“Like any other tool, language can be abused, used not to build but to destroy, not to communicate but to confuse, not to clarify but to obscure, not to lead but to mislead.” - William Lutz
Retired American linguist Dr. William Lutz spent much of his career at Rutgers University studying how language is abused in public conversations. He pointed to government and industry as the worst offenders in a practice known as Doublespeak, which Lutz described as “language designed to evade responsibility, to make the unpleasant appear pleasant … language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. Language designed to mislead while pretending it doesn’t.”
Dr. Lutz worried that doublespeak has invaded public discourse about important issues. When killing innocent men, women and children is called 'collateral damage', torture becomes 'enhanced interrogation' and the dirtiest fossil fuel becomes 'Clean Coal', public conversations lose meaning. We struggle to make sense of things. These euphemisms sanitize language and steer important issues below the public’s radar.
U.S. libertarian oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have poured at least half a million dollars into The Fraser Institute over the last few years. In case you haven't been following their trail, here's a bit about them:
If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.
According to The New Yorker, “The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.”
Jim Hoggan, DeSmogBlog co-founder and president, has an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today discussing the “ethical oil” crowd's attacks on democracy in the Enbridge Northern Gateway public hearings. Head over to the Vancouver Sun to read it: “Who gets a say in our democracy?”
Here is an excerpt from the ending:
If [Joe Oliver or Stephen Harper] is concerned that over the years the California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has given $1.3 million to the Pem-bina Foundation for Environmental Research and Education, then they should be even more troubled that, during the same period, the Hewletts gave $40 million to the government's own International Development Research Centre. Apparently, Oliver's “radicals” fuelled by “foreign special interests” are as close as the nearest mirror.
If Enbridge or its political boosters wants to pipe unrefined Canadian bitumen directly to the most treacherous waters in the north Pacific - and then, by supertanker, into the hands of the Chinese - they should make their case. Attacking the rights of others to have input is a dodge unworthy of a democracy as advanced and robust as ours.
If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?
That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.
We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.
As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline.
Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.
“If women’s rights were of genuine concern to EthicalOil.org” writes Adrangi, “then there would be a conversation about the impacts that tar sands extraction has on women”.
You’ll notice that Marshall’s attempted rebuttal fails to actually address the substantive criticisms made in Adrangi’s piece - Marshall never mentions the impacts of Alberta’s tar sands development on women, but instead repeats the same arguments and general hand-waving that sparked Adrangi’s criticism of EthicalOil.org's conservative pundits in the first place.
Marshall’s promotion of tar sands oil is framed around a central argument that if we care about women’s rights then we must support tar sands expansion, and by extension the Keystone XL pipeline, because Canadian women fare far better than women in petrocracies, such as Saudi Arabia. But Marshall’s argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny for three major reasons.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.