January 2, 2020
Happy would-be 100th birthday Isaac Asimov!
With a certain linguistic register, it's very easy to hide yourself and just sort of repeat phrases that you've heard before. I still have that now when I talk to Americans: I'm always absolutely astonished at the breadth of their vocabulary; how wonderfully they actually manage to describe their own emotions, or express what they really want to say. East Germany, you wouldn't talk in a very open way about yourself, because opening up yourself was always also a dangerous thing. [...] I think in certain in societies, in socialist societies, you don't want to stress your individuality too much, I think. So when you start talking about yourself a little bit too much, I think that's always viewed as suspicious by the state. You don't want to be too individual; you don't want to reveal yourself as thinking too much about yourself or about your situation. But it's astonishing isn't it. If you don't have the word you actually can't understand yourself. You don't have the vocabulary that you don't understand your own feelings about a certain thing. It's astonishing isn't the whole language really sort of shapes the way you can think about a problem. I mean there are these these sort of Sapir-Whorf theories that have long been sort of criticized. They had this idea that your vocabulary allows you to sort of see the world in a certain way, which people don't agree with now. But I think there's still a way in which the way you think about yourself and about the world is shaped by the availability of words to describe it. Right? You can have a sort of an intuitive feeling, but I think unless you can actually describe it in words it's very very difficult.The podcast was fascinating; in many ways East German implemented a mild form of Orwell's Newspeak (Paradoxically, their close proximity to the West made them throw up more defenses against Western thought.) Personally I think this is more of a problem with authoritarianism than socialism, though.