Actually, words don’t stand still. Words are symbols, accepted concepts which, when written or spoken, transfer information from one person to another. They can’t stand still. I stood still, or rather, gripped the steering wheel of my car as I groused very loudly, “what?”
I was listening to the radio when a well-meaning public service announcement asked people to donate their old cars to a charitable organization which, in turn, would sell the vehicles and use the proceeds to help “…the victims of homelessness.” What? Not homeless victims of mental illness, drug addiction, or disaster, but for victims of homelessness itself. One can be in a state of homelessness (be homeless, am homeless, are homeless), I thought, but cannot exist as a victim of homelessness.
Homelessness itself had suddenly become a primal force of nature. Some unsuspecting Fred and Jane might be out shopping when suddenly, without warning, the beast Homelessness could snatch them from the mall and do its worst.
The subtle mischief in the use of those words presents an image in the mind of the unsuspecting listener of a great danger racing throughout the land, wrenching innocent people from their pursuit of happiness. The mental seeds were being sown to institute homelessness as a causal force, rather than as a symptom or consequence of other factors.
For decades society has been concerned about the problem of teen pregnancy. I don’t know anyone who endorses children having children with the ensuing problems and burdens for all, especially for the truly innocent child, er baby. Yet there has been a consistent word play to redefine the “problem” of teen pregnancy from a case of immature sex, perhaps statutory rape, to a malevolent condition that lurks in the school hallways and on the streets, waiting to leap out and afflict some unsuspecting twelve year old. No child is safe.
Major efforts have been made in the social arena (a.k.a. Government funded) to solve the problem. Curiously absent in many of these is the question of barely pubescent girls engaging in sex with (usually) older males (a.k.a. predators.) No – teen pregnancy is considered, by many, as another childhood disease. Some kids get it, some don’t. It just an evil something that could happen, like HIV, to anyone.
Reflect on how this genuine social concern is addressed and treated in the media and government funded programs, especially school-based. The causal factors are minimized and the symptom/condition is given a disease-like status. The onset of the “disease” is capricious.
Like the proverbial Camel’s nose (if allowed to slip under your tent, it is followed by the rest of the smelly beast), words are the vanguard of political mischief. And, like the Camel, once the concept has been hammered enough and accepted by the rank and file, there will be a large and unsavory occupant in your once happy environment.
Dr. Josef Goebbels took this fundamental psychology of human behavior and institutionalized it – tell the big lie, over and over, in all places, in all forms, and after a while, the lie is accepted as a fact. It’s a playbook that has been used constantly. It’s called conditioning. It’s called propaganda. Whatever its form, it is not truth. But when the concept (the lie) is accepted as truth, then freedom is at risk. Did somebody say, Trojan Horse?
The biggest killers of the twentieth century were governments. More specifically, communism and fascism. Lenin, Stalin and Mao killed far more of their own people than any enemy in the dreadful wars of the late century. Yet preceding the carnage was the corruption of words and phrases. The propaganda, the social conditioning to cower and accept the killer Camels into life’s tent, always preceded the legal (unchallenged) genocide.
What? You dare speak outside the politically accepted mantra (which means you must think differently)? Only an insane person would do so, or something equally idiotic, such as smoke a cigarette, or sip a 32 ounce Coke. Off to the asylum, the political hospital (or Gulag, or Concentration camp) to be pumped full of drugs or hammered until you parroted the appropriate language. Get it right, and you can play ball, Comrade Rocker.
That’s why the day came when the words stood still. Stopped, in motion, for a critical examination of what was actually being communicated. History does repeat itself, but only because succeeding generations lose the ability to think about what is being said, and done, and why. In 1923 a young Hitler and the budding Nazi party attempted an armed takeover of the local government in the infamous Beer Hall Putsch. Herman Goering soothed the citizens saying they should not be concerned, after all, they had their beer, they had their sausages (while behind the doors guns were drawn and death threats made.)
The subtle seduction of the hammered word or phrase is the vanguard of the mischief. The remainder of this epistle looks at some words and phrases that have entered the lexicon and morphed into elements from the sinister playbook. The playbook works. For instance:
Pay for a tax cut. If that phrase makes sense, then already you’ve accepted this subtle demon. What store do you go in order to purchase a tax cut? I am baffled by the casual acceptance of this Camel’s nose on the part of the media, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and voters who should know better. The inference is that the government (federal, state or local) must pay for a tax reduction. Let me get this straight – the government takes your money then buys you a tax reduction. Not.
Lost in this concept is the fact that in the United States – by authority of the Constitution – government has no wealth other than what We the People (a nice phrase in the preamble to the Constitution) give it. It’s called taxes. Not donations, not contributions, not investments, but taxes. Unlike much of the world, and certainly in history, no armed warlord or dictator extorts the wealth you produce by your talent and energy under penalty of death
As a rational government “We the People” choose from amongst our selves those representatives whom we bestow the authority to take a portion of our personal property to use for the common good. It’s a Republic and it can work very well – we have a marvelous system of highways, a supremely effective military (at least for the moment), wondrous scientific and technological advances and a social safety net to boot. Great value!
But “pay” for a tax cut? Absurd! Government spending money to pay for a tax-cut? Ridiculous. Tax revenue is a future event. A tax repeal (like removing the telephone tax to finance the Spanish-American war) means only that “we the people” will surrender less of our wealth to the government. (Yet even the repeal of that tiny tax was vetoed by a previous President who, I presume, wished for citizens to pay for all times, that long settled conflict.)
The mischievous concept lurking behind “pay for a tax cut” is the conditioned acceptance that Government owns all wealth and benevolently dispenses it to the serfs (at least those who are behaving.) History is a terrible thing to waste. Unless, of course, those in power can manage to rewrite history into whatever track record is needed to maintain power. In our Republic, the national government derives power only from those matters the sovereign states have yielded it. The remainder, rests with We, the people. Unless, of course, most people can be conditioned to think otherwise.
Commercial sex workers. If you haven’t bumped into this phrase yet, you will. It is the politically correct replacement for that old word, prostitution. Consider the implied differences between the two. Both involve sex-for-hire, but a prostitute is engaging in a practice that is not condoned by history or religion. A commercial sex worker, on the other hand, is engaged in a commercial business, and, being a “worker” probably should be part of a union. To use and embrace the term Commercial Sex Workers is to legitimize sex-for-hire sans legislation (excepting, of course, Nevada.) As a libertarian, I have no issue with consenting adults engaging in any commercial enterprise. But that’s not what this is about.
The Camel’s nose of this phrase is the gradual inclusion of minors into this “legitimate” way of making money. Minors – you know, children. Do you think there is a market for sexually exploiting children? A “homeless” 14 year old boy or girl turns a few tricks per day or appears in a porn video to “survive.” How honorable.
“Commercial sex workers” seeks to remove any limits to sexual behavior. Watch this one.
Self-esteem. This venerable phrase has been long abused and is now void of any meaning. It means whatever the word is means. Originally, the phrase was applied to persons who didn’t have any, or very little, self-regard. It classed a group of people born into economic or social isolation who could not envision succeeding in life because of the accident of their birth. Great programs heaped lots of money in efforts to teach them self-esteem. Get some esteem, and get rich. Or, at least feel good about yourself.
Everyone and anyone can benefit from encouragement and each of us benefits from learning that in this nation a better life IS possible (although not guaranteed). Self-esteem was marketed and sold to the public with this in mind. Not any more. Self-esteem rode the Camel’s back of corruption to a new implication and manner of thought – feeling good about yourself regardless of what you do or do not do. Prisons are full of dangerous people who have high self-esteem.
Genuine self-esteem is not something that is taught, it is something that is garnered from experience – I met the challenge, faced it and succeeded (to some degree) – I have confidence of my ability to live my life. Once, it was synonymous with self-confidence. Regrettably, “low self-esteem” has devolved into another social disease. The Camel mischief is that vulnerable people are taught that they are forever bound to their miserable birth state with no real hope for improvement other than along the lines of a certain program or political action. Self-esteem no longer frees a person from a caste, but conditions him/her to accept it – and embrace whatever empowerment is dangled by the rulers of the public purse.
(My favorite Self-esteem moment was decades ago when I was invited as a Prevention professional to address the subject to the faculty of an area High School. Prior to the continuing education session, I asked the participating educators to write on a piece of paper their main issue with low self esteem. I managed to present the class as planned – ignoring the issues on the papers: Students lose their books, don’t do their homework, skip class, don’t respect the teacher – problems not of “self-esteem” but self-control.) Heck, if the teachers were clueless about “self-esteem” then no wonder the students were confused.
Gun violence. This is a fairly recent entry into the arena of corruption of language. Pay attention to how often you hear and read this term. What’s the problem here? Violence, of course, you think. We the People need to do something about violence, especially by youth. Wrong. The problem is the gun. By linking two words as one, and repeating them a zillion times, people begin spouting “gun violence” to describe assault. The solution? Remove the gun in gun violence and everyone lives happily thereafter. The recent Boston bombings give the lie to this.
Guns are not the problem in violence, people are the problem – the person who is convinced that he/she will not suffer any negative consequences by beating, shooting, stabbing, raping, and yes, bombing. Remember that most of the insidious conditioning phrases are founded in well meaning emotional responses. Personal belief and behavior is the real social problem. Does anyone support violence? (Careful now, you’d be surprised how many do support violence to improve their lives.) This Camel’s nose implants the idea that a person is not responsible for their violent behavior – that damned gun came along and made them do it. (Notice how avoidance of personal responsibility for personal decisions and behaviors links most of the nefarious words and phrases.)
How often do you see the headline “Gunfire erupts…” Or hear the news intro “Gunfire erupted today…” A new demon has been unleashed! Lord Gunfire. Presumably, Gunfire lurks deep in the fiery bowls of Earth, randomly bursting forth to the surface (hence, eruption) and spewing hot lead into innocents.
Angst causing as it may be for some, the reality is that a resting gun will not, on its own accord, fly around the neighborhood then randomly fire at someone. It’s a machine. It must have a human hand (and mind) to operate it. Guns are pointed and triggers are pulled. That is NOT random violence nor is it the evil appearance of Lord Gunfire. (Random violence – that’s another social disease in the works.) Want to get serious? Lose the guns component and deal with the personal notion that violence is acceptable – or has minimal negative consequences.
At-risk. The corruption of the original meaning of this phrase, a sibling of self-esteem, is sad. At-risk is a term prevalent in the context of youth born into situations where life’s deck of cards are stacked against them, and causing them to do drugs, shoot guns, get pregnant, steal, and commit all sorts of evils. Oops, I’m sorry, the bad hand makes them more vulnerable to eruptions of Lord Gunfire, sudden onset of pregnancy and… Tons of money has been poured into programs to help youth at-risk of bad behavior. Has it worked? Since the numbers of at-risk youth seem to grow, I guess not. (Did someone once say that throwing money at the problem is not a solution?) Of course, if the problem is kept alive, then the need to continue feeding solutions persists. One Wag remarked that, in many states, the number one industry is poverty. An industry that would collapse should there be no impoverished. The Wag further aggravated gentle souls by noting that 21st century “poverty” in the USA was a middle-class lifestyle in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s.
Like the other words and phrases, at-risk was sold to the public as a way to identify and help those kids needing help to rise above the insidious forces (and the new capricious social diseases and eruptions) rampant in their ideological ghetto. Although a family situation may be mentioned or even listed, little is done to address the causal factors. Family dysfunction, in this sense, stereotypes the single mother (a.k.a. never married) household where mom can’t or won’t do right by the kids. Junior shows up at school filthy and hungry, but mom has great nails and hair. Solutions can’t address mom’s choice to have children outside of marriage, nor her spending priorities, since to do so might damage her self-esteem. Don’t even think about discussing the missing father part of this failed equation. Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted quite some time ago the predictable effects of such welfare on families.
That’s the stereotype. The truth is that all youth are at-risk of getting sucked into the victim-me mentality of irresponsible behavior. More vulnerable than the scrappy youths from the barrio are the well-heeled youth of the monied class. The truly rich have always had the problem of bad-behaving Junior or Sis, so it’s not a case of environment or social status. It is, however, a case of corrupt values, decisions and consequences.
Tolerance – the capacity to endure pain or hardship – so says the 10th edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. For all times people have tolerated conditions and situations that were painful and difficult. The key word is endure – to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding. Public education (in school, in media) promotes tolerance as a form of good citizenship. No longer does tolerance mean enduring some offensive circumstance, but accepting and condoning objectionable behavior by others.
Once upon a time a loud-mouthed, push-cart shoving bully in the super-market check-out line was looked upon with disdain, but tolerated, because sooner or later the offensive person would leave. Not anymore. In the politically correct world the obnoxious person has a right to do what he/she is doing and your job is to accommodate them (lest their self-esteem be damaged.) And don’t you dare express disdain (especially to writers for certain magazines.) As stated in these convoluted times, don’t bully the bully. Or, the anti-bully movement is to make sure you don’t object or resist your being bullied.
Co-dependency. Remember that wonderful term from the hey-day of the 70/80′s? Co-dependency is a descriptive word for a family/relationship dynamic associated with drug addiction. The co-dependent arrives at a state of thinking/feeling/behavior that is totally concerned with the behavior of a drug-addicted person. It is a legitimate condition that is destructive but that can respond to a re-ordering of thinking/feeling and behavior. The Camel’s nose snorted, however, that “it’s not my fault…I’m co-dependent.”
A clinical definition that just about anybody could embrace, once the syndrome was expanded beyond drug addiction to include just about anything. In fact, it reached the goofy proportion that if a person wasn’t co-dependent, then they were suspect! Emotional health was viewed with suspicion. Emotionally healthy people usually have high self-esteem/confidence, make decisions and accept the consequences, are tolerant but do not surrender their values to accommodate what they must tolerate. They are considered dangerous people in this politically correct era.
Addiction. What’s good for co-dependency is good for an addict. Addiction is a malignant disease characterized by an over-whelming obsession to continue using mind-altering drugs (or some other behavior) despite chronic, serious, negative consequences. It’s a nasty disease that is terminal and wildly destructive. Persons addicted to gambling kill themselves at a much higher rate than drug addicts. The Camel’s nose sniffed this and liked the sweet smell of “the devil made me do it.”
Once again, consequences were separated from decisions and behavior (which, by the way is the what enabling means – the chief perpetuating component of addiction.) It’s not my fault. So, now people are victims of their addiction to chocolate, television, computers, wrestling and ________(fill in the blank.) These are habits. Habituation is not addiction. The misuse of the word addiction makes it more difficult for those suffering to access relief.
Multi-culturalism – reflecting diverse cultures. A nice word that is as American apple pie. This is really a case of a good idea and good term gone to hell in a hand basket. Although the phrase has been around a while, it’s only in modern times become a movement. People travel, move around, and re-locate more than ever. Geography, whether national or neighborhood, no longer confines a particular race, culture or ideology. It is a small world. No longer do most people live and die within ten miles of the birth place. Cars, airplanes, ships, trains, telephones, internet, faxes, satellites – it’s not only foolish to promote mono-culturalism, it’s impossible. Competing ideas will get out, as in Tiananmen Square, Yeltsin on a tank , Matt Drudge, or #twitcher.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. Even the titled Native Americans themselves supplanted older cultures. Everyone came here from somewhere else, and everywhere else had a different culture and custom. The Constitution provided a government and society whose membership consisted only of obeying the common law. Commerce and social interaction would produce a “melting pot” to catalyze the best from the diverse. E Pluribus Unum –out of the many (states) one (nation.)
Multi-culturalism began as a movement to counter the narrow focus of ethnocentrism with an appreciation for the values and heritage of other citizens. Who would disagree? Nobody, really. Identity is not lost. In it’s genuine practice, multi-culturalism sparkled with just how much diverse people have in common and how that common enriched the society. Regrettably, this expansive and unifying concept is regarded as anathema by the Camel herders.
Multi-culturalism has devolved into a buzz word for mono-racial ideology. Rather than celebrating what is held in common, multi-culturalism demands “tolerance” of divisive cultural behaviors often disdained by others. Embedded in this is also the concept of “it’s not my fault.” This is the thinking that persists in seeking a “why” did the Boston bombers kill and maim people watching an exciting footrace?
Binge. For some reason the Camel leaders have slipped this word into the language regarding alcoholic beverages. Historically, a binge described the actions of a person who shirked his/her family, responsibilities, job, whatever, for a period of time – time devoted solely to doing drugs/alcohol/gambling. It’s not a pretty sight and often ended only when the person was too sick to continue or some other bad result. A binge was not a pretty picture.
The new “binge” refers to someone drinking a few drinks in one sitting, whether at a party or bar (sitting is often ill-defined – one hour, four hours, one day…). Granted, people can manage to get smashed mixing drugs and alcohol regularly enough and occasionally with fatal results. But that’s not what the new binge describes. Its purpose is to stigmatize people. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t vanished, dropped out of sight, neglected their families/jobs/studies/drive drunk/act stupid, they are viewed by the Camel as social outcasts. (Déjà vu – it’s the attack on “big tobacco” again!) Irresponsible drinking is one thing. A bona-fide binge is something else. Why the blur? Keep an eye (and nose) on this one.
Finally, let me revisit an old favorite.
Gender. Where biological creatures have a sex, language has gender. In certain languages words are masculine, feminine or neutral. Gender is not a biological identifier. Animals and humans have a sex – male or female. Yet the word is routinely used to identify the sex of a person. Why would anyone want to reference such a distinction as gender? Sniff…sniff…
Neutral? A neutral, or third sex? My neutered cat is listed “N” on its medical chart. Could this be? Could the Camel’s nose of years ago employed this subtle change to prepare public acceptance for a third sex? One replete with a new order of rights and protections? Naw, that’s just too preposterous – creating a new sexual identity by words alone?
Then again, what would be the consequences of striking out the word gender on a form, and writing in “sex” before answering it? Indeed, what would that do? Nothing. Unless there is mischief with the Camel’s nose.