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The Ungood of Single Speak


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Books. Books line walls for miles across the world. Children’s stories, Science-fiction epics, dissertations and literary classics all shine proudly upon shelves, the epitome of thought. It is no coincidence that ink and pages often help determine who we become. And it is no surprise that, like “the Party” of George Orwell’s 1984, all totalitarian societies place the destruction of literature as a crucial step in their usurping. In any situation, a dictator found leaving a library will reek of gasoline and smile as smoke puffs into the sky behind them. And while the burning of books may be an ultimate symbol of dominion, the destruction of language—whether through Government jargon and control or corporate digitalization—leads us down a road that Orwell cautioned against.

Read any bill in Congress, and your head will spin. Unlike “the party’s” relentless destruction of words, the United State Government and general bureaucracy revels in Double Speak. The amount of useless chafe and unintelligible expressions that parades through Washington is terrifying: Congressmen and representatives slather any bill or law in outrageous phrases and hidden agendas. Frankly, Politicians slaughter good language. For example, congressional bills 773 and 778, also known as the “Cyber Security Act of 2009” would allow a “cyber security official” to, “direct the sponsorship of the security clearances for Federal officers and employees … whose responsibilities involve critical infrastructure in the interest of national security.” This bill enables the government to access any and all data stored on internet servers without consequence. The bill itself seems Orwellian, but its wording is what makes it so Oceanic. What exactly is “Critical Infrastructure”? Any data viewed by the government as necessary for national security. Personal bank accounts, facebook pages, e-mail accounts and I.P. trafficking are all opened sadistically but silently through government manipulation of words that fill so many lab-reports and newspapers today.

Sadly, the United States has it lucky. Other parts of the world face entire libraries that are subject to government control. Take the sovereign state of Myanmar for example. This formerly free country, now faces oppression so specific as government control of the press. Emma Larkin, explores this situation specifically in her personal narrative, Finding George Orwell in Burma. Emma illustrates that once the right to pen and paper is taken, people only hunger for it. Emma meets Aye Myint, a man whose love for a good read is unparalleled. Aye’s books are humbly kept in “trunks… [With] Each book carefully wrapped in a plastic bag.” (10) Emma also meets writers throughout Myanmar, many who have been denied any publishing privileges; “As one Burmese writer joked to [Emma], ‘In Burma we are free to write whatever we want. We’re just not free to have it published.’” (134) The men and women of Myanmar stand as solemn testimony to the power of the written word. Much like Winston’s diary in 1984, and how its “smooth creamy paper” embodies Winston’s will of freedom, the books and musings of the citizens of Myanmar resound as a cry against their incessant oppressors. (6)

But government is not all to blame. The digitalization of literature everywhere is extremely dangerous. Three months ago Amazon released the Kindle 2, a wireless reading tablet, encouraging Americans everywhere to toss aside their newspapers and tattered novels for a tablet that requires no page turning. As Rob Pegaro of The Washington Post explained, airplane tickets, bill statements, card-catalogues have all been digitalized and “now one of the world's most successful bookstores wants to yank [the] last bastion of ink-on-paper publishing into the digital era.” The Kindle boasts quite a few advantages: over a thousand books on one single device, it weighs less than a typical paperback and lets consumers purchase books from anywhere. But imagine all of Dickenson’s and Holme’s classics reduced to a series of ones and zeros; entire novels stored as a swirling string of binary that can be erased with the careless wave of a magnet. Much like the Ministry of Truth, digital records share the astounding ability to “forget, whatever [is] necessary.” (35) Orwellian red-flags aside, flat screens and super computers usher in unparalleled advances in communication, entertainment, education and many other areas, but limiting our words to a place so malleable as cyberspace is foolhardy.

Contrary to what O’Brien may have believed, God is not power, language is. Language curls into literature, literature spurs thought and thought propagates change. Like the last man in Europe, we must cling to paper. We must cherish the yellowed and tattered pages we take for granted. We must demand elected officials that will transcribe laws without swamps of Double Speak and mounds of hidden agendas. We, like the courageous citizens of Myanmar, must stand for books, pens and paper. We must guard our libraries and protect our shelves. We must stand united and resolved, that if the Government will not be for the people, then the printing press will be.



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