“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.”
- – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
The government has created a new “domestic terrorist threat” out of whole cloth, through the obscene perversion of language. This is a dangerous step in the wrong direction: the more the politicians try to tell you what words mean, the more sinister their intent.
Politicians routinely and arbitrarily redefine words to suit their purposes, to mislead as to what they’re really talking about, and to control language and thus thought and action.
Thought-crimes = police state
The following are most outrageous language abuses (so far) in the socio-cultural wars of the last few decades. They represent the criminalizing of dissent, the policing of thought-crimes. They thus cross the line into totalitarianism. This is a giant step towards a police state, where all citizens are required to mouth the party line and are punished if they resist.
A body of BS
In this case, citizens are protesting the indoctrination of their children (to the exclusion of academic skills). There is no question that the body of bullshit that goes under the pretentious rubric “critical race theory” is patently racist, making skin color the primary focus of the distribution of society’s goodies — and conferring irredeemable sin on white people.
For objecting to this (its proponents sometimes disingenuously call it “arguing about history lessons”), the government goes after the protestors as a “terrorist threat.”
Gross over-response by government
The behavior in question, if it exists and is problematic, could easily have been handled by local authorities. The government’s response is monstrously disproportionate. Numerous federal agencies are drawn in to root out these dangerous miscreants, though, as George Will notes, “the US Air Force can stand down, for now.”
All of this had to be set in motion by the appropriate justifying words, which are to be found in the Sept. 29 letter from the National School Boards Association to the President. Let us unpack this bureaucratic jargon and see how meanings are changed to suit a political agenda.
According to the letter, school board members are “susceptible” to “acts of malice, violence, and threats.”
“Susceptible,” like most adjectives, has a subjective element and means practically nothing. Who judges them susceptible, and why? Lacking probable cause, the Association has no reason to believe its members are any more “susceptible” than anyone else.
As for the rest of the passage, the School Board Association is throwing panic-words against the wall to see what sticks. “Malice” covers a wide range of behaviors, allowing politicians plenty of room to persecute and punish. Parents’ antagonism toward the political indoctrination of their kids can be called “malice,” but they’re within their rights to be upset.
“Violence” is easily identifiable. If there has been any, where are the videos? Nothing escapes video these days. Again, a scare-word with no meaning.
A “threat”? Seriously?
“Threat” refers to a class of speech acts. In order to be perceived or identified as a threat, a communicative act must project undesired or even dire consequences to be visited on the receiving individual(s).
Barring the negative consequences, explicit or implied, the conditions for a “successful” threat are not fulfilled.
The only consequence which these craven school board members must confront is removal from office. There is no record (in a society, I repeat, where everything is videoed) of any other threat. The only actual threat is coming from the government: if you disagree with us, you’re in the same class as the 9/11 suicide bombers, and we’ll treat you accordingly.
The NSBA letter also refers to parents’ protests as “heinous.” This is another arbitrary extension/distortion. Use of a word usually reserved for universally condemnable people or acts puts the protesting parents in the same class as SS concentration camp guards.
In final flurry of gaseous government-speak, the letter seeks to trigger massive federal government involvement with these execrable words: the heinous acts “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
First, note the three hedges: could be, equivalent, a form of.
So the statement is three degrees removed from an assertion of reality: (i) it’s possible, not definite; (ii) the phenomenon in question is “equivalent to” (though not actually) something else; and (iii) its equivalence is to “a form of” something else. Nevertheless, there is adequate justification for releasing the hounds of government.
The term has traditionally been reserved for crimes against people of a certain group, just because they belong to that group. This criterion obviously does not apply to the behavior of protesting parents, which is most emphatically not directed against any particular racial/ethnic group.
Regardless of the ethnic make-up of the school board, it is the racist indoctrination of their children that parents are protesting.
So no, no hate crimes here.
Language tricks and crimes
Finally, the dynamite word: terrorism
The trickery is this: once you have established that a linguistic label is associated with something genuinely harmful or objectionable, you are free to smear anyone with that label, no matter how different or far removed their words/actions are from the original.
Traditionally, the word “terrorism” refers to the strategy of conducting asymmetrical warfare and striking fear into an occupying force or even civilians in the occupier’s home country.
In World War II, bands of partisans conducted terrorist attacks against the Nazi occupiers. After the war, the Jews did the same to the occupying Brits in Palestine.
Today, terrorist attacks occur with disturbing regularity, especially in the Muslim world.
Terrorism is often driven by religion. 9/11 is the prime example. In that one day, terror took a place in the American psyche. The nation hadn’t experienced a foreign attack since Pearl Harbor (1941). American felt really safe in their homeland (despite’s Osama’s earlier efforts).
No longer. Terror was an unfamiliar intruder that was there to stay. It drove Americans to do crazy things like attack Muslims and invade Iraq.
Despicable and dishonest
This brings us to the despicable and obscenely dishonest labeling of parents who protest the indoctrination of their children with CRT (to the exclusion, I repeat, of math, science, and language skills)…as “domestic terrorists.”
The outrageous nerve of the people who use this word about ordinary Americans shows a profound contempt for anyone on the receiving end.
They don’t care if it makes sense.
Is this supposed to be a metaphor? What do the people so labeled have in common with people who fly planes into buildings or strap on dynamite to blow themselves up at a mosque or shopping mall?
How about the part about “striking fear” into an enemy? Nope. The school boards aren’t enemies, and the parents are not trying to use violence to make school board members afraid.
Where is the proof?
In a society in which nothing escapes video recording, there is no record (that I am aware of) that shows either violence or the threat of it on the part of the parents.
Calling parents “terrorists” shows that the school board bureaucrats and the government have no respect for the meanings of words or even for the metaphoric processes by which the meanings of words change.
Aldo Raine and his basterds were terrorists
Brad Pitt and his band of “inglourious basterds” were terrorists. They used Apache techniques of disguise, ambush, and mutilation to create terror among the Nazis.
These parents are not terrorists by any stretch. But government officials don’t care what you think words mean. They’ll tell you what words mean. And once they brand you, they can go after you.
Why do they think they can get away with it?
Again, we see the same cavalier disregard for the intelligence of the audience.
What kind of cretin thinks he/she can get away with arbitrarily branding innocent people with incendiary words that justify reprisal? Did anything that anyone said at those meetings qualify as a threat, as defined above? Does no one have the courage to call the politicians on this?
They knew they went too far. But the point is, it happened.
Somebody wrote that letter in a tyrannical attempt to suppress dissent, and they would have, had it not been for the outrage of un-woke, regular American parents who only want their kids taught how to think, not what to think (a great epigram).
Buzzwords and bureaucratic fog
Whoever crafted and disseminated the original, full of liberal buzzwords and bureaucratic fog (see above), erred grievously — but, I promise you, is still on the job, pushing the bogus racist agenda.
So let us remember: they thought they could get away with it. And they will try again.
Meanwhile, the intellectual vomit called “critical race theory” will continue to be pushed in the schools, unless the parents can prevail, replace the school board members, or achieve true school choice (not likely, since the teachers union owns the Democratic Party, which for the moment controls the government and the media).
I still come down to the same question:
Epilogue: Where are the linguists?
Which brings me to my perennial question: where the hell are the professional linguists? Why, among all the talking heads and experts on TV, is there not a linguist, commenting regularly on the language abuses of the left?
Where’s George Lakoff, Ron Langaker, Geoff Pullum, Steven Pinker, or better yet, the leadership of the august Linguistic Society of America? Why doesn’t a linguist get to be a regular contributor on TV, like Victor Davis Hanson, Steven Moore, or Dr. Marc Siegel, but commenting on a current language issue? With new offenses almost every week, there is no lack of ammunition.
As Roger Shuy notes,
“linguistics is practically invisible.”
Is it because they‘re all comfortably tenured in the very institutions that traffic in this hateful, divisive crap? A whisper of dissent can ignite a firestorm of criticism. If they’re afraid, I can see why. The troubling case of UCLA professor Gordon Klein shows what happens to dissenters.
I’m encouraged to see John McWhorter’s book, which exposes the “religion” of woke racism and explains how it actually harms Black people. But it’s only one book.
What took so long?
McWhorter recounts what has been obvious since the dawn of affirmative action (though it’s grown much worse in the last 10-15 years), when it was clear, even then, that special preferences and standards were condescending and harmful to Blacks.
And the book doesn’t deal with the all-pervasive, multi-channel, institutional, and non-stop effort to control thought through language. This, not “white supremacy,” is “structural” and “institutionalized” in American society, Must we now replace “women” with “birthing people”? When is some prominent linguist going to write that book?
One more question about Woke Racism: what punishments will the author suffer for his blasphemy?
Heather MacDonald’s book is an excellent contribution; every educator and corporate executive should read it — but they won’t. It too is recent (2018).
Ironically, of the world’s most famous intellectuals is a linguist (and not a very good one). And he hasn’t got a thing to say.
… has the time to bloviate 200 books’ worth of blather about invisible mental structures and America’s evil foreign policy, but he hasn’t got time to go on network/cable TV, much less write an op-ed piece or two, to condemn the destructive, dishonest, counter-productive use of language in the public square.
Crossing the line
I submit that this latest step – using incendiary language to create new thought-crimes, bringing federal government power to bear on citizens who peacefully object to the way their kids are being educated (as is their constitutional right) and who do not threaten or commit violence — moves us palpably closer to a police state.
Speak out, NOW
Now, if ever, is the time for linguists to speak out, and every day they do not increases my contempt for the lot of them.
This is the most central political issue of all, because control of language is fundamental to control of thought and behavior.
And nothing happens without language.