This is a kind of bewildering, private language. But the whole point of the guide is to make it our public language, to force other people to use these invented words, to make the entire society learn and repeat the equivalent of their own post-modern sanskrit. This is our contemporary version of what Orwell went on to describe as “newspeak” in Nineteen Eighty-Four: a vocabulary designed to make certain ideas literally unthinkable because woke language has banished them from use. Repeat the words “structural racism” and “white supremacy” and “cisheteropatriarchy” often enough, and people come to believe these things exist unquestioningly. Talk about the LGBTQIA2S+ community and eventually, people will believe it exists (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
And that is the only recourse an average citizen has when buried by this avalanche of abstraction: ask the language-launderers what they are really talking about. When some doofus apologizes for the “terrible pain” they have caused to the whatever community, ask them to give a specific example of that “pain.” When someone says “structural racism,” ask: what actual “structures” are you referring to? How do they actually work? Give concrete examples.
When someone calls American society “white supremacy”, ask them how you could show that America is not a form of “white supremacy”. When someone uses the word “Latinx”, ask them which country does that refer to. When someone says something is “problematic”, ask them to whom? When you’re told you’re meeting with members of the BIPOC or AANHPI communities, ask them first to translate and then why this is in any way relevant, and why every single member of those communities are expected to have the same opinion. And when you’re told that today is IDAHOBIT Day, ask them if you can speak to Frodo.
Yes, some humor is key to fighting back. But the core truth is: we do not have to speak this debased and decadent language. It is designed to overwhelm and confuse and smother and subdue. And the more it is used by elites, the more normal Americans, still living in the real world, feel utterly alienated by their masters, and the deeper our divide goes. Reclaiming our discourse from these ideological contraptions will make our writing better. It will help us think more clearly. And it could help re-start a genuinely national conversation. In everyday English, the language of democracy.
I think it’s adorable that Sullivan seems to believe that these impertinent questions would result in welcome enlightenment for those being questioned, followed by honest, good-faith conversation. Who knew that human resources departments and academic grievance studies could be dissolved by the equivalent of a child pointing out that the Emperor is a nudist? Did Sullivan likewise give up his religious faith when asked by Christopher Hitchens to define his terms and provide his proof?
Most amusing of all, though, is that final paragraph: in a newsletter about Orwell, our politics, and the English language, we get this flowery call to action including that old favorite of mine, “a national conversation.” This is the language of newspaper editors and op-ed columnists, the gatekeepers of a dying industry who spend all their time talking to their peers and deluding themselves into believing that they’re mouthpieces for the zeitgeist. Leave aside the fact that “conversation,” in the abstract, is one of the very terms that have been captured, tortured, and brainwashed into service as progressive jargon (whenever a progressive says, “We need to have a conversation about X,” it’s a safe bet that they mean, “Sit down and shut up while we lecture you about how this or that anodyne thing is actually racistsexisttransphobic”). Let’s follow his advice and ask him: What does that even mean? “Re-start”? Does that mean there once was a time when a “national conversation” existed? If so, when? Assuming we get it “re-started,” in a nation of 330 million people, who gets to participate, and how? How will their representatives be chosen? Where will this “conversation” take place? Are we all jumping on the same Zoom call at an appointed time? What is the babbling bedlam of social media, if not the closest thing to a national conversation we could get? And what sane person wants more of that?
As an aside: Orwell’s rules for clear writing and thinking didn’t prevent him from believing in the prospect of a “true” socialism that would somehow avoid the inevitable denouement, so maybe we could stop acting as if he were some kind of oracle. It’s a fine thing to refuse to bullshit and to be bullshat, but it’s just one virtue among many, none of which will truly save us.