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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lame Language: A Stately Affair

“For the state, the goal is to bind individuals to itself.” – Daniel Hieber, “Why Do Languages Die?”

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

I

     From time immemorial predatory organizations calling themselves various names and waving various flags have lorded over societies, exploiting them and raping their cultures without remorse. What’s worse, these groups—called states today—never left their “hosts” of their own accord. They were always replaced or swallowed up by bigger, badder foes who continued to subjugate the same unlucky societies in their own turn.

     The states of yesteryear did not have the means—nor the ambitions—that are practically standard qualifications for statehood today. In the present, for example, the group calling itself “the United States government” not only extorts its subjects the old fashioned way through taxation and inflation, but regulates poor and new businesses across the economy into virtual oblivion, heavily subsidizes those firms whose company it can’t stand to live without, fattening its bureaucracies under the guise of “helping the poor”, purposefully engineering turmoil and ungodly destruction the world over, and—worst of all—this group convinces its subjects that all of this is legitimate, justified and even to their own benefit. Moreover, it teaches its citizens, who are presumed to be at once perfectly free, yet attached to their state like a conjoined twin, ought to take pride in being a part of all of this. In the ancien régime, no ruler anywhere would have had the audacity to foist these efforts upon the public—let alone to the same degree—without the very real fear of waking up in chains within a week. In contrast, these actions are prominent endeavors, to say the least, of modern states. Only differences in name, location, and degree of their actions separate them from one another today.

     Seemingly without their weak points, modern states appear nearly untouchable. Its police are becoming more militarized by the hour and its militaries ever ready to fend off dissidents who become too raucous, while the press manufactures favorable public opinion to contribute public consent to the State’s causes and discourages heretical thought. However, when one considers what particular means the rulers of a state hold dear—as well as why these things are valued—and the logical implications of removing them from the State’s possession, the more plausible and desirable the true restoration of freedom and natural, uninhibited, unmolested peace seems to be. We thus must examine what those actors in charge of States value most and do all we can to take away those things as a matter of strategy.

     Evidently and in theory, rulers value those means which expedite the process of making them richer. Now, instead of speculating and imputing to individual rulers an arbitrary scale of values and proceeding from there, I suggest we turn toward a more inherent desire—one which is an absolute requirement for the State to attain any of its ends whatever. One of the most basic insights into human interaction is the use of language—a praxeological necessity for interpersonal communication in general, let alone for the State’s interaction with its subjects. As I will show, besides other things, the State distorts the language of the society over which it rules in order to cultivate favorable public opinion and demonize detractors. Thus, by “reclaiming” our own language in a broadly cultural sense, which is to say disallowing the State to pulverize words in our common tongue into oblivion, deconstruction of the compulsory State becomes a fundamentally easier goal. Putting an end to the State’s control of language renders the bulk of State propaganda hopelessly ineffective. In doing so, we will hopefully encourage those in comatose to smarten up and cast off the State’s imposition of ideas—showing people how to think rather than the all too ingrained habit of what to think. For if language manipulation is used to benefit rulers at their subjects’ expense, surely retaking our language will reverse this state of affairs.

II

“In the new jargon, certain intelligible ideas would become inexpressible. In a rather poor trade-off for this veto on complexity, many views that are expressible will, in turn, be entirely and indeed almost beautifully unintelligible.” – Christopher Hitchens, “Words Matter”

     To begin by way of analogy: Very similar to the State’s desire for one common currency—especially one it controls—rulers also desire for their subjects to speak one common language, and prefer it to be under their control. Expropriation becomes far easier and more fruitful by controlling language, for the State can communicate with its subjects more effectively.

     The first task of the State regarding money is to outlaw any alternative form of currency. It will usually pick the currency that is already most widely used in order to relieve itself of the time, means, and effort it would take to start from scratch. Once this task is accomplished, rulers must embark on the task of controlling and monopolizing the production of money. By controlling this, rulers enrich themselves at their subject’s expense much more efficiently than straightforward taxation by simply printing up their own money units (inflation) and using them at will, just as any counterfeiter does. Assuming they inflate—for they have little incentive to deflate—it leads, in the short term, to the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor who become poorer, and in the long run to a boom, which quietly wreaks havoc on the economy, then a bust as this havoc becomes manifest. In both the short and long run the level of wealth-loss and perceived diminished level of future gain create decivilizing effects such as short-term orientations, increased crime rates, and a general sense of hedonism. The degree to which the State expropriates in the traditional sense by taxation contributes to these decivilizing effects accordingly, but accomplished through inflation it accelerates such effects exponentially.

     Regarding language, the first task of the State is to acquire court intellectuals. Not a single task regarding the propagation of its ideas, manipulation of language and so forth, can be accomplished without them. They advance ideas for the State, spin “philosophical” defenses of its actions, and overall serve to convince a society to obey those ruling over it. Indeed, so needed is this role of artificial intelligentsia that wherever I speak of "the State" or "rulers" I am also speaking of their court intellectuals.

     Unlike gaining ultimate control of money, the State does not necessarily need to outlaw alternative languages (a task that would be hard to accomplish since language is merely a basic means to communicate and cannot be removed or dissolved by simple decree). It need only make one language standard within its borders, which very nearly amounts to the same thing. This choice will tend to be the one already spoken by its subjects, for it relieves the State of having to do work that would be terribly hard at best and impossible at worst. If this task is deemed too difficult it may diversify the languages its officials speak. But this case notwithstanding, the State can act in only three ways. It may have speakers of other languages merely learn the official one; otherwise, it must dispose of competition by either destroying every speaker of other languages or ostracize such speakers through propaganda—which may indeed lead individuals to learn the State’s chosen language. It may act in one or another of these ways, or all of them, either in conjunction or in succession.

     My reader may raise a few questions about why and how the State chooses one language over another. To answer these questions, in part, I must reemphasize the point made above regarding the preference to begin at a point in time closest to an actor’s end. It makes the goal of the State that much easier to choose and standardize that language which is most spoken in the society over which it rules. The fewer individuals it must force into speaking the language, the better. However, there is the rather obvious case of forcing a language onto a completely separate culture where this is not a possibility. The State may recruit speakers of the foreign language into its own ranks if this task is deemed too difficult. Yet if it does take the former route, it must persuade those foreign individuals in one way or another that it possesses enough force to influence their state of affairs. In short, those individuals must learn the standard language lest they be considered different in the pejorative sense of the term.

     Following the compulsory standardization of language, the state must monopolize the production of language, or what might be called the language market. The court intellectuals must have utter reign over what goes in and what comes out of the minds of the State’s subjects. This way, the State—and not those “decentralized” intellectuals who would otherwise spontaneously change and maintain ideas and language within a society—has control of what happens with them. Accordingly, rulers manipulate language in their own favor. This is necessarily to society’s detriment, for it uses society’s own language in a manner that would not have been used otherwise.

     Now to the ways in which language manipulation by government takes place. As words convey and communicate concepts, the State produces words anew to stand for concepts it has dreamt up and whose purposes are to make achievement of the State’s goals easier. The State also takes away or prevents those words which communicate ideas contrary to its goals from coming into being.

     There is a third and far more effective way to accomplish this task. That is adopting and adapting already existing words to fit the State’s aims. Thus, if rulers wish to make an idea palatable to the masses in a positive way they adapt one or more terms already in use and change their meaning. Essential to this undertaking is either choosing already vague words or choosing less ambiguous words and rendering them even more ambiguous than they were before. The State therefore has an incentive to pick more ambiguous terms rather than less ambiguous. It puts its own meaning behind these terms, and in due time, as more actors adopt this new definition, these terms come to mean what the State wants them to mean.

     If rulers wish to ostracize, belittle, or altogether remove an idea which threatens their aims, they may perform the same task in the opposite direction. They take words which mean very specific things to people in opposition to its goals and render them more ambiguous. Into this vacuum they place their own meaning, substituting the newer meaning for the former one. Again, as time proceeds, more and more actors will associate the word with the concept of the State’s choice; they end up thinking of that word and the concept it was originally meant to convey in a negative fashion.

     Changing the definitions of words inherently changes the concepts being communicated, for words are representations of concepts which actors desire to communicate to one another and are means as such. But by artificially changing a language, the State does not change these internal concepts. Every thought of ours is unique and unchangeable as such. (When an idea “changes” for an actor, it only means that more concepts were introduced or that the concepts building it up or complimenting it were forgotten, leading an actor to have a different opinion or viewpoint regarding the concept concerned. The term he attaches to that concept therefore represents the changed idea he puts behind it.)

      By modifying existing words, the State’s intervention into a language prevents the concepts from being communicated in an intended way by causing a term to convey concepts different from those intended by the users of the word. So properly speaking, the State severs the means from the end. The term itself takes on two different meanings, communicating different things to different people. They actually become two separate words, so to speak, though they have the same appearance, and the State then encourages one meaning to the detriment of the other.

     A phenomenal example of such language abuse is provided by Professor Noam Chomsky:

“In political discourse, every term has two meanings. [This is true] of the term ‘peace process’ . . . Its dictionary meaning is ‘some sort of process that’s trying to lead toward peace’. But it also has a technical meaning, one that’s actually used. In its technical meaning it means whatever diplomatic initiatives the United States happens to be advocating at a particular moment . . . that’s ‘the peace process’. Notice it follows that it’s a logical impossibility for the United States to be opposed to ‘the peace process’, that’s a nice consequence. To prove that the United States is for peace, you don’t have to do any laborious inquiry into the annoying facts because it’s true by definition. Since the peace process is whatever the United States is up to, the United States is always supporting peace. [Moreover,] the U.S. enemies are always opposed to peace, because they’re not supporting whatever the U.S. is up to, and so by definition they are opposed to peace.”

My reader may easily figure out other terms to apply this process to, such as “we”, “terrorism”, “progressive”, and so forth, virtually ad infinitum. To wit, this theft of language from the subjects of a state is virtually a process of purposefully rendering them speechless.

     To come back to and complete the original analogy to money: By having such control over language in society, rulers enrich themselves, at their subject’s expense, much more effectively than merely using basic propaganda to push an idea onto the populace. They “inflate” a language with meaningless words—for rulers have almost no reason to promote words with concrete definitions—which ultimately leads to the State gaining support for its actions at the expense of its victims, whose ideas become more opaque. In the short term, a “boom” of language is created with artificially injected concepts, which subtly transform society. In the long run, a “bust” occurs when society accepts the new definitions over their former ones. The level of language-loss devolves civilization as such; it leads, in part, to increased state power (which is to increase crime itself) and vague notions which lead virtually nowhere except to society’s own detriment. The degree to which the State manipulates ideas through mere propaganda contributes to such decivilizing effects accordingly, but done through language manipulation, it accelerates such effects exponentially.

     Accomplishing all of this on any kind of large scale has a few prerequisites. The State must control the education industry within its borders. (To some extent this means the press industry as well, for this is another form of education. By and large, this is how adults educate themselves about current affairs. One might say this is where they go to learn what to think based on the opinions of public intellectuals in society.) It is the most efficient way to accomplish every task above.

     Moreover, and this is really a prerequisite for any state action whatever regarding its subjects, rulers must have majority acceptance of their actions—whether active or passive—to do any of this. Too, the level of general acceptance affects the degree to which the State can change definitions of words. For instance, if a term is steadfastly defined by those in a society, rulers cannot change it; if it is somewhat less so, they can change its meaning slightly; if it is totally ambiguous they can use it as they please, either as is or they may easily place their own meaning behind it, of course making this their first choice for manipulation.

    A few words ought to be said here. Firstly, the term “prerequisite” might give the wrong connotation—it may not be that rulers manipulate language only after monopolization of education and possession of adequate public opinion, but that they do it all along as any propaganda program requires. Secondly, it is true that any of the State’s actions toward its subjects require propaganda to achieve, yet it is interesting to note that manipulating language itself has the intention of propaganda behind it. So propaganda begets propaganda. Thirdly, changing language and manipulating it out of self-interest in order to persuade others is not an action unique to the State, but because this power becomes centralized under the State, it can be far more disastrous than left to the free market where there is competition, freedom of education, and an overall incentive for words to genuinely mean something rather than stand for purposefully ambiguous concepts.

III

     The effects of the State’s language manipulation on society are simple, yet important. It involves looking at how compulsory conditions retard and detract from natural language development under conditions of freedom.

     The natural use of language to convey ideas is sharply diminished once the state monopolizes a language. More importantly, ideas are virtually prevented from being thought at all by outlawing the words to attach to them in the first place. This is not to say that individuals cannot form ideas on their own and create new words to identify them, but it prevents sharing ideas between one person and another because the words mean something different from one person to another. Creativity cannot be stamped out, ever, but it can be discouraged.

     Furthermore, once the State begins to manipulate a language, the language is distorted with otherwise unnecessary words and ideas that would not have existed otherwise. If they were necessary for individuals to communicate in society, the concepts and the words would already be in use. The State always acts in its own favor, so the subjects are made to think in an unnaturally, i.e., in a way they would not have thought if not for State interference. After all, the purpose of thought control is to make actions impossible which were possible before (and vice-versa). Thus, the State’s addition, subtraction, and manipulation of words can never be in a society’s favor, but always to society’s detriment.

     In addition, manipulation of words that already exist implicitly promotes feuding which would not have occurred otherwise. Those with more intelligent and creative minds, who possess a broader and better defined vocabulary find it hard to communicate with those using words with transformed meanings, which generates more antagonistic attitudes toward one another, making it that much harder for the former to break the mold.

     Lastly, and this might be the most important insight, whether transforming a term to promote an idea or to belittle it, the State attacks the most ambiguous terms first, and when it cannot do that, it turns words with specific meaning into vague words with hardly a trace of significant thought behind them. In either case, words become unclear so that the vague connotations take hold in a speaker’s mind, which implies the ghastly truth that the State uses human imagination—man’s most creative instinct—against itself and toward its own harm. Moreover, by routing out the concepts words convey, the actors who use them are not required to have much intelligence to “understand” them. The ultimate result of this entire process is a shrunken vocabulary within a language, and those words that do exist are vaguely defined, meaning a relatively dumber populace.

     All of these effects are decivilizing, because they cripple, retard, and destroy cultures which would otherwise grow and flower in their own way had the State not intervened in their language.

IV

     “It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes . . . If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.” – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

     In order to combat compulsory government those who desire to be free must at once encourage the rest of society to do most of what the government actively discourages as well as discourage whatever actions government promotes. Libertarians then position themselves to be squarely in conflict with the state which attempts to rule over them, and so begins the path to proper freedom.

     Anything one does in this vein is dangerous to different degrees, for those who run states are relentless in preserving their means. But this does not necessarily mean we ought to take the State to physical task. One needn’t be so utterly foolish as to take up arms against the state at the outset. History runs rife with rebellions that didn’t quite make it, and it makes little sense for live rebels in spirit to become dead rebels in the flesh. Instead, the oft recommended spread of ideas can make our job far easier. In order for this to be more effective we must insist on a more “conservative” use of language, which is to insist on using terms the way they were originally meant to be used. We must wrestle language back from the State's grasp and triumphantly reclaim it, as if to say, “You took this from us. You used our own creations against us and spoiled them in the process. We are taking back control of our minds and our tongues in order to restore our language to its proper place—in our hands.”

     If libertarians insist on educating others on what words actually mean in their strict sense and therefore how to properly use them, it encourages critical thinking in general—and, one hopes, thinking in a truly critical fashion concerning what the State is actually doing rather than what people are made to think it’s doing within and without its borders. As language is one of the most basic needs of a state to carry out its primal functions, reclaiming the real stuff of our language in order to subtly direct public sentiment back toward freedom and teeming culture ought to prove a great deal about peacefully tearing apart a monolithic government, piece by monolithic piece.

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