George Orwell warns against the use of unclear language in his essay Politics and the English Language and in his powerful novel 1984, where the manipulation of language to control thought, known as newspeak, is an important weapon in the Party’s arsenal attacking free thought.
Political Correctness is an overt example that has fully infiltrated society already controlling language and thought. It started with the Civil Rights movement when Negro became colored and colored became black and black became Afro-American, then African-American. Lord help you if you use the wrong epithet. It continued with the feminist movement. No longer can you say “chairman” or “chairwoman”, you must say “chairperson.” A mailman becomes a mail carrier. The use of “his” as the dominant neutral pronoun is no longer allowed; therefore, the awkward “his/hers” is now demanded, though who knows how that will change with the new gender-fluid trends being pushed even at an elementary school level.
Thought affects language and language affects thought. Orwell understood this, and so do those who are trying to control the thinking of Americans today. Although such manipulation of language and thought is pervasive, it is not always obvious. Sometimes it is so simple that its impact will be completely ignored or dismissed.
One ubiquitous example of this manipulation is the use of the phrases such as paying it back. I have heard this phrase being used more and more lately, and it is being used incorrectly. Often it is used when what is meant is charity or gift giving. The difference between paying it back and charity is extremely important.
Paying it back has specific and misused meaning. This is revealed in a story making national news recently about the man behind the Hidden Cash phenomenon, Jason Buzi, a real estate investor who made millions from flipping houses. Buzi, who came from a middle-class background, used his entrepreneurial skills to make himself a wealthy man starting with buying cookies for $1 and selling them for $3 and ending with a $500,000 return on a house flipping investment. Buzi started hiding money in envelopes containing $25 to $200 leaving Twitter clues as to their location.
Though he kept his identity hidden for a period of time, once he was identified, he provided interviews to news networks. When he was asked in one interview why he chose to give away thousands, he said that he had been fortunate, and he wanted to pay it back. Implicit in the use of pay is that one service or thing is being paid for, an equal exchange taking place. I give you a sandwich; you pay me $5. Buzi did not exchange one thing for another.
The other key word is back as in “to give or do (something equivalent) in return for a favor, insult, loan, etc.” Implicit in the use of back is something being returned, but Buzi did not take something that needed to be returned. He did not borrow money from the people to whom he was giving money. He did not use the people to whom he is giving money to create his wealth; therefore, he owed nothing back.
He did something different than paying it back, something that is far more important; he was charitable, but charity has become a dirty word. Underlying the differences between paying it back and being charitable as they are used today is the difference between feeling guilty and being generous. It is also a difference between being completely equal to everyone else or being above or below someone, which cannot be allowed in today’s PC world.
Guilt is a politically correct attitude that is currently widely encouraged. If you are wealthy, you are guilty. It does not matter if you earned that wealth through honest and good measure. If you are intelligent, you are guilty. How dare you make someone feel less intelligent by your existence (Common Core is trying to fix that problem). If you are white, you are guilty. It does not matter that being white is a chance of birth just as is being black or Hispanic, short or tall, or any other physical trait over which no one has control. If you are male, you are guilty. Well, just because you are male, especially if you are a white male, unless you are a practicing homosexual, then you have no guilt.
If you must pay it back then you must owe something; you are guilty of a debt. This guilt pulls down those who have accomplished something to below the level of everyone else who doesn’t owe anything and, therefore, has no guilt. If you are guilty, then repayment should be compulsory because you owe it. You must pay it back like any other debt. This guilt must be encouraged so that no one ever feels superior or inferior to anyone else no matter what they may or may not have accomplished. “Harrison Bergeron,” a satirical and dystopian science-fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut, warns of just such a leveling of people in society. The only way to accomplish such a thing is to drag everyone down to the bottom level. It is not a world that America should choose.
If you are charitable, an attitude of being above another in some way is implied, and there can be no superiority allowed. Your superiority may only be that you have made more money because you worked hard, but that is not considered. Charity is not encouraged because charity is voluntary and cannot be made compulsory; however, the trend in this country is the compulsory taking from one and giving to another. Within that framework, paying it back works and being charitable does not. Those being given these gifts are, by implication, being given what is somehow owed them. They are only taking what is rightfully theirs as is shown in the following Maya Angelou poem:
Momma Welfare Roll
Her arms semaphore fat triangles,
Pudgy hands bunched on layered hips
Where bones idle under years of fatback
And lima beans.
Her jowls shiver in accusation
Of crimes clichéd by
Repetition. Her children, strangers
To childhood’s toys, play
Best the games of darkened doorways,
Rooftop tag, and know the slick feel of
Other people’s property.
Too fat to whore,
Too mad to work,
Searches her dreams for the
Lucky sign and walks bare-handed
Into a den of bureaucrats for
‘They don’t give me welfare.
I take it.’ [emphasis mine]
“Her portion” and “I take it” implies that welfare is a thing this mother has a right to. She is owed welfare. Therefore, it is not charity, but her due. If it were charity, she might have to be humble, she might feel the sting of humility and maybe even a little gratitude to a society, whose citizens’ pay keeps her children from starving, but then she would no longer be equal to those from whom she receives. Instead, she takes it making her almost superior to those from whom she takes.
The whole concept of social justice works on this premise, and it is a zero sum gain premise. If I have money and you don’t, then I somehow got it from you unjustly and, therefore, owe you. Even the Catholic Church preaches social justice
rather than charity these days, which is why my husband and I no longer tithe the church, but give to charitable organizations that we voluntarily choose. Demanding that social justice become compulsory through taxation is not what Jesus taught. Jesus said to give your money to the poor. He never said reach into your neighbor’s pocket and give his (/her) money to the poor, nor did he say you have the right to your neighbor’s pocket if his pocket has more in it than yours.
The money Jason Buzi gave was an undeserved, unearned charitable gift. He paid back no one. He earned his money honestly. He owes no one. Buzi was a smarter businessman than others; he worked harder; he strategized better, and if he wants to be charitable with that money, that is his business, not his debt.
These shifts in language are subtle and take place over such a long period of time that they are unnoticed, but they lead to a change in our perceptions and our thinking. So, that what was once a very good thing, like charity, becomes an evil thing, like undeserved, unearned superiority. Orwell predicted this when in his novel 1984
The Ministry of War becomes The Ministry of Peace, and The Ministry of Love is a place of horrific torture. Words matter—immensely. The stories we tell, the phrases we choose shape our understanding of ourselves and the world. Instead of paying back we need to pay attention.
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