“Eating Animals”, Emotionally Manipulative but Addressing Important Issues

Jonathan Safran Foer’s chapter on eating animals illuminated several problems, both social and economic, in our current style of agriculture. The major industrial problems he believes are a lack of accountability in US farming, unnecessary cruelty to livestock, unsustainable long-term farming practices. Major social problems that Jon alleges are that a lack of awareness on these industrial issues and a general derision of those who decide to abstain from consumption of meat. To an extent, I can appreciate how important some of these issues are. However, I also believe that some of the conclusions he draws are exaggerated. In addition, some of the tactics Foer uses to get his points across are ridiculously emotionally manipulative and obfuscate some of the nuance of the issues.

For the most part, I agree with Foer’s claims. I’d say that the best conclusion that can be drawn from the objective data that he brings into the situation (artificial exploitation of light cycles, de-esophaging of cows, etc.) is that more oversight is needed. In addition, many of the terms we generally use as synonyms for “ethical farming” have very loose and undefined definitions. As Foer mentions, “free range” can mean almost nothing. A more specific, clear definition of these practices could make it easier for both producers to follow ethical practices and for consumers to increase awareness of the qualities of the words used to market ethical practices. I think his claim to add “26 fish were killed to give you this pound of shrimp” is overly sentimental. Farming practices do not follow airtight ethics codes. But he risks alienating readers by relying way too heavily on emotional manipulation to get his point across.

There is really only one point that I put my foot down on with regards to things that Foer wrote. That was his romanticization of PETA. PETA, while effective, is not nearly as legal or civil as Foer writes them as. Since 2006, over 150 cases of arson and domestic terrorism have been done in the name of PETA. While I agree with their stances on some issues such as accountability and ethics, PETA is a disgusting organization. Don’t lionize their shady and radical tactics.

Source on the PETA stuff: https://cei.org/content/peta-cruel-and-unusual

A Purposeful English Language

George Orwell compiles his years of experience and validation to attempt to lecture the general public into how we should form our prose. I agree with many aspects of his claims, specifically that we should look to be as concise and direct as possible. What good is it to write for the sake of sounding genius when we can clearly explain our thoughts and reach the widest audience of understanding as possible? At the same time, his arguments against using certain words, specifically those originating outside of the classic English vocabulary, bother me. Why shouldn’t we pull from other cultures in order to link our thoughts and claims? Why can’t we utilize words such as democracy, socialism, etc. so long as we clearly define our use of these words? It seems like he’s limiting us, and doesn’t that stunt the progression of the English language? Sure, today’s conversations may not be as refined as in an earlier age, but that does not mean we cannot continue moving forward into new realms of language, rather than stay confined in his desired.

At the same time, he addresses really important concepts. By changing our culture of writing into his more direct style, we allow ourselves to better detect others who look to distort the English language through their deceptiveness or otherwise misleading language. I think Orwell prepares us to combat nefarious agendas cloaked behind seemingly literary elegance, but does so with the risk of limiting our potential.

Orwell’s Take on Today

Orwell focuses his essay on the decline of the English language. He believes that current writers have done a disservice to society by using dying metaphors, meaningless words, and otherwise poor writing to express their ideas. He also makes a bold claim that the mere evolution of language is a negative trend itself.

I disagree with this last point. In reality, languages are judged by how easily they can adapt to a changing world. For example, I know that German is highly regarded as a very fluid language due to how it can easily create new words. Therefore, Orwell’s point that the English language has degraded from olden times due to modernization is false.

Also, I believe that Orwell is overreacting with his qualms about the essays he’s sampled. While I do agree that they are examples of poor writing, I do not think the matter is as severe as he is making it out to be. For example, the essays still use words and grammar, which is more than you can say about most communication today. With the recent advent of texting, people are choosing to use emoji’s, abbreviations, and even numbers in place of English writing. Although I’m sure Orwell would be astounded by our modern state of writing, I do not think he should be upset. While modern day communication may not be beautiful prose, it still gets the job done. There is a time and a place for both formal writing and informal writing, and I do not think Orwell should be so preoccupied by how people choose to express themselves.

Diluted Writing

I think to claim that all writing has evolved into something disgraceful to the English language and no longer impressive is a bit too far. While it is true that much of the writing one comes across each day is not very impactful, it is because the number of platforms for one to publicize their writing and read other people’s writings has increased with time. Thus, the overall quality of writing has been diluted. It is more likely for one to come across multiple average articles on Facebook and quickly read about these unimportant subjects than it is for one to devour a beautiful novel in one day or find an incredibly stimulating and well written article such as George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”

However, I do agree with George Orwell in the sense that writing can become ugly based off of its content, and our frequently used unimpressive language only makes these thoughts uglier. In a time where the world is filled with hate and violence, it is easy for an article or something of the sort to lose all beauty because of the unpleasant ideas. For example, an article about gun violence could be beautifully written in the sense that the structure and the flow of the piece is truly artistic, however, the wretched ideas behind shootings and gun violence can tarnish the attractiveness of the article. While it is important to continue to document the events of the world, even if they may be ugly, it is also crucial that we continue to embrace the beauty of the English language. We must write thoughtfully, not taking for granite elegant potential the English language holds.

Orwell Thoughts

In this passage, George Orwell argues that getting rid of bad habits will allow a writer to think more clearly and ultimately will lead to the writer to write more coherently and more concise. Orwell gives many examples of writes who let their misuse of the English language constrict their ability to write well. He finds a main flaw that remains true throughout all of the excerpts, that even if the writer has a point that he is trying to make, he is unable to fully capture and express his idea through his writing.

I find that I struggle with this problem often. I rarely am able to fully articulate what I am trying to say on the first draft of a paper and often I have to rewrite paragraphs two or three times before I feel confident that my words will be understood by my reader.

To combat writer’s inability to properly describe their thoughts, Orwell advises writers to remove unnecessary words because they ruin the flow of the words that are actually describing the point you are trying to get across. He also discusses many stylistic approaches that can help writing be easier to understand.

Along with these tactics, I have found a few of my own that seem to help my ability to write well. First, I always make an outline for my paper. Instead of trying to come up with things to say while writing, an outline helps me focus and helps me not deviate from my thesis argument. I also read my work aloud and never work for more than two hours at a time. Together, these tactics allow me to replicate my thoughts with words in the best way possible.

Writing Legitimately

In George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, Orwell calls out the use of unnecessary language, particularly in “Pretentious Diction” and “Meaningless Words”. By criticizing the use of big words that could be replaced easily, Orwell emphasizes how making writing understanding is extremely more important than making writing sound scientific and elegant. In our school writing, I often find myself struggling to eliminate the most simple of words and students are constantly pushed to expand their vocabulary. There even at one point was an entire portion of the SAT that tested on the meaning of various outlandish words, often with some obscure Latin or Greek root. Rather than appreciating the attempt at artistic writing, the reader only becomes more confused as the actual purpose of the words and what the writer is trying to say. While I am guilty of using a thesaurus if I am trying to make my writing “more interesting”, I agree with Orwell that extra words only eliminate the legitimacy of what is trying to be said. At the same time, for writing to sound mature and as if one knows what they are talking about, a certain level of language must be maintained.

The Purpose of Language

The main point in “Politics and the English Language” is that language is used incorrectly by lazy writers. I find it ironic that Orwell rants for ten pages about how important it is to be concise when his ten page essay could have been condensed to two. Orwell’s tone is also a bit pretentious throughout the paper; he acts as though every in the world is terrible at writing and only he can show the readers the right way. While I see Orwell’s point, I also felt frustrated during the reading. I thought a lot about 1984 while reading this essay. It is interesting that Orwell complains about language becoming superfluous and vague, but then writes a whole novel about a society with a sophisticated and purposefully concise language that is meant to limit people’s thoughts. I’m not sure what was written first, the novel or this essay, but Orwell seriously contradicts himself.

This essay, despite its contradictory nature with Orwell’s other work, has some valid points. I find it interesting that the type of language and way of writing that Orwell critiques is exactly that I was taught to write in high school. Of course, no teacher ever told me to be vague; they said just the opposite. However, I was taught to write in a scientific, third person voice and to avoid opinions. George Orwell argues, instead, that it is better to write simplistically and to avoid strung-out transition phrases. This essay would have been helpful to read before we handed in our second writing assignment. In retrospect, I feel like I did a lot of what Orwell called out.

The Two Sides of Orwell’s Coin

I agree with many of George Orwell’s arguments in this article and I am guilty of many of his criticisms myself. The arching theme of the English writer’s laziness is often true. In our writing, we chose to use common phrases and words to convey a point. His issue with this is due to their commonality, they have lost their emphasis. They can be used in many contexts, but our argument is not so general. We are arguing a particular point and the use of common terms and phrases can dull the objective. Orwell’s best example of this, one that rings true to me, is the use of such lazy vagueness in politics. I have heard the phrases he call attention to like “free peoples of the world” or “stand shoulder to shoulder” in countless political speeches and addresses. Presidents, candidates, and governors alike use the exact same phrases causing their entire speech to lose its meaning. Candidates from supposedly opposing sids often preach the same undefined message of the proper American way and guarantee our freedom. Using the same words, the different ideologies they preach wind up resulting in mere carbon copied messages.

Yet, despite the significant validity to Orwell’s arguments, there might be a method to the madness that “pollutes” our modern writing. While much of writing could use specification, many of the common phrases and words used in language are necessary. Yes, one could in great depth explain their argument with simple straight forward words, but if the reader is the judge. If the reader can better understand and follow the argument through familiar terms, then perhaps such terms should be used. If the phrase “the Achilles heal” better articulates to  reader that there is a single weakness in an otherwise impeccable subject than describing this condition, then it should be employed, despite its overuse. I understand that often times overuse of common terms can convolute an argument, but when used correctly, such phrases can be powerful for the reader’s understanding, which is what actually matters.

Meaning in Writing

When I read this piece by Orwell, I originally agreed with many of the positions he was arguing, but as I was writing this post and pondering the article, my opinions began to change.

In his paragraph Operators or Verbal False Lines, Orwell talks about how authors use a “general purpose” verb and an adjective to describe something that could be described with just one simple verb. Although I agree that often people, myself even, will use adjectives or nouns to make the sentence appear more scholarly or intellectual, I disagree with the assumption that this is always the goal of those little phrases. In writing, those adjective/noun verb couplets are often more descriptive and help the reader reach a deeper understanding of the meaning the author is trying to convey then a simple verb would. I also disagree with the statement that this is a failing of the English language because I don’t think this problem is confined to only English-speakers.

Later in the essay, he argues that incorporating foreign words into the English language writing leads to an “increase in slovenliness and vagueness,” but I think Orwell is operating under the assumption that all language is uniform and strict which it isn’t. Language isn’t like math or science, there isn’t always an exact equivalent or universal truth, I think foreign words incorporated into the English language only add to the scope of meaning we can reach. The majority of the time when an author uses a foreign words, it’s because there is no good English equivalent. There are definitely ways to convey the meaning in English but it might require more words or syllables which is exactly what Orwell is arguing against: unnecessary complication. This is only one of the examples where Orwell contradicts himself in the essay.

Academia as an industry

George Orwell’s article reminds me of an architecture book about Louis Kahn’s management of space. In the introduction section, the author justifies his emphasis on analysis of floor plan of architectures rather than that of Louis Kahn’s own speech by criticizing the trend of using abstract languages borrowed from other fields in the academia of architecture. Although George Orwell intended to correct the use of words in political writings, the phrase he was criticizing — such as “In my opinion, it is not an unjustifiable assumption that” — are abundant in many academic writings.

Criticisms like these reveal a fact that is often ignored: academia, like any other field, is an industry in which people write to make their livings. The scholars may be interested in truth, but they need to conduct experiments and write about truths in a way that is “popular.” For example, in the academia of philosophy, one of the most debated fields is normative ethics. Ethics receives such attention not because it is more important or closer to the truth than any other fields, but because the America society’s demand of essays on ethics is greater than those on epistemology or metaphysics. I believe there are multiple examples like this in many other subjects in academia; they show that academia is not only shaped by the nature of knowledge (such as positivist knowledge), but also by the societal reception of “productive” or “useful” knowledge.

It is then not surprising for me to see that academia has its own habitual, pretentious use of languages. The scholars need to choose the writing style that is considered to be academic, even if the phrases they are necessarily complex.