[EAS]Mumbo Jumbo

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Apr 11 21:51:20 EDT 2001

Subject:   Mumbo Jumbo

(from NewsScan Daily,  11 April 2001)

      New York University writing instructor Tom Shachtman alerts
us to the  language gatekeepers in our midst:
      "In the centuries preceding the introduction of the printing
press,  those who held power reinforced it by uses of language that
mystified the  powerless and kept them subservient. Even more so in
today's world, power  is inextricably tied to the use of language,
and today's priesthood of  professionals in many fields employs
jargon-fueled mystification. That is a  political use of language
that deliberately excludes the 'powerless' lay  audience from
participation. The doctor whose technical terms confuse, no  less
than the politician whose equivocations obfuscate, the lawyer whose
terms intimidate, and the accountant whose explanations obscure,
is taking  advantage of audiences through what are called
'gatekeeper' uses of  language. They include euphemisms, jargon and
other devices designed to  prevent rather than augment the free
flow of knowledge.
      "Lawyers have been particularly egregious in this practice. 
Gatekeeper language also frequently masks what physicians do
especially in  circumstances that can be fraught with emotion. A
relative of a cancer  patient, seeking straight and hard
informational answers to questions --  how bad is the situation,
how much time does she have left, is there any  hope -- was
informed by her doctor that his relative's cancer was  'treatable'
and her prognosis was 'guarded...'
      "The philosopher Jurgen Habermas provides an insight into the
political nature of gatekeeper uses of language through his
identification  of the 'scientization of the public sphere,' a
process now occurring in  many societies. In this trend, elites
effectively disqualify members of the  public from being able to
participate in policy discussions by insisting  that only
specialists can really understand what is going on. When 
politicians come to believe that only they can understand what is
going on  in the high councils of government, and that their job is
to translate it  for us and to protect themselves in the process,
the language they aim at  the electorate takes on more and more
aspects of purposeful deceit."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0029283752/newsscancom/
for Tom  Shachtman's "The Inarticulate Society." (We donate all
revenue from our  book recommendations to adult literacy action

Well, at least we don't teach our classes in Latin anymore. (I once
flunked Latin in Middle School.)  --PJK

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