Consider “newspeak.” George Orwell, “1984,” for those unfamiliar with the book. The word reverberates long after communism is gone, reverberations that continue to carry the original meaning of a language developed expressly to suppress independent thought, indeed to create a language that — by its very construction — makes independent thought impossible.
1. “Public Curiosity” as espoused by UI’s lawyer in the Salaita FOIA case is one recent example of newspeak, you know, that statement that the public’s concern about the Salaita case isn’t actually “public concern,” but merely “curiosity,” the kind of rubbernecking that goes on about the Kardashians, as UI’s lawyer put it. I wonder how much we paid him to produce this ode to dissembling, as well as to the wholesale destruction of the english language.
2. “Gone Missing” is another nice one, credit Steven Salaita for this one. Specifically, when he tweeted a week after the three Jewish teens were murdered that “more settlers should go missing,” he was called on it and responded that, by “go missing” he merely meant “get out of Palestine,” in other words “missing” as in “leave” as opposed to “be slaughtered.”
Note that the problem with what Salaita said has much less to do with the fact that he said it, and much more to do with the fact that he defended it later on. I don’t know exactly where the line of horribleness is drawn, but murder of children — whether by Palestinian terrorists, Jewish terrorists, or the actions of both Hamas and the Israeli government in the Gaza war — is not something that ought ever make it into justifications of any sort for any party. People in general don’t deserve to be killed, certainly civilians less than soldiers, and certainly children not at all.
And Salaita’s happy dancing around what he said rather than owning up to the wrongness of it … well it goes a long way to eliminating not only variant speech but indeed the ability to speak outside a narrow box.
It’s newspeak, in other words.
3. “I didn’t consult in the manner that I pride myself on normally doing,” I admit, I don’t remember exactly what Chancellor Wise’s construct was for justifying all the conversations that she had about Salaita before she un-hired him, you know those conversations she told the Committee on Freedom and Academic Tenure (CAFT) that she never had.
“Never” meaning, according to Wise’s later mid-course correction, that yes, she did have conversations but NEVER to the extent that she normally has conversations when she means to have conversations. It was a conversation, but surely not a Wise-certified “CONVERSATION.”
Yes well. Lying is lying is lying is lying, and no amount of constructing a bulwark of words around that core truth changes that truth. Note that the circumstances Wise was referring to involved the discovery by samizdat-startups.org that Wise was talking to Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver the morning of the Salaita un-hiring (July 24,2014), something neither she nor Burbules nor Tolliver revealed.
Note also that the significance isn’t that she was talking to people — we could already have guessed that. Instead, the significance is that she was doing a whole LOT of talking to a whole LOT of POWERFUL people, some of them clearly not administrators, something neither she (Wise) nor they (Adesida, Burbules, Tolliver) ever discussed.
Let’s also note that none of the emails that samizdat-startups.org found that showed this whole lot of talking going on were *ever* produced in any of the 12 UIUC FOIA productions made in 2014 — nowhere in that 1,600 odd pages of documents.
Nowhere. Which is evidence not just of interpretation of the english language in some sort of Zen koan way (“What is the sound of conversation not to the level of Chancellor Wise’s high standards for “conversation”) but, put simply, of lying.
Lying, lying, lying. And lying.
4. “It was perfectly ethical of me to not disclose my talking to Wise when I contributed to the ‘Gang of Five’ and other opinion pieces.” Nick Burbules is apparently a professor of ethics, which I think is an admirable occupation. When I was in law school I learned that conflicts were things you disclosed, and that non-disclosure was immoral, even when it didn’t seem (to you) that it was necessary (for you) to disclose those conflicts that some might think, upon discovery, made (you) look like a liar.
Well, I’m not a professor of ethics, so what do I know. Professor Burbules has written that he didn’t need to reveal his conversations with Wise because, they weren’t conversations that would have been important like Wise talking to Warrior or other unit heads. I’m recalling this slightly off the cuff, but that’s the gist of it, although I welcome clarification by Professor Burbules.
Per my conversation with Professor Burbules of 6/23, which I quote below:
[Nick,] Actually you’re right, although I [AOS] said in the second paragraph that what I was writing was a paraphrase, I didn’t do so in the first paragraph where I did provide quotes. I thought the context of those quotes as roughly stating what was said rather than exactly stating it came across from the other numbered comments, but I agree it’s misleading.
Here’s what you’d written to me on the subject, I believe my distillation of what you said was accurate. “It was perfectly ethical of me to not disclose my talking to Wise when I contributed to the ‘Gang of Five’ and other opinion pieces” is what I said. What you said was:
The representation here that I did not “disclose” these conversations suggests something nefarious. I was under no obligation to do so, unless you think that all faculty who expressed such views are obligated to make them public. I don’t know what that principle would be.
That to me is awfully similar but I’ll be happy to put up that exactly language of yours with “nefarious” instead of “ethical” and so on.
So fine. People talk, and as long as it doesn’t ruffle their feathers to do so, why should it ruffle the feathers of anyone else or even be worth mentioning? It’s merely public “curiosity” after all, not actual “concern.”
Newspeak. Newspeak, newspeak, newspeak and newspeak.
5. “Anti-Zionist” isn’t anything to do with “anti-Israeli” or, God forbid, anti-Semitism. I find this one particularly fascinating, and I’m the first to admit that I accept it as true in principle, but, in practice … not so much.
In principle, “anti-Zionist” apparently means against occupation of land that used to be Palestinian, which I guess makes sense apart from the fact that it depends upon the time-frame you’re referring to, and probably has different answers if you’re talking a biblical time-frame versus much much more recently. But if the argument is simply and cleanly that Israel ought not expand to areas where people used to live, or — more plausible to me by far — that you can’t just kick people out of their houses because you want their land — then fine, maybe “anti-Zionist” has a concise meaning.
But the word always seems to be used in a larger context that fits far too many long-time ant-Semitic tropes. For example, the whole narrative about rich “donors” without regard to ethnicity, “donors” who acted because they’re pro-Zionism, and not because they’re “pro-israel,” or … “Jews.” And yet, the narrative is, oddly enough, exclusively about *Jewish* donors and not Carle hospital or billionaires in Champaign Urbana who, far as I know, aren’t Jewish (is Peter Fox?).
Recall there were exactly TWO emails that smelled of actual donors of any significance, and that significance was likely no more than 2-4% of a single year’s gifts to UIUC. Carle, on the other hand, is putting up $100 million, and getting its name on the College of Medicine as a result. So if it’s pure agnosticism with regard to ethnicity, why is it the focus is still on Jews with money (something of a stereotype as I recall) and not merely rich bastard corporations (Carle) or rich bastard developers (Fox) or rich bastards per se?
The language, you see, isn’t incidental. It’s newspeak in the most basic sense of a language designed to frame an argument in a way that leads inevitably and only to a single conclusion.
Independent thought apparently need not apply.
6. “I will not work with anyone who works with Andrew, because he is harassing me.” Laura Frerichs, head of the Research Park, said this about me in writing a number of years ago, the “harassment” referring to the fact that I’d been filling FOIAs on the rampant nepotism and profound mediocrity in the Research Park incubator and administration.
This little verbal gem — “FOIA = harrassment” — is one that UIUC-FOIA also habitually uses in many/any/all of their impassioned arguments to the Illinois Attorney General’s office about how I’m a pain-in-their-collective-administrative-asses. “Our recurrent requester,” they say, “he’s a RECURRENT REQUESTER,” they bray, “HE FILES SO MANY FOIAs IT’S NOT FAIR” they shout.
Sure, FOIA is a right, it’s a critical tool in the people uncovering abuses of power, and in fact it’s a right that I’ve practiced very parsimoniously to very very productive ends.
But take a right and call it subversive. Take a powerful tool and call it meddling. However you do it, the result’s the same, “FOIA = harassment,” and so let’s put an end to FOIAs.
I have more of course, but that’s enough of a diatribe for the moment.