, we need to be honest with ourselves and others whenever we recognize our knowledge is not up to par. This kind of honesty, where we confess what we do not know, constitutes a transformation of politics from a zero-sum Red vs. Blue game to a non-partisan team sport where every citizen is on the same team. We fail at politics, regardless of which team wins, when our political conversations are driven by false partisan claims of knowledge. To solve problems, we must admit what we do not know and have the patience and wisdom to participate in a great American tradition that has been murdered over the decades. That great American tradition is the free exchange of ideas. There will be no making America great if our quest for solutions does not include the restoration of our reliance on knowledge, reason, and honesty in political speech. In the absence of American knowledge, American reasoning, and American honesty, we cannot be great. The responsible exercise of our freedom of speech is how we can begin the most important political reform in the history of the United States.
When we stop pretending to know everything just because we want our team to win, we can begin to talk politics for real. When we stop pretending to know the motivations of the one who thinks differently, we can begin to have useful conversations with them and allow them to speak of their own motivations. When we stop pretending to know what we do not know, we have the freedom to ask the right questions and begin to open up our minds to the all-important task of reasoning with one another about important issues. This one act is fundamental to healing our nation. Recognizing and being honest about our own ignorance restores real knowledge and reasoning to their proper place in our political conversations. Pretending to know what we do not know is the key psychological attribute needed to manifest all that is Orwellian in U.S. political talk. Being skillful in recognizing when we are ignorant and being honest about our ignorance is the key to unleashing the power of real political talk among the people. Before we list the essential characteristics of the kind of genuinely useful political talk that is desperately needed in the United States, we must consider in more detail the unique focus of Socrates' style of ignorance, which eludes most of us today.
Nobody would tolerate the incoherent, unsubstantiated, fanciful claims that regularly come out of U.S. political talk if we were to hear such boasting in any other part of our daily living. Whether it is changing a light bulb, getting our car fixed, or solving a financial or medical problem, we have a much higher standard for holding ourselves accountable to knowledge in our talk about the practical arts, trades, and sciences in our daily living than we have for our talk about politics. In daily life, especially if it costs us money, we insist that claims should be proven. We reject blatant lying and the willful avoidance of talking about necessary subjects as vigorously as we reject sticking our own hands into a fire. We insist that people be provably knowledgeable and skillful so that we know they will do what we have hired them or otherwise trust them to do. Discerning the difference between knowledge and ignorance is a matter of common habit when solving problems in daily life. We gladly trust experts every day. We trust experts with our money, with the structural integrity of our homes and cars, with our health, and with our lives. In daily life, real knowledge and skill still have a good reputation. In daily life, the possession of knowledge and skill must be proven.
However, in politics we regularly allow unproven claims, boastful talk about false claims of knowledge, meaningless obsessions with irrelevant gossip, and an obnoxious insistence on being right that is nothing more than empty partisan bigotry. We let politicians get away with hideously poor talk that we would never allow from anyone else in our daily lives. We have allowed our standards for holding ourselves accountable to knowledge in politics to degenerate into senseless dysfunction because of a particular liability in the nature of political reasoning. Instrumental reasoning is employed when we have a clearly defined goal and must exercise our capacity to reason about the means to achieving that goal. Instrumental reasoning becomes defective in the absence of clearly understanding the end goal that is being served. Values reasoning occurs when we are defining and justifying our fundamental values, principles, and goals. The beginning of all political talk is grounded on our capacity to reason about our values, principles, and goals. Understanding the fundamental necessity of values reasoning in political talk will help us light up the path to political reform. The contrast between our properly functioning instrumental reasoning in the context of universally accepted goals and our defective instrumental reasoning in political talk, where there is no universal agreement on shared values, principles, and goals, defines a basic problem in all political talk. This problem is described in, "The Accountability of Knowledge: Politics, Arts, Trades, and Sciences " from our essay, "The Beauty of the Conservative Mind: Conservatism and The Examined Life",
"What is it about social and political issues that we allow politicians to offer only simplistic slogans when such issues are complex? We would never tolerate mere slogans from someone selling us a house if that person does not let us inspect the house in detail. Why do we allow politicians to get away with such behavior with their policy positions? Almost everyone allows politicians to persistently avoid discussing the full details of the issues and their proposed solutions to problems...Our ability to apply knowledge and to be accountable to knowledge in the arts, trades, and sciences seems to be of a different order than that of politics. The primary reason for this is that the end goal of an art, trade, or science is clear. It is easier to hold people immediately accountable to their claims of knowledge when a goal is clearly defined. A carpenter makes things out of wood. Everyone agrees that producing things made of wood is clearly the end goal of all carpentry. But what is the end goal of a society? The object of the art of painting is to produce a painting. But what is the object of the art of living? The performance values in the arts, trades, and sciences can be measured with precision because the ends are defined with precision. But what is the definition of a life well lived and a nation well governed? What knowledge and skill is relevant to that?
When we are reasoning about the complexities of governing an
individual human life or a society, things are less clear. The end goals of
life are not defined with the same universal consensus as we enjoy with the
practical goals of the specific arts, trades, and sciences that we employ in
our daily living. The question of what proper values, principles, and end goals
should be used to structure individual and social life lacks a universal
consensus on the answer. All carpenters know when it is desired for two pieces
of wood to be bound together and when they should be loosed from one another.
All carpenters know the best methods for binding and loosening. When there is
disagreement on such things, carpenters know how to resolve such disagreements
in a technically efficient manner. But what should be bound and what should be
let free in a society? There is no standardized agreement on social obligations
and freedoms, and the exact knowledge needed for resolving disagreements is
less than clear. We are more confident and hold ourselves to a higher standard
in the arts, trades, and sciences because the ends have been decided through
overwhelming consensus. When we are only required to employ instrumental
reasoning to achieve the means to clearly defined ends, the accountability to
knowledge is firmly within our grasp. But when we are required to reason about
the fundamental values and end goals of life itself, we are not as confident
about reaching a consensus."
The Beauty of the Conservative Mind: Conservatism and The Examined Life
by Max Maxwell & Melete
When the end goals are clear, instrumental reasoning is easier. The lack of universally well-defined end goals is the primary issue that causes problems with our accountability to knowledge in political conversations. The confusion is most intense when we try to use instrumental reasoning to solve specific issues while we lack clarity and consensus on even our most basic values, principles, and end goals. The establishment of common ground with shared values, principles, and goals helps us define the nation's issues and work together to envision workable solutions. The lack of value-based clarity and consensus chokes the life out of our political talk. Like a carpenter, who does not know that the purpose of carpentry is to make things out of wood, we participate in political talk without a proper sense of shared purpose in our politics. The values, principles, and goals needed to define purpose in politics, to guide our thinking and choosing, are missing from our political talk. In the absence of the examination of our own values, principles, and goals, how can we pretend to be serious about considering the Constitution's ambition to,
"form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"
The U.S. Constitution is dedicated to pursuing identified values and goals that We The People share in common. The Constitution is not about setting forth the rules for a zero-sum partisan game of Red Team vs. Blue Team that does not serve the good of the nation. We cannot claim fidelity to the Constitution if we refuse to give any thoughtful consideration to the basic values and principles, which define the meaning of the important goals listed in the preamble. When we subordinate the values, principles, and goals that are the foundation of our republic to a partisan game of Red Team vs. Blue Team, we have abandoned everything of value in political talk. When we skip the step of discussing and clarifying the fundamentals that we agree upon in order to work on more specific political issues, then we are merely pretending that we are knowledgeable about and agree upon all of the basic values, principles, and end goals necessary to start a conversation about the governance of the nation.
This common pretense of having the knowledge of shared values is false. It is false confidence in a false claim of knowledge when we pretend that we can work together to use instrumental reasoning in order to fulfill our values, live out our principles, and achieve our end goals, but we have not bothered to make any of these things a matter of knowledgeable agreement. By holding onto the obnoxious pretense of being infallible with regard to values, principles, and goals, we refuse to examine our own ideas. This refusal kills the possibility of having useful conversations about specific issues that can only be discussed among human beings working together on common ground about their shared values, principles, and goals. The great American tradition of the free exchange of ideas never takes place among infallible, omniscient beings who refuse to examine their own ideas and never admit ignorance or error.
Nobody discusses auto mechanics if they do not understand the end goal of auto mechanics is to build, maintain, and fix cars. Yet in politics, we delude ourselves into thinking that we can have a conversation about governing the most powerful nation in the history of humanity without understanding the purpose of politics. It is fundamentally necessary to reach some common ground and obtain some useful agreement upon basic values, principles, and end goals for our politics. Carpenters do not talk much about the fact that the purpose of carpentry is to make things out of wood. They know this already. However, in politics there is a lack of agreement on our defining end goals and fundamental operational values. We should be talking about our values, principles, and goals, but instead act as if there is already a consensus. What is the purpose of governing a nation? What is the meaning of living well? In politics we regularly discuss governing a nation as if it is assumed that everybody has a clear idea of what this means. Yet, as soon as differences emerge, it is obvious not only that we do not agree but that we are not even clear about our own understanding of the basic values, principles, and goals needed to govern our nation.
Metalworkers do not discuss the need for metal in their work without determining exactly what this means. But people in political conversations regularly talk about the need for justice in politics in ways that clearly illustrate the lack of any universal consensus on the meaning of justice. Painters do not dwell on the question "What is paint?" and fail to find useful agreement amongst the world's painters. But ask those involved in political conversations, "What is justice?" or "What is virtue?" or "What is the public good?" and we find that an easy consensus can die a quick and clean death. The truth is that we are all deeply ignorant about our own values, principles, and goals. We owe ourselves and our fellow citizens a real conversation about it. The complete lack of productive conversation about values, principles, and end goals pertaining to the public good and the governance of the nation underlies everything that is seriously wrong with U.S. political talk.
Claims of fidelity to values, principles, and goals abound in Orwellian political talk, but a critical examination of our fundamental truths is anathema to the actual habits of the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk. This is why we cannot hold ourselves or our politicians accountable to knowledge in the governance of the nation. There can be no effective cooperative instrumental reasoning among citizens in the complete absence of clearly defining the values, principles, and end goals upon which we can all agree. The instant we shift our political conversation to a focus on values-based reasoning, the fragile posture of "Red Team vs. Blue Team" collapses. It is impossible to maintain the fake Red vs. Blue mode of political talk when the nature of this theatrical conflict never entertains the rigorous examination of values or principles. In an open and honest examination of values, principles, and goals, we are all on one team. The instant we commit our conversational efforts to find common ground in our agreements about shared values, principles, and end goals, the fake game of Red Team vs. Blue Team dies and political talk among the people becomes powerful.
A common habit arises when we recognize differences in our values or principles. When we realize we are not on common ground, we often embrace a false pretense of knowledge about the other's motivations. The most common response is to engage in a personal attack. If we discern a difference of values, principles, and goals in the other, the most common attack is an attack on the motives and character of the one who thinks differently. Attacking people's motives and character instead of discussing values, principles, and goals is a manifestation of two of the methods of avoiding knowledge that we discussed earlier. The two methods of Avoiding Knowledge Through Irrelevant Gossip and Avoiding Knowledge Through Bigotry have a powerful presence in political talk for those who refuse to openly discuss the fundamental foundations of their political views. It is useless to pretend to know another person's motives and character instead of rationally discussing our differences in values, principles, and end goals for life and the governance of a nation. It is useless because it is a failure to hold ourselves accountable to our own knowledge. It is a failure to reason about what is most important. When we assume the pretense that we cannot be wrong, then we become incapable of useful conversation in politics where differences dominate the political landscape. In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates insists that we cannot work together to engage in instrumental reasoning in the complete absence of reasoning about our values, principles, and goals.
When we just assume that we have correct and irrefutable knowledge, it is natural for us to also assume that the one who thinks differently is corrupt or ignorant. When millions of U.S. citizens engage in political talk under the false, overburdened, and self-sabotaging pretense that they possess invincible and unquestionable correctness about their understanding of the basic values, principles, and goals of life, they are manifesting the bankrupt posture of ignorance pretending to have knowledge. As a result, all political conversation under the influence of the partisan pretense of perfect knowledge degenerates into gossip, bigotry, and distraction because the will to examine what is most important collapses under the weight of false posturing. I have never met anyone who had an absolutely correct and complete understanding of all the values, principles, and goals needed for living with perfect justice and virtue as we govern ourselves and our nation. If I ever meet a person of such perfect understanding, I imagine that they are not going to talk politics with their fellow citizens like a gossiping bigot, who is more interested in winning a fake partisan game than in raising our human awareness of the truth.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have talked with people who were sure about the justice of a particular partisan policy position yet could not answer basic questions about the meaning of justice. When you are absolutely sure of the perfection of your understanding of your values and principles but cannot answer basic questions about the nature of human virtue, morality, freedom, patriotism, or justice, it is reasonable to ask you to be open to the possibility that your understanding is not perfect and that you owe yourself and your fellow citizens a real conversation. Anyone, who persists in believing that they have some kind of perfect knowledge, should naturally welcome the opportunity to answer questions about their values and principles. Why would they not gladly submit to the most complete questioning? Wouldn't a person of perfect understanding naturally love to spread their understanding to others? The blunt truth is that those who pretend to always be correct in politics are not perfect. The pretense of infallibility is merely a game-playing posture in a zero-sum game of Red Team vs. Blue Team. The pretense to infallibility is an irresponsible disregard for the wellbeing of the nation and its people. Productive political conversation among people who think differently is not a game. It is necessary to the well-being of the nation's public good for us to be more honest about the incompleteness of our understanding.
There is no end to the unreasoning pontification on all that is just, patriotic, righteous, and good about specific laws, policy positions, actions, and parities when people have stopped thinking. In the absence of thinking about the nature of justice, virtue, and the basic values and principles required to live well, we grovel in the darkness of our own ignorance. When we falsely assume that we already know everything about our own values, we set ourselves up in the pretense of knowledge to fail to examine what we need to question the most. How can we reasonably determine the justice or injustice of anything if we never give any time or work inquiring into and thinking about the nature of justice? How can our talk have integrity when we blindly refuse to examine our own understanding of our own values and principles when questioned?
In order to reform politics and bring power back to the political talk of the citizens of the United States, we must first find common ground on values, principles, and goals that we are willing to share in our politics. This means we must be open to listening to one another's questions, motivations, ideals, values, principles, and goals. We must exchange our ideas in a free and productive manner devoid of the false partisan pretense of perfect knowledge that is the faithful companion of partisan bigotry. We must cooperate together in the absence of the lust for a partisan win. Seeking common ground is the beginning of all productive political talk. We all know that simply having a lack of confidence about reaching a consensus on complex issues is no excuse to give up. Nobody argues that simpler issues should have a higher standard of accountability to knowledge and reason. We all know that more complex issues demand more effort in our reasoning in order to make progress. We all know that we should not allow ourselves to throw all knowledge-based, rational conversation into the garbage just because it may be challenging to find common ground in solving a problem. Political conversations, which require us to discuss our fundamental operating principles, values, and end goals, place a higher demand on us to recognize the necessity of the use of reason in addressing complex issues. This demand is placed when, due to the lack of consensus, we are required to rethink the basic values, principles, and end goals of living life and of governing a nation.
Actual reasoned judgments about values and principles are missing in action when the party fan gets excited about claiming values and principles in order to secure a win for the team. This kind of instrumental reasoning about how to secure the party victory is not even closely related to the instrumental reasoning needed to fulfill the values, principles, and goals necessary to govern a nation well. To make instrumental reasoning productive, we need to use genuine values-based reasoning to empower our political talk. Values-based talk in which we express our capacity to reason about our fundamental values, principles, and goals is the most neglected form of communication in U.S. politics. If we cannot have real conversations about values, principles, and goals we cannot talk politics with any of our own real human presence, creativity, or power.
The recognition of our own ignorance empowers us with the ability to ask useful questions. This empowerment is obvious from our simple observations about daily life. We all know that one cannot debate with a doctor about a medical diagnosis without our own medical knowledge. Nobody debates with engineers about their trade without the knowledge of the subjects of engineering. When talking with an expert on any art, trade, or science, laypersons quickly reveal themselves as being ignorant of the subject relative to the expert. No layperson can talk with an expert in building construction, medicine, physics, or carpentry and can hide ignorance for long. It is a common experience to quickly come to accountability with our own ignorance in the practical arts, trades, and sciences. Nobody pretends to have knowledge about practical things without getting called out on it when real solutions are due. When we quickly recognize that we are ignorant, and we know we must confess our ignorance, we are empowered to ask useful questions.
The asking of questions is not an insignificant power. The ability to question is the greatest power of humanity. The ability to ask questions is responsible for enabling us to leave the planet, see to the edge of the universe, bring life back from the edge of death, and create beautiful music. There is no greater power in need of activation in our political talk than the power to ask useful questions. The public accountability to questions is the pathway for all possible political reform. This accountability is not just for politicians. Our public accountability to the asking of questions is for every single one of us. Recognizing and confessing our ignorance allows us to activate our greatest power, which is the power to ask useful questions. The recognition and confession of our ignorance strengthen our ability to relate to one another in a useful way. Only omniscient beings do not need to talk politics because they know everything already. When we recognize and confess our ignorance, we are able to utilize the power of questions, which is the greatest force for creation that humanity has ever possessed.
Often, we find that we do not know how to hold a politician or another citizen accountable to the knowledge of economic structures, administrative functioning, relevant mathematics, the complexities of foreign relations policies, the management of health care systems, or any other political issue in which we lack the necessary depth of facts and understanding. The most important thing we can do is quickly recognize and admit that we are ignorant. Pretending to know that a particular policy position is right just because your party said so is the most damaging and disempowering thing we can do in a political conversation. Party loyalties by party fans work to kill the great power of asking questions. The awesome creativity of the human power to questions dies in the hands of those who pretend to know. Socrates' readiness to allow his own ignorance to take a public stand illustrates the path forward. When we refuse to play a fake game of Red Team vs. Blue Team, we can see that ignorance is not failure. The recognition and confession of ignorance is the threshold of creativity. The public confession of ignorance, as seen in the dialogues of Plato, is the cornerstone of the foundation of western philosophy and rationality. As soon as we confess our ignorance, we gain the tremendous power to use questions to help refashion the world. The Orwellian style avoids properly questioning things because asking questions forces people to think independently. The oligarchs want to keep us tamed and controlled like Immanual Kant's domesticated animals from his essay, "What is Enlightenment?" As soon as we devote ourselves to asking questions, which requires recognizing our ignorance, we become a power in politics. Since acting on pretend knowledge is always a disaster, the recognition of ignorance stops us from moving forward in our conversations in harmful ways.
Just as nobody can build a large building based on false knowledge, nobody can conduct a genuinely useful political conversation based on false knowledge. No general contractor would ever dream of putting real money and work into building something on the basis of false knowledge. Every contractor knows that fake knowledge never works to build anything. No U.S. citizen should ever consider conducting a political conversation where we accept boastful claims of knowledge that are given without context, evidence, valid argument, or the opportunity for questions. Hiding our ignorance never builds anything useful in a political conversation. When we are able to recognize and be honest about our own ignorance, we become able to bring real questions into politics. The real questions, which are based on our actual ignorance, drive and empower real political dialogue. Boastful pretending to know everything shuts the conversation down. The asking of many questions forces a conversation to be more thoughtful and productive. But when both sides merely pretend to know everything and simplistically bash each other over the head with unexamined claims and counterclaims, real political conversation dies. The Orwellian habits of U.S. political talk are deathly sick to the extent that they put us in the position of working hard in every political conversation just to keep our ignorance hidden from view. Hiding our ignorance when real knowledge is required always sets us up to fail.
The partisan habit of hiding our ignorance as we pretend to be correct in all things makes us look like pigeons playing chess. A chess-playing pigeon just knocks the pieces over, shits on the board, and struts around as if it won. This is the state of politics in the U.S.. We have knocked over what is most valuable, and our politics is covered in shit. The democratic practice of voting only has value when we hold ourselves accountable for knowledge and reasoning in our political conversations and voting choices. There is no way to do this if we pretend to know everything. Only in the context of recognizing our ignorance and then asking useful questions are we able to embrace our accountability to knowledge and reasoning. Pretend knowledge has absolutely no value to the functioning of our democratic republic. The common American habit of strutting around like boastful pretenders in our political talk is the deepest shame of U.S. politics. If we do not know that we are ignorant or must pretend to know, it is easy to plow forward with false beliefs and flounder in the absence of verifiable knowledge. Honest political dialogue, in which the asking and answering of questions flourish, is necessary to build a future worth living.
By abandoning the fake partisan game and all of the pretend knowledge that goes with it, we can use our mutual ignorance to join the same team and have real, creative, and powerful political conversations. The fake game of Red Team vs. Blue Team must die, and Team U.S.A. must be born. United we stand. Divided we fall. Partisan politics is treason politics, to the extent that the dedicated partisan must, by definition, put their party before the country. The truth is that our questions are more important to our dialogue on social and political issues than our fake partisan answers. When real knowledge is missing, asking questions is more useful than blind partisan claims about pretend knowledge. Asking good questions and following up with a dedication to finding answers is much of the work of politics. However, we will never get to ask the right questions if we keep blindly believing false things and just keep pretending to know everything. If we are always making political claims but always refusing to examine our claims, we are just lying to ourselves and facilitating the destruction of our politics.
When facing our own ignorance in the ordinary tasks of daily life, we recognize ignorance as an obstacle to successful living and eagerly seek to gain correct knowledge. But in politics, we regularly refuse to acknowledge our ignorance and dive into making wildly unsubstantiated claims without evidence or logically valid argument. The first move to reclaim our power in politics is to learn to admit our ignorance in a timely fashion. A person who never claims to know what they do not know is, like Socrates, a force of reckoning. Questions have much more power to advance a conversation than blind, unexamined counterclaims. Honesty about our own ignorance empowers us by enabling us to ask the questions that will advance our understanding. Honesty about our own ignorance allows us to avoid the disempowering trap of clinging to false knowledge. Honesty about our own ignorance destroys the influence of the Orwellian U.S. political talk that is strangling the life out of our nation. The second move to reclaim our power in politics is to realize that political conversations must involve our thinking and talking about the fundamental values, principles, and end goals of our individual lives and our nation. This presupposes that we are able to admit our ignorance about our values, principles, and goals. The most important questions in politics, which are also asked the least in the Orwellian style of U.S. politics, are questions about the nature of our values, principles, and goals. What is the nature of our freedom? How do we know if we are defending freedom or destroying it? What is justice? How do we know if we are supporting its constitutional establishment or not?
A basic lesson from Plato is that we cannot talk about the issues of governing a life or a nation without discussing our values, principles, and goals. I learned from Socrates that I must never pretend to know everything about justice, virtue, morality, patriotism, honor, godliness, faithfulness, or any other basic value or principle. I learned from Socrates that I am profoundly ignorant about what it means to live with perfect justice and virtue. Therefore, I must recognize my ignorance and learn in order to improve myself and the society in which I live. I learned from Socrates to see the great value and power of regularly asking questions. Just as we cannot talk about the art of sailing a boat without understanding the purpose of sailing, we cannot talk about guiding a nation without understanding the relevant values, principles, and goals associated with such governance. We must learn to talk about our values, principles, and goals as if we are not omniscient about them. We must realize that every one of us is affected by a significant measure of ignorance in our understanding of life's basic values, principles, and goals. Our ignorance empowers us to ask questions about what is most important in politics. Admitting ignorance about our fundamental values, principles, and goals, unleashes the great power of useful questions, which will transform our political conversations and reform our politics. Admitting our ignorance brings serious power to our political talk.
We are not just ignorant of dry facts, complex structures, and abstract principles. We are also profoundly ignorant of one another. We all understand that getting to know someone is a natural and very important social reality associated with the process of working together in our daily experience. Nobody expects optimal cooperative efforts from groups of people who work together extensively if those people choose to remain completely ignorant of one another. Even when we learn simple things about one another, it makes a difference. If you know your coworker is deaf in one ear, you take measures to compensate so your communication is successful. However, in politics, merely pretending to know another person is the dominant style of talking politics. The pretense of knowing another person is the ground upon which our self-obsessed partisan bigotries walk. Instead of pretending that we already know everything we need to know about another person because we want to beat them in a fake political game, we must realize the truth that we are profoundly ignorant about the people with whom we talk politics.
The greatest power in our political conversations is in the truth that we can learn about one another. "United we stand" has little substance if we base our standing together only upon our ignorance of one another. The importance of learning about one another is an almost unheard of reality in most U.S. political talk. Most of us are so obsessed with pushing an agenda, rushing to secure a Red or Blue Team win, or so busy seeing the other as Red or Blue instead of as a human being that we fail to listen to anyone who thinks differently. We fail to learn about that person. We fail to be fully hospitable and attentive to the presence of another human being who is sharing their mind with us. The personal essence of reforming our political talk is to learn how to have a little common sense hospitality for one another as we share the conversational space together. This is not a complex idea. Getting to know our fellow citizens is the most fundamentally necessary thing we need in order to have a real conversation. When we become honest about our ignorance of issues and people, we are empowered to engage in real talk.
Our ignorance of other people does not just affect our understanding of strangers. A painful irony in life is that we can be ignorant of and virtual strangers to those whom we should know best and who should know us best. The co-author of this essay, Melete, has been my best friend for 37 years. Almost all of the time we have spent together has been in philosophical conversation with one another. We know one another very well. We know each other's values, principles, ethics, logics, aesthetics, ontological assumptions, epistemological interests, and life goals better than some people know themselves. Yet, we do not allow ourselves to assume that we understand each other's meanings and motivations in any particular speech act. The meaning of the perspectives we share must always unfold in the interactive context of conversation and questions. For Melete and I, in order to fully understand one another, there must always be conversation and questions and answers and more conversation and more questions and more answers.
Giving our utmost attention to another human being requires work, especially if we already think we know them. When familiarity breeds contempt for the ones with whom we are most familiar, we find ourselves behaving as if we know everything about them. When we act as if we are thinking that we know everything we need to know about another person, we listen to them less, we are less curious about them, and we pay less attention to them in conversation. Even when we think we are actively listening and paying our full attention to another person, we can be mistaken about the quality of our involvement. When Melete speaks with me, she regularly offers profound insight, inspiring many thoughts within my own mind. Sometimes I do not fully listen to her but merely hear her in the context of preparing what I will think and say. When this happens, preparing my own thoughts has precedence in my mind over being good at listening to her thoughts. She knows me well enough to instantly see when my mind is starting to go off in its own direction. Once, I was sitting with her at the kitchen table. My elbows were on the table, and my hands were folded together just below my face. I was staring into her eyes intently. By all external appearances and internal perceptions, I seemed to be listening well. Yet, she could see my mind wander just by the slightest change in my facial expression. As I intently stared deep into her eyes, thinking about my own thoughts, she gently grabbed my hands and pulled them toward her saying, "Max, please listen to me."
Melete and I have been friends who have known one another and abundantly shared our thoughts with one another for almost 40 years. It still takes work for me to listen to her and to understand her well. After the many years of our friendship, she still has the capacity to surprise me, to enlighten me, and to inspire me. But when I am negligent by not offering the hospitality of being a good listener, I destroy her capacity to surprise, enlighten, and inspire. I know full well that I am even more profoundly ignorant of the human beings that I have just met. When I speak to strangers about politics, I know I must be at least as attentive to them as I am to my best friend. In real political talk, I must open my heart and mind to the stranger before me as if they are my best friend so that I can allow them to surprise me, enlighten me, and inspire me. How completely bizarre it is to hear so many people pretend to know complete strangers. In the Orwellian style of U.S. political talk, we pretend to know the motivations, values, principles, and goals of those who think differently than we because we want to capture them in our labels and categories. We want to find an excuse not to listen to them. We pretend we know them as we turn them into strawmen, as we label them, diagnose them, and categorize them in the act of disregarding them. The Orwellian style of talk does not want to have a real political talk. The Orwellian style of political talk loves to pretend to know people. When we are playing the indentured servants to our Orwellian oligarchs, we merely want to win a fake political game of Red Team vs. Blue Team more than we want to know our neighbor.
The beginning of all real political talk involves the search for the common ground upon where we will stand together upon the common values, principles, and goals that we are willing to share. It is impossible to have any real political talk between citizens if those citizens have zero awareness of sharing anything in common. The common public good of all citizens is the ground upon which the governance of the nation walks. How can we assume we know the full depth of another person's take on their values, principles, and goals if we do not offer them the space they need to express themselves fully? Inviting another human being into a shared conversational space requires at least a touch of simple hospitality. Nobody wants to express the fullness of their understanding to me if they think I will only shove my partisan bigotry down their throats. The most powerful political reform in the U.S. does not require an understanding of Marxist theory, neoliberal economics, or the nuances of multicultural perspective in foreign policy. The most powerful reform in U.S. politics requires that we offer the hospitality of simple human courtesy and common respect needed to make welcome the ideas of our neighbor in ordinary talk.
This kind of hospitality does not have any agenda except that of allowing another person to be the fullness of themselves in the space we share with them. Rejecting the fake Red Team vs. Blue Team partisan game of winning at all costs is a prerequisite for having an ordinary conversation with a fellow citizen. Joining team U.S.A. requires that we are honest about our ignorance of one another in order to work together and to listen to one another. Honestly recognizing the full depth of our ignorance of the person who joins us in conversation opens the door to greater respect and hospitality that is capable of improving our political talk's productivity. Over the decades of persistent thinking about social and political issues, I have learned that in order to listen and respond with the best that I can be, I must treat all strangers in conversation as if they are my best friend Melete. Henri Nouwen describes the working space that hospitality creates in order to productively see and hear one another.
"Hospitality...means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit...The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and find themselves free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations."
In Part II of "The Fundamentals of Education: Socratic Talk: Hospitality to The Stranger in Dialogue" we wrote:
"The freedom to create new and better understandings is not served by dominating or demonizing those who are most able to help us. It is the stranger with a different idea who is the most useful person to help us increase our knowledge and understanding. Hospitality is not just a convention of comfort or a style of social demeanor. It is the willful offer of the shared space needed to create. It is a gift of freedom. We offer this freedom to one another when we maintain the hospitable space needed to forge our differences into new knowledge."
The real payoff for ensuring hospitality in our political talk comes when we work together to examine the values, principles, and goals that we must agree to share if we are to govern the nation. It is not enough to give lip service about being faithful to values and principles. We must examine our values and principles together in conversation. It is not enough to assume we have the same goals. We must clarify what we want to achieve together in dialogue. In real political talk, there is no Red Team and no Blue Team. There is only Team U.S.A.. Learning to invite one another to join together as members of the same team is a necessary step in healing our politics. The false claims of knowledge that come out of our partisan bigotry is a temple of lies. The refusal to recognize and admit our ignorance of one another is how we keep ourselves estranged from one another and in bondage to the arrogant pretense of knowing enough about our neighbor.
The largest problem in U.S. politics is not fake news. The largest problem is fake politics. Our politics is fake because our political talk has degenerated into Orwellian garbage. Real politics is about governing the nation. Real political talk examines our values, principles, goals, and one another as we discuss governing the nation. The Orwellian style of U.S. political talk is a plague of tyranny that kills our capacity to reason together in the common ground of our citizenship. This Orwellian tyranny has compromised our ability to learn about one another. Our dystopian arrogance of pretending to know one another has shut our eyes and closed our ears to our neighbors. The only way of immediately overthrowing the Orwellian nightmare we have created is to learn what it means to engage in real political talk. Learning to rely on knowledge, reasoning, and honesty, as we speak in good faith with our neighbors, is to learn to express real political power. We, The People of the United States, must learn to reclaim our ability to talk with one another.
Regardless of external circumstances, there are ways of internally measuring the choosing, speaking, and thinking, which we associate with freedom. Even while being unjustly imprisoned and tortured, a person may still choose how to respond to such mistreatment. Even during torture by unjust powers, a person may still defy her captors by freely choosing to maintain her own beliefs, uphold her own ideas, and think her own thoughts. However, few to none of us would declare that a victim of unjust imprisonment and mistreatment by an authoritarian dictatorship experienced the fullness of freedom that is possible for human living. This style of measuring the fullness of freedom depends on assessing a person's external environment and circumstances. We can also measure the fullness of freedom with an assessment of our internal reality.
The internal process of reasoning itself can also tell us of the quality and quantity of our freedom. Recall Winston Smith's definition of freedom in Orwell's 1984,
"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
To the extent that we are reasoning actively with a capacity to honestly refer to the facts of our knowledge, we are free at least within our own minds. In this style of assessing freedom, external circumstances are irrelevant. In 1984, Winston Smith is tortured by O'Brien. O'Brien pressures Smith to say that 2+2=5, even though Smith starts off knowing that this is wrong. If, under the pressure of torture, a person confesses that 2+2=5, it is impossible from an external point of view to assess the status of his reasoning and, therefore, his freedom. However, in the novel 1984, we have access to the internal process of Smith. Smith collapses under torture and becomes no longer able to refer to the fact of his knowledge that 2+2=4. By Smith's definition, he no longer has a capacity for freedom. According to Orwell's telling, if Smith would have retained his ability to see that there were only four and not five fingers, while retaining his ability to tell the truth about what he knew, he would have retained his full capacity for freedom as measured internally. The ability to honestly refer to the facts of our knowledge is necessary for any capacity to reason. When we can honestly refer to knowledge and beliefs, we have both the capacity to reason and, because this empowers us to be able to choose, we have the capacity to be free. Freedom and our capacity for honest reasoning walk together hand in hand.
Consider the nature of our freedom of choice. Our freedom in choosing implies a process of reasoning. Choices requiring more thought than an instinctual response to stimuli always involve at least a moment of reasoning about the choice. Beyond the simplest, nearly instinctual choices, we cannot choose at all without a recognizable context of reasoning. When reasoning is absent, we cannot manifest the fullness of our freedom of choice. To the extent that freedom of choice requires reasoning, we may consider that measuring the presence of our reasoning also measures the depth of our freedom of choice. That, which works towards diminishing reasoning, also works towards diminishing our freedom of choice.
In every one of us, ignorance exists. We are more ignorant than knowledgeable. Proper reasoning requires that we recognize the presence of our ignorance. Ignorance is necessary in order to even experience the need for reasoning. In the absence of ignorance, no reasoning is necessary. If we already know everything, we have already arrived at the end of the journey. Neither choosing nor reasoning is needed when we are perfectly and absolutely omniscient. If we have to choose or reason in a particular moment, this is a sign that there is some measurable ignorance in that moment. The full measure of exercising our freedom requires the presence of active reasoning. Fully functioning reasoning requires the recognition of some level of human ignorance. So it is that the fullness of our freedom requires that we are able to recognize our own ignorance.
If we fail to recognize our own ignorance, this has a negative effect on the quality and quantity of our reasoning. It also adversely affects the quality and quantity of our freedom of choice. Choosing A over B for the first time, when we are ignorant of the best choice, requires us to analyze data, make comparisons, conduct evaluations, create premises, and form conclusions. The fullness of the process of choosing is at hand when we recognize ignorance. When choosing A over B for the one-millionth time, we no longer recognize that we are ignorant. In the one-millionth repetition of our past choice, we are now engaged in a very well-practiced habit, and the perception of our own ignorance has vanished. When we are not confronted with our own ignorance, we conduct ourselves with an unreasoning mechanical repetition that diminishes our full freedom of choice because our rational process of choosing has been diminished or eliminated. When I recognize no ignorance at all, then there is no thinking, no evaluations, and no required questions when I know that I know that I know what I want to do or what is best. If what I think I know happens to be both right and sufficient for the present moment and present circumstances, then it works out ok. But we are not even close to always being right in this way, and this is where Plato says we get into trouble.
Unlike perfect, omniscient beings, we cannot guarantee that our knowledge is sufficient. When the perception of ignorance vanishes, we become imprisoned by the force of human presumptions that come with the unquestioned knowledge of our environment, values, principles, goals, and choices. We can lose a measure of our independent freedom of choice even when we are obeying, without thought, our own knowledge and preexisting preferences. The well-practiced repetition of past choices executed in the context of trusted knowledge diminishes the process and the experience of our freedom of choice. When we stop recognizing our ignorance, we stop rationally choosing and start mindlessly repeating our preexisting preferences like a programmed robot. Such well-rehearsed action is not a new choice. It is living off the echo of a past act of choosing. If living off the past and not making sure that our knowledge is sufficient for the present was always the correct thing to do then there would be no problem. If we never needed to rethink anything, we could repeat as much as we wanted without harm.
However, when our commitments to justice, virtue, freedom, patriotism, righteousness, godliness, or any esteemed good in life are so well-practiced that we stop reasoning, we start diminishing the reality of what we value. When we stop thinking about and stop questioning our understanding of our own values and principles, we can proceed to live for many years with diminished freedom of choice and sickly freedom of speech. Mindlessly repeating an unthinking commitment to the knowledge and choices that we embraced in the past condemns us to a lifetime of no longer choosing anything. When we are too content with the adequacy of our assumed knowledge, we condemn ourselves to experience the passing of years where we stop thinking, questioning, innovating, or being challenged. Unending repetition eliminates reasoned choosing and leaves us with no improvements, no growth, no striving to touch the high standards of our values, no fullness of freedom. When we refuse to recognize the possibility of our own ignorance, we lose the best portion of our freedom of choice, our freedom of speech, and our freedom of thought. Plato reminds us through Socrates that we are measurably ignorant of even our most trusted values, principles, and goals. Socrates' reminder to us about our lifelong and persistently measurable ignorance of things such as justice, courage, friendship, virtue, holiness, and temperance illustrates the truth that recognizing our ignorance empowers our capacity to question, reason, choose and live free. Whether we are mindlessly obeying an external dictator or mindlessly obeying the dictates of our own preferences, we lose freedom when we give up on expressing our capacity to question and reason. A more robust habit of reasoning deepens our freedom of choice and works to make good on our responsibilities for our freedom of speech.
Recognizing and admitting our ignorance, and thus remaining open to questions, is how we fully empower our ability to reason about life. Our freedom to choose, speak, and think does us no good if we are busy pretending that we know everything. In the absence of ignorance, we have no need to question or reason. Whether it is choosing a private preference or making a choice with our vote, the health and fullness of our freedom of choice and speech depend on our ability to recognize and admit that we do not know everything and act accordingly. This recognition of our ignorance empowers our ability to reason about political subjects by keeping our minds open to useful questions and keeping our hearts clear of the pollution of partisan bigotry. The recognition of our ignorance helps us listen to one another. Socrates wanted us to remember the lifelong importance of refreshing ourselves with the recognition of our own ignorance about our own most cherished values and principles. The labor of freedom that comes with the recognition of our own ignorance is a safeguard to the democratic institutions and traditions of our constitutional republic. Plato's message about the value of recognizing ignorance is his greatest gift to western civilization. Socrates' witness to the value of ignorance lights up the path we need to travel in order to reform our political talk in the United States. In the concluding section that follows, we will layout point by point how to make our political talk powerful.
We are working on this now. To be published soon.
 Orwell, George. 1984 (pp. 40, 41, 61). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 Newspeak = "new speak" not "news speak"
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 63). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 "Hermann Göring". Museum of Tolerance Multimedia Learning Center. Archived from the original on 27 December 2004 at Archive.org (https://web.archive.org/web/20041227105306/http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x18/xr1883.html). The context of the quote: "An early recruit of Hitler's, Goring was wounded at the Munich beer hall putsch. While recovering, he developed an addiction to morphine-a tendency he never completely shook. But his devotion to Hitler was unabated: "If the Fuhrer wants it," he proclaimed, "two and two make five!" In return for such loyalty, Hitler showered Goring with more and more power-plus titles, medals and other perquisites the vainglorious Goring loved."
 In 1984, the nation of Oceania included the former United States.
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 40). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 ibid., (Appendix: Principles of Newspeak).
 ibid., (p. 41)
 ibid., (p. 41)
 ibid., (p. 29)
 ibid., (p. 41)
 ibid., (p. 164)
 ibid., (p. 121)
 In George Orwell's novel 1984, The Ministry of Truth (had) three slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
 Although this essay states the relation between freedom and slavery in terms of the loss of reason, there is a correlation between our interpretation of this slogan and its interpretation within the novel. On P. 208 where O'Brian tells Winston Smith that this slogan can be reversed (Slavery is Freedom), he says that the individual, who is free as an independent, is alone and defeated. But when the individuals surrender their individual identity and merges with the collective (the Party), then they gain a kind of power and immortality. (thus "Slavery is Freedom") Safety, survivability, and a kind of collective based longevity are associated with freedom in the novel. In our interpretation, there is also a relationship between individuality and the collective. Independent reasoning within every citizen gives rise to the propagation of a diversity of independent perspectives. The exercise of our capacity to reason is an essential assertion of individual identity. When individuals give up their capacity to reason they give up some of their independent individuality. They give up their own reasoning powers to join the collective mass, simplistically repeating the marketing slogans and memes of the party. The loss of individuality is replaced with a new group identity. But in this case as asserted in this essay, freedom is absurd without knowledge and a capacity to reason, which makes our freedom accessible and beneficial.
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 166). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 Ingsoc is an abbreviation of "English Socialism", which is the political philosophy of the Party's totalitarian government of Oceania
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 167). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 ibid., (p. 210)
 Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. (1994).
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 167). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 ibid., (Appendix: Principles of Newspeak).
 ibid., (Appendix: Principles of Newspeak).
 ibid., (p. 40)
 ibid., (p. 41)
 Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Headline Book Publishing, 1997, p. 28
 ibid., (p. 28)
 If I wanted to make this a much larger work, I could have written on how both Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World both illustrate the functioning of the dystopian model of U.S. political talk.
 This is a paraphrase of the preamble to the constitution, which reads, " "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
 ibid., (p. 211)
 ibid., (p. 152)
 Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Headline Book Publishing, 1997, p. 230
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 220). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 ibid., (p. 162)
 Kant, Immanuel. Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (p. 54). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Kant, Immanuel. Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (pp. 54-55). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Kant, Immanuel. Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (p. 55). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 62) HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
 ibid., (p. 62)
 Quote is from the Preamble of the Constitution of The United States.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen (1986), Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, Doubleday, p. 71
 Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 63). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.