Political language is designed to be deceptive. People need to do a better job of "looking past" the words and try to get to the ideas that the words represent. The words, themselves, are often designed to hide the real meaning.
Thoughts and ideas are expressed with words and language but there is too much meaning placed on the words and not enough exploration of the ideas that the words represent. If the words sound good, if they are soothing words that make people feel good about themselves then people are unlikely to explore the real meaning. Call it intellectual laziness; this conflict is the dictator's best friend.
Joseph Goebbels is known for having said "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." The rest of that quote is lesser known. He continued "The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
The propaganda methods that Goebbels spoke of have been used throughout history. Whether as a citizen, a consumer, a student, an employee, or a spouse (especially as a spouse!) people should be aware of words designed to manipulate, rather than inform. Ayn Rand once said "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." Too often, the consumer of information assumes that he SHOULD accept the information at face value and is afraid to question it for fear of seeming an outcast, or worse, he may fear being scorned for being too stupid to understand the greater good of the propaganda that is being spoon fed to him. This fear is the propagandist's best friend.
A good example is the current health care debate in the US. This debate has taken many turns but the basic premise doesn't go challenged. Is it about reducing costs? Whose costs? Is each individual responsible for the medical costs of others? It's the government's job to budget for the government; it's my job to budget for myself. Once it becomes the responsibility of one person to pay for the care of another, then everyone else has an incentive to get involved in the way we each live our lives. No one has the right to tell me how to spend money — or worse – take it away from me to force me to buy a product that I don't want. We all need food, shelter, a way to make a living, some entertainment once in a while, and a 54 inch plasma TV. Should we share the costs on those also?
If Obama was interested in reducing costs, then he would enforce the border, where people coming here illegally are putting an incredible financial strain on the medical system. He would promote tort reform, so that doctors wouldn't have to send patients for needless tests just to protect themselves. He would allow free competition across state lines for health insurance which would reduce prices. He might also look into whether states should mandate insurance companies to cover non-essential procedures which provide incentive for people to get elective procedures which they may not need or want if it weren't provided on someone else's dime. When Obama speaks the words "save money" or "reduce costs" (and by the way if you google those phrases you'll find that he says them almost as much as he says "I"), the translation is more government power and less freedom for the individual. He is like a car salesman that goes on and on with lies and faulty logic but the nightmare is that as a consumer, you don't have the freedom to walk away from it! You are forced to buy the "car" with money that they take right out of your pocket.
Thomas Sowell once said that if the democrats came up with a plan that would mandate all citizens to jump off of a 100 story building, a week later the republicans would come up with a plan to mandate all citizens to jump off of a 50 story building. This health care debate is about whether to jump off of a 50 story or a 100 story building and before getting into the specifics of the plan, we should ask "Is it a good idea to be jumping off of buildings?"
Stuart Chase, a writer in the 1930s, pointed out in his book "The Tyranny of Words" that words ending in "ism" are misused more than most. These words represent concepts which can't be defined simply, yet the mere mention of them invokes images of pure evil in some and pure joy in others. Words such as fascism, industrialism, communism, capitalism have meanings based on emotion but not too many people actually know what these words really mean. One word cannot define a complex political/economic system. Ask someone to tell you the meaning of fascism and what you'll get is something such as "evil, tyranny, bad government, totalitarian…." But not too many people can go further.
Fascism is often portrayed as the opposite of communism when in fact; they are two sides of the same coin. Fascism is positioned on the right and communism on the left. In reality, both fascism and communism subjugate the rights of individuals, the family, self protection, religious freedom, the right to own property, and many other rights taken for granted, to the state. The state decides what you can own, where you can worship, even how many children you can have. These are not opposites — they are basically the same! Yet fascism is often linked with capitalism, not with its brother communism.
The word capitalism is also misleading. The term implies a society based on capital. The US is not a society based on capital, it is a society based on freedom. It is this freedom that makes "capitalism" the true opposite of both communism and fascism. The word capitalism implies that capital is at the root of a free society rather than the result of a free society. It is a derogatory term coined by none other than Karl Marx. Using the word capitalism undermines what a free market is. Its very use calls upon assumptions that are not true.
While there are some words that are misleading, others are sophisticated euphemisms. On September 11, 2001, the worst attack in American history took place on American soil. When we refer to that horrific day, we say "9-11". After December 7, 1941, people didn't call the Pearl Harbor attack "12-7". They called it a sneak attack and said some not too complimentary things about the people that did the attack. Admiral Halsey said "Before we're through with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell!" We have to stop pretending that reality is something it isn't. Barack Obama refuses to even use the word "terrorism". On September 11, 2001, people went to work and found themselves trapped in a burning building knowing they were about to die. One minute, they were thinking about lunch, their weekend plans, and their work schedule – all of a sudden they were faced with the end of their lives. Using the phrase 9-11 doesn't do them justice and it doesn't speak to the evil that occurred on that day. It doesn't sound like a Madison Ave jingle and it shouldn't – it was the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, not a date and not a number.
Sometimes words just seem to pop up out of thin air. Some political consultant decides that there is a new word to be used and all the networks, pundits and politicians go with the word in lock step. One such word was "gravitas". In 2000, when Bush was running against Gore, the democrats came out and said he lacked "gravitas". All of a sudden all the people on television were talking about "gravitas". In the last campaign the word "transparency" was the word of the day. Politicians should learn how to talk to people, not by using a word such as "transparency" but by explaining how as citizens, we have a right to know what our government is doing. Words repeated over and over lose their meaning and that's what politicians rely on. As for the word "gravitas", after a grand explosion on the political scene in 2000, it seems to have gone back into hiding. No point in bringing out the word "gravitas" when there is a democratic president who lacks "gravitas". George Orwell understood why politicians will bring words such as "gravitas" up from the basement, dust them off and use them. He said "If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy…Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful…to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
MBA Marketing Pace University
I currently work for a large financial institution.
I started the blog EndTheChange because I am outraged at the direction our country is going in. People who feel this way want to know "What can I do?" This blog is my little way of trying to set the record straight on the upside-down state of our country.