Sunday, December 30, 2012

Political Misuse of Language: The Trick

In "The State" we explored the notion of the so-called "state" and concluded that it does not in fact exist per se.  In "Language and Freedom" the central importance of language in everyday life, particularly its significance to questions of human freedom, is examined and emphasized.

Today we will use the basic ideas contained in these two essays in a particular way to bring to the fore of our awareness a condition of our daily existences that bears attention and understanding.  It effects the lives of virtually every soul on the planet in the most profound and often deleterious ways. In specific, we will focus our attention on a particular manipulation, a trick of language and cognition that persons of a political bent have been using for thousands of years, the continuing use of which makes felt its manifold effects in both nature, degree, and its nearly perfect reliability.

I call it simply, "the Trick"

Language has been a primary tool of manipulation and force of the political class since the reprehensible practices of fraudulent and forced subjugation by one human being of his fellows began long ago. While the sword has been language's partner in crime, shrewd rulers have always recognized the word as the preferred instrument of thrall and tyranny.  After all, is it not preferable to gain power and compliance to one's will without exposing oneself to the risks of open violence or assuming its costs? Cleverly crafted words have been a staple for securing the assent of a people and to establish justification by their rulers.  Such craft often involves fraud, though not in all cases. That is to say, it should be recognized and acknowledged that the Trick to which we shall pay our consideration here is not always employed with explicit knowledge of it as such or with malice.

Quite the contrary, it seems that in a majority of cases this Trick of language is used in a monkey-see, monkey-do fashion.  This is because use of the Trick results in the establishment of false beliefs in the minds of individuals who fail to identify the fact that a trick has been employed.  In such cases the individual most often accepts the result of the Trick as truth and integrates it into the truth that he claims to "know".  Once such falsity is accepted as "fact", it can and often does become very difficult to dislodge, regardless of how much logic, reason, or dynamite one may employ to that end.

It also appears that the more intimately such information touches the emotions of the individual, the more difficult it is to correct, once accepted.  It is the threshold of acceptance that appears to be the crucially damaging event in such cases.  One truly disturbing aspect of all this is that even users of the Trick may employ it without explicit awareness that they are doing so.  They use it without understanding that they are propagating and perpetuating falsehoods.  Monkey see, monkey do, a common human proclivity that may be regarded as cute in small children, but proves very destructive when retained by adults.

In the wake of acquiring these "truths", which tend often to be accepted unquestioningly and consequently to become unquestionable, once accepted, all manner of undesirable things can and frequently do follow. The history of human political life is littered with countless examples of the pernicious effects of this Trick, most of which are ugly, sad, and very destructive.  The vast proportion of human tragedy has been the direct result of the Trick because it attacks us at so fundamental a level of our psychology such that we are lead away from truth. 

In considering the material presented, it will be most helpful to bear in mind the chain of relationships between word and action.  Your words form your thoughts, your thoughts form your beliefs, your beliefs form your cognitive reality beyond the mere reflexes, and finally, your personal reality drives your actions.  Be aware that this chain is a two-way road.  Word and deed, therefore, are inseparable, each effecting the other in ways that can be both subtle and powerful.

The Trick most often results in the formation of conceptual errors (words to thought) in people's minds that in turn give rise to a great plethora of faulty ideas and beliefs (thoughts to belief), which then drives faulty behavior (belief to action). Judicious and clever use of the Trick has been the greatest ally the politician has ever known.  The misapprehension of truth that the Trick brings about are most often of a strongly convincing and compelling nature because they speak so directly to emotion with great force.  It is also most often the case that such misguided beliefs are by their very nature fundamentally dangerous and injurious to the individual and, by extension, to humanity taken as a group. 

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Trick.

A very common form of expression, especially from holders of public office and other agents of "government" is to refer to non-independently existent and materially insubstantial entities as if they were otherwise.  This is what I call "the Trick".  Why is it a trick?  Because even though there is nothing truthful or otherwise valid in its nature, it still manages to persuade people to think and to behave according to specifically intended ways.  It is a cognitive sleight of hand that uses language as its means of affect. It is the intellectual equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat or sawing one's fetching assistant into halves.  Flawed, yet compelling devices are used to drive one to accept the impossible as real and true.

There is a great litany of such devices constructed with carefully chosen fallacies such that they mislead the mind with great reliability and force.  So compelling are these instruments that people come to believe all manner of ridiculous things that, when all is said and done, amount to nothing better than outright lies gussied up in fancy and emotionally compelling language.  A short-list of some of the more immediately relevant examples might include:

  • "The state"
  • "The government"
  • "The people"
  • "The union"
  • "The court"
  • "The public"
  • "The corporation"
  • "Society"
What are these terms, really, and why is their common use so often pernicious and dangerous in effect?  The terms themselves have two fundamental things in common.  Firstly, they are objects of a strictly abstract conceptual nature, possessing no material reality of their own.  As such, they exist nowhere in reality save within the confines of a human skull. Secondly, the materially real objects to which these terms refer are most often sets of individual human beings to which one is referring collectively and nothing more.  These attributes relate directly to the four-part structure of the Trick, which includes:

  1. The use and treatment of objects that are non-existent per se as if they actually existed otherwise,
  2. The attribution of human- or human-like characteristics to these inanimate and abstract concepts,
  3. The often tacitly forwarded presupposition or implication that the individual humans to which these abstract objects refer all share the precise same characteristics, opinions, desires, etc. such that they may each be treated as purely interchangeable entities, which is to say as being essentially clones, and
  4. Vague or nonexistent definition of the terms.

The Trick may employ any or all of these devices in a given instance.

The "state", for example, exists nowhere in reality save the confines of the human skull.  Remove all the people from the planet and then point to "the state".  Upon what may one lay his hands such that he may rightly and truthfully and rationally declare, "this is the state"?  Nowhere.   Remove all the people and the same happens with "the public", "society", "government", "the court", and so forth.

If one retreats from the assertion that the "state" exists in and of itself, falling back to the position that asserts that it is comprised of those in positions of governance, then they will not be able to establish a "state's" rights, authority, interests, etc. because it cannot have such attributes.  The only rights of which to speak there are those of the individuals that comprise the set and those cannot be additive.  Since the "state" has no rights of its own, separate and independent from those of the people that comprise it.

Such terms refer to nothing other than abstractions and possess no material reality of their own.  Having established that such conceptual constructs represent no a discrete real object per se, it then follows that the abstract object cannot perforce possess the attributes of a such objectively real entities.  The "court" cannot have neither rights nor compelling interests, the same to be said for the "public", "government", "the state", and so on.

The third attribute of the Trick involves the implication that a given conceptual term, for example, "the public" speaks authoritatively for all the people to whom the term may be said to refer.  This, of course, is almost never true.  Save for the most basic considerations, human beings almost never agree universally on any given issue in so much as principle, much less its gory details.

Consider the issue of gun control laws.  A legislative body will draft a law that will have the support of some, the indifference of others, and the enmity of yet others.  Some will agree that we need more "gun control" while many will simply not care either way.  And on the other end will be those who wish to keep and bear arms unconditionally as per their natural right to the means of defense.  Therefore, such a politician when talking about such laws or policies cites "the public interest" he is clearly speaking either out of deplorable and inexcusable ignorance or is employing fraud to secure sufficient support of a law that will clearly meet with the displeasure of some portion of the population.  In such a case the "public interest" is not a uniform monobloc as the usage implies.  And here we see how imprecise or nonexistent definitions of such terms is employed such that politicians may employ endless innuendo such that they can never be pinned down to a specific meaning.  This use of semantic fog and implication enables them to lead people to the conclusions they seek and relies heavily on the bad habits and poor reasoning skills of such people.

Despite the rank absurdity of the structure of the Trick - absurd in that when the structure is made clear one wonders how it manages to succeed at all, much less in the wild fashion it so widely enjoys - countless people use such terms in precisely this manner with no apparent problems.  Politicians and political agents use these terms as if they referred to independently and materially identifiable and tangible objects in the real world, possessing human-like attributes and that speak universally for all people.  The vast majority of the rest of the population accept these endless absurdities most often without question, seemingly unable to identify, analyze, and defeat them, which represents a clear, present, and profound danger to all people.

Would these same people accept my assertion that the Floof exists, has authority over them such that it may prohibit some behaviors and mandate others, holds interests of its own and possesses the right to exist and act in accord with its authority?  Given enough time and the right introduction, I do believe the answer to the question is, "yes".  Really?  Floof?

Even if one were able to demonstrate, for example, that "government" actually existed, how does it follow that it possesses human attributes such as rights, authority, and power?  Accepting that "government" possesses such attributes is in principle little different from claiming the same to be the case for an automobile or one's kitchen sink. When one draws away from his acceptance of the key premise that abstract and therefore inanimate objects possess human attributes, the enormous houses of cards built upon such impossibilities collapse in spectacular fashion.

Examples of the many ways in which the power class uses the Trick can be found in the legal system.  In the body of statute as well as that of case law one often encounters references to the "public interest" or the common assertion that "society has the right...".  These are indeed prime examples of how the Trick is employed to convince people to accept the imposition of restrictions upon their liberties and other violations of their rights that they would likely reject were they in possession of an understanding of the true nature of the reasoning used to gain their assent.  Those in positions of power, political or otherwise, often make reference to such fallacious notions as the "public interest" so as to present emotionally compelling, if highly tacit and logically flawed arguments in order to gain the acceptance of rubrics which they seek to impose upon others.  This, of course, is a gross misuse of such conceptual instruments and represents, at best, ignorance and incompetence and at worst, a ruthless willingness to employ fraud to achieve one's objectives.

Because there is no such thing as the "public" per se, which is to say that it does not exist objectively and materially in any manner independent of the components that comprise it, which are the individual human beings to which "public" refers collectively, what then is the purpose of the term?  Why does it exist and to what legitimate use is it to be put, if any? The answer is simple.

The proper role, purpose, and usage of terms such as "public" is to serve as a conversational short-hand by which one refers to the individual members of the set in a conceptually abstracted and collective manner.  This device allows us to save ourselves from having to name each individual when referring to populations or greater than trivial sizes, which in virtually all cases would prove onerously time consuming and inaccurate. The adoption of such referential terms and their attendant conventions for use does not include or confer upon the conceptual object ("public" in this case) other characteristics and qualities such as solidity, unity, or existence per se, as those are solely demonstrable as being attributable to the individuals in question to which the term refers and nothing more.  The Trick, then, has been to convince people otherwise; to accept that such things as "public" exist per se and as implied  and even explicitly claimed at times and possess qualities and attributes of their own independent of the real-world objects to which they ostensibly refer.

Being further the case that individual rights can in no possible way be construed as additive in nature, there exists no composite right attributable to the "public", an assertion that is rife in common political discourse like a plague. Such a right, for example, is implied and even explicitly claimed by courts and political office holders on a regular basis!  Therefore, they are either too corrupt or too incompetent to be allowed to hold such positions of trust because they pose enormous dangers to the rights of the individual.  These behaviors should be met with the most ironclad intolerance.

Used in the ways described here, terms such as "public interest", "societal rights" and so forth qualify as nothing better than nonsensical gibberish describing impossible creatures.  

This, my friends, is your lesson in semantic analysis for today. Learn it, keep it, and meet the false arguments in which they are employed with your knowledge so that you may expose them to the light of truth and help your fellows gain a better understanding. Rebut these sorts of fraudulent arguments such that they are not just proven false, but are utterly destroyed for all to see. Leave their advocates NOTHING upon which to cling. Deny them the smallest splinter upon which to hang their bankrupt assertions.

Until next time, please accept my best regards.

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