“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Words are supposed to have meaning; they are intended to convey a description about something or someone. They are meant to convey a clear idea of what is intended by the speaker or writer of words. If they fail in this regard, it is not the words that are in error, it is the speaker or writer. He or she is in error, is referring to a subject matter obtusely or esoterically, or is being disingenuous. To be in error is commonplace and can be as innocent as not having the correct facts at hand. To be obtuse or esoteric may be that the subject matter is beyond common knowledge or difficult to convey. However, to be disingenuous is to speak or write in bad faith so as to mislead or deceive.
Shakespeare’s phrase above has come down to us as an expression of the simple fact that names don’t change what things actually are. It’s a poetic way of expressing Aristotle’s law of identity that A is A. This sounds like a simple and obvious idea, but the sad truth is that with all the technology available to us for clear communication we are plagued with so much obfuscation of what is empirically real.
Socially, politically and economically we are bombarded with sound bites, buzz words, slogans, clichés and other linguistic and mental contrivances that leave us numb with frustration that nothing real is actually being said. This leads to mistrust in those that speak and write disingenuously, whether that’s the media, politicians and government, academics, or even medical and health institutions. We could, and maybe should, write down a list of such things we hear and read each day, and at the end of that day read them and see what sense we can make of them without the noise from the sources.
Take for instance the meaning of being “inclusive”. The dictionary definition is a description of being broad in orientation and scope. However, that is not the intent of the word in the context of social justice; in fact it’s quite the opposite as it has become a means test to prioritize inclusion based on race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The right name for describing such practice is being “exclusive”.
Consider the definition of “racism”, which literally is a belief that race determines superiority and conversely inferiority among humans, and is manifested by social and political norms adopted to maintain a specific structure accordingly; then consider the various policies and programs at play in the name of social justice. Whether it’s college admissions, stimulus money, vaccinations, employment, or whatever, the justifications are as racially based as that which they are purported to change. The most insidious example culturally is the proposition that all “white” people are inherently racist simply because they’re white. Apparently according to the current thesis of social justice the belief in and practice of racism depends on what race you are, which of course is categorically a contradiction on the actually meaning, but don’t dare say that or you will be accused of being racist.
Economically the current buzz word is “transitory” when discussing the topic of inflation. The word is a synonym for temporary, as in something of brief duration or a period leading to something else. In either case the word is not appropriate in describing inflation considering the fact that over the last century the USD has consistently lost value, approximately 95%, due to the monetary inflation policies of the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury, who maintain the transitory narrative. We are not told to consider that, only to consider price inflation as expressed by the CPI. This smoke and mirrors game is predicated on the hope that we ignore the fact that price is driven by productivity, technology, supply, demand and trade, among other things; but the true cost is relative to the value of the medium of exchange. The important thing here is the issue of the convolution of words, and in this case “transitory” begs the question, what are we transitioning to? What’s really on the other side of this inflated bubble?
The political word play is equally insidious, especially given the labels the two major parties cloak themselves with. The Republican Party, founded on the consolidation of abolitionist and constitutionalist, and the protection of liberty and individual rights, is fracturing into various camps as evidenced by the Trumpians ousting Cheney who claims to represent the true GOP. Prior to that Justin Amash left the Republican Party because he believed Trump committed impeachable offenses. Cleary we will soon see at least two parties evolve out of that family feud. It’s likely that the Democrats will follow suit by eventually splitting in to some labeled entities such as “Liberals” and “Progressives”.
The funny thing about labels is that they either inform, like those on soup cans, or mislead as the examples above show. In the case of the two major political parties, this fact is humorously expressed by a tweet I recently read that basically says that like Democrats, Republicans are “big government liberals” (i.e. not liberal as in the Enlightenment sense), they just do it cheaper; perhaps a little cynical, but sadly accurate.
The left/right spectrum paradigm of political parties is poorly conceived and totally inaccurate as to defining policy or concept, so those labels are all wrong simply because the proponents of those labels are using words inaccurately or disingenuously. On the left we have “Liberal”, but not as that word defines the political awakening of the 17thC and the 18thC Enlightenment, which was the political thesis of natural rights and liberty in all aspects of life; in current times it is understood to mean support of an ever larger centralized and authoritarian government and therefore poorly designated. We also have “Progressive”, which in reality is a euphemism for socialist, which few kike Bernie Sanders will honestly profess; given the long history of failures with that political thesis, it’s more like “Regressive”. However, we’re not doing so well with the right either; what does it really mean to be a “Conservative”? What actually is being conserved? Conservatives talk of liberty, but support repression of ideas they don’t agree with, spout patriotism as getting into foreign wars of no security interest for this country, initiate the dumbest programs like the War-On-Drugs, and impose tariffs and sanctions that do nothing but make Americans pay more for less; is this what they are conserving?
Not so long ago, our nation embraced free trade as a pathway to economic growth, good will among nations and an expression of the principles of freedom. A free people will always seek to trade in accordance with the simple economic principle of comparative advantage. The two policies that both major parties appear to agree on are trade and anti-trust. Both support a trade policy based on threats, sanctions and tariffs, and both support a regulatory policy of punishing success with anti-trust legislation and law suits. In both cases it’s the American consumer who pays the price. However, note that both parties profess support for capitalism and free trade while practicing the cronyism so antithetical to these fundamental principles. If this contradiction between professed words and actions seems confusing you, it’s because you’re paying attention.
Hopefully Americans wondered as they should have about the recent CDC announcement that those that are vaccinated against COVID19 can now be “free” to resume their normal lives, as if the CDC can assume the power to be the arbiter of our constitutional rights. Such words are exactly the kind of disingenuous practices that cause many Americans to look on such institutions as bad faith actors more interested in establishing another power base than providing reliable medical and health information upon which Americans can make informed decisions, as is their right.
Nor should Americans miss the fact that it was our own governments, never failing to take advantage of any crisis to gain more power, who killed our economy with wonton disregard for our liberties and livelihoods with draconian lockdowns, who then turn around and with a wink and a nod do even further damage with relentless monetary inflation, higher taxes and more distortionary regulations in the name of an “American Rescue”; if that’s a rescue then anchors can serve as life preservers on a sinking ship.
Currently our institutions of a free press and education express ideas and practice policies so contrary to the very meaning of free speech. Historically there have been many instances in America when free speech was repressed, usually later to be corrected, but in truth not always. First, we need to dispel the notion that there is no such thing as free speech due to certain limitations. The idea that libel and slander show that there are limitations is true, but disingenuous as both of these pertain to civil actions available to all against anyone who so abuses them, but it doesn’t mean that they are not free to say what they will, only that there are consequences if what they say is false. Then we have obscenity and pornography limitations, both of which have been rightfully defeated in courts such as in cases involving Lenny Bruce and Larry Flint. Then there are the issues with sedition, incitement, classified disclosures, copyright violations, etc. all of which do not reduce free speech but in fact represent illegal activities. These are noteworthy exceptions but the exceptions do not define the rule, in this case as represented by the First Amendment.
What is most alarming is despite the long and storied history of legal battles and social movements in the cause of free speech we have today movements within mass media, most notably in major newspapers like the NY Times and Facebook in social media, representing a repression of free speech rather than the cause of a free press. Consider the term ‘fake news’, a phrase most infamously attributed to Donald Trump, so vilified by most of mass media but who now cloak themselves as the arbiters of what is permissible to say or write in the cause of “community standards” and protectors against fake news, as if we need someone to choose for us what we are allowed to hear or read; what a disingenuous convolution of terms. William Randolph Hearst once said “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed, all else is advertising.” Apparently most Americans now take that same view of our media institutions as little more than advertising as their words have simply lost a sense of reality and truth.
It’s difficult to believe that in our institutions of “higher learning” the corruption of words used to justify the repression of free speech through such thuggery as shouting down or even preventing speech that students and/or faculty find objectionable; their reasoning is that free speech is nothing more than a refuge for the privileged and therefore a tool of oppression. Now there is such a gold mine of convoluted thinking and a contradiction of words in such a sentiment that its obvious disingenuous nature would provide enough material to write a whole other post, so I’ll leave the obvious to the reader’s imagination.
Perhaps there can be another reason besides those I noted in the opening paragraph to explain the failure to use words accurately which is best expressed by Robert Heinlein when he said “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”