Does language and propaganda affect the way we think and speak?
Calling bad things “ungood” and referring to execution as “being vaporized” certainly obscures the truth of the government’s actions in 1984, but does changing the words we use actually affect the way we think? Philosophers have long suggested that word choice affects the way we view the world. Roger Bacon went so far as to say that words obscure the nature of eternal truths. Around the nineteenth century, scientists and linguists have begun questioning the connection between language and the brain, and whether the structure of our language affects the way we view our world. After studying a number of Native American languages, linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested that language influences and restrains our categorization of things and affects our cognitive processes. This idea is called linguistic relativism. Since the early 1900s, linguists have argued about the extent to which language affects cognition- a debate that rages on today.
A history of propaganda
The idea of a large institution or government consciously distorting the truth to secure power is nothing new. The word propaganda comes from the name of an administrative body of the Catholic Church that was established in 1622 and put in charge of winning converts in non-Catholic areas. The Italian name of the group was Congregatio de Propaganda Fide or known simply as propaganda. Propaganda is defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view,” and historians have found evidence of propaganda going back as far as the earliest discovered written sources. Propaganda can be written, but artwork has also been a very popular medium for propaganda throughout history. It can either distort the truth by cherry-picking certain facts and disregarding others, or it can promote outright promote lies.
Can information be tightly restricted when the internet exists?
Well, experts on communication and the internet warn us that the information highway can be stopped or regulated at any time. The policy of free, open internet (or “net neutrality” as it is often called) is constantly under threat by the governments of countries around the world. Donald Trump recently appointed Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission- a man that has been criticized for his opposition to net neutrality. No one knows exactly what this means for the future of net neutrality in the US, but it does mean that the possibility of pay-for-play internet (wherein certain websites are given access to a “fast lane” while others are slowed down or blocked entirely) is on the horizon. This means that Americans’ ability to access information could be even more restricted in the future, and our ability to refute any Newspeak-sque falsehoods could be significantly hindered.