By Patrick Howell, S.J.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has agreed to limit its vocabulary by banning such words as “science-based, evidence-based, fetus, transgender, entitlement, diversity, and vulnerable.” It’s an astonishing censorship of science. In a letter to the Seattle Times editor last week, one reader facetiously suggested that the CDC could base its research on “alchemy, phlogiston, wishful thinking, quackery, divination, Ouija Board, smoke and mirrors,” among others.
The debasing of language by the Trump administration remind us of George Orwell’s 1984 and Newspeak, a language created for a fictional totalitarian state. Newspeak is a controlled language of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, a linguistic design meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the regime of Big Brother and all contradictions to the ruling orthodoxy.
Newspeak has a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simplistic meaning. Twitter feeds fit Newspeak beautifully.
In the Orwellian world Minitrue (Ministry of True) provides the standards for Newspeak. In the Trumpian world why not a Ministry of Fake News? Orwell created this elaborate satire during the Cold War era to critique the totalitarian governance of the Soviet Union and Politburo of the Community Party. Of course, blind adulation of the Leader was a crucial feature of this truth-less world.
As we approach the second year of the Trump Administration, how might Jesuit colleges and universities continue to stand for truth and justice, forming committed citizens who are able to work for the common good? What might our colleges and universities need to do to stand against the limiting and debasing of language by the Trump Administration? Continue to conversation here in the comments section.
This blog continues the topic of Conversations (Fall 2017) “The Jesuit University as a Sanctuary for Truth and Justice.”
The cover photo is featured courtesy of the CDC and was taken by James Gathany.