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Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's the language, stupid.

If you want to demoralize a nation and turn it into a vassal state, attack the language.   You can't keep humans from making vocal noises or scribbling symbols on paper or poking at keyboards,  but you can make what they think are words mean nothing.  You can destroy their trust in language.  You can destroy their ability to see any meaning in language that actually registers on the brain cells.  You can reduce them to a state wherein language is only a noise, a command, such as "get up," "whoa,"  and "down, boy!" that directs their motions.

How do you do this?  By constantly making language useless.  American  Indians have experienced this.  The elders warned their people about learning the white man's language: it will endanger you.  A major part of the American subjugation of the Indian was in sending the children to boarding schools,  punishing them if they spoke in their native languages, and approving of their verbal responses only when they conformed to a degraded subservience to their "superiors."  It didn't work.  Elders hid their native languages and found ways to perpetuate them so that a means of conveying facts and truth could be retained.  While the white world found ways to deconstruct and make useless its own language,  people who value language as the vehicle of thought and truthful expression find ways to preserve the word as something that is useful and reliable.

The English  word was destructed by the use of deception,  by making promises never meant to be kept, by the making of agreements and treaties which were consistently broken,  by assembling a vocabulary which conveyed only insult and abuse as a means of directing hatred toward particular sets of people.  

This past election campaign has been a nuclear-level assault on  language.  Donald Trump is an anti-language warrior such as has been seen only in dystopian fiction.  His outbursts are incoherent, ungrammatical, and predication-free.   News organizations have termed his lying as unprecedented.    In checking out 334 statements Trump  made during his campaign,  Politifact found that 70 percent of his statements were false;  15 percent had a slight truth; and only 15 percent fell into the truthful category.  

And the American people chose him to be their president,  although the actual majority of Americans did not vote for him.  As of this post,  Hillary Clinton has 63,600,000 votes to the president-elect's 61,900,000, according to the Cook Political Report. Updated ballot counts show her receiving at least 48 percent of the national vote compared to Trump’s 46.7 percent. (The most recent update in the ongoing count puts Clinton's lead at 2,017,563 votes.)

What can make nearly half of the Americans be duped by a man who is termed worse than a liar? A liar, the experts on language say,  at least lives in a universe where the difference between truth and lies matters.  But Trump is a bullshit artist to whom truth and falsehoods do not matter.  Bullshit is dangerous because it wears away the ability of people to know the difference between truth and lies and ultimately they don't even care.  What is most alarming about the election of Trump is that almost half of the American people have shown that they do not care what is true or have lost the ability to discern what truth is.  

Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritus professor from Princeton, is an expert on the dissolution of language and puts Trump in the category of a person who is lethal to language and culture:

Frankfurt’s key observation is that the liar, even as he or she might spread untruth, inhabits a universe where the distinction between truth and falsehood still matters. The bullshitter, by contrast, does not care what is true or not. By his or her bluffing, dissimulation, and general dishonesty, the bullshit artist works to erase the very possibility of knowing the truth. For this reason, bullshit is more dangerous than lies, since it erodes even the possibility of truth existing and being found.

An example of this destruction of language is found in the word "racist."  A racist, by dictionary definition  is "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another."  As Trump mounted his campaign of defamation and disenfranchisement of minorities,  the term "racist" was applied to him and those who support him.  But the GOP deflects the meaning of the term by saying it is just a matter of the liberals calling their disciples names.  A South Dakota legislator claims that such name-calling is why Trump got elected.  The people were just responding to the liberals for "Calling them racists and other juvenile names because they disagree with you?"  This is said by a legislator who lives in one of the most racist states in the Union,  South Dakota which is the home of Wounded Knee and nine detention centers called reservations.  But those reservations have been places where the language of Native Americans have been preserved along with a reverence for the land and a lingering preference for a society which cares for each other, rather than oppresses people of difference.  The hard facts about the history, past and present, of South Dakota's treatments of the Indians is dismissed when the term "racist" is just part of Trump's name-calling.   To this legislator and his kind,  the fact that people are being exterminated. persecuted, and oppressed for their disagreement with a political system based upon predatory capitalism can be erased by reducing the charge of "racism" to juvenile name-calling.  

President Obama recognizes the assault on facts and the ability to deal with them as part of the conservative agenda. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years,” he said.  Trump was “able to distill the anger and resentment and the sense of aggrievement.”

The assault on language shows up in much of our communications,  Obama said.  “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.  And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

In submitting to Trump's destruction of language,  his voters chose the same path for the same reasons as the Germans of the 1930s chose the Nazis.  The German people were in a state  of humiliation for having lost the First World War.  Hitler and his followers promised to make Germany great again.  Trump pounded on the idea that during a time when America moved significantly to expand the franchise of equality,  America had  fallen into a state of disrepute.  Without looking at any facts regarding where the nation was as it has worked out of the Great Recession,  the people fell dupe to his words.  And they also showed the same tendency to blame a minority.  Whereas Hitler managed to put the blame on the Jews,  Trump broadened the base for blame to include Latinos, Blacks,  women, and, at times, the LGBT communities.  It is the same tactic.  And the American people bought it.  61,900,000 voters decided to end America's role as a leader  and an example of probity for the free world.   Joy Reid states the case:

You’ve lost the morality card. No longer can the U.S. go around lecturing the world about democracy, because, in our democracy, the person who got the most votes will not be president. Nor does the party that got the most vote control the House of Representatives. Again, we’re required to accept this affront to democracy, because that’s our system. But our acceptance doesn’t make it any less democratic. 
You have also lost the notion of an exceptional America. Because as it turns out, We’re just another western nation into the ethno-national forces sweeping and swinging across Europe… We, as it turns out, are not so different at all.’ 
You have ratified Trump’s vulgarity, his crassness. You saw exactly who and what he was and you chose it. You are going to have to own that. If the incoming president makes you feel proud, I am very happy for you. But please don’t tell the people who are afraid that they have no right to be.

The reign of Donald Trump signals the victory of the destruction of language. You can't believe him.  You can't believe those who support him because their knowledge of the world about them is submerged in the muck of false, malevolent, and corrupt language.  There can be no arguments of reason because the counterfeiting of fact-based language has destroyed any possibility of dealing with truth.  

Like the Native Americans have  learned,  for the survival of language as a tool and for our own survival,  it is necessary for us to trust only language that is guarded and protected by those who value knowledge, facts, and the language that records and transmits them.  Those who value those things won't engage with those who use the defiled language.  To do so is pointless and exposes honest language to the disease that destroys it.  The survival of a useful and productive language is dependent upon enclaves of educational and deliberative institutions that maintain a rigorous and unrelenting standard for the use of language.  It must be protected from those who seek to undermine human communication.

That means that there must be elite who protects language from any influence from the Trumps and those who support and condone him.  And that means a severely divided America.  The future of civiization and any viable culture depends on those who serve in reverence for knowledge and language.

1 comment:

Roger Cornelius said...

Dr. Newquist,
As usual this is another one of your outstanding blogs and I thank you for its thoroughness.

Is there anyway that it can be shared on Facebook and Twitter? I'm more people need to read what Trump is all about and why guys like Stace Nelson support him.

Thank you,
Roger Cornelius

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