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A couple of weeks ago, I had an in-class discussion with one of my students regarding the limits of language. I asked the student, point blank, if language merely described reality or if language could create reality. It’s a slippery subject, and the young man in question took considerable time before answering that he believed that language could only describe reality, not create it.
I pressed him further. “Suppose, young man, I said something about you that was truly hurtful, something that wounded you to your very core. Would those words not create a chemical state of being in your mind? Would these words not create a series of endorphins pulsing through your brain that we colloquially refer to as anger? Would I not, in some way, have created a reality in your mind?”
“No,” He countered, “I’m the one who chose to feel those emotions. Just because I got mad doesn’t mean that you created my anger. My emotions are things I create–not you.” I could have wept at the clarity of his logic. Zeno would be proud.
That young man did what so many of us simply cannot: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality. Our cultural failure to make this distinction has cost us dearly, mostly because of the radical left’s willingness to use the slippery relationship between language and reality to their benefit.
The left’s favorite bit of language manipulation is the inventing (or repurposing) of words and phrases that function as vague, nefarious placeholders for their grand political ambitions. (Think of them as linguistic Trojan Horses). The idea is to introduce a concept into mainstream thought using a word and phrases that, quite literally, have no fixed meaning. In fact, the more nebulous the term the better. Once this word or phrase becomes embedded in public discourse, it becomes the vehicle for a host of far-left progressive agendas. The lack of a concrete meaning makes the appropriated word or phrase ideal for whatever is currently in vogue with the left.
The most notable example of this technique is the infamous “social justice,” a word phrase that literally means whatever the hell you want it to mean. The social justice movement is in one way bone-jarringly idiotic. How can so many people latch on to a phrase that has no concrete meaning? In another way, the fact that progressives have been able to infect so many universities, public schools, and well-meaning people with the social justice virus is a marvel of political engineering.
We see leftists use this tactic in the gun control debate as they constantly press for bans on sinister “assault weapons”. The fact that the term has no concrete meaning is a benefit, not a hindrance, to the left. No one seems to know what they are, but they do “know” that they’re deadly and need to be banned. Such subjectivity in terminology is essential to the left, especially when they seek to expand their reach after “assault weapon” bans are put into law.
In yet another example of lingual dexterity, progressives have managed to play both sides of the fence when it comes to the word “gender.” On one hand, they have stayed true to their critical theory roots, that there is no objective reality, only social constructs. Any attempt to marry the reality of biology to ideas about gender is met with immediate accusations of bigotry. This is all well and good until the subject turns to gender inequality, then gender becomes as concrete as the Hoover Dam. The next time someone accuses you of getting a job because of white male privilege, tell them that you identified as a female Polynesian during the interview, see how that goes for you.
Those of us on the right would do well to recognize the inherent dangers of living in an Orwellian world of doublespeak, a place where there is no objective reality, only the machinations of progressives committed to their own Sorelian myths.