November 26, 2006

Doublespeak and the War on Terror

A briefing paper entitled Doublespeak and the War on Terrorism by Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute seems to be getting belated attention. It appeared in September, but this AP report by Calvin Woodward came out today. The briefing paper addresses the attempt of the Bush Administration to make more palatable its violations of civil liberties by using doublespeak, e.g. dubbing "warrants" "national security letters" in the hope that the courts will be fooled into thinking that judicial oversight is not required, or describing the suicide attempts of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (referred to by the Bush Administration as "detainees", as if they were witnesses to a traffic accident asked by the police to remain until they could be interviewed) as "self-injurious behavior incidents".

The AP article adds a few examples from other areas, such as the use of "food insecurity" rather than "hunger", and "redeployment" rather than "retreat" in reference to Iraq. It also suggests that advocates of abortion rights speak of "choice" because "abortion" sounds unpleasant. It may be true that abortion rights advocates prefer to avoid the term "abortion", but I think there's more to it than that. Describing one's movement as "pro-abortion" suggests that one actually favors abortion, that is, considers that abortions are a fine thing. Few if any advocates of abortion rights take such a position. Their position is, rather, that women should have the right to have an abortion if they consider it the best choice: "pro-choice" really is a more accurate description than "pro-abortion". In the abortion debate if one wants an example of the use of propagandistic use of language, it is the use of the self-designation "pro-life" by opponents of abortion rights. Opponents of abortion rights are not in general advocates of a "pro-life" stance: many of them are quite sympathetic to military activity and favor the death penalty, both of which are considered by many others to be "anti-life" stances. And those who oppose abortion under any circumstances, even when the life of the mother is threatened, are not "pro-life" even in this narrow context. Rather, they take a position that values the life of the foetus over that of the mother. So "anti-abortion" is a much more accurate term than "pro-life".

If it bothers you that the doublespeak addressed in the Cato Institute paper is all on the part of the right wing (that is, the authoritarian branch - the Cato Institute is itself considered right wing, but it represents the libertarian branch), a better example of left wing doublespeak would be "diversity", a replacement for "affirmative action" meant to persuade people that something different and better is intended.

Posted by Bill Poser at November 26, 2006 10:02 PM