Friday, November 27, 2009

Mental reservation

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics."

George Orwell, Politics and the English language

In yesterdays' publication of the Murphy Report there is an interesting phrase: mental reservation

Cardinal Connell explained the concept
of mental reservation to the Commission
in the following way:

Well, the general teaching about mental reservation
is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the
other hand, you may be put in a position where
you have to answer, and there may be circumstances
in which you can use an ambiguous expression
realising that the person who you are talking
to will accept an untrue version of whatever it
may be - permitting that to happen, not willing
that it happened, that would be lying. It really
is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily
difficult matters that may arise in social relations
where people may ask questions that you simply
cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind
of thing is liable to happen. So, mental reservation
is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.

Murphy Report, Part 2, section 58.20

In plain English - lying. I'm not going to argue that nobody should ever lie, we all know there are times when a lie can save someone's life or save them from a beating. What's really disturbing is that this fancy phrase involves lying to yourself about what you're doing - it makes your thinking muddy so that you don't even realise you're lying.

It's a lot like Newspeak. The scary thing
is that is for real - this was a doctrine of the Catholic Church that enabled abuse to happen.