Politics and the English Language

Where does the real battle lie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Several decades ago, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on politics and the English language. In the essay, he talked about how language is altered in order to mask deeper realities. Today, this still goes on. Any battle that we are facing today usually starts with the words and the language that is used.

Throughout last year, we saw several events taking place across America. Some people called them riots. Others called them protests which were “mostly peaceful.” Part of the debate relied on what you called them. Few people would want to say they supported rioting. Few would want to say that they opposed protest.

When the events of January 6th took place, that was immediately labeled an insurrection. The other side said it was not an insurrection and was at worst, a riot. There was a question of if it was hijacked by a group like Antifa and you can still see people debating that today, but again, part of the debate is a debate over language.

Consider also a subject like abortion. One side calls themselves pro-life. Who would want to be opposed to life? The other side calls themselves pro-choice. Who would want to be opposed to choice? The right uses the term baby definitely because we do think that is what is in the womb and we want to bring that home. The left tends to use terms like fetus, which while it does mean baby in Latin, most people don’t think in those terms and if you say baby, you lose.

There’s an interesting scene in the third season of House where Dr. House has to operate and it involves a pregnant woman who doesn’t want to lose her baby. In the operation, House sees a tiny hand reach out and touch him. The team asks him if he’s okay when he freezes and he says “I just realized I forgot to TiVo Alien.” When he talks to the lady after the successful operation, she notes that it is the first time he used the term “baby.”

What about marriage? Nowadays, many people like to talk about gay marriage, but let’s stop and ask. What is marriage? If marriage is a union between a man and woman that is not just a friendship but necessarily sexual in nature, then by definition there can be no such thing as a gay marriage. After all, you don’t modify a term by introducing a contradiction to that term.

This does not mean the homosexual lobby can be banned from using terms like “Civil Unions.” However, the taking of marriage is to treat the relationships as identical when they are not. One side normally is capable of producing children on its own and the other isn’t. We would also have to ask why the government should have any interest in endorsing homosexual relationships when it has an interest in endorsing marital relationships for the good of the family and the upbringing of children.

I have also written about how in the religious sphere, you can see debates over natural or supernatural. I never use the term supernatural save for writing like this to explain myself, which I have done further here. If we use the term natural, natural is often used as this self-standing existence that needs no explanation for its being and the supernatural is this extra part that you have to demonstrate.

But why should I think nature can stand on its own? Does nature contain within itself the principle of its own existing? What if nature is what is dependent? If nature refers to what is material, what about goodness or numbers or triangularity or even existence itself? Are these “supernatural?”

In our interactions, it is also easy to throw out terms like hate and bigot and once the label is thrown out, most people are automatically put on the defensive. Hate is a notorious one today. We treat all hate as if it is something evil and I have seen even some of my fellow conservatives do this. Hate is too vague. I always want to know what is hated.

Some people could be shocked that I am defending hate and I absolutely am. For example, I hate sex trafficking and pornography. That doesn’t mean that I hate the people involved in those practices that I think are doing something wrong, but it means I hate the practice. I would even say if you don’t hate sex trafficking, there is something wrong with you.

We also have to ask what a bigot is. Someone who disagrees with you is not necessarily a bigot, but if you can call them that, then you automatically have a leg up, yet in the past it referred to someone who could not possibly conceive of their being wrong. In that light, it’s interesting that those who use the term are most likely personifying the term.

Now some people say words change meaning over time, and in a sense this is true, but we should always ask why the change is taking place. Is it because of some new discovery, or is it to change the thought on a topic? After all, Orwell said euphemisms were a great example of this.

This is also why a dictionary is not the best place to go to to define terms academically. A dictionary will give the popular usage of a term and not necessarily an academic one. This is what Orwell would call newspeak in 1984. I have been in debates where I have pointed to scholars on the subject under question and gone to academic works to define a term only to be told that a dictionary was the trump card.

Part of this is going on because we don’t think enough about what we’re talking about. In Parmenides, a dialogue of Plato and the only one where you could say Socrates loses, Parmenides says to do philosophy listen to what the common people say. Listen to the sentences around you and see what people could be saying.

Usually, we start with just ourselves and not with reality. Want to know if something is good or evil? Look at how you feel about it. Don’t look at the action itself. This is also a problem I have constantly when I see people use think and feel like synonyms and thoughts and feelings like synonyms. They are not.

The solution to this is to think about words a lot more. It’s why in so many debates I start with defining terms and if people don’t want to go that route, it tells me plenty. Those of us who are writers need to watch what we are writing about and make sure we are not begging the question. We also need to watch what we are told by major authorities in politics and religion and other areas like that and examine claims better.

It’s not easy, but being good thinkers requires it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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