Word Warp

There is a political persuasion that seems obsessed in calling anyone who does not see it their way, or perhaps anyone who they think is opposed to them, a liar. It seems to be a reflexive response to a champion of this persuasion being found guilty of perjury.

Really, I think it would be a great service to the universe if people would read the definition of “lie” and ruminate upon it for a while. And this applies to all sides of the debate. To wit: if Bush thought that there were WMDs in Iraq and said so, that wouldn’t be a lie. Further, if Ward Churchill actually believes that the US army gave smallpox-infected blankets to Indians in an attempt to kill then, that wouldn’t be a lie either. Being wrong is not the same thing as lying. If it is, I perpetrated a lot of lies over the years in various math classes that I took. For that matter, I lied back when I thought Dean would be the Democrat’s nominee. For Goodness Sake, could we please get a grip on what the language means? [Steven Taylor. Haven’t We Been Down this Road Before?, Poliblog. 05fb13]

There are other words whose meaning is warped as well. The case of debating the meaning of the word “is” is one example. Another comes from the ‘hate America’ crowd in the misaplication of labels as a means to cast aspersions. In this case it is warping hegemony meaning a coalition of independent states with one vastly more powerful than the others to mean something like imperial where the vastly more powerful uses that power to subjugate.

Noam Chomsky, has perversely chosen to conflate the two words as if they were merely synonyms for the same underlying concept. Thus, Grote’s precise and accurate revival of the original Greek concept has been skunked forever by Chomsky’s substitution of the word hegemony for the word empire, so that nowadays the two are used interchangeably, except for the fact, already noticed, that hegemony sounds so much more sophisticated than empire. Why use a word that ordinary people can understand, when there is a word, meaning exactly the same thing, that only the initiated can comprehend?[Lee Harris, The Greeks Had a Word for It: Hegemony vs. Empire, TCS, 14fb05

Harris goes on to illustrate why this inability to accept the authority of a dictionary is both a known tactic and an important one to track.

George Orwell in his novel 1984 envisioned a world in which the most basic concepts, such as freedom and slavery, had been conflated by an intellectual elite intent on making ordinary people unaware that there was any real difference between them. … the difference between empire and hegemony is precisely analogous to the difference between freedom and slavery. … To permit linguistic sleight of hand to blur this vital difference would be bad enough if it came from a vulgar demagogue; but when it comes from one of America’s most respected intellectuals, it is, frankly, disgraceful.

For him [Grote], it made a difference that things should be called by their proper name. For our intellectual elite [Chomsky], on the other hand, words mean whatever they want them to mean — just like in Alice in Wonderland. [Lee Harris, The Greeks Had a Word for It: Hegemony vs. Empire, TCS, 14fb05

And that, of course, makes the link to the obfuscation between opinion and fact in rationalizing “free speech” to academic malfeasance such as the Churchill case and to the whole issue of appropriate speech diversity in academia. For it is there, where rigor is supposed to be a paramount virtue illustrating intellectual integrity, where the word warping is used to deny, obfuscate, rationalize, and propagandize viewpoints.

Words mean things. It is up to all of us to hold people accountable for clear meaning in what they say. As in the Eason Jordan case, what you say should have consequences.

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