The contemporary spokesmen for government, business and the academy have taken a page out of Alice in Wonderland: Words mean whatever you choose to have them mean. At some point, words had meanings detached from the user. They were ideas incarnate that stood on their own buttressed by Webster’s Dictionary. Now, of course, they are unmoored, set adrift by sophists who employ words for advantage or even to change meaning. The Orwellian reversal of language, e.g. “war is peace,” has been taken to a new level of manipulation.
Let me cite examples.
President Obama no longer refers to enemy combatants; they are now “isolated radicals.” This is a blinkered attempt to suggest that it isn’t jihadists we are opposed to, but the most radical elements within this category. Similarly, we are not in a war against terrorists; we are rather in overseas operations.
On the homefront the word “stimulus” has been exhumed from public usage since it doesn’t stimulate and is now effectively “spending.” “No new taxes” — a campaign pledge — has been converted into “new taxes,” albeit all for a good purpose. “Transparency,” as in all government action will be transparent and visible on C-SPAN, has been transmogrified into secrecy as in this Healthcare bill of 2000 pages that will not be made available for public review.
The redistribution of wealth — a clear government objective — is well understood as taking from Peter to give to Paul, a condition with which Paul rarely objects. Bonuses, even if built into iron clad contracts, are little more than manifestations of “exploitation.” This is an argument often made by community organizers who, if there were truth in advertising, would be called “radical adherents.”
In an effort to appear conciliatory almost every spokesmen refers to Islam as a “religion of peace,” even though it is a “religion of submission.” Moreover, it is also known, but rarely stated that not every Muslim is a terrorist, but almost every terrorist is a Muslim. In the same vain, jihad can be a source of spiritual fulfillment or an act of killing apostates in the name of Allah.
To put the best possible cast on any government action the words “previous administration” are now a code for “its Bush’s fault.” If the president says “we’ve run out of money,” he really means “we’ve run out of money for things I do not want to fund.” On the education front, the administration is keen on “a race to the top,” but if one were to consider results, it is really “a race to the middle” with the “best” student category shrinking and the lowest scoring students improving slightly leading to a compression at the mean.
It is also instructive that the word “rights” is employed at least ten times more frequently than “duties.” Rights have become what others give or confer; duties, by contrast, have entered the realm of desuetude. A related word is “privilege, “which based on K Street influence, is something you “buy,” comparable to the Middle age practice of buying Indulgencies to assure salvation.
There has also been a brouhaha over the Attorney General’s desire for civilian trials for those accused of terrorist activity. Whether one agrees with this stance or not – and I am in the “not” category – this decision means, in effect, the people all around the globe, in every circumstance, are protected by provisions of our Constitution. The Founding Fathers must be turning in their graves on this one.
I suspect that they may also be distressed to learn that “elections” are not the expressed will of the people, but instead represent the will of some people after Census manipulation and the intervention of ACORN operatives. Democracy is, therefore, not the will of the majority, but the will of a minority that knows how to hold on to power. For pragmatists who maintain “realpoilitk,” democracy itself is a casualty since the goal is the status quo at any price.
For the cynic, any time a politician says I believe in “honoring my commitments,” he really means “dishonoring commitments.” But then again you really don’t have to be a cynic to smile at the former and believe in the latter.