“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
If you control the language, you control the argument
If you control the argument, you control information
If you control information, you control history
If you control history, you control the past
He who controls the past controls the future.” – Big Brother, 1984
The deepest form of social control is to govern what a human being believes is true and false, right and wrong. When you short-circuit a person’s critical faculty and moral sense, he will obey authority with no need for force because authority has defined who he is.
Such control requires the monopolization of information. That is why totalitarian states establish compulsory state schools, throttle freedom of speech and the press, broadcast propaganda, legislate the Internet, and obsessively monitor what people say to each other. They need to eliminate any competition in the ‘truth business’. And, so, those who know the “Emperor has no clothes” are silenced by various means.
The control of what is true and false can be called the democratization of reality. ‘Facts’ are manufactured by those who control information and, then, they are broadcast widely to unquestioning people who believe them because the ‘facts’ spew from authorities or the media. If enough people believe the heavily gerrymandered stats on unemployment and inflation, then the economy is not so bad. If the media is upbeat about the economy, then consumer confidence will turn things around. If enough people believe the police “serve and protect,” then those who cry ‘brutality!’ become troublemakers. If politicians are viewed as “public servants,” then they cease to be masters. Thus, what is reality becomes established by consensus.
There are many ways through which reality is democratized. An important one is through the control of language.
In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), George Orwell wrote, “[The] decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes…. [To] think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous.”
A vigorous war on words is being waged. Whether you call the process political correctness, cultural Marxism or thought control, certain words have become crimes; they have become hate speech. Thought-crime legislation prohibits the expression of specific ideas, including religious ones and ones that ‘bully’, while encouraging the expression of sanctioned ideas. It is also illegal to indicate an intent to commit violence – for example, posting that Obama needs to be shot or the government should be overthrown through violence; it is illegal even if you take no action and have no means to do so.
In other words, some of the pamphlets that sparked the American Revolution would now be illegal. Or they would be rewritten, as school textbooks currently are, to eliminate politically wrong words and ideas.
The attack on words is an attack on your ability to think. Try an experiment. Chose a belief that you have never expressed orally or in writing. Construct an argument for it in your mind and, then, express it out loud. Usually what seems clear in your mind will be clumsy on your tongue because the spoken word is a refinement of thought that reveals fuzziness. Now write the argument down; the written word is also a refinement of thought. Then express the argument to other people. Their response will quickly expose any sloppy definition of terms, counter-evidence, or other flaws in your thinking. This process of refinement begins with having the words with which to think.
Another way to destroy words is through ‘doublethink’ by which a word or term is also used to mean its opposite. An example is “affirmative action”; because it is wrong to judge people on the basis of skin color or gender, universities and employers give preference to people based on skin color and gender. Another example is “diversity”; because differences within human beings are to be celebrated we must eliminate objectionable differences.
The driving force behind the banning of words and doublethink is ideological. Consider radical feminism. The movement views language as a source of women’s oppression. Indeed, language is sometimes viewed as the source. Thus, they consider it an insult to be called ”Madam Chairman”. They insist on replacing the generic “he” with the ungainly “he/she” or merely with “she.” History becomes herstory. There is a concerted drive to include feminist, lesbian and gay characters in literature and schoolbooks. History is re-written and taught to exclude prominent white males while including the voices of women, even if those voices were comparatively insignificant.
Words are deemed to be so powerful that they become acts in and of themselves. For example, pornography becomes an act of violence against women.
How did words become actions?
One place to look for an explanation is within academia where the idea of social constructs took root some decades ago. A social construct is commonly defined as “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society” through which thoughts and action are organized.”
Where does the concept come from? In his influential work Les Mots et Les Choses (Words and Things) French philosopher Michel Foucault (1928-1984) introduced the idea that all of reality is a social construct. He argued that history and culture are indispensable in understanding reality. This hypothesis is not a controversial one. But then Foucault introduced the idea of an “episteme” which means “knowledge” in Greek. The episteme of a culture is its self-enclosed totality that includes its language. The episteme is the way that a specific culture or era approaches the world.
As history progresses, one episteme replaces another. That of the Middle Ages is replaced by that of the Renaissance and, then, a new era is said to dawn. The change in episteme literally changes the basic facts of a culture. Consider the human body. Most philosophers assume that there is a pre-cultural human body. In other words, they assume that history and culture do not alter the permanence of man’s makeup. But for Foucault, the human body lived in the episteme and, so, was defined by it. The human body was constructed by society, including aspects that medical science might consider to be permanent physiological ‘givens’. Foucault devoted an entire treatise, The Birth of the Clinic, to the study of what he called the “medical gaze.” The medical gaze objectifies the body and converts it into a well-ordered thing that medicine then seeks to control through surgery, diet, drugs, and so forth. But the medical gaze of the eighteenth century was different from that of the twentieth century because the episteme was different. Therefore, the eighteenth century human body was literally different from the twentieth century one. The body itself is redefined by each society that examined it. Biology is shifting sand with no lasting definition, no lasting ‘fact’. Thus, there is a total historical relativism.
The most important factor in establishing an episteme is the texts of society – its words. As a way of understanding this point, consider the Victorian era’s repressed sexuality. A common approach to examining it is to look at the contemporary plays and literature, songs and newspapers; in other words, to examine the texts of Victorian society and conclude those texts reflect a sexually repressed culture. Foucault saw exactly the opposite. He believed that the society reflected the texts. The text caused the society, and not vice versa.
It is important to stress: Foucault did not say that society is influenced by the words and images that flow through it: he claimed that the texts created the episteme, which embodied the society itself. He claimed that speaking and writing about a repressed sexuality caused the repression of sexuality. Words construct our world and, so become the key to power over it.
Relativism and subjectivism have had a devastating impact on the status of facts. In a world that is socially constructed, there are no eternal facts; there is only the reality that is constructed by words and that reality can be shifted. The way to alter the reality is to alter the language and the texts. And, so, the task of changing the world involves deconstructing texts; for example, excluding words from Huckleberry Finn to make it politically correct. Then the work of social reconstruction begins by which words are banned, history is rewritten and thoughts are criminalized. An entirely new set of ‘facts’ become the social reality.
Foucault’s ideas have entered academia and society in a somewhat watered down form but they cause harm to words and the very concept of ‘a fact’ wherever they arise. As words become illegal, as words lose their meaning, our ability to think is impoverished. As facts are obscured and purposefully mistated, our ability to reach conclusions based on evidence is diminished. And, if reasoning is a defining characteristic of human being, then we become slightly less human.