It’s a wonder that more people writing about civil rights and its antithesis, affirmative action, don’t think of George Orwell more often. I have, far too many times to cite them all (no, these are not all).
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [English socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.
To give a single example — The word free still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free,” since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless….
Orwell’s “Newspeak” idea — that politics distorts language, twisting it to serve ideological purposes, and that language in turn distorts and constricts politics — flowed from his seminal 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” from which I quoted a long excerpt in one of my Orwell mentions linked above, “The Cloying Doublespeak Of The ‘Diversity’ Vocabulary“:
• As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
• In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
• The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
There are no better examples in our time of “cuttlefish spurting out ink” than diversiphiles spewing out euphemisms about their desire for a “level playing field” when what they in fact demand is a field tilted against some contenders, about their desire for “diversity” that somehow leaves them not only untroubled by extreme political conformity but actually seeking it, about their programs ostensibly designed to promote “inclusiveness” whose essential component is excluding many based on their race or ethnicity.
Examples abound — just dip into some of my earlier Orwell references linked above — but these days it is much harder to avoid euphemistic cuttlefish ink dripping over discussions of affirmative action than it is to find examples. A case in point: my current Orwell rant was ignited when I tripped over this article from the Grand Rapids Press, about the retirement of Ms. Ingrid Scott-Weekley, a “giant among giants” and the “conscience of Grand Rapids.”
“For decades,” the article begins, “her name has been synonymous with the cause of diversity in West Michigan.” Upon leaving her post as Grand Rapids’ managing director of administrative services,” it continues, she “urged city officials to remain vigilant against complacency in fighting for inclusiveness.”
“Diversity should permeate everything,” she told city officials in June. “I challenge you that, as we face fiscal challenges, we continue to be inclusive in everything we do.”
One does not have to be a George Orwell to see that the “diversity” and “inclusiveness” Ms. Scott-Weekley seeks, and no doubt promoted during her years in office (and before that by her service as “director of affirmative action at Grand Valley State University before landing at the city in 1989”), has nothing to do with ensuring that city agencies do not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. In fact, quite the opposite.
How, after all, does a government agency “fight for inclusiveness”? Who does it fight against? The following mindlessly Orwellian passage from the Grand Rapids Press article makes it abundantly clear that to Ms. Scott-Weekley and those of like mind (like the article’s author) the enemy of “inclusiveness” is not racism or intolerance but the principle of colorblind equality. According to Patti Caudill, the city’s diversity and inclusion manager who worked with Scott-Weekley for 20 years,
Scott-Weekley’s advice to city officials evolved based on changing laws during her long tenure and how her mentoring was able to change with the times while standing firm in her resolve.
Before Proposal 2 passed in 2006, the city was allowed to establish programs ensuring woman and minority contractors were able to compete for business. After that practice was banned, the city was forced to tweak its contract policies.
“What we did as an organization was say, “We’re not providing preferential treatment but our new program focuses on micro-businesses, not based on race or gender but where you are located, how big your business is and whether you provide a good or service that we buy and, if so, we want to do business with you,”” Caudill said.
“It was Ingrid’s vision that pushed us to look at that,” she added. “Some of her biggest accomplishments have been providing inclusiveness without using race or gender as factors.”
Now the most risible thing in this passage is the assertion that Prop. 2, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, “banned … programs ensuring woman and minority contractors were able to compete for business.” What it did is prohibit the state from discriminating on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity (or will do if the Supreme Court overturns the Sixth Circuit’s even more risible decision that prohibiting the state from discriminating based on race is racial discrimination). But even more revealing, and not nearly as funny, is that say and that but: “What we did as an organization was say, ‘We’re not providing preferential treatment but….'” [Emphasis added]
Say whatever you want, but we Orwellians recognize Newspeak when when we see it.