Words That Lie

All ideologies take certain words that have commonly understood definitions and give them new code word definitions with different meanings for those in the know.  When the ideologues speak, ordinary people get one message while followers of the ideology get another.  In effect, the words so disfigured become lies in themselves.

My favorite example comes from a debate held at Dartmouth College (before my years there) between the Socialist leader Norman Thomas and my favorite Dartmouth professor, J.C. Adams of the History Department.  The topic was, “Does the Soviet Union want peace?”  Norman Thomas made a long and eloquent speech arguing that it does, quoting extensively from the statements by the Soviet Union’s leaders.  Professor Adams demolished him in one sentence.  He opened the official Soviet dictionary and read its definition of peace: “The state of affairs prevailing under socialism”. In other words, when the Soviets said “peace”, they meant “conquest”.  In their mouth, the word “peace” was itself a lie.

Today’s cultural Marxists’ equivalent is the word “tolerance”.  Everyone knows “tolerance” means putting up with things you don’t like or don’t agree with.  But in their mouths it has a different meaning – one created by Frankfurt School member Herbert Marcuse in his essay on “liberating tolerance”.  There, he defines “liberating tolerance” as tolerance for all ideas and movements coming from the Left and intolerance for all ideas and movements coming from the Right.  This is why campus cultural Marxists can call for “tolerance” while physically attacking conservative speakers.  In their mouths, the word “tolerance” is itself a lie.

The same is true of their unholy trinity of “racism, sexism, and, homophobia”.  The suffix “-ism” is, as the coiners of these words explained, a statement that something is a construct, a mere castle in the air made of cobwebs, the opposite of facts.  But differences between races and ethnic groups taken as wholes are real.  Differences between men and women are real and their traditional social roles reflect their inherent differences.  And moral disapproval is not the same thing as a “phobia”, which means an unreasoning fear.  In the cultural Marxist’s mouths, the words “racism, sexism, and homophobia” are themselves lies.

Now there is a real racism and, to a lesser extent, a real sexism and homophobia.  Real racism is assuming that every member of a race or ethnic group shares all the characteristics of the group; in fact, individual variation is wider than group norms.  There is a small number of women whose wires are crossed at a point where they want to live the lives of men.  And some people who are nasty to gays do have an irrational fear of them.  But in the large majority of cases, what the cultural Marxists call “racism, sexism, and homophobia” are simply recognition of facts, not constructions.  Nothing can be both a fact and a construction; the two are opposed by definition.

Conservatives should respond to the Left’s charges of “racism, sexism, and homophobia” by accusing them in turn of “ismism”.  Ismism is a totemic belief that facts can be nullified by calling them names ending in “-ism”.  It is magical thinking, divorced from reality but enforced by the cultural Marxists where they can, which is mostly on college campuses (under the Trump administration, dare we hope that the federal government will cut off all funding including research grants to colleges and universities that enforce cultural Marxism?). Should the cultural Marxists ever take power nationally, God forbid, they would do what we have seen in Europe and in Canada and make any factual correction of their ideology “hate speech”.  In cultural Marxists’ mouths, “hate” is another word that lies; it means any defiance of cultural Marxism.

The history of the 20th century is a vast pile of skulls and bones, made up of the victims of ideology.  As Russell Kirk wrote, conservatism is the negation of ideology.  Let us hope the 21st century sees conservatism vanquish all ideologies and give us peace – real peace, not peace as the Soviets defined it.