22. sept., 2020

The decline of society through the fragmentation of language

"Recently, I saw a former classmate of mine from Harvard Divinity School (the Harvard School of Theology); she is now a professor of theology. When I asked her what she teaches, she flooded me with a torrent of abstruse terms from the jargon of the specialty. Despite three years in the seminary, I understood absolutely nothing of what she told me. This confinement in impenetrable lexical enclaves is the work of all the faculties and academic disciplines in the country. The more universities produce graduates with atrophied minds, the more society is invaded by these strange specialists who speak a mysterious coded language so that they do not have to communicate truly. Blindly, the experts maintain the capitalist hierarchy that they have never been taught to question, and look with barely veiled contempt at those of their fellow citizens who grasp nothing of their speeches and writings.

By all Western standards," observes John Ralston Saul, "these experts are uncultured. They are incapable of grasping the essential relationship between power and morality. They have forgotten, if they ever did, that moral traditions are the product of civilization. Moreover, they know very little about their own civilization, so they do not know how to ensure its sustainability. One of the most glaring symptoms of a declining civilization," writes Saul, "is precisely that its language is fragmented into a multitude of dialects that act as barriers to communication, while a healthy, thriving civilization uses language on a daily basis to keep the social machine moving. The cultivated, responsible elites have a mission to encourage the flow of information".

The confidential dialects spoken by contemporary elites are an obstacle to communication and common sense. The financial crooks and economists who have tinkered with our financial system persist in speaking to us in the esoteric language of Wall Street specialists and business schools. By using terms such as "securitization", "deleveraging", "debt pool" or "default cover", they exclude their fellow citizens from the debate. This withdrawal into specialized ghettos is a phenomenon that extends to all academic disciplines. Many professors of literature analyze novels by detaching them completely from their social context and use the abstruse vocabulary of deconstructionists to deprive the works they study of their strength. (…)

In the hands of academics, who rarely understand the reality of the world or at least care little about it, literary works are eviscerated, deconstructed, reduced to their darkest details, to their most futile aspects. In all disciplines there are growing gulfs such as the one that separates literary studies and philosophy from reality on the one hand. Economists develop theoretical models of great complexity, but hardly know John Law, have never studied the tulip crisis in depth, and know nothing about the bursting of the railway bubble or the deregulation that led to the Great Depression.

(Free translation from the French Edition)
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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, p. 128, Chris Hedges 2010