Blanket

Imagine hearing the same words and phrases over and over again. These words are not the everyday phrases that grease social interaction, but claims, sanctions, or rebukes: liar, not legal, politicians’ abuse, another cover-up, not the principle on which this country was founded, and so much more, and worse, of that kind. Hearing these phrases again and again would engrave them on the mind.

These phrases are angry and defiant; verbal assertions of power, or rather the lack of power, which can only be corrected by calling out the political and legal and components of the corporate structure for their apparent malfeasance.

That is what listening to years of (virulent) talk back radio would be like. Uncontested opinions, assertions, the marginal and substituted instead of the verified, form a parallel but almost barely recognizable world.

Suggestion becomes reality, and over long periods, attitudes are molded and modified to the frequency of the message. It’s the essence of propaganda and PR and marketing.

In opposition to that language is a progressive group steeped in the merits of education, which sees itself as a bulwark to antediluvian opinions. Moreover it strives for change, in the ways language is used, and to that aim it compiles lists of books and phrases which are codified in terms of their potential harm.

Some of the books and authors on these lists form peculiar companions. Virginia Woolf was on one danger list and initially I couldn’t see why she had been thrown in with such an infamous crowd.

The reason she’d been listed is her novel, Mrs Dalloway, has a psychologically distressed veteran as a character.

Putting this book on a list is a prophylactic measure, yet that the event in the book which may cause anguish is fiction; in reality Woolf actually committed suicide. Reading her work will involve reading about her life, and her development as a writer, which is often the way books are taught, and that would make her biography a cause for harm.

When books like this are considered harmful, for whatever intention, there are hundreds of others which could also be added. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum is potentially huge.

When two diametrically opposed groups use language to make the world match their ideal it’s almost a secular reformation – counter-reformation struggle. Language folded, mashed, wrapped, rumpled, and enveloped like an infant’s comfort blanket.

Such distortions are thought to be historical, like the internecine battles of the Thirty Years War (without the defenestrations of Prague), not the present social reality. But it is now. Faulkner was right, the past is not even the past.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

1976

Mention the year 1976 to a British person and they will drift to fond memories of summer days filled with blazing sunshine and heat. For anyone who actually lived through those glorious weeks, it is spoken of in a different tone of voice, somehow younger and more vital.

Psychologists have other interpretations as to why that summer – apart from being statistically above the national average temperature – is so well remembered. Among several memory biases, fading affect bias may be one reason. Positivity effect too, occurs in older adults when they look back on their experience.

America was experiencing another type of euphoria in 1976, celebrating 200 years since the Declaration of Independence. Not being subject to aristocrats can lead to happiness in the sense of not being oppressed and Americans had a good time.

In France too, 1976 is a significant, though generally, overlooked year. It isn’t of the same order as 1870, when an army and emperor were defeated at Sedan. That downfall was later inscribed in the phrase, ‘N’en parlez jamais; pensez-y toujours!” a motto of pledged vengeance.

The 1976 event I am talking about is known, ominously, as The Judgement of Paris. Not quite like the Treaty of Westphalia, this judgement was a unanimous decision by eminent French wine critics that the American wines in their review were undrinkable, but they had, in fact, given the highest awards to those American wines and given the French wines the lowest scores. National honor bruised. Expertise tarnished.

This story is not about new world wine winning or so much winning, it expresses, rather, our fallibility, that our judgements are not entirely reliable. We live in an era, we are told, where no one trusts experts anymore, the so-called technocracy. The loss of trust is over several dimensions: the data itself, the statistical evaluations, the media and organizations which convey it, and, ultimately the potential benefits for special interests.

When well trained palates and brains cannot tell the difference between types and styles of wines from other parts of the world it suggests we may have a higher than realistic view of our own abilities. Maybe the Judgement of Paris was a 21-sigma event; maybe it occurs more often, but is not reported, in which case, it is not rare.

Fortunately French wine making did not cease, no vines were uprooted in panic and despair, wine critics learnt some humility, and the knowledge that American wine was very pleasant meant everyone adjusted their world view accordingly.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.