Torturing the English Language

If the US declares the military coup in Egypt to have been a military coup, it would be forced to suspend its “foreign aid,” which isn’t aid at all. From coups to torture to FISA, the English language is the number-one victim of enhanced interrogation techniques.

8 thoughts on “Torturing the English Language

  1. Ted, if you think the «indoor voice» is particularly characteristic of the US, please come visit us here in Sweden some time….

    Henri

  2. Ted,

    Good point. I didn’t know that about media training. It’s a chicken and the egg sort of thing. The media shows us people who don’t gesture (a universally human trait). So the public stops gesturing. One more form of social engineering.

  3. One more thing I’ll add: when people are having a debate/argument of any kind in front of any kind of audience, the audience will side with whomever is calmer because the of the dichotomy. Even if justifiably agitated, he appears less reasonable.

  4. Just horrifying. They really do whatever they want and get away with it of course. These are shenanigans of the highest order. Astounding that anyone takes government seriously anymore.

    Ted, what’s odd is that while what you say about emotion is true, at the same time plenty of people love their angry pundits and crazy reality shows. They also loved all of W’s emotion. In some ways we are a much more emotional country than many…just not about anything important?

  5. And Rikster,

    You’re absolutely right about that. The only thing I’d add: If you want to stop terrorists, the easiest way to do it would be to build infrastructure. Real infrastructure. Not “schools” that fall apart before they’re built, not roads that go to nowhere. Real schools, real sewage systems, real water treatment plants. Put all that into place. Build reliable electrical grids and renewable energy systems. The terrorists will dry up in a generation. “Fly a plane into a building to go to Paradise? Are you out of your frickin’ mind!? Where did you hear such bullshit?”

    People have to be desperate for a long time to start liking terrorism attitudes. The abuses have to go on for years and years. We’re going to see a lot of terrorism from Africa pretty soon. We will have a lot more luck blunting it with clean water and some electricity than we will by trying to invade portions of the continent. (You think SE Asia was a disaster? Africa will be an abattoir.)

  6. Let’s consider the social media’s warping effect on our culture, as well as why we have “discussions” about whether something’s a coup or a transition or whatever.

    First. Social media. Discussions grow shorter. People have briefer attention spans. Arguments are boiled down to bumper-sticker length idiocy exchanges. So much “information” is coming at us that it’s almost impossible to keep focused on key issues. It’s like the Monty Python sketch about the man who has inherited 20,000 miles of string in two inch lengths.

    Language isn’t just the words that are used (although that’s a big part); it’s also the presentation of those words (we’re going away from detailed discussion toward meaningless brevity). That warping of language, however, is very useful to those who want to slip things past everyone. Creating a diversion is a standard technique. Get everyone typing away with their thumbs and go to town. Use vague words that no one really understands in the first place. (Look at resumes for lots of examples of this. “Impactfully co-led team toward resolution of conflict dynamics in a postprandial meta-narrative” and so forth.)

    On the day that forced prayer becomes the law of the land, a lot of us will be saying, “When the hell did that happen? Oh, I was tweeting about Game of Thrones that day. The whole day. Well, onto my knees with my rosary beads hot-glued to my hands …”

    And what’s really surprising is how dangerous these social media platforms are overall. Not just in a “we turn everything over to the NSA whenever they tell us to” way, either. Over at Romenesko’s site, is the story of someone who accidentally posted a tweet to her work account rather than her personal account and resigned because of it.

    We’ve all seen the behavior in question before. Yes we have. Unless you’ve lived at the bottom of a well, you’ve seen or heard about the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The entire episode–and its humor–revolves around how everyone keeps making rather tasteless, juvenile comments about how Chuckles the Clown died. It is considered one of the best pieces of episodic television comedy ever done. It won an Emmy.

    Part of the reason is because the script doesn’t just put the situation out there for us to passively absorb. It makes us participants. In one scene, Mary gives everyone (which would, by extension, include the audience) a scolding: A man is dead. How can they be laughing about it?

    Lou replies that it’s a release, something people do when dealing with a tragedy. He also says that it’s something we all do. The implication being that the people watching at home (who have just been criticized) are being given an out. Neither the characters in the scene or the people at home are being bad or uncaring, this is simply one of the many coping mechanisms when confronted with the massively final nature of death.

    But, thanks to social media, not anymore. For doing something that we have almost certainly all done at some point, something that the whole nature of social media encourages, someone’s just lost her job. And she’s just the latest in a long line of people who’ve discovered social media can put a 90 degree turn in your life in no time flat.

    Was the comment in poor taste? I don’t really know. I think it would be hypocritical for me to wag my finger and disapprove because, honestly, I’ve laughed at similar things, and can recall how, for years, when someone made a comment in poor taste, it did not immediately and irrevocably lead to unemployment and a permanent record via the Internet.

    But now? Oh yes. Pretty much everything you say is out there, years later, waiting to ruin your life. That thing you did in high school that got you arrested? A google search away. Teachers have left their jobs because their students, after a couple days of google-mining, are able to completely destroy the teacher’s ability to maintain order in the classroom. A 30-second exchange of curses in a parking lot? Yup, that’s your life over right there, mate. Best of luck next time.

    Second. Egypt. Social media is why we don’t have Egyptian-style uprisings here in the U.S. We have been carefully conditioned not to. We started out a Chuckles the Clown kind of people. Then the Internet came along. We adopted social media. Now, we all see instances (pretty much every day) of people whose lives are completely devastated by twitter or facebook or the like, and we learn one lesson over and over: don’t cause waves, don’t make a fuss, don’t do anything that could come back to haunt you, never actually say what you think because someone might not approve of how you said it.

    I suspect that in Egypt, no one is told to “use your indoor voice.” No one is “given a time out.” People get angry, and people react, acting like people are supposed to act, with emotion, not like lobotomized simpletons.

    Third, on a related matter, I saw that one of the programs the NSA (or one of its friends) is working on is an application that is able to go online and participate in web chats and forums in order to sway the discussion toward the desired outcome. (I’d made a mention of something similar a few weeks back, thinking that it was still years away. I wish I’d saved the link when I ran into the story. If anyone sees it, I’d appreciate a link to it.)

    So the effect of social media on keeping us all in line accelerates. One person says something about how food stamps keep people from starving to death. Up comes SmartApp, which quickly generates five fake identities. Those five begin a careful discussion (with minimal human overview) to swing the conversation to one “crazy person” arguing against people starving, and five others agreeing that food stamps create an entitlement society in which people are rewarded for doing nothing and for not planning ahead. The machines need neither sleep nor food, so they can carry the conversation on, literally, forever. One “crazy person” finally drops away, and the effect becomes cumulative: all these socialists keep walking away from the arguments. They must not really believe what they’re saying. I just I should join the No Food Stamp party, too. Start rounding these deadbeats up, put them in work camps.

    • @alex: As usual, I agree with 99% of everything you have written here. Just absolutely brilliant. Just one more little thing that I would add: there is something about American culture that predates social media that has an impact on all of this. Long before anyone thought of Twitter or Facebook, we were told to use our indoor voice. To be calm. When you do media training to learn how to act appropriately on TV in the United States, for example, you are taught not to move your hands or even move your body. You don’t see this in other countries. At least you didn’t used to. Getting emotional is something that is not considered acceptable here. And it is holding us back politically.

  7. I think that many of us can acknowledge that a coup is a sudden or violent overthrow of a ruling party or government.
    Whether it was done at the request of a majority of a states’ citizens or a small inner group – it’s still a coup or “coup’d’etat” , where the English language got the term.
    If we have a policy of stopping aid ( read that as bald-ass bribes) in this case because IT WAS A COUP – then we should.
    Better to have the money used to help Americans instead of just throwing it at jerks who simply divide it up amongst themselves anyway. Just look at what happened to Quatar’s bribes…
    I think we should stop ALL “AID” to everyone everwhere in the world that is sent as bags and boxes of cash, rather bags of food and medicine. No cash anymore for anyone, in fact, only help Americans first. The US Gov’t shouldn’t be allowed to give anything to anyone – no money, no weapons, no troops( trainers and advisors). Only orgs like the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and the Peace Corps, etc. such should be allowed. Everything else should be cut-off. No night-vision goggles, drones, body armour and anything else that can be classified as non-violent aid. America has to take care of its severe problems first. There could be much less whining and arging over food stamps, healthcare and more, if we stopped bankrupting ourselves by bankrolling others. You can do this – demand for this, and just vote the corporate-owned politicians out!

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