The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #121: Politics and the English Language

General Introduction
– Nathan reports from Orlando
– Finals week
– Who suggested this episode?

Positing the Essay
– Orwell and Huxley
– Early and late career
– Orwell’s unbelievable bibliography
– Politics and “Politics and the English Language”
– Michial calls Animal Farm Animal House, like an idiot
– Orwell the traditionalist
– The double threat
– Removing human agency

Bad Writing
– Meaningless words
– Fascism and democracy
– Orwell’s technological moment
– Rehabilitating words
– Foreign words and phrases
– The dumbing-down of language
– Verbal false limbs and bureaucratic style
– Defending Heidegger

Teaching Orwell
– Orwell’s six rules
– Translating badly
– Danny’s junior politicians
– The ethics of Freshman Composition

Christian Rhetoric
– Religious devil terms
– Our role as a podcast
– Sloppy Evangelical discourse
– Worship music
– Back to authenticity
– Excellence and the university
– Defining social justice
– The Christian blogosphere
– Do we need gatekeepers?

Going Around the Horn
– Thinking is writing
– Nathan gets postcolonial
– Writing and living

8 comments
ChenBuLei
ChenBuLei

I understood socialism and communism to be cut from the same cloth.   Yet you suggest in this podcast that socialism is an opposing force to communism.  Can you please define your terms and explain how socialism is opposed to communism?  Also, why do the Christian Humanists dislike capitalism so strongly?  In many of your podcasts you speak of capitalism in pejorative terms.  I get the impression that to be a humanist you must be a socialist.  Is that an accurate perception or am I misunderstanding you guys? 

JoelJ
JoelJ

Great episode. Other Christian terms that have become meaningless: "Community." "Missional." "Story." Even "Christ-centered" is getting pretty close.


Speaking of academic jargon, have you guys seen the postmodern essay generator? It randomly creates gems like this:


If one examines constructivism, one is faced with a choice: either reject capitalist narrative or conclude that sexual identity, somewhat surprisingly, has objective value. Humphrey[1] holds that we have to choose between Sontagist camp and subtextual desituationism. However, the primary theme of Finnis’s[2] model of the modern paradigm of discourse is the role of the participant as writer.

“Sexuality is elitist,” says Derrida; however, according to Long[3] , it is not so much sexuality that is elitist, but rather the meaninglessness, and therefore the fatal flaw, of sexuality. The premise of capitalist narrative suggests that the State is capable of significance, but only if art is distinct from sexuality; if that is not the case, we can assume that the raison d’etre of the reader is deconstruction. In a sense, Debord uses the term ‘Sontagist camp’ to denote a mythopoetical totality.

JeffVeitch
JeffVeitch

On the relationship between Huxley and Orwell, there is a great letter from Huxley to Orwell, after 1984 was published, in which Huxley compares Brave New World and 1984 and asserts his own predictions as more realistic. It's a fun read! http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/1984-v-brave-new-world.html


I should add that I'm posting this from The Senate House in London, which was served as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_House_(University_of_London) They are refurbishing the North End of the building and adding a bar/cafe. We have suggested the name, Room 101...

CarterS
CarterS

So easily forgotten...'twas I that suggested the topic. Oh well, I guess people will remember me when I get my own podcast someday.

To add to your incredulity at his prodigious output (that wording likely sent him spinning in his grave), he did not actually begin writing seriously until he was about 27, if memory serves. Blows your mind, I know. He also was a man of notable physical courage, not just as a policeman in Burma, but also evident in his voluntary participation in the Spanish civil war, where he was badly injured.

I also wanted to comment on the discussion regarding his alleged snobbery. It is definitely there to a degree, especially when you read essays like "The Lion and the Unicorn," where he simultaneously describes the average Englishman as something of a dolt, yet recognizes the immense strength that resides within the simple, traditional, Victorian class society that he grew up in. Yet his willingness to get down in the dirt with the average man, whether in Spain or in trudging through the slums of London, reveals someone who was definitely not a purely aristocratic snob. It is also worth noting, he was a notable critic of British imperial colonialism, knowing it quite well from the inside. His essay on "Shooting an Elephant" is a great little exercise in cultural differences. All in all, I think he fits the mold you all gave in your episode on intellectuals; he is a perpetual outsider, one who fits molds uncomfortably, is often full of contradiction, but is generally fearless in "calling it as he sees it."

Michal, in a recent discussion I had regarding CCM, I brought Orwellian language from this essay to bear to make my point that the lyrics found therein were, for the most part, irritatingly meaningless. I'm glad you made that connection too, and you beat that drum all you want!

Great episode guys, you gave me a lot to think about regarding this essay. I will bring this rather long comment to an end with an appropriately Orwellian quote:

“Political writing in our time consists almost entirely of prefabricated phrases bolted together like the pieces of a child's Meccano set. It is the unavoidable result of self-censorship. To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.”

ngilmour
ngilmour moderator

@ChenBuLei Let me make the historical distinction first.  In the first half of the twentieth century, as Leninist/Stalinist Communism grows as a force in Russia and China and eastern Europe, it meets resistance not just from Capitalism but also from Socialism in Europe.  Socialists like George Orwell thought that Stalinism especially was an inhumane way to live as a nation and insisted that the best way for a nation to exist was neither as the thralls of corporations (which tend to regard human lives as "labor" commodities to be discarded when a better price is available) nor as the victims of a violent Communist avant-garde (which tends to break more than it fixes) but as a social democracy, where strong legal protections provided for the basic health, safety, and opportunity for all involved.  So as late as the 1960's there was a strong intellectual distinction, recognized fairly broadly, between socialism and Communism.  Now I'll grant that Capitalists liked neither, but even they tended to see that socialism, relative to its alternative, was a better partner.


With regards to our stances towards capitalism, I won't speak for the others, but I'll say that asking whether one must be either capitalist or socialist is somewhat akin to asking whether one must be Muslim or atheist.  In my mind, such a question, framed in such a way, ignores other possibilities that might be better than the two alternatives posed in the question.


To get a bit more concrete, I'll appeal to two figures, G.K. Chesterton and Richard Weaver, who are heroes to modern conservatives but had little patience for Communism or Capitalism. 


Chesterton famously quipped that "One would think, to hear people talk, that the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers were on the side of property. But obviously they are the enemies of property because they are enemies of their own limitations. They do not want their own land; but other people’s. . . . It is the negation of property that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the farms in one estate; just as it would be the negation of marriage if he had all our wives in one harem."


Similarly, in Richard Weaver's book Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver simultaneously insists on private property as indispensable natural law and sharply criticizes the modern international banking system (this was in the throes of the Cold War, mind you) for separating the labor of human beings from the accumulation of wealth.


And of course, those are just twentieth-century figures.  I'd argue that medieval notions of labor are abandoned treasures for folks trying to think a bit more broadly about possible ways for human beings and our wealth to co-exist.


So yes, like Richard Weaver, and like G.K. Chesterton, I'm suspicious of multinational corporate consumer capitalism.  But that no more makes me a Communist than does my rejection of the tenets of Islam make me an atheist.

ngilmour
ngilmour moderator

@JeffVeitch If that name happens, you've GOT to let us know as soon as you can.  This is the kind of literary-nerd scoop that our Internet circles need to hear about!

ChenBuLei
ChenBuLei

@ngilmour  Thank you for your reply. Stimulating as always!  I think my surprise in hearing the Christian Humanists frame socialism as an opposing force to communism is that I think of socialism purely as an economic policy, not primarily a political policy (though I realize they are related in important ways).  Based on your response it sounds like you are using communist as a political force / movement as opposed to democracy as a political force / movement.  The economics of socialism can fit a variety of political structures.  Maybe it would be better stated that it was the democratic socialists like Orwell in Western Europe and the U.K. that were opposing the communist socialists in China, Russia, and Eastern Europe.  That is, the opposition was less on economic policy and more on political policy.  Democratic socialists and communist socialists share economic ideas such as public ownership of the means of production and equitable allocation of wealth among the working class.  I also think that "to each according to his contribution" (socialism) is not too far removed from "to each according to his need" (communism's tweak of socialist economics).

Also, I apologize for implying that to reject capitalism makes one a communist.  I understand that one can be a capitalist or a socialist and be opposed to the politics of communism.  I was simply curious about the aversion to capitalism as an economic framework that you (and at times Michial) have expressed over the years.

As for myself, I am uncomfortable with the idea of a government defining what a worker's output will be and the economic value of that output to society. I am equally uncomfortable with the idea that a corporation (public or private) will always act in the public good because "market forces" will compel them even if it is against their will.  Government has proven that they have their own self-interests that skew their economic decisions (e.g., showing favoritism to one group of workers over another, taking bribes, wasting public resources, & etc.).  Corporations have proven that they will pollute the environment, overwork and underpay employees, expose employees to harmful conditions, bribe government officials, put tax dollars at risk, & etc.  Sin has its sinister effects on all of us, so I don't see a moral superiority of socialism over capitalism, or vice-versa.


I think the ideal economic system is one of checks and balances between worker, consumer, coporation, and government.  Government sets boundaries (laws) that govern economic enterprise and act as stewards of public resources (roads, bridges, ports, schools, parks, research labs, libraries, & etc).  Government would also limited in their ability to control capital so that they don't add excessive economic power to their political power.  Individuals and corporations use their own capital (not public funds) to make a profit by producing goods and services that people need and want.  We also don't want corporations to add political power to their economic power, so we shouldn't give up on controlling the flow of corporate money into politics.  Workers keep corporations honest either by labor unions and/or economic mobility (i.e., I can choose where I work and move accordingly).  Consumers keep politicians and corporations in check with their votes and their disposable income.  Such a system uses the good ideas from both socialism and capitalism.


I also think that when government and corporations collude for their own self-interests then we end up having devastating consequences for workers and consumers.  Recent examples include deregulating Wall Street and the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2008 (both parties participated in that), corporate control of the food supply (and the farmers) that is backed by government subsidies and legal muscle, and how public funds are used to bail out private industries.  I don't see these problems as fundamental to capitalism but rather to the misuse and abuse of political and economic power.  Capitalism is bigger and broader than multinational corporate consumerism in a way that socialism is bigger and broader than communism.

I think there is a place for someone to be a Christian Humanist and to have an affinity with the ideas found in capitalism while still being wary of sin and mindful of the God-given role of government in managing civic life.


JeffVeitch
JeffVeitch

@ngilmour Will do! We have poked around the first floor trying to find room 101, but no luck yet. PhD's don't give you free time to chase down all the nerdy literary locations and there are quite a lot of them in London.