The tale of deceit through language is a common one in our society. The deliberate use of complex language in academic papers, organisational paperwork and schemes alike is oftentimes an act of manipulation. This common phenomenon is used to conceal the evils of such practices, thus capturing the readers in subterfuge.
An instance of such artifice is evident in the sheer nonchalance of historical accounts. The matter-of-factly attitude taken whilst documenting some of the most gruesome accounts of human history is simply appalling. Histories of entire nations being oppressed, communities wiped off, centuries of trading real people and shipping them to different continents in shackles is often reduced to a series of statistics that conceal the true nature of these narratives. Thereby audiences are shielded away from realising the magnitude of these atrocious realities and disabled from addressing the consequences of such histories which unequivocally shape our lives today. Perhaps, one may argue, the primary job of a historical academic paper is to help the audience learn the full picture of human life in the past. However, to write history more evocatively, with emotion and sentiment, is arguably important, even necessary, to help them learn and gather a more comprehensive picture of the history of human civilization.
We find our world at odds today with prevailing humanitarian and social conflicts that demand our attention and a swift call to action. One can argue that the whole point of studying history is “to learn from the past” and not let history repeat itself. However, it is incredibly difficult to even comprehend the realities of history let alone learn from them if the people responsible for writing history solely rely on numbers and complexly worded phrases to willfully hold the audience in guile. If we closely look at our world today, we might see it resembling the past. And, if one can’t fully understand the true nature of the poignant and dramatic stories the discipline of history strives to bring forth, then it’s almost futile to expect humans to not make similar mistakes again.
Moreover, I believe that a conscious attempt to elucidate historical events beyond facts and figures and to infuse academic writing with a sense of emotion (guilt perhaps, while recording atrocities such as the Slave Trade or genocide, to cite a few), is ethically demanded. It is their duty to those who have suffered in the past and those who continue to suffer to treat their stories and experiences as something more than just an archival record.
Furthermore, this tale of deceit doesn’t stop at academia but transcends into other practical matters in life. Rather, certain frameworks rely on the ambiguity of language to defraud people. One prime instance is the idea of a Pyramid Scheme. A Pyramid Scheme is a fraudulent investment pitch that promises unrealistic returns to investors but collapses before it is able to pay each of its investors back.
An essential part for the success of Pyramid Schemes is the language used which essentially diverts the reader’s attention from what is actually happening and rather presents them with a pipe dream that becomes too hard to resist. Moreover, although Pyramid Schemes are banned in some countries, it’s this manipulation through language and the careful selection of words that help such investors escape critical attention. Such disguising language is much more insidious than one can imagine. Pyramid Schemes are largely directed at those going through a financially difficult spell and feeling the need to make quick and easy money. Pyramid Schemes benefit from this keen sense of desperation by using language that traps innocent people in a fictional narrative by preventing them from seeing the plain facts of the matter and thus hindering critical judgment. Once again, the deliberate choice of words is used to influence the audience and steer them away from facts and closer to a false narrative that causes many individuals to lose their money.
In such instances we realize how often language is used inadequately. Moreover, it also helps us realize the prowess of language and its key role in shaping narratives, histories and lives. In the world today where we are consumed by the likes of capitalism and shameful politics, institutions and individuals intentionally use misleading language to further entrap us into such unscrupulous cycles.