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Friday, August 9, 2013

David Brooks, "The Nudge Debate": The Obama Administration Introduces "Newspeak"

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

. . . .

The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now."


- George Orwell, "1984"


In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Nudge Debate" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/opinion/brooks-the-nudge-debate.html?_r=0), David Brooks makes the case for "modest" manipulation of our decision-making processes by the government. Brooks writes:

"We’re entering the age of what’s been called 'libertarian paternalism.' Government doesn’t tell you what to do, but it gently biases the context so that you find it easier to do things you think are in your own self-interest.

. . . .

If government starts manipulating decision-making processes, then individuals won’t learn to think for themselves.

. . . .

But, in practice, it is hard to feel that my decision-making powers have been weakened because when I got my driver’s license enrolling in organ donation was the default option. It’s hard to feel that a cafeteria is insulting my liberty if it puts the healthy fruit in a prominent place and the unhealthy junk food in some faraway corner. It’s hard to feel manipulated if I sign up for a program in which I can make commitments today that automatically increase my charitable giving next year. The concrete benefits of these programs, which are empirically verifiable, should trump abstract theoretical objections.

. . . .

These days, we have more to fear from a tattered social fabric than from a suffocatingly tight one. Some modest paternalism might be just what we need."

But is government intervention all about putting healthy fruit (strawberries grown with toxic fumigants?) in prominent places, or is it already somewhat more sinister? Is the Obama administration seeking to lull the populace into passivity?

Consider Charles Krauthammer's opinion piece entitled "War by wordplay" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-obama-distorts-reality-with-language/2013/08/08/22652cf6-006b-11e3-96a8-d3b921c0924a_story.html?hpid=z2) in today's Washington Post, which provides examples of the Obama administration's "penchant for wordplay, the bending of language to fit a political need." Krauthammer writes:

"Jen Psaki, blameless State Department spokeswoman, explained that the hasty evacuation of our embassy in Yemen was not an evacuation but 'a reduction in staff.'

. . . .

In Janet Napolitano’s famous formulation, terror attacks are now 'man-caused disasters.' And the 'global war on terror' is no more. It’s now an 'overseas contingency operation.'

. . . .

Nidal Hasan proudly tells a military court that he, a soldier of Allah, killed 13 American soldiers in the name of jihad. But the massacre remains officially classified as an act not of terrorism but of 'workplace violence.'

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others are killed in an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror attack — and for days it is waved off as nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration gone bad."

Krauthammer concludes that this "wordplay is merely cover for uncertain policy embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise."

Krauthammer, however, is wrong. Welcome to "Newspeak," which eliminates the need for thought by the masses. Orwell may have imagined that it would arrive in 1984, but instead, it appears that it will be firmly entrenched in our communication some 30 years later, in 2014.

Heck, I wouldn't mind taking a break from thinking . . . .




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