Building an Imagined Community 3: Jargon

One thing the Commies did all the way right was to invent a language for themselves.  Socialist writing is instantly recognizable:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

That’s George Orwell’s parody of Ecclesiastes 9:11 (“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong”), and it’s dead on.  Commie prose has declined in tandem with everything else, but you can still bet your britches that anyone using the phrases “objective considerations” (today expressed as “the facts have a liberal bias”) or “innate capacity” (now spelled “racist”) is a marxoid.  Learn to write as if this is your native tongue, and you can have a PhD in the Humanity of your choice.

No, seriously.  You simply can’t express Leftist “thoughts” any other way, for three important reasons:

First, and most important in Orwell’s day, is deception — particularly self-deception.  As Orwell says, one simply can’t write “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.”  Liberals are all about the peace, love, and understanding, don’t you remember?  So you have to write :

While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

It’s obvious to everyone but the writer what this means, but as Orwell says, taping together stock phrases in this way allows you to write (almost) unthinkingly.  It’s not just that “eliminating unreliable elements” sounds so much nicer and cleaner than “shooting dissidents in the back of the neck, or sending them to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps,” even though everyone knows that’s how the Soviets eliminate their undesirable elements.  That added layer of abstraction gives you the necessary psychological distance to order up obvious barbarities, because it gives you a cutout, a way to blame the obvious consequences of your “suggestions” on the guys who actually carry them out.  “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” of course means “go stab Thomas Beckett,” but when it actually happens — when the turbulent priest lies dead in his own blood — you’re free to change your mind if the guilt really gets to you.  “No no, I just meant that someone should sit Beckett down for a good talking-to!  You awful murderer!”

The second reason you can’t express “Leftist” thoughts except in Leftist jargon is mystification.  This is the public face of self-deception, the “theory,” if you will, behind the practice of “eliminating unreliable elements.”  Marx himself was no mean mystifier, but the outcome of his theory is dreadfully clear — you don’t get to the Communist Utopia without Revolution, comrade, and you can’t have a Revolution without killing lots and lots of people (even President Muntu’s bloodless coup was all smotherings).  But your average Marxist is a 95 lb, genderfluid, soy-enfeebled twerp whose daughter outbenches him.  Even the iPod-addled, Twitter-enstupidated denizens of a modern college classroom would laugh in their professor’s tattooed, nose-ringed, dreadlock-framed face if she tried to lead them to the barricades.  Hence the mystifying jargon.  “She can’t really mean that, can she?  I mean, just look at her!  Better just copy it down in the blue book and forget it,”

Jargon’s third function — by far the most important from the imagined-community-building standpoint — is tribalization.  Since this is the Internet, I assume you’ve all played a video game before.  The easiest way to turn an occasional video game player into a Gamer is by making the game the source of esoteric, yet initially accessible, knowledge.  Guys who consider Dungeons and Dragons to be hardcore nerd stuff, who would happily shove D&D players into lockers if that wouldn’t get them a lifetime’s worth of Thought Reform, will still spend endless hours obsessing over role playing games.  The difference being, their RPGs contain “real” RPGs — rocket-propelled grenades.  THAC0 is for fags, but they can rattle off detailed technical specs for a BR85 Heavy Barrel Service Rifle.

Marxist jargon works like that.  Communism’s basics are pretty easy — see, for example, The ABCs of Communism.  That’s a real book, written by two big hitters in the Bolshevik Revolution, and it’s remarkably clear.

When we say ‘commodity production’ or ‘production for the market’, what does the phrase mean? It means that individuals work for one another, but that each produces for the market in his own enterprise, not knowing beforehand who will buy his wares. Let us suppose that there are an artisan named John and a peasant named George. John the artisan, a bootmaker, takes boots to the market and sells them to George, and with the money which George pays for them he buys bread from George. When John went to the market he did not know that he would meet George there, nor did George know that he would meet John; both men simply went to the market. When John bought the bread and George bought the boots, the result was that George had been working for John and John had been working for George, although the fact was not immediately obvious. The turmoil of the market place conceals from people that in actual fact they work for one another and cannot live without one another. In a commodity economy, people work for one another, but they do so in an unorganized manner and independently of each other, not knowing how necessary they are to one another. Consequently, in commodity production, individuals stand in definite relationships one to another, and what we are here concerned with is these mutual relationships.

John and George, the cobbler and the peasant, going to the market.  What could be easier?  But the clever comrade then asks, “but where did George get the money to buy John’s boots in the first place?”  The even cleverer comrade asks why, if John and George lived so close together that they could both walk to the market, they couldn’t just make arrangements to swap their products as soon as they were done?  Why does “the market” exist in the first place?

That’s how you sift apparatchiks out of the general population.  The answers to those questions, of course, involve the Forces of History and Dialectical Materialism and other such Capital Letter Stuff.  Master those — memorize your Engels, study your Lenin — and you can go all the way to the top of the system, justifying every abrupt 180 degree Hitler-appeasing switcheroo as the distilled essence of Marxism.

That’s how you build an imagined community, comrades.  Because, of course, just as guys compete in video games, not just over who has the higher kill count, but over mastery of esoterica, so apparatchiks compete with each other over who is the most faithful to the Scriptures.  Might makes right, of course, but justifying the might is what elevates the tinpot dictatorship of El Caudillo del Momento to a Democratic People’s Republic.  As the leader of an imagined community, if you want to die in bed (of old age, needless to say, and not by smothering), you have to do something like this.

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One thought on “Building an Imagined Community 3: Jargon

  1. Frip

    “That’s George Orwell’s parody of Ecclesiastes 9:11 (“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong”), and it’s dead on. Commie prose has declined in tandem with everything else…”

    When I read the lead quote it struck me as having pretty good flow for modern cult-Marx prose. Funny when it turned out to be Orwell.

    Severian: “Hence the mystifying jargon. “She can’t really mean that, can she? I mean, just look at her! Better just copy it down in the blue book and forget it.”

    When nice professor ladies would pull that, I’d raise my hand, and in a confused puppy dog tone ask, “I mean…are we talking about KILLING people?”

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