Sunday, August 18, 2013

Four Orwellian Word Usages in "Gun Control"

 "Killed by a gun" places volition and responsibility on the gun

In  the novel 1984, Eric Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell, wrote of how unscrupulous people redefine and misuse words and language to enhance political power.  Here are four examples of Orwellian misuse of language used to promote more restrictions on firearms ownership and usage.

1.  The first usage is very simple, very powerful, and extremely common.  It is simply to substitute "by" for the correct word "with" when describing the use of a firearm.   Here is a headline from Slate"How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?"
Consider the absurdity of the question for a moment.  It is literally attributing volition to inanimate objects.  It is grammatically incorrect.  The correct use would be: "How Many People Have Been Killed with Guns Since Newtown.    This is a very important distinction.  By substitution of the word "by" for the correct word "with", the author removes human volition from the discussion, and frames the debate to be about guns rather than human actions. 

The superstitious idea that objects have volition has been rejected in most of Western Civilization for centuries, but this usage seems intent on resurrecting it.

2.  The second usage is the term "gun violence".  It is so commonly used I do not think an example is necessary.   It is Orwellian in two ways.  First is the false, and highly successful conflation of violence as evil.  Violence is neutral like gravity.  Violence can be used for good or evil, but this clear truth has been so eroded by the continued conflation of violence and evil that most people do not even see the switch that has been done.   

"Gun violence" separates and makes violence done with guns more evil  and more important than  violence done without guns.  It creates a false category to be exploited for political purposes.   It does not matter to a victim if they are killed with a bomb or poison or a machete or a gun.   They are still dead.  

If more legal restrictions on firearms increase overall unjustified violence, then it is counter productive rather than positive for a society, even under the limited world view of pragmatism.  The term "gun violence" eliminates that debate from the argument by limiting the discussion to actions accomplished with guns.   

The unstated assumption is that "gun violence" occurs in a vacuum, and that any reduction in "gun violence" automatically results in a reduction of all violence, which is one of the main points of contention in the debate.   As stated above, the entire idea that violence is always evil is another unstated assumption.

3.  The  third usage is of the term "buy back" for gun turn in events where guns are turned in for money or some other valuable item.   There can be no "buy back" of something that the entity doing the "buy back" never owned before.    Yet, the term is almost universally used for these events.    The terminology creates the assumption that all guns are owned by the government, and only allowed to be possessed by individuals at the sufferance of the state.

4.  The fourth usage is of the term "recovery" in the context of guns that are confiscated, impounded, or seized by the government.  Here is a recent example from  abcnews:  "Officials Recover 67 Guns at Ga. Airport in 2013".  

No guns were actually recovered that I could tell.  67 guns were confiscated, seized, or impounded.  If the guns had been stolen, they could be recovered.  But they had not been stolen.  They allegedly had been placed in baggage or carried  in a way that violated a regulation or law.  

Again, the implication is that guns are all owned by the government, so when the government confiscates, seizes, or impounds guns, they are "recovering" them.

The gun control debate is full of Orwellian word usages.  The four above are some of the more common.   Control of the language is a powerful means of manipulating people, because many casual readers will not recognize how they are being deceived.

 ©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Weingarten,

An excellent piece and I agree with you. However, with no disrespect intended, I humbly would offer that you should have someone spell check and grammatically correct your work prior to posting. That way all of the errors can be corrected and the piece presented for maximum impact. As one example, the pseudonym of the author of 1984 is "Orwell" and not "Owell" - and the mistake was made twice.

You need not post nor approve this comment. I only wished to offer support to you for your future work. Continue to fight the good fight.

Anonymous said...

Damn good article! I hope everyone post this on their twitter feed, facebook, and all other social media.

Dean Weingarten said...

Thank you for the constructive criticism.

Unfortunately, spell checkers do not catch proper names.

I would love to have an editor check all my work before publication. When I am able to arrange it, the quality clearly is improved.