TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Army_frontcoversmall_4The two things that struck me most about Glenn Reynolds’ An Army of Davids are the childish quality of his arguments and the poverty of his prose. Just as one doesn’t need to be Aristotle to grasp the epistemological weakness of Reynolds’ intellectual reasoning (see my review in The Weekly Standard), so one doesn’t need to be George Orwell to appreciate the amateur quality of his writing style.

Reynolds writes like a typical blogger. Which is to say that he uses -- or rather abuses -- the English language shamelessly. Here, for example, is Reynolds on what it is to be human: “Being human is hard, and people have wanted to be better for well, as long has there have been people.”

Being human is hard….. The philosophy here is Nietzsche-For-Idiots. But the prose is even worse. These are the words of someone who writes before he thinks. These words are pretentious. And they are mostly meaningless.

Or here is Reynolds bringing his informal blogging language to the moral imperative for humans to colonize Mars: “Like a chick that has grown too big for its egg, we must emerge or die. I prefer the former.”

Did Reynolds think before writing this linguistic gibberish? Or do these metaphors just “emerge” from him after they have grown “too big” for his brain?

In his essay, “Politics and the English language,” George Orwell wrote: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Orwell wrote this in 1946, more than half a century before Reynolds’ slovenly language and foolish thoughts were cobbled together into An Army of Davids. Orwell’s remarks are prescient. Foolish thoughts and slovenly language have always been bound up with each other. The Internet merely provides a convenient way for amateur writers to show them both off to the world.

In "Politics and the English Language", Orwell lists four categories of grammatical incorrectness.

1. Dying Metaphors
2. Operators or Verbal False Limbs
3. Pretentious Diction
4. Meaningless Words

Reynolds is a master in all four Orwellian categories. But he excels, truly excels, in meaningless words. Perhaps this is because he is a law professor. Or perhaps it is because he has spent too much time talking with other Olympic champions of meaningless words, like Ray “Singularity” Kurweil, who is heavily quoted in An Army of Davids.

In his section on meaningless words in “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell wrote: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.”

Today’s meaningless equivalent of the word Fascism is the word Luddite. In a section entitled “We are all Supermen Now”, Reynolds introduces a word he calls “transhumanism.” – a word so devoid of meaning that it might have been coined by  another of George Orwell’s great legacies -- his Ministry of Truth from Ninety Eighty-Four.

Reynolds tells us that the pro-transhumanist community expects to encounter considerable opposition from “Luddites” like Bill McKibben and Francis Fukuyama. In Reynolds’ corrupt lexicon, anyone who doesn’t agree with his extremist views about technology is a Luddite. Since nobody in their right mind could agree with Reynolds’ messianic faith in the “transhumanist” qualities of technology, that makes any sane person into a Luddite.

So this is where Reynolds and Kurweil and their techno-utopianism has led us. Either we are pro-transhumanists or we are Luddites. Such are the consequences of foolish thoughts and slovenly language. Such is the impact of contemporary technology utopianism upon the English language.