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    Beyond Doublespeak: True Lies in the Battle for the Word

    Nozomi Hayase  |  29.Apr.10
    Since the dawn of history there have been wars. In the present the United States is involved in at least three: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with military presence in many other countries. It seems that the patterns of violence and empires that rise and fall haven't changed much since before Roman times. Should this cycle of violence simply be accepted as the way of the world? Historian and activist Howard Zinn wrote:

    In modern times, when social control rests on "the consent of the governed", force
    is kept in abeyance for emergencies, and everyday control is exercised by a set of
    rules, a fabric of values passed on from one negation to another by the priests and
    teachers of the society. (1970, p.6)

    Unfortunately, such consent of the governed is rare. Nevertheless, except in an outright dictatorship, there must at least be an appearance of this consent. Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky described how political decision-making processes require what he called  "manufacturing consent" within the populace for governments to justify foreign acts of aggression (Herman & Chomsky, 1988). Often people don't even question whether these ways of violence are necessary. Do most people actually consent to war? And if not, how might we effectively dismantle these weapons and systems of violence?

    The first weapon to be dismantled before any other is a psychological one. After all, it is will of people that lead to action. Whether they are led to fight or to allow war to happen in their name and with their tax money, the mass media is a powerful tool used for the perception control necessary to blunt any dissent. Few can deny that blatant lies about "weapons of mass destruction" led to the war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Why is the psychology that perpetuates this cyclical violence so persistent and effective?

    "In the beginning was the Word,” were the first words of the Gospel of Saint John. It all began with the creative power of the word. It is this power that guides perception and sets deeds in motion. The Logos stands as the creative and divine power in language. This power is depicted in many cultures throughout history. For instance, there is an understanding in Japanese culture of this power, found in the term Kotodama. The literal translation in English means ‘spirit of words’. It describes a belief that each word has a spirit; has power to effect events in the world. Kotodama is a central theme in Japanese mythology in Shinto and Kokugaku. It can act like a curse, make people sick and cause harmful events, but as well can work as a prayer, bringing blessing and fortune (Gleason, 1995).

    The true battlegrounds always revolve around words. Experts like journalists, scholars, and writers are drafted into this battle to manipulate the public mind. George Orwell's novel 1984 was an uncanny prediction of our present Western society, with its wiretapping, endless war and, torture. This work has entered the vocabulary of the English-speaking people as a testament to the lasting power of true words in storytelling. In the story he showed how the word can be twisted to distort the truth. The term "Doublespeak" describes the use of words to mean their opposite: War is Peace; Ignorance is Strength. (Orwell, 1981) The word of the logos is here split in two to fabricate perception of phenomena, distracting from direct or unmediated experience. President Obama announced the escalation of the war during his acceptance speech for the Oslo Peace Prize. In this moment he blurred this line between fiction and reality in true Orwellian fashion. Here the experience of doublespeak crossed the edge of the novel and entered directly into our world.

    Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire (1970) described how something like doublespeak creates two types of words, like two opposing forces: "Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world" (p.76). The Bush administration used false words powerfully to stimulate and harness fear with the "War on terror" as a constructed reality, while reprehensible human acts such as torture and kidnapping were made acceptable simply by calling them "enhanced interrogation" and "extraordinary rendition". After eight years of fear mongering, hope for change was burning in people. Candidate Obama used the magical power of words, channeling this desire to mobilize followers across the country. His campaigns used simple catch phases like "Yes we can!" (Never quite saying what We can do). With strong emotional tones, the words embodied general wishes and caused people to bypass their own reason, blocking access to their own transformative power within. Words have power to create magic, like mantras or spells, affecting emotions and thoughts. Yet, if a lie is repeated enough times then it eventually becomes accepted as truth.

    In every culture, inner battles are depicted through fantasy and fairy tales. Witches and Wizards in stories practice this power through spells and magic. It is as if the memory of creative power of the Logos is carried unconsciously for generations through those stories. The fascination that young people have with stories like Harry Potter and role-playing games with gothic and witch characters perhaps remind them of the sorcery power within themselves. Magicians for instance use words to create spells, as in turning a prince into a frog, whereas wizards redeem the cheapened words to reverse the magic, bringing higher life back to the frog. Magicians hide the source of creation by turning the creative force of words into false ordering of the world towards desire and divisiveness. Wizards rescue true words and place them where they belong. Unconsciously, people know that both tendencies live in us.

    There has been a battle going on trying to win over the power of the word. Now there are Magicians using their talents to trick and entertain the masses. They gain celebrity status with Hollywood illusions and images. Rock star-like politicians perform with carefully selected words for show to serve commercial interests, pretending to work for the people. The monopolized media governs a full spectrum panorama that delivers the grandiose show of American politics. As Alan Greenspan's concocted oracle mesmerizes the nation into the sorcery of a trickle down economy, the wealth is transferred into derivatives of abstracted casino money. The word Bipartisan is used by politicians to mean Democrat and Republicans working together, while battles camouflage the merging into the hegemony of corporate interests behind both parties.

    There can be no denying that in addition to lies, subtle manipulation through language occurs daily in the halls of power. "Commander in chief" originally meant commander of the armed forces. During the Bush Cheney era, it came to mean commander of all the people in the country, which implies dictatorship. Anything repeated enough times become the truth. This manipulation of words has numbed people to accept the unacceptable. For example, senseless killing is made more palatable when civilians are called "non-combatants" or become "collateral damage" after they are killed.

    And so a war of words has been declared. Modern magicians and wizards engage in this fight for influence, material gain and power, disguised as colorful characters -pundits, activists and politicians. The battle is fought for a creative force that lives in the Word, which set the once-still universe into motion.

    In this age of technology, the battle weapons have been upgraded. On the one side, the screen age transforms the stage, where each personal screen may cut off the creative force of true words from a medium dominated with mainstream image and propaganda. Logos, the creative deed of the Word has been short-circuited to the Nike logo, accompanied with fixated images to tempt the lower instincts. Hidden motives become simple slogans that eliminate complexities, paradox and subtlety inherent in life. On the other hand, there are a few Wizards, prophets and poets who fight back, working to dispel illusions of the fallen logos and set the breath free for words to truly speak. They work quietly underground within the silent pulse of history. Spoken word artist Taalam Acey speaks out the true words that could release this sorcery power. In his poem, True Lies, he performs in a way that can reveal how truth is concealed in the fallen words of propaganda. He reminds the poet within of the sacred power in their spoken words. In his poem, What if this is God’s work? he points to this wizard power.

    When Politicians and clergy are proving themselves unworthy of your time and Television shows and music videos are proving themselves unworthy of your mind, don’t be surprised to find that God is especially present in poetry dens … It’s not about your use of sexuality or profanity, it’s whether you use your tools for ahs and oohs or whether you use your tools to improve humanity. (Acey, 2005, track 14)

    The Comedy Central host, Stephen Colbert, in a segment called The Word, breaks the propagandistic spell over the mind of a nation in another way by flipping doublespeak to engage the audience in search of truth. With satire, he lifts up the mind that is generally infected by cynicism and apathy, and with laughter opens up a space to breathe.

    The pen is mightier than the sword and swords of the truth can cut through the battlefield contaminated by a smoky façade of lies. We all have the power to create or destroy. As the fog of war on words drifts over whole nations, the question arises; Will we let our world fall into doublespeak, or will we create the future from our own sacred power within?

    Citations: (2000). Absolute Shakespeare: Shakespeare quotes.
    Retrieved Feb 6, 2007,from

    Acey, T. (2005). Go_s work. On pieces of change [CD.]. Word Supremacy Press.

    Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. (M.B.Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum. 

    Gleason, W. (1995). The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido. Vermont: Destiny Books.

    Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.  

    Nelson, T. (1984/1977). Holy bible containing the old and new testament in the King James version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 

    Orwell, G. (1981). 1984. New York: Signet Classic.

    Zinn, H. (1970). The politics of history. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.


    Comments :

    1. Posted on 11.May.10   From: John

    Thank you for reminding me that even though the word has fallen so far and is used to cause so much pain, the Word inside is always there to create the future that is there for us and for the Earth. This is an inspired work.

    2. Posted on 03.May.10   From: Jeff

    This is such an insightful article that cuts to the core of the disease that has affected humanity for far too long. Not a day goes by without seeing ample evidence of words being hijacked to convey lies in order to manipulate the minds of the masses. A Republican congressman, John Boehner, even stated recently that Barack Obama should open up off-shore drilling in order to satisfy "the will of the people". If that statement isn't a gross distortment of reality, I don't know what is, as the "will of the people" most surely wants a cessation of any offshore oil extraction......(there! The use of doublespeak is so ingrained that I even do this, as "oil extraction" should be called something else to reflect the true stupidity of such practices).

    One can't help but wonder whether the "era of corrupt word magicians" infesting our society is a symptom or a cause of the planet's problems. Thank you for such a thought provoking and illuminating article, Nozomi!

    The comments to this entry are closed.