Chris Powell: The thought police are prowling

MANCHESTER, Conn. Another college speech code was reported last week, this one at the University of New Hampshire. It was assembled two years ago by university staff and student groups purporting to represent women and racial and sexual minorities and was posted on the university's Internet site.

But when it was brought to his attention, the university's president, Mark Huddleston, purported not to have been aware of it and forcefully repudiated it, particularly for its assertion that "American" should not be used to mean citizens of the United States because doing so is disrespectful to residents of Central and South America.

"While individuals on our campus have every right to express themselves," Huddleston said, "the views expressed in this guide are not the policy of the University of New Hampshire. ... The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be 'sensitive' proves offensive to many people, myself included."

Welcome, President Huddleston, to the political correctness that now permeates higher education in (North) America, even in the state whose license plates, bearing the state motto, simply yet eloquently rebuke all speech codes: "Live free or die."

That proscription of "American" in the UNH speech code is the least of it.

Also proscribed are "older people," "elders," "seniors," and "senior citizen," though the latter two are euphemisms of long standing. According to the speech code, "people of advanced age" is preferable, as if no one might take offense at that as well, and as if any euphemism could make people prefer to be 80 instead of 30.

"Poor" is to be replaced by "person who lacks advantages others have," and "people of size" is to replace "overweight," as if these euphemisms will make such people feel better too, as if such people are too stupid to notice euphemism, and as if the assumption of their stupidity wouldn't be more insulting than "poor" and "overweight."

Higher education in Connecticut came down with the PC plague early. Twenty-six years ago the University of Connecticut tried to ban "inconsiderate jokes" and "inappropriately directed laughter," proscriptions that were themselves laughed to death, though the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, increasingly PC itself, failed to petition the Motor Vehicles Department, as it should have done, for creation of a license plate reading: "Laugh free or die."

But it's not all so funny, for in "1984" George Orwell described the impulse to control language as an impulse to control thought. Orwell imagined a new language for the totalitarian state of the future, a language he called Newspeak for an ideology he called "Ingsoc," shorthand for "English socialism."

"The purpose of Newspeak," Orwell wrote, "was not only to provide a medium of expression for the worldview and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc -- should be literally unthinkable. ... Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought. ..."

A lexicographer who is developing Newspeak elaborates: "The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron -- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. ... The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

And now that universities have overtaken churches in the orthodoxy business, they even award degrees for it.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.