Words

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

It’s interesting, to say the least, how folks bandy words about, making them mean what they want them to mean — not unlike Humpty Dumpty who pays them extra when they work overtime.

Take the word conservative, for example, which ought to include such things as environmentalists who are regarded by many so-called conservatives as liberal “tree-huggers.” Environmentalists are dedicated to conserving our world. But those conservative critics are really dollar conservatives who care only about the bottom line, the profits that are frequently the result of attacks on the environment. There are also intellectual conservatives who are dedicated to preserving those ideas that have helped to create a better world. I number myself among such types. And then there are those liberals usually identified as democrats who advocate human freedom and number among themselves the bleeding heart liberals who react in a programmed manner to all types of human pain and misery — real and supposed. They leave their minds on the shelf and lead with their gut. Endorsing political correctness, they also head the attack against the Canon in the universities and all books written by “dead, white European males.” The pain and misery resulting from this attack, in the form of uninformed and confused students with shrunken minds, is ignored in the name of “social justice” — which can be loosely translated as “what I want to be the case.”

Oddly, it is quite possible for someone to embrace a number of these positions simultaneously and without inconsistency. One can be, for example, a democratic socialist who seeks greater social equality through democratic means.

Socialism, according to Karl Marx, is the economic system that arises upon the death of capitalism, an economic system that feeds on the rotting carcasses of exploited workers — speaking of human pain and misery. Karl Marx was convinced that the state would commandeer the means of production and socialism would result. But eventually the workers would themselves own the means of production and all would share equally — an economic system, called Communism.  Many an intellectual in the early part of the last century embraced the ideals of Communism until, like George Orwell, they discovered that so many of those who said they were promoting Communism were actually fostering totalitarianism and were responsible for the death of millions of their fellow humans — all in the name of “equality,” and “justice.” It is worthy of note that Communism, as embraced by Marx, resembles in important ways the Christianity preached in the Gospels.

And speaking of Christians, there are those who claim to be Christians and who are quite happy with their own prejudices and even preach hatred against all of those they regard as different from themselves. These should be called nominal Christians, as they are Christian in name only. The real Christians, who are rare, are those who do the right thing because it is the right thing and try hard to love their fellow humans, as was preached by the original (and some might say the only) true Christian. There are some who seek to do the right thing, as our beloved blogger Jill Dennison tells us each week, pointing out those who truly deserve our respect and admiration. And, I dare say, many of those people are not even nominal Christians! So it goes.

In any event, words do have relatively fixed meanings, as our dictionaries attest. But, in the spirit of Humpty Dumpty, many of us think that meaning, like truth itself, is something we make up and which dances to the tunes we play. This leads us, as we are becoming increasingly aware, toward a relativism of the meanest sort, a relativism in which hate comes to mean the same thing as love and truth is a fabrication of those in power whose private agenda centers around themselves and their ugly urges toward more and more power. It pays us to beware and to tread carefully, to make sure we know whereof we speak and insist that those claims that we are told are true have the force of evidence and argument to support them. And we should make sure folks say what they mean even though they seldom seem to mean what they say. Otherwise our minds will become prisoners of those who delight in making others a means toward their own ends.

 

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7 thoughts on “Words

  1. How could I not love a post in which I am referred to as “our beloved blogger”? ❤

    Contrary to what Trump & Co would claim, you're right that words have fixed meanings and cannot logically be twisted to suit a person's needs. That said, however, the meanings of words do tend to evolve. And then there is the relativity factor. For instance, I am mostly one of those 'bleeding heart liberals', relative to those who have thrown their lot in with Trump and the corporate barons. Yet, compared to some, I suppose I am the soul sister of Ebeneezer Scrooge, for I am by nature, frugal. Or warm … the room may feel warm to you, while I shiver. So, I am rambling and have lost whatever point I was trying to make, for I have been interrupted thrice while writing this comment! Anyway … thanks for calling me 'beloved blogger' … first smile I've had all evening. 😊

  2. You have tackled a very difficult subject in your stride ; meaning is so important to us all and yet words often prove inadequate. Some of us are pretty loose with language and some words seem to enrage certain people. I’ve often used the word sin not in a religious context but simply as a bad action hurting others , but many have objected to the word. In the west Christianity is inescapable it’s influence is sprinkled everywhere. Two typical examples : wickedness and evil but we cannot erase them from the dictionary.
    To add to this dilemma we now have political correctness due to equality issues. So mankind becomes personkind and Mrs becomes Ms. The UK has just endorsed civil- partnerships for hetero couples because of the out cry of injustice against hetero couples in favour of same sex couples.

  3. Hugh, “nicely done” and I mean those two words, precisely. Labels are a form of name-calling to short-cut the process. They are lazy person’s argument hoping the listener or reader will do less homework than they did. They have been abused to the point of creating as much as a negative response without really saying anything at all.

    I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive. So, when I am called a “tree hugger,” I agree, but say I am a capitalist as well to confuse them. Conservatives used to be a key part of the Sierra Club and environmental movement. Yet, with the fossil fuel money in politics, the numbers of conservatives have slacked off. Yet, who is being conservative – the tree hugger who does not want a utility not handling their coal ash better, or the one who looks the other way to abet the utility to make money. In the long run, if we don’t conserve, it will cost more.

    The questions we must ask are simple, but often avoided. “Help me understand what you mean by that?” Why is being a socialist a bad things? Why is being a capitalist? What is wrong with being liberal on some issues? Or conservative? People who use the term liberal with me when I advocate civil rights for all, look at me funny when I say we must do something about the debt and deficit. We must listen and then ask questions. We must get beyond the labels. This blind tribalism has to stop.

    Keith

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