Guest Opinion: Declaring war on verbal chaff

A method of confounding radar used by both sides during World War II was dropping metal confetti from aircraft. This technique is still used today both to distract radar-guided missiles and by the missiles themselves to distract radar systems. The metal confetti came to be called chaff.

It strikes me that the overwhelming barrage of words pouring out of Twitter and other internet agencies is verbal chaff. Its effect is to stymie thinking.

Little of this outpouring is either edited or substantiated. It is the immediate clump of impressions rapidly made before any reflection occurs. It is made in the heat of the moment. It can hardly be called writing. It is at best a first draft. But when the first draft is the last draft, it has little chance of being insightful, much less profound. Rather than clarifying matters, it confuses them further. It is verbal chaff.

Exhibit A, of course, is Donald Trump who, according to the Washington Post, recently passed his two thousandth lie since becoming president. It is beyond Trump’s capability to form a considered thought. Many have pointed out the shortcomings of Trump, but no one has summarized them better than Philip Roth who, in a recent New York Times Book Review interview, called Trump “a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.”

Genuine writing comes out of measured reflection, thoughtful analysis and reasoned considerations. These days it is in short supply. When it does appear, its modulated voice is drowned out by the shouts and noise of unformed and uninformed millions.

In such a situation, people choose up sides and dig in. They look only for stories that confirm what they already believe. Their minds are closed to any other possibilities.

This locked-in attitude precludes any possibility of solving the problems that confront us — problems of the environment, climate change, infrastructure, poverty, health coverage, trade, terrorism. Genuine discussion of any of these is difficult, if not impossible, under our current circumstances. Genuine action is strangled.

In 1945, George Orwell wrote in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language”:

“One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language ... Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Today the language of politics is even less intelligible and the stakes are much higher. We need to declare war on verbal chaff.

— Dennis Read lives in Ashland.

 

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