Monday 20 September 2010

Henceforth, honest communication must be in code

Henceforth, there shall be no plain speaking, and all honest communications must necessarily be in code.


This is required behavior for the elites in a totalitarian society such as we inhabit. If you read the memoirs of someone like Vaclav Havel, you will see how Czechs who wanted to be honest before the 'velvet' revolution and collapse of Communism in 1989 were only able to be so by indirect, coded communications.

So that a play (a dramatic presentation) would apparently be about one thing, but actually about something different - something in which honest communication was prohibited. So that an audience who were sympathetic to the truth and who understood the code would be applauding and cheering action on stage which an outsider would find uninteresting or irrelevant.

They would not be cheering the explicit meaning but the coded meaning. The real meaning was therefore deniable.


I realize this is the situation we have reached when I encounter situations like the following, drawn from education:


Imagine a state school classroom where the students are placed onto tables according to their ability, and each table of children is taught separately.

The school children know the rank order of these tables (which is best and which is worst) because they see which table does the most advanced work and which does the least advanced. And, of course, the teachers who arrange the children know this ranking.

But the parents are not informed, and teachers will neither confirm nor deny the rankings of tables; nor will they provide information on the class rank of pupils.

The parents are (so far as possible) prevented from understanding the nature of their own child's strengths and weaknesses.

If a teacher is asked directly by parents about the class rank of a child, and if the teacher wishes to be helpful, the most they can do is to indicate by subtle body language whether a guess about a child's class ranking is correct or not. This is deniable.


A teacher at a state primary school who wishes to answer a parent's enquiry about which secondary school their unusual child would be best to attend, is formally and managerially forbidden from answering this query (on the grounds that they might later be criticized for giving the 'wrong' advice).

The only way that a teacher can safely (from the point of view of their own career security) give their expert and informed opinion on the needs of the child is by indirect means - tone of voice and facial expression, or use of meaningful hesitations and eye contact - when discussing the options in a neutral, undirected, explicitly-unhelpful and deniable fashion.


A student who wants to know why they keep getting consistently moderately-low grades despite genuinely hard work cannot be given the suggestion that this may be due to their having below average ability/ general intelligence compared with the rest of the class.

This can not, ought not to be, said or implied - even when the teacher believes that it is the correct explanation; and even when - if correct - this information would be of vital importance to a student's future career plans.

The only acceptable explanations for a student's low performance - explanations which are always acceptable even when they are false - is that the student needs to work harder or improve study, writing and examination techniques.


Teachers references/ 'personal recommendations' are now mandatory - teachers are now instructed to provide them for all or any students, because employers apparently demand them.

But the references must not be critical, since that might prevent students getting a job or further position, and this might lead to legal action.

So employers insist on references which are necessarily incapable of providing the kind of criticisms which are the only real value of references.

So honest references either say nothing (except a summary of undeniable and publicly available facts, which is redundant) or if they wish to be helpful and to communicate criticism they can only do so by a subtle and deniable code.


The truth (i.e. a teacher's best and honest estimate of the truth) is offensive, dangerous, a hostage to fortune... Communications cannot be explicit and unambiguous - all must be 'deniable' - like a politician's speech.

But since we are not politicians, and do not have expert speechwriters skilled in weasel words - most people say nothing. Most people do not even try to be truthful, they do not even try to be helpful - they do not even venture an opinion.

Those few people who wish to communicate both honestly and helpfully must perforce do it in cryptic form - so that it will be deniable.


Multiply this phenomenon by all the major social systems - education, law, police, civil administration, commercial businesses, health services, the military, politics (of course!), the media, (of course!)...

And we observe a society of mandatory non-communication - where truthful communications are useless, and useless communications are densely encrypted (such that many or most people do not notice them, or cannot comprehend them).


Henceforth, there shall be no plain speaking, and all honest communications must necessarily be in code.


Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher, and it's depressing how accurate this is.

Bill said...

House-hunting in the US is eerily like the description of schooling in this post. I recently changed jobs, necessitating a change of cities. Since I had several prospects, I spent several days with real estate agents in different cities.

The agents resolutely refused to give me useful advice on neighborhoods or schools. They would only send me links to publicly available demographic, descriptive, and test score information. This is because of US anti-discrimination law which forbids agents from doing anything at all which might enhance racial segregation in housing.

And this renders agents dramatically less useful. After all, I can easily visit the Census website and the various state school testing websites. Agents cannot now answer a question like "which 2 or 3 neighborhoods do people like me buy houses in?" This narrowing down is much of their value. Once you are in their presence, of course, they can and do use the indirect methods Dr Charlton describes, but an awful lot of people are dumb as posts, so it's likely that this does not work all the time.

It was much less bad 15 years ago, the previous time I changed jobs/cities.