By Andy Weddington
Friday, 29 May 2009
Semantics is the study of language.
General Semantics is the study of language (including symbols) and how language and symbols influence human behavior.
Language—words—and symbols influence how we think, how we act, and how we react. Words and symbols can stir a man or nation to fight. Words and symbols can calm the same man or nation. Words and symbols can instill passion and words and symbols can cause indifference. Words and symbols make the world go ’round.
Consider the thoughts of Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) from “Words and Their Meanings”:
“A great deal of attention has been paid…to the technical languages in which men of science do their specialized thinking…But the colloquial usages of everyday speech, the literary and philosophical dialects in which men do their thinking about the problems of morals, politics, religion and psychology—these have been strangely neglected. We talk about “mere matters of words” in a tone which implies that we regard words as things beneath the notice of a serious-minded person.
This is a most unfortunate attitude. For the fact is that words play an enormous part in our lives and are therefore deserving of the closest study. The old idea that words possess magical powers is false; but its falsity is the distortion of a very important truth. Words do have a magical effect—but not in the way that the magicians supposed, and not on the objects they were trying to influence. Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them. “A mere matter of words,” we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to mould men’s thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely determined by the nature of the words we currently use to discuss ourselves and the world around us.”
In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley commented that the survival of a democracy is dependent upon the individual voter making an intelligent choice. But it is possible, advertising agencies have proven it time again, to circumvent rational man and tap into the unconscious through subliminal projection.
Keeping Huxley’s perspective in mind, it follows that the conscious can be duped by cleverly designed verbal and visual traps thereby leading rational man into irrational unconscious thinking, dopey decision-making, and downright stupid voting behavior that, in turn, threatens democracy.
Remember, one word—“Change”—recently changed America. “Change” was the mantra of a man backed by unprecedented amounts of money who was more effectively packaged and merchandized (by himself, professional marketers, and mainstream media) than any candidate in the history of American politics—for an office many argue he is not qualified, legally or experience-wise, to hold.
Had Huxley witnessed our last presidential campaign and election there is little doubt he would opine “rational man” (reference to all voting Americans) was defeated. And he probably would have tacked on an “I told you so” as he pretty much predicted the conditions of the 2008 election more than five decades earlier.
Now there are new troubling words coming from America’s man of “change”…
Do the words “Overseas Contingency Operation” and “man-caused disaster” stir the same alerts in our nervous system—the hair-raising and spine-tingling feelings of threat, danger, urgency, patriotism, fight, etc. as “Global War on Terror,” “terrorism, terrorist, and terrorist attack?” No. Do not the generic words have the effect of making the threat less clear and more distant and lessening our sense of imminent danger? And cause our defenses to drop? Yes. What is an “Overseas Contingency Operation” and what is a “man-caused disaster?”
Our military and volunteer agencies respond world-wide offering humanitarian aid after devastating disasters like tsunamis, floods, fires, typhoons, and earthquakes. These unpreventable furies of Mother Nature cause massive destruction, inconceivable human suffering, and death. Responding with goods and services, search and rescue teams, medical care, basic life-sustaining support, and assisting to restore order is appropriately described as an “Overseas Contingency Operation.”
Confronting, disrupting, capturing, and killing terrorists—that are in fact, at this very moment, on our soil and abroad—is war. It is not an “Overseas Contingency Operation.” Why confuse our country? And drop our guard?
Collapsing real estate markets, financial systems, and automobile industries—to name only a few—at the hands of the corrupt and criminal might be labeled as “man-caused disasters.” Though in reality they are “attacks” on capitalism carried out by “domestic terrorists”—who should be pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But people who build bombs to indiscriminately destroy property and kill the innocent are “terrorists”—who carry out “terrorist attacks.” Calling them anything other than “terrorists” (or something equally as vile), and referring to their evil doings as “man-caused disasters” instead of “terrorist attacks,” is stupid and insulting.
A simple illustration drives home the point. Let’s say tomorrow morning a terrorist triggers an explosion in Jackson, Mississippi that levels a city block and kills thousands. Liberal media headlines pronounce: “Man-Caused Disaster in Jackson.” What is the public to think—natural gas explosion? construction accident? Ho-hum, the piece may not even capture their attention. Counter that with the headline that reads: “Terrorist Attack in Jackson.” Ah, there’s an enemy amongst us and if it can happen in Jackson, Mississippi it can happen anywhere. The public’s guard is up.
Is the current Administration’s gobbledygook terms a subtle move to sedate our nervous systems—to introduce a sense of indifference—in rational man toward an enemy determined to destroy us; an enemy who could care less what we call them? It sure seems so. What will be the effect—short and long-term—on our country’s resolve, from leadership to the populace, to aggressively wage war if the way we frame the enemy is anything less than crystal clear and one to be taken gravely serious?
Imprecise labels shift away from zeroing in on fanatical terrorists—our sworn enemy—and their cowardly tactics and make them more of a nebulous circumstance—just another among sundry unpredictable circumstances that may require our attention. Obama’s lingo is analogous to dropping a screen of sorts between us and the enemy—so we can’t see them. But the screen only masks in one direction. The enemy still clearly sees us—as infidels—and they are committed to our demise. With a vague, sterile, non-threatening label we—individually and as a country—unwittingly begin to lose clarity of vision as to who it is we are fighting and why. When we can no longer see the enemy the tendency is to forget even though we have not been forgotten. The result is we are vulnerable.
Obama’s screen, whether naïve or purposeful, is dangerous—it misleads us and simultaneously signals timidity and weakness. It reflects a lack of stomach for fight. But, at least for the time being, his message is inaccurate. For our countrymen do not lack the stomach and resolve to fight—they have proven themselves on the battlefields. Terrorists are being decimated. Moreover, they—rational man—continue to voluntarily enlist and reenlist in our armed forces as there is clarity of purpose in “terror” and “killing terrorists” otherwise they would not be lining up—outside wanting in or inside wanting to stay in.
On the other side of Obama’s screen, the enemy—leadership of the Taliban, North Korea, and Iran, for example, headlining the past week or so—are laughing at him, mocking him, and testing his moxie. The scorns, weak rhetoric—pathetic admonishments by Obama, his sidekicks, other world leaders and meek outfits like the U. N. are laughable. Forthcoming toothless formal resolutions, even if augmented with sanctions, will likely prove more hilarious still.
Do our enemies care what we call them? Doubtful. But, even if they did, who cares. The fact of the matter is we are, like it or not, facing a brainwashed, determined challenger to our way of life. They are not going away just because we’d like them to or our president drops a word screen to cloud our vision and cripple our willpower. Our enemy has been physiologically and psychologically inculcated with a single-point of view. Obsessed and incapable of rational thought or behavior, they are driven to kill us. Therefore, they must be crushed—destroyed.
This global war against terror requires the steadfast commitment of every single citizen. Actions—regardless of how bold or sneaky—from anyone, top political leadership notwithstanding, contrary to defeating our maniacal foe is treason. Surprisingly refreshing, during a recent television interview Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, stated he headed the Department of War. He gets it.
Make no mistake; labels shape human attitudes and behaviors. At first blush how we label our enemies may not seem like a big deal but it is a big deal—an enormously big deal. Victory in this war just may rest in the words that grab and hold the public’s attention. Enough word games. Strong, clear, and precise language that identifies our enemies and triggers and sustains our innate survival response is an integral part of the Global War on Terror. Terrorists, we are coming to kill you. Can that declaration be any more clear?