Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Orwell Was Right Dept.

Probably no short discourse upon political rhetoric and the political lexicon can match George Orwell's paper "Politics And The English Language." Those of us who've followed developments on the politico-linguistic battlefield over the century past can hardly dispute Orwell's critical assertion:

[O]ne ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.

But of course, political chaos through linguistic degeneration must necessarily start with the perversion of individual words.

What are the central contentions of those who are beating the war drums for a strike on the Assad regime over Syria?

  • "The use of poison gas is a violation of human rights."
  • "The use of poison gas is forbidden by international law."

The incredible abuse that's been heaped on the essential political term rights has been a thorn in my flesh for many years. The above isn't particularly egregious -- indeed, in one sense it doesn't abuse the word rights itself -- but it serves to illustrate the sort of mischief activists can commit with words.

Follow along with me, please:

  1. A man's rights pertain to his life, his liberty, and his justly acquired property.
  2. Syria is in a state of civil war.
  3. In a war, people get killed.
  4. In a civil war, some of those killed are civilians, whether nominal or actual.
  5. Ergo, if a violation of someone's rights is being committed, it would be that persons who are actual civilians -- i.e., noncombatants trying to remain uninvolved in the violence -- are being targeted and killed by one side or the other.

What does the weapon used to take those noncombatants' lives have to do with the violation -- if any -- of their rights? Would they be any less dead had they been mowed down by machine guns?

While it's true that lethal gases haven't been used in recognized wars since World War I, it's also true that Saddam Hussein used them against Iraqi Kurds. Yet many of those clamoring for a strike on the Assad regime were equally violent in protest of Bush the Younger's war against the Hussein regime.

What's wrong with this picture?

Now let's deal with the second of the battle cries:

"The use of poison gas is forbidden by international law."

Is it? What mechanism enacted that "law?" In what contexts are such gases forbidden? And what is the enforcement mechanism?

The "law" against the use of poison gas is an adjunct to the Geneva Convention called the Geneva Protocol. It was agreed to by a great many nations. Syria agreed to it in 1968, but "with reservations," which largely vitiates the "agreement."

Additionally, note the use of the critical qualifier international. The Geneva Convention was never intended to apply to intranational conflicts: civil wars or the suppression of insurrections. What's going on in Syria is a civil war. "International law," such as the Geneva Convention, simply doesn't apply.

Alongside that, the enforcement of any sort of law involves force -- violence. The enforcement mechanism for "international law" is international violence: warfare. He who contends that "something must be done" about "a violation of international law" is demanding war, whether he realizes it or not. But he who prattles about "international law" must deal with other constraints on national action, as well, including the "jurisdiction" of the International Criminal Court and the overriding "authority" of the United Nations Security Council.

Somehow, I don't think those screeching for "A" would be all that willing to say "B."

I know, I know: this dissection of words and phrases can be rather tiresome. But until we learn to do so routinely, and with maximum precision, our means of effective intercourse with those who disagree will be limited to violence. As most of us prefer to avoid that measure, learning to speak and hear accurately and critically will be required of us.

Those skills would serve us in coping with our domestic politics as well, especially the maddening perversion of Constitutional language and the mind-numbing bloviations of our domestic political class. Wouldn't you say so, Gentle Reader? Or has the congeries of obfuscations and anfractuosities already rendered you deaf to the vermiculous involutions of those retromingent onagers and their rebarbative representations?

Feel free to take your time over it.

1 comment:

Dean Weingarten said...

Here is my article on four Orwellian usages in the debate on Second Amendment infringements:


Note that the term "gun control" is itself an Orwellian perversion.