“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”—George Orwell
It was fascinating to consider Jason Kenney’s comments on two issues that arose this week in the context of George Orwell’s commentary on political discourse.
The first issue was Mr Kenney’s response to the latest bozo eruption, the second issue was his plan to save Alberta’s energy industry. Mr Kenney’s comments illustrate the political bafflegab Orwell calls a “catalogue of swindles and perversions”.
“Making lies sound truthful”
Last week three UCP nomination candidates running in an Edmonton riding posed for pictures with the Soldiers of Odin, a white nationalist, anti-immigration group originating in Finland with links to neo-Nazis in Europe.
Two of the candidates said they didn’t know who the SOO were. The third candidate knew exactly who they were but gave them the benefit of the doubt because they were polite.
Jason Kenney’s response to the incident was, umm, creative:
- The SOO “crashed” the event (they RSVP’d in advance and checked with the venue to make sure they could wear their colours)
- The SOO could have been mistaken for a baseball team or motorcycle gang (or they could have been recognized as the SOO from their regalia)
- The incident was “an act of political mischief” by the Alberta Independence Party who apparently associate “with various kooky organizations.” (google the AIP, there’s no reference to the SOO or their ilk; the AIP supports the LBGTQ+ community but shares the UCP’s belief that parents should be aware of any extracurricular activity (including GSAs) their children participate in).
- Premier Notley was wrong to say the fact the UCP allowed eight people who expressed racist or homophobic views to run for nomination indicates a “pattern of behavior” that shows the UCP is open to extremists. Kenney said this is “gutter politics” (gutter politics is rooting around in someone’s personal life to dig up dirt to discredit them, it is not the same as stating a fact, namely that eight UCP candidates expressed extremist views and the party continues to attract extremist supporters like the SOO).
- Notley should have “stood in solidarity” with the Aboriginal candidates who were the “victims of this situation” (why? because they’re women? because they’re Aboriginal? because they were duped? because they’re standing for a party that attracts extremists?)
Orwell says politicians who speak without precision: (1) have a meaning but can’t express it, or (2) inadvertently say something they don’t mean, or (3) are “almost indifferent as to whether [their] words mean anything or not”.
Given that it’s not true the SOO “crashed” the event, there are no facts to indicate the AIP set it up as an act of “political mischief”, a white nationalist, anti-immigration group can be described as many things but “kooky” is not one of them, and Mr Kenney’s attack on Premier Notley is based on an incorrect understanding of the meaning of “gutter politics”, one can only assume Mr Kenney is “almost indifferent” about whether his words mean anything at all.
“Giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind”
When Mr Kenney wasn’t dealing with bozo eruptions he was telling the business community he’d fix Alberta by “hitting the ground running” and sending a message that “Alberta is open for business again”.
He says his government will be a champion of the energy industry. He’ll move from “being on the defence” to a “fight-back strategy” (I guess that’s supposed to be an offense strategy but fighting-back sounds defensive to me). He’ll set up “a well-resourced war room in the Ministry of Energy to respond in real time to every lie and myth told about our energy industry here in Canada or around the world.” He’ll set up satellite offices if necessary.
Orwell calls this “pretentious diction”. It’s used to dress up a simple statement, namely that Mr Kenney intends to increase the bureaucracy by hiring more people to man a “well-resourced war room” in the Department of Energy and its satellite offices to respond to “lies and myths” wherever they arise.
How will they respond? Presumably by writing papers and op-eds, attending speaking engagements, and monitoring and responding to comments made in the mainstream media and social media by other governments (including First Nations) and special interest groups. It is unclear whether the plan includes showing up at conferences and demonstrations to deliver the energy industry’s message to those that oppose it.
It’s a nice piece of corporate welfare but it’s just talk and will have no impact on the federal regulators and courts that approve interprovincial pipelines or international organizations like OPEC that impact global supply and thus prices.
Orwell warns that hackneyed phrases are meaningless; this is particularly true when they’re code for hiring staff to do something that will have no impact on Alberta’s economy.
George Orwell made his comments about political discourse in the middle of WW2 while “highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Alberta’s situation is nowhere near as dire, but Orwell’s observations are still relevant.
Albertans deserve more than political language designed to make lies sound truthful and give substance to meaningless fluff.
Jason Kenney’s off-hand dismissal of the SOO fiasco and his promise that a UCP government will send the message that Alberta is open for business simply doesn’t cut it.
This week Mr Kenney said nothing more than what Orwell described as a string of hackneyed phrases “tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”