Not-So-Pretty Little Liars
"It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words." So said Syme in George Orwell's prognostic novel, 1984.
Syme was a lexicographer and the developer of "Newspeak," a language designed to diminish the range of thought so that the totalitarian regime nicknamed "Big Brother" could control the thinking of the masses. By omitting words such as "freedom," "excellent," and "bad," Big Brother reduced the language and limited people's capacity for lucidity. When you lose a word, you lose the concept and the experience it describes as well.
Earlier this month, sales of Orwell's novel skyrocketed 6,021 percent in just 24 hours after tech whiz Edward Snowden released documents revealing the mass surveillance tactics of the U.S. and British government. Snowden said national intelligence director James Clapper's sworn testimony before the Senate that triggered him to leak the information. Clapper had told the Senate Intelligence Committee, in response to Sen. Ron Wyden, that the government was not involved in direct surveillance of Americans.
Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Clapper: No, sir.
Wyden: It does not?
Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.
In this sworn testimony, Clapper committed perjury because he willfully lied. In an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, he said:
I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked [a] "when are you going to … stop beating your wife" kind of question, which is … not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, "No."
Since the government doesn't actually read all the e-mails or listen in on all phone calls, Clapper thought he could massage his words enough to obscure the truth of the matter. It seems as though he's going to get away with perjury.
I'm no advocate of Ed Snowden (who certainly has some odd bedfellows), but it's hard to miss the irony that Snowden, the truth-teller, is America's most wanted, while the liar, Clapper, goes about his business without fear of prosecution. As countless parents teach their children the importance of honesty, the government hunts down the truth-teller and effectively rewards the liar.
While the recent purchasers of Orwell's 1984 likely did so because the NSA surveillance tactics seem eerily reminiscent of Big Brother's, I'm more concerned that the lies promulgated in Washington accomplish what Syme set out to do. Our tolerance of lies threatens to destroy clear thinking and moral conscience through the desecration of words.
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