May 15, 2021

Lang: ‘How to destroy history’

By Mike Lang, guest columnist

In his book “1984,” George Orwell describes a government that maintains control of its citizens through several means. One of the most important means of control is through the “Ministry of Truth.” This is an interesting example of how the language controls thought. The main protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, works in the “Ministry of Truth.” Winston’s job is to rewrite history. Whenever a person or event becomes inconvenient to the government, Winston goes through all written documents about the person or event. He then “edits” the source, or original documents, to reflect the new position of the party. Sometimes the historical data about the person is changed. Sometimes all information about the person is eliminated.

Since the book was written before computers, the printed archives had to be located, destroyed and then replaced with the new “truth” about the person or event. This was an immensely tedious and difficult activity. It was successful only because the “Ministry of Truth” was able to obtain and replace the original source documents, found in libraries, government offices, newspapers and other repositories of information. In the novel “1984,” this was accomplished through a huge bureaucracy.

In today’s world, computers can make this job much easier. Often it is not the government, but private business that tries to control behavior. Any of the tech giants, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can, and do, easily make the required electronic adjustments to the data base. “Out with the old, In with the new.”

In our “cancel culture,” this is happening right under our noses. We see books banned, statues removed, movies removed from circulation or publication. Try to obtain a copy of the Walt Disney movie “The Song of the South.” Many children’s books by Dr. Seuss are no longer available. Mr. Potato Head is on the banned list. Books like “Huckleberry Finn” are banned. Large corporations influence private and government behavior by threatening to make — or to withhold — investments.

We also see people banned. If someone offends the powers behind the tech giants, they are no longer allowed to post on the platform. We see earlier posts removed because they are “offensive” or “untrue.” Often there seems to be a direct correlation between the eliminated posts and political positions different from those who control the tech giant, and yet, there seems to be no lack of support for pornographic posts. There is no offense taken when someone makes a post filled with profanity. These platforms are filled with strident diatribes against traditional cultural or moral standards. Political posts opposing Christianity are common.

It has often been said that the victors get to tell how things happened and to write the history. It seems like today only the “politically correct” are able to write the history of events and people.

In Orwell’s book, one method of control was to change the language. The meaning of words would be changed to suit the government. An example of how our government “changes” the meaning of words is how the word “infrastructure” is being used. Webster defines “infrastructure” as: “the system of public works of a country, state or region.” Our Congress is considering an Administration proposal that calls many social programs “infrastructure.” This reminds me of the old adage of the camel’s nose. If the camel can just get his nose under the edge of the tent, he can then wriggle his entire body into the tent. If the Administration calls unpopular social programs “infrastructure” it can wriggle them through Congress.

When I attended the University of Iowa, one of the required courses was entitled “Western Civilization.” This was a survey of history of the western world beginning with ancient Greece and ending with the 20th century. It was taught so that students would have an understanding of the historical events and the people that developed our modern civilization. Several hundred students would be in the same lecture hall at the same time. Today I can find no similar course in the University of Iowa list of required courses. How can we understand our world with no perspective of the way it came about, or comparison with other nations or cultures?