Friday, September 15, 2017

The Power Of Words

     “I’ll give you a gross case. Which would you rather have? A nice, thick, juicy, tender steak-or a segment of muscle tissue from the corpse of an immature castrated bull?”
     I grinned at him. “You can’t upset me. I’ll take it by either name . . . not too well done. I wish they would announce chow around here; I’m starved.”
     “You think you aren’t affected because you were braced for it. But how long would a restaurant stay in business if it used that sort of terminology? Take another gross case, the Anglo-Saxon monosyllables that naughty little boys write on fences. You can’t use them in polite company without offending, yet there are circumlocutions or synonyms for every one of them which may be used in any company.”
     I nodded agreement. “I suppose so. I certainly see how it could work on other people. But personally, I guess I’m immune to it. Those taboo words don’t mean a thing to me-except that I’m reasonably careful not to offend other people. I’m an educated man, Zeb-“Sticks and stones may break my bones, et cetera.” But I see how you could work on the ignorant.”
     Now I should know better than to drop my guard with Zeb. The good Lord knows he’s tripped me up enough times. He smiled at me quietly and made a short statement involving some of those taboo words.
     “You leave my mother out of this!”
     I was the one doing the shouting and I came up out of my chair like a dog charging into battle. Zeb must have anticipated me exactly and shifted his weight before he spoke, for, instead of hanging one on his chin, I found my wrist seized in his fist and his other arm around me, holding me in a clinch that stopped the fight before it started. “Easy, Johnnie,” he breathed in my ear. “I apologize. I most humbly apologize and ask your forgiveness. Believe me, I wasn’t insulting you.”
     “So you say!”
     “So I say, most humbly. Forgive me?”
     As I simmered down I realized that my outbreak had been very conspicuous. Although we had picked a quiet corner to talk, there were already a dozen or more others in the lounge, waiting for dinner to be announced. I could feel the dead silence and sense the question in the minds of others as to whether or not it was going to be necessary to intervene. I started to turn red with embarrassment rather than anger. “Okay. Let me go.”
     He did so and we sat down again. I was still sore and not at all inclined to forget Zeb’s unpardonable breach of good manners, but the crisis was past. But he spoke quietly, “Johnnie, believe me, I was not insulting you nor any member of your family. That was a scientific demonstration of the dynamics of connotational indices, and that is all it was.”
     “Well-you didn’t have to make it so personal.”
     “Ah, but I did have to. We were speaking of the psychodynamics of emotion, and emotions are personal, subjective things which must be experienced to be understood. You were of the belief that you, as an educated man, were immune to this form of attack-so I ran a lab test to show you that no one is immune. Now just what did I say to you?”
     “You said-Never mind. Okay, so it was a test. But I don’t care to repeat it. You’ve made your point: I don’t like it.”
     “But what did I say? All I said, in fact, was that you were the legitimate offspring of a legal marriage. Right? What is insulting about that?”
     “But”-I stopped and ran over in my mind the infuriating, insulting, and degrading things he had said-and, do you know, that is absolutely all they added up to. I grinned sheepishly. “It was the way you said it.”
     “Exactly, exactly! To put it technically, I selected terms with high negative indices, for this situation and for this listener. Which is precisely what we do with this propaganda, except that the emotional indices are lesser quantitatively to avoid arousing suspicion and to evade the censors-slow poison, rather than a kick in the belly. The stuff we write is all about the Prophet, lauding him to the the irritation produced in the reader is transferred to him. The method cuts below the reader’s conscious thought and acts on the taboos and fetishes that infest his subconscious.”
     I remembered sourly my own unreasoned anger. “I’m convinced. It sounds like heap big medicine.”
     “It is, chum, it is. There is magic in words, black magic-if you know how to invoke it.”

     [Robert A. Heinlein, “If This Goes On”]

     Apologies for the lengthy quote. (Believe me, it was no fun to type in, either.) Robert A. Heinlein was so perceptive, and about so many widely separated subjects, that no one in the world of speculative fiction compares to him. It’s well nigh impossible to avoid quoting him on certain subjects. The segment above, from a novella he wrote in 1941, is one that’s weighed heavily with me for many years.

     Words have power. That power, according to their employment, can be used to harm or to heal, to excite or to numb. Today, persons who’ve done us great harm and mean to do much more are straining to numb us to their true agendas...and words are their most important tool.

     Via Sarah Hoyt at InstaPundit, we have this pithy statement from Brad Torgersen:

     Yet another Orwellian restatement of the obvious: Marxism isn't done. It's alive and well. Every time it fails, it re-brands itself, peddles itself to the next generation of wishful thinkers, and wrecks another country. Venezuela is the most recent, glaring example. The U.S. may be wrecked in time, too, because the proselytizers of Marxism (under various types of shiny Christmas wrapping) infest our university system, the entertainment establishment, the news media, and government.
     Think Marxism will never happen here? Upton Sinclair—the ardent socialist intellectual—said: the American people will never accept socialism when it's labeled as socialism, but they *will* accept socialism under different names.
     Which is why modern American Marxists will so hotly and adamantly deny that their brand of socialism, is in any way Marxist, or especially communist. Because they know Marxism and communism have a bad rap. They are depending on their ability to re-brand the same bad ideas (which "sound good" in the words of Thomas Sowell) in order to push those ideas forward.
     In the end, every time socialism fails, the Marxists will claim it's magically not socialism. We have had numerous examples of different interpretations of Marxist theory implemented at the national level, and those examples speak of unprecedented human suffering. Which somehow doesn't count, we are told, because these countries weren't doing it right.
     So, clearly, we have to try again.
     And destroy another nation.
     And another. And another. And another.
     All of which will miraculously cease to be "real" socialist, at the time of their collapse. The human toll will be ignored, or swept under the rug. Marxism will re-brand once again. A new batch of hopeful children will pick up the flag. And the cycle of misery will repeat itself.
     With good intentions, of course. Never forget the good intentions.

     Excuse me for a minor quibble but forget the BLEEP!ing “good intentions.” They’re utterly phony, as much of a disguise as the substitution of “liberal” for “socialist” (and the more recent substitution of “progressive” for “liberal”). These people want power. Moreover, they want it to be absolute, unbounded...and unopposed. Why do you think tyrants hold sham elections in which only one name appears on the ballot? Why do you imagine they send their goon squads house to house to compel their victims to vote for them? Their shifts in vocabulary have one and only one purpose: to deflect the reader / listener from noting the many, many times their “help” has been tried and has produced poverty, misery, and tyranny.

     From a strategic / tactical perspective, Bernie Sanders is the Left’s worst enemy. He openly calls himself a socialist; he always has. He doesn’t disguise his inclinations or his intentions. But his proposals are so close to those of “orthodox” Democrat politicians that the similarity can’t be obscured. The Democrats’ power brokers are frantic about him for that reason. He couldn’t win the presidency...but he could give their faithful a glimpse of the 200-proof version of the diluted beverage their anointed ones are peddling.

     The Left’s project for some time has been to obscure its true intentions. So far, enough Americans’ have enough good sense that enough of us are still able to see through the veil. But how long will that be the case? How long will “enough” be enough?

     As Torgersen said above, the Left has colonized and conquered the educational system, the entertainment establishment, and the “news” media. These are always the first targets of a Leftist plot because they can mold the language we use to talk about what concerns us.

     They can be fought. Among the things they’re furious about is the ever-expanding reach of “uncontrolled” communications. The Internet is foremost among their hatreds, precisely because by its nature the Internet Protocol is hostile to censorship. It “routes around it.” That’s why they aim to dominate big communications enablers such as Google and Facebook. That would give them some influence, at least, over what people can see and hear.

     It’s also why they’ve issued such passionate diatribes against “hate speech,” meaning the expression of any sentiment they dislike. If the big hosts and search engines can be led to view conservative and libertarian opinion as “hate speech,” they might be able to squelch it.

     Watch for the misuse of words. Watch for deliberate lexical shifts aimed at averting a direct gaze at what they seek. And watch for attempts to appropriate this critical word: freedom.

     Watch with great vigilance for attempts to declare certain words or phrases “unspeakable.” In his Appendix to 1984 on “The Principles Of Newspeak,” George Orwell wrote as follows:

     When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one's knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them. In the future such fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible and untranslatable. It was impossible to translate any passage of Oldspeak into Newspeak unless it either referred to some technical process or some very simple everyday action, or was already orthodox (goodthinkful would be the Newspeak expression) in tendency. In practice this meant that no book written before approximately 1960 could be translated as a whole. Pre-revolutionary literature could only be subjected to ideological translation — that is, alteration in sense as well as language. Take for example the well-known passage from the Declaration of Independence:
     We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government...

     It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink. A full translation could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson's words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.

     Draw the moral.

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