RANGER AGAINST WAR: Words as Saltambiques <

Friday, March 14, 2014

Words as Saltambiques

Let me hear you say
The words I want to hear
Darling when you're near 
--Words of Love,
Buddy Holly 

Now what I want is Facts. ...
In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir;
nothing but facts! 
--Hard Times, Charles Dickens 

I've believed as many as six
 impossible things before breakfast 
--Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol

Outside of last weekend's local gun show stood an animated crowd of young Republicans swinging placards declaring of our Teabagger-friendly Congressman Steve Southerland, "He'll protect your 2nd Amendment rights!"

Ranger thought, "What's a right if it has to be protected?" Of course, no one has a "right" to own a gun -- our rights are delegated to us, and protected by the proper authorities. This implies they may be yanked from us just as easily.

Ditto all rights: just because we have a voice box does not guarantee us the right to use it in any manner we see fit, or in any circumstance. Our "rights" are curtailed once they enter the public sphere, and protections must be issued and guarded in order to allow our expectation of continuity in our lives. So perhaps the word "rights" is not the best one for these privileges accorded by our guiding societal agreements.

An enumerated right might be an offense, in another context. Words are symbols, and may only approximate the actuality (presuming an actuality exists.) As Alfred Korzybski wrote, "the map is not the territory." This is not to say that the deconstructionists are correct when they strip the possibility of fixed meaning from words. It is simply that absolute definitions are really only valid within an agreed upon construct.

In context then, terms like "situational ethics" are revealed as the excuse and cloaking mechanism which they are. Situational ethics imply no ethics at all, or no fixed ethics, which throws the reference point for knowledge (in this case, "ethics") into question.

Words can be used to communicate or to obfuscate. They can be constructive or destructive. The goal of communication is not necessarily positive. Words in the service of communications have become more emotive, as it is easier to sway people with emotion.

Some words are forbidden, and euphemisms can become mandatory. Entire swathes of our population engage in a private lexicon understood only by acolytes. However, as in the classic "All in the Family" episode in which husband Archie forbade Edith from using the term "cling peaches", a way around the matter was found, and a careful and discreet listener can divine the meaning behind the rhetoric.

Today, when words are generated at such a rapid pace, and replicated through the push of a button into myriad other platforms, words often fail to clarify, instead taking up their role as saboteurs of meaning. By blurring hard definitions, words wear a cloak of impenetrability. This confusion over simple meanings causes the listener to block attempts to hear and decode what the saboteurs are producing in their sound bytes, or simply to question when those sound bytes do not seem to be consistent with observed reality, or even what was said prior.

For example, the word "invasion" has gone from being a word describing an offensive act to an ostensibly protective concept with the addition of "preemptive". Invasions become prophylaxis to a future invasion. The aggressor (= "preemptive invader") becomes a gatekeeper.

In this context, the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq becomes a positive and protective gesture, like Congressman Southerland's protection of my rights. However, in Russia's current actions in the restive nation on its border (the Crimea in Ukraine), invasion is once again configured as an untoward and aggressive action. How does an individual make sense of one word with so many intonations and connotations?

Contributing to the problem is the panoply of issues which occupy a life, and the concomitant number of platforms on which we receive our news, gobbling up any free time which might be used in contemplation. Not only have facts blurred into opinions, but the opinion generators have gained their own followings, such is the need for material to fill up the cable airspace, and comedians who can keep our attention better than the dry newscasters are often our main sources of data. But while comedians may hold our attention, they cannot do the deep thinking for us, something required of an informed electorate.

Words can also be the basis of disinformation when used by propagandists, and are used to confuse and confound, eliciting a desired effect that may be unreasonable, emotional or inappropriate. Sometimes, the propagandists look like good guys, such as those in our National Security Agency.

But back to the gun show.

How can a  congressman protect my rights from anything? If they are rights, as conferred by foundational documents which have created and guide my government, then he is only charged with getting out of the way. Congress critters should disabuse themselves of the notion that they are doing anything besides functioning as obedient public servants.

--Jim and Lisa

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