Essay 3: Double Speak

Double Speak: Questioning the Answer

           Questions on human nature do not come with answer-keys like on multiple-choice exams where a single question corresponds with a single, finite and non-negotiable answer. The examination of humanity is diverse and requires a multitude of questions to be asked in order to justly reach a single answer. William Lutz, in his paper “The World of Double Speak” tells of the power imbalance created within each culture’s words and statements. Alan Parington contextualizes this phenomenon in his case study of press briefings by the White House during the Clinton and later Bush administration. Both are correct in outlining the dangers of double speak, however the damages of double speak can be reduced by being active and critical thinkers.

Double speak is best known as language deliberately used to distort the true meaning in the favour of a person or group. Lutz tells of one of the most damaging versions of double speak as being jargon, where members of a special group use very specific terminology knowing that outsiders do not understand (350). Lawyers are often accused most of using jargon to sway jury votes when they use complicated and uncommon language such as referring to theft as larceny in the hopes that the jury will overlook any words they are unfamiliar with . The main issue with this form of jargon is that select groups in society are then excluded from the broader conversation and are thus denied the chance to refute or add to the discussion.

Tackling exclusively the issues brought up by Lutz in the exclusionary nature of double speak, an appropriate response would be to empower the public to actively seek more information than what jargon users provide. Being deliberate in questioning unfamiliar language is the responsibility of the listener as Lutz argues that jargon is not double speak in situations where it provides effective communication within a group (349). Therefore, the problem with courts is that lawyer’s jargon is permissible when speaking to those of the same professional background, but when speaking to the jury, they are not allowed to speak in court for clarification. Were jury members allowed to ask questions on the meaning of words that lawyers use, there would be little room for being taken advantage of with this opportunity for transparency in place.

Equally dangerous in double speak, is the distortion of language to shift perspective. Lutz outlines another version of double speak know as euphemism as “an offensive or positive word or phrase used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant or distasteful reality” (Lutz 348). In human resources, an employer who says to a worker that they are “letting them go” implies that they are allowing an employee to leave the company on their free will rather than taking responsibility for firing and removing them from the organization. However, this version is an acceptable use of euphemism as Lutz does acknowledge that some forms of euphemism is meant in respect to others feelings or because certain words or phrases are taboo (348). However, in other cases like when inmates are said to enter a “correctional facility” instead of a “jail” it implies that all that goes on in those buildings are done for the prisoner’s good. This is potentially dangerous as it now limits the definition of words in society’s mind so that they no longer question the actual inner workings of the institution that could be denying all sorts of basic human rights. It is because the language frames the institution as a positive space, that people associate all things in that space as equally good.

This very same flexible characteristic of language to frame it’s own argument can further produce negative double speak, but can also be used to counter it. Parington referenced the informal relationship between politicians in the White House responding charismatically and candidly to reporters as such “humor invokes setting up a frame of some sort that tells people that whatever is in the frame is ‘humorous’’ (380). Bearing this in mind, viewers of these televised broadcasts must on a personal level, ask themselves what frame is being sold to them by the media and is the media framing the story justly. To be aware of potential bias has power in itself. Even calling an audience a ‘viewer’ is to say that they are meant to visually receive information. But to be a ‘critical viewer’ is to protect themselves from being desensitize from an otherwise serious topic that the media plays off as jokes and fun.

To overcome the negative powers of double speak, people must be empowered to ask for clarification from others on concepts they do not understand and internally question the integrity of the information they receive, but the way they format these external and internal questions matters as well. Partington elaborates on the fact that “Irony…can blind speaker and hearer when a third party is the object of criticism” (378). By this, he means that saying one thing, but meaning the opposite only creates further confusion. This, trend is also backed by Lutz when he argues that double speak is infectious and can destroy the very function of language and communication between people and social groups (353). That being said, the critical thinker must then be aware of their own double speak tangled in their line of questioning. Double speak is best known for its limiting qualities to a specific interpretation of the word and similarly, questions can also be framed in a way that is limiting. To ask only a lawyer a definition of what larceny means in a legal context only achieves the base level of understanding. To follow-up and ask more qualitative questions like, “What are the varying severities of larceny?” would involve more sympathetic reactions to lesser examples of larceny and reactions out of grievance for higher versions of larceny. By asking more in depth questions, a more appropriate response can be made in respect for the deeper meanings that words hold to describe human events.

Lutz and Parington both outline the harmful implications of double speak in the face of jargon, euphemism and the unjust framing of information. However, such problems may be overcome by increasing the opportunity to look critically at language and framing the right questions to find the whole truth. In light of the destructive nature of jargon and euphemism, it only takes a people’s empowered response to want to be enlightened through their own critical examination. The onus weighs heavy on humanity to continue to question information to avoid falling victim to the terrible world of double speak.

 

Works Cited

Lutz, William. “The World of Double Speak.” 347-357. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

Parington, Alan. ““Double-Speak” at the White House: A corpus-assisted study of bisociation in conversational laughter-talk.” Humor 24.4 (2011): 371-398.Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

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Essay 2: Critical History

Critical History: Protection and Power

            The falsicifaction of facts only leads to greater misunderstanding. In Tricia Logan’s paper, “Memory, Erasure, and National Myth,” she focuses on the Canadian government’s power over the documentation of First Nation people’s history. Likewise, Joan W. Scott in, “History Writing as a Critique” describes the social implications of government’s exerting their power over their people’s access to historical documents. In response to both Logan’s examples and Scott’s arguments, this paper will focus on the two central themes of protection and power. It is clear that the pursuit of critical history must be done to uphold the dignity of persons and prevent furhter power conflicts.

Historical accounts of events are subject to bias with the multitudie of different perspectives and are therefore written in a way that puts certain minorities at a constant disadvantage. Logan speaks of the Canadian Government having the ability to take purposeful action in shaping what it’s people remember of an event by their influence over school education as well as Library and Archives Canada (Logan 155). As a result, the government has the power to limit the resources available to a country’s citizens and has done so in a way that can distort the image of certain minority groups. When done on a large scale with deliberate action against such minorities, many people and cultures will subsequently be discriminated against based on generalizations and stereotypes that stem from biased information. Limited knowledge in society is especially dangerous if the only information given is that which frames certain people in a negative light.

Bringing these ideas out of a theoretical context, censorship of a people’s history has been done countless time’s in the past. Logan mentions in her article one instance with the denial of the Armenian genocide (until 2005) by the Turkish government for they did not want to take responsibility for their state’s crimes (Logan 150). Such actions by this government have led to the silencing of survivors and witnesses who then loose their right to speak out on the atrocities done to them. By not condemning past action that go against state and international laws, it then forms a society that tolerates and normalizes the discrimination of people.

To delve deeper into the social implications of this, the benefits of biased information falls on whomever holds the power to influence the distribution of information. Tricia Logan further explains that power typically false under those with political and financial influence who then instigates the domination of certain narratives (Logan 156-157). Such power imbalance between the elites and minorities ensures that the government and rich will always stay on top so long as they have control over historical documentation. Without proper policies that restrict the monopolization of information, historical bias will always remain.

Seeing the dangers of biased information, it is important to uphold the freedom to research history in a critical sense. Scott defines critical analyses of history as being able to unbiasedly account for social and political contexts while searching for the questionable faults in an argument (Scott 23-24). In other words, an event in history must be looked at from different perspectives in order to instigate better understanding of the situation, motives and results. By broadening the public’s look on social contexts, society can then begin to justify the actions of others and not arbitrarily blame or misunderstand the culture, actions or traditions of a certain set of people’s that is often skewed when written by someone outside of their circle.

If then studying critical history is the solution to a biased and stereotypical society, the barriers stopping individuals from studying critically must be overcome. Ultimately, this goal is the responsibility of the authors and the state to protect credible documentation of history on more than just an honour system that often crumbles under a state’s pursuit of power. Again, Scott argues that change in society are driven by critical history that legitimizes authority and allows them to see a new future (Scott 33). It is essential that authors, documenters, compliers and scribes give honest accounts of historical events and unbiased interpretation in order to uphold the integrity and dignity of the very people and cultures they are writing about. Equally important, governments must uphold policies that protect the documentation of history and condemn the falsification of facts. Although, some may argue that the responsibility is on individuals to do their own research as the internet has proved to be a vast bounty of research, the credibility of such information is not an automatic given. Critical historical information requires more than just the random blogs on the internet, but a deliberate study of vast accounts and purposeful efforts to protect and encourage it’s availability to the public in it’s educational institutions.

Logan’s analyses of the role of Governments sets a clear example of how people are oppressed from the deliberate censorship of information. In collaboration with this, Scott professes the importance of looking at history critically. Given both of these arguments, there is a postive relationship between a diverse set of unbiased information and a better understanding of different people. Thus, the study of critical history is crucial in protecting the integrity of social and ethnic groups by overcoming incentives for political power in the hope of greating a more inclusive world.

 

Works Cited

Logan, Tricia E. “Memory, Erasure, and National Myth.” Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North

America. Ed. Alexander Laban Hinton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

149-165. Print.

Scott, Joan W. “History Writing as a Critique .” Manifesto for History. Ed. Keith Jenkens.

Abingdon, NY: Routeledge, 2007. 19-38. Print.

Essay 1: Humanities are for Humans

Humanities are for Humans not Zombies

Every human being shares a single consistent attribute that is their ability to die, while zombies hold the ever powerful ability to live. The humanities studies aims to explain the makeup of the human condition that which separates human beings from other theoretical forms of life such as mindless zombies. Martha Nussbaum explores the humanities in the context of academic institutions in her work entitled, “Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection,” where she misguidedly praises the Socratic way of achieving the examined life. Likewise, Terry Eagleton in his article, “The Death of Universities,” misunderstands the importance of the humanities when he isolates the study from other disciplines, especially that of commerce and capitalism. I, on the other hand, will argue that Nussbaum and Eagleton’s reasons for studying the humanities are poor representations of this set of knowledge and that the actual justification for learning in the filed of humanities is to be able to define oneself as human.

     To study the humanities is not to simply enhance the value of life, but to be at the very core of a human’s being. In Nussbaum’s research, she claims that there are three capacities to which individuals can cultivate their humanity in order to achieve a Socratic “examined life” when they exercise their ability to challenge knowledge about oneself, the traditions they participate in, their ties to other human beings and their emotional empathy with others (1-11). The issue in Nussbaum’s argument is that she focused too much on the institutional version of obtaining knowledge and the examined life that is restricted to academic arguments, deductive reasoning and professional research when she should have recognized other methods of attaining information. By claiming that human’s must learn and challenge social norms through institutionalized learning of the humanities, she disvalues the acts of the mentally ill or mentally disabled who attain an “examined life” in a very different way. Such individuals examine their lives and their reality by not necessarily researching about the humanities and the patterns that exist in human behaviour, but by effectively responding to it. Both beings use whatever information they hold true, to react physically and emotionally despite their knowledge possibly being distorted or short lived and both efforts to do so constitute individuals as equal humans without favouring one form of thought process over another. In Nussbaum’s research, she would see some individuals as lesser citizens and in the extreme case as mindless zombies if they are unable to articulate or challenge knowledge forged by academics, when in actuality, their lives are impartially as purposeful as the mere process of thinking, considering and reacting is enough to confirm one’s exist as a full human being.

     Although the humanities in and of itself is a study of constant critique, it is applied as a form of confirmation of one’s existence as a human being. Eagleton’s research emphasizes on the notion that universities are centres of critique that provide “alternative visions of the future” and that the humanities offers no help in achieving this (2). He claims this is especially true in disciplines concerning capitalism within a secular society that prioritizes more quantitative answers (Eagleton 2). I am opposed to this argument as the humanities does offer foundational knowledge that roots each individual to common origins that confirms their connectedness and makes clear the effect that has on a multidisciplinary level. Nussbaum also agrees with this concept when she sees citizens who cultivate their humanity as “human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern” (7). Thus, humanities in a way, is an open call to individuals to begin asking key questions on the similarities and patterns seen in human action and thought as a means to confirming likeness to their own kind. That is to recognize and analyze the natural commonalities between humans in order to confirm the needs of other’s through empathy and to then find better ways to cater to them using the skills unique to each individual in their field of study, whatever that may be. By linking aspects of the human condition to individuals, they can find purpose in the work that they do for their own kind unlike zombie figures that act of a random accord.

 

     Now that I have answered why studying the humanities in some shape or form is confirmation of a person’s humanness, the question remains why it matters that a person come to realize their humanness and self identify as such. In Nussbaum’s article, she quotes Seneca as saying, “Soon we shall breath our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity” (2). Nussbaum further explains how Seneca viewed being fully human as being free in consciousness and action with the ability to recognize and respect fellow human beings (2). I agree with this statement as to define oneself as human is the initial step in recognizing and accepting the responsibilities of being such. The ability to interpret human characteristics pushes individuals in unique directions of action as individuals can recognize human potential to act on behalf of another. Unlike zombies who act in a selfish mindset to eat brains and fulfill their biological needs to sustain life, to be human is to participate in the ongoing exchange of continuously reevaluating the changes in humanity and adapting accordingly.

 

     To distinguish a zombie from a human is even simpler than realizing the mortality of one over the other as to be strictly human is to recognize and study the human condition while acting in accordance with that knowledge. Although Nussbaum is wrong in her evaluation of how to obtain knowledge, she touched on the very important aspect of how such knowledge connects humanity. While on the other hand, Eagleton aims to disconnect the humanities from modern times, it is clear that putting the human condition under scrutiny is in actuality a timeless attribute of all human beings. It is then by realizing how the patterns in the human condition apply also to them, not on a scale of the best form of knowledge, but the mere presence of it, that they can find purpose in acting accordingly with their own common but differentiated talents. ‘Are we truly human?’ is a yes or no question and it is only by realizing our abilities to study the humanities as a uniquely human aspect that we are able to assume roles in relation to others in our community.

 

Works Cited

Eagleton, Terry. “The Death of Universities.” The Guardian 17 Dec. 2010: 1-2. Web. 15

     Jan.2016.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection.” Studies in

Philosophy and Education 289.303 (2002): 1-17/ Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002. Web.

     15 Jan. 2016.