Tuesday, February 16, 2016

We've always been at war with Eastasia

Our media is surprisingly Orwellian, and it's not always due to government control. People practice "doublethink" at their own volition, without a Thought Police. Social media (Twitter, Facebook) are instituting their own private Thought Police. Online journalism now means that the press is free to edit old articles, to change past reporting to conform to new political realities.

Consider the example in the book 1984 regarding the ongoing war between the three superstates of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia (representing English, Russian, and Chinese empires respectively).

At the start of the book, Oceania is at war with Eurasia. They have always been at war with Eurasia. That's the political consensus, and all historic documents agree. However, Winston Smith (the protagonist) remembers a time five years ago when Oceania was instead at war with Eastasia. Winston Smith struggles with philosophical idea of "truth". Which is more true, what everyone knows and what's in the newspapers, or the memories within his head?

Then Ocean's allegiance switched back again. On the sixth day of Hate Week, as crowds gathered to denounce Eurasia, the Party switched enemies to Eastasia. In a particularly rousing speech against their enemy, the speaker was handed a slip of paper, and in mid-sentence, without pause, without change in content or tone, he changed the name of the enemy he was speaking against to Eastasia. Eurasia was now their dearest friends. Those holding banners denouncing their enemy were suddenly embarrassed to discover they had unaccountably written the wrong name, and quickly trampled and destroyed them.

This change meant work for Winston in the Ministry of Truth:
Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with
Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now
completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books,
pamphlets, films, sound-tracks, photographs--all had to be rectified at
lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that
the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference
to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in
existence anywhere. 

Last November, the Tsarnaev brothers (the "Boston Bombers") were "refugees". News articles from all the mainstream news outlets agreed, such as The Washington Post, the Atlantic, Time magazine, the UN/VOA, Vanity Fair, the Huffington Post, Nobody disputed that description. Even Wikipedia described them as "refugees".

Then terrorists attacked Paris, killing 129 innocents. A Syrian passport was found, making it look like terrorists inserted one of their own into the stream of refugees flowing into Europe. This created political backlash in America, where the House of Representatives passed a bill to hinder Syrian refugees coming into the country.

The other, pro-refugee side, has fought back, claiming that no refugee in American has ever committed a terrorist act. It's at this point that the Tsarnaev's become an embarrassing counter example, since indeed they committed the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.

To fix this to conform to the new political reality, the Tsarnaev's were reclassified as "asylees" (asylum seekers) rather than "refugees".

To make this reclassification work, history had to be re-written. The Winston Smith's of the world had to go backward in time to edit old stories to conform to the new reality.

For example, the Wikipedia page on Tsarnaev changed, purging the word "refugee" and replacing it with "asylee".

Wikipedia is just the start. The mainstream media likewise went back and "fixed" their embarrassing mistakes in news articles. If you search for "tsarnaev refugee" for dates before the Paris attacks, the top result is this article from the Washington Post. The Washington Post edited this article, purging the word "refugee" from both the title and the contents, either replacing it with "asylee" or rewording things. Here's a picture of the original title/lead, followed by the new version. The date of this change was November 19, 2015 -- in other words, specifically in response to the Paris debate.

What unreal about this change is that "refugee" and "asylee" refer to the same people. It's like how "emigrant" (or "emigree")  and "immigrant" refer to the same people, just with a different focus. One (emigrant, refugee) focuses on leaving the original country. The other (immigrant, asylee) focuses on arriving in a new country. But to arrive in one country is to leave another -- it's the same person doing both.

They are saying the Tsarnaev's are no longer Chechen emigrants/refugees, but now American immigrants/asylees. This reclassification is technically correct, because they arrived in American first, then applied for asylum status, unlike those applying from refugee camps in and around Syria. But this technicality doesn't change who they are. Being American immigrants/asylees doesn't change the fact that they are also refugees/emigrants fleeing strife in Chechnya.

In English, the word "asylee" isn't really used. Sure, it's technically a word, but used so seldomly that it's not included in spellcheck dictionaries. That's why I enabled spellcheck when creating the above picture, to demonstrate this issue -- spellcheck underlines the word in red. Most people have never heard of the word "asylee". Go to the local bar and ask random people what the word means. They'll just look at you funny. Indeed, your first hurdle will be the fact that you aren't sure how to pronounce it right yourself. According to Google's Ngrame, "refugee" is preferred over "asylee" by a 250:1 ratio in the English language.

For journalists, since both words are valid, but one is rare and confusing, the correct word to use is "refugee". This is especially true when it's the emigration side being stressed, as in the above Washington Post article. While you can make a case for discussing "asylees in America", the correct word in the article would be "refugees fleeing war". I just verified that the AP Stylebook has a reference for "refugee" but no entry for "asylee".

This post isn't about refugees, but Orwelianism. What's shown here is retroactive changing of history to conform to the new political consensus. It's doublethink, as people strive to change their own thinking. It's newspeek, as people try to change what others believe by changing the words used to express those ideas. It's also about the mainstream press, which has become part of the corrupt establishment, obviously violating every principle of journalism in order to exercise power.


pjt said...

I'm somehow dumbfounded that supposedly respectable media like Washington Post start playing this game.

Bryan said...

"What unreal about this change is that 'refugee' and 'asylee' refer to the same people."

Colloquially, sure. Legally these are two different statuses with two different sets of entry requirements; most crucially, refugees go through much stricter background checks.

This is a much more real and formal distinction than the distinction that many security people make between 'hacker' and 'cracker'.

The press was bad to have used these terms inexactly and they should feel bad, but refugee and asylum-seeker ('asylee' is a stupid neologism) have always been different things, and not in the sense that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia; in the sense that they substantially differ.

Matt H said...

I'm totally with you on the point that editing old news stories is a problem; the whole POINT (to me, anyway) of having old news stories at your fingertips is to be able to see what people WERE SAYING back at an older time, whether two weeks ago or two years ago. If reporters or publishers feel the need to correct/clarify the things they wrote before, then fine -- just add a note/disclaimer or whatever WITH a clear date as to when the note was added. Drop the note right in the middle if need be; but mark it off clearly so that people can tell what was originally published and what is new.

However, it's important to recognize that sometimes the old reporting or old wording is simply not correct. In the example you cite here, the paper really IS clarifying (in a rather sneaky and deceptive way) the original by adding an important and meaningful distinction that was absent in the original. The fact that people don't often use the word "asylee" is irrelevant -- there are two different statuses and VERY different processes in question, and those distinctions matter. Or at least, they matter now. Failing to make that distinction may have made sense to journalists back when the Boston bombing first happened, as it might have seemed irrelevant at the time and likely only to confuse readers. You can only offer SO much detail and precision, and reporters have to decide what details and distinctions matter and which don't. Of course, none of that justifies retroactive reporting, it just means that the fact that the Tsarnaevs were called "refugees" in 2013 doesn't make that story more accurate than one written afterward that correctly calls them "asylees."

More from the horse's mouth on refugees vs. asylees:
https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum (Note -- page last reviewed/updated 11/12/2015 -- hmmmmmmmmmmmm)

rumcious said...

At the time of the alleged incident that brought the brothers to notoriety they were "Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States". And the family is officially referenced as entering the States as "immigrants" a decade+ earlier. Official sources do not appear to consider them to have been "refugees" or "asylees". So even with the corrections the press still lost the game of semantics.


"A decade earlier, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan with their parents Anzor Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. Anzor Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen, his wife Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, and their son Dzhokhar Tsarnaev arrived in the United States from Kyrgyzstan in 2002. They applied for and received an immigration benefit. The elder son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and his sisters, Bella and Ailina Tsarnaeva, arrived in the United States in 2003 and also received an immigration benefit. In the years that followed, all six family members became Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States.".

Tzalumen said...

Ethical engineering demands traceability; that is, every iteration of released design must be archived with the final design. If that becomes required for the news, revisionism becomes transparent.

toumasho said...

Pro-refugee people's dreams have a tendency to become an ugly reality.

I hope someone would trace this asylee to the source. I have hard time believing there is only one person behind this.

pjt said...

Legally these are two different statuses with two different sets of entry requirements; most crucially, refugees go through much stricter background checks.

I don't know what the law exactly says in the US, but over here, the terms are (when translated to English) "asylum seeker" and "quota refugee". Asylum seeker is someone who comes spontaneously to the border and claims asylum. Quota refugee is someone who is picked up from a UNHCR maintained camp or similar establishment, processed there, and then admitted to the country, with the government even paying for the transport.

In colloquial use "refugee" (as in a poster "Refugees welcome") here refers to asylum seekers, who are about 99 % of all refugees. It is really weird to "correct" news items months and years after publishing when they turn out to be politically inconvenient.

Avid Dilettante said...

So you are concerned that history is being revised conforming to prevailing political dynamics and you choose a trivial syntactic Wikipedia alteration as your evidence?

The Tsarnaev brothers were largely assimilated. There is minimal comparison to the typical emigre or refugee, be they Somali, Mexican or Syrian.

Seeing as your intent here is to stoke xenophobia, I feel I must point out that criminal activity perpetrated by members of these groups is no higher than that of the population at large, and certain subgroups, as they may comprise mostly women and children, commit even fewer crimes.

Living in a free society, or any for that matter, comes with some level of risk. In the US, it is an acceptable amount of risk even if we choose not to adopt a bigoted and fearful policy toward others.

Orwell rolls in his grave not for this, but definitely for the public acquiescence to their exploitation induced by the fear mongering you yourself are hereby contributing to.

rumcious said...

@Avid Dilettante: The picture isn't so disingenuously simply. According to UNHCR figures (http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php), to date 40+% of European refugees through the Med are MEN, they outnumber women, at 20+%, pretty much 2 to 1 at every location (women consistently appear to be the least represented group). Children (not "minors", i.e. 16 max) are the next largest group at 30+% (male/female slit not considered). What is not as clear from the data is the relationship between them - even with a 1:1 relational expectation (1 man + 1 woman + 1 child), that still leaves an over abundance of men at 20+%, and children 10+% "unaccompanied". And this doesn't even consider the stats for "IDP's" - "Internally Displaced Persons".

Avid Dilettante said...


Dano Wright said...

Why does it dumbfounded you? The Rueters News agency was purchased by the Rothschilds banks in year 1903....yep1903, no typo. That's how long ago the media were corrupted and "censored" by big business/banks/politics. Let that settle in for...say, one minute.

Dano Wright said...

Why does it dumbfounded you? The Rueters News agency was purchased by the Rothschilds banks in year 1903....yep1903, no typo. That's how long ago the media were corrupted and "censored" by big business/banks/politics. Let that settle in for...say, one minute.