Montaigne on Why Language Matters
The subversion of language is the mother of all subversion
“Our understanding is conducted solely by means of the word: anyone who falsifies it betrays public society. It is the only tool by which we communicate our wishes and our thoughts; it is our soul’s interpreter: if we lack that, we can no longer hold together; we can no longer know each other. When words deceive us, it breaks all intercourse and loosens the bonds of our polity.” – Montaigne
Montaigne's point is mine. Language matters. It deserves respect as the vehicle and enabler of our thoughts and — to change the metaphor — the common currency for the exchange of ideas. To tamper with the accepted meanings of words in order to secure argumentative or political advantage is a form of cheating. Ludwig Wittgenstein likened languages to games. But games have rules, and we cannot tolerate those who change the rules mid-game. We must demand of our political opponents that they use language responsibly, and engage us on the common terrain of accepted usage.
The violation of accepted usage is a common ploy of contemporary liberals or leftists. Some examples:
Minimal ID requirements are said to disenfranchise certain classes of voters. This obvious misuse of the term typically goes together with the brazen lie that blacks lack photo ID, a lie that has taken in many foolish white liberals with no knowledge of black people. The common sense requirements are also said to amount to voter suppression. They are described absurdly as an onerous barrier to voting." Suppression? Onerous? Barrier? In Pennsylvania a photo ID can be had free of charge. In Arizona it costs a paltry $12 and is good for 12 years. If you are 65 or older, or on Social Security disability, it is free.
People who insist on the rule of law with respect to immigration are called xenophobic. Xenophobia is the irrational fear of foreigners and things foreign. Plainly, there is nothing xenophobic about opposing illegal immigration and the numerous ills it brings in its train. And then there are the cheaply-fabricated neologistic '-phobe' compounds. One who rationally articulates a principled position against same-sex marriage is dismissed as homophobic. One who draws attention to the threat of radical Islam is denounced as Islamophobic.
The sheer stupidity of these mendacious coinages ought to disgust anyone who can think straight. A phobia is an irrational fear. But the proponents of traditional marriage have no fear of homosexuals or their practices, let alone an irrational fear of them. And those alive to the threat of radical Islam may be said to fear it, but the fear is rational. The coinages themselves are stupid, but those who deploy them as verbal cudgels are crafty and know what they are doing. They are out to win at all costs.
Contemporary liberals are some of them unable, but most of them unwilling, to distinguish dissent from hate. They apparently think that if you dissent from their positions, then you hate them. How is that for willful intellectual slovenliness? "You disagree with liberal ideas, therefore you are a hater!" Even worse: "You differ with a black liberal's ideas, therefore you are a hater and a racist!"
'Unilateral.' John Nichols of the The Nation appeared on the hard-Left show, "Democracy Now," on the morning of 2 September 2004. Like many libs and lefties, he misused 'unilateral' to mean 'without United Nations support.' In this sense, coalition operations against Saddam Hussein's regime were 'unilateral' despite the fact that said operations were precisely those of a coalition of some thirty countries. The same willful mistake was made by his boss Victor Navasky on 17 July 2005 while being interviewed by David Frum on C-Span 2. These are old examples, but that is no reason to forget them or to dismiss them as ‘old news’ in the manner of the leftist presentist.
There are plenty more examples, e.g., the New York Times’ absurd reference to George Zimmerman as a 'white Hispanic.' When Republicans had control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, Democrats whined about a 'one-party system.' Memo to language -abusers: a two-party system does not become one-party when one party, for a time, manages to gain control of both houses and the White House. Exercise for the reader: find more examples of liberal-left misuse of language.