An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
“The structure of anyone's native language strongly influences or fully determines the worldview he will acquire as he learns the language.” --The Whorf Hypothesis
I was madder than a Muslim on a hog farm. I love to play tricks on people. Every April I write a big lie column. Every April some people believes it. Ha ha! What dopes, couldn't you see that I was pulling your leg? How could you believe that I was fucked in the ass by Noam Chomsky? Come on!
Then what happens? I'm the one with the pulled-over wool. I'm the one tricked... for months... Remember how I supported Obama? Remember how I said the elections gave me a glimmer of hope that Americans have more intelligence than a dingleberry? Fooled again!
Americans are dumber than dirt. Stupider than a box of Captain Crunch. Denser than a black hole. We have a glimmer of a chance to raise our healthcare rank up from 42nd... And Americans protest. It's socialist, they say.
Of course, it's not socialist enough. But even that, they reject. Their own best interests fall victim to the basest propaganda. And worse yet, our CHANGE President (the guy who expanded the Afghan war, continues detention without trial, hides evidence of U.S. torture, and maintains a Whitehouse office for faith-based government-supported organizations) caves in to the pressure.
Jeezus fuckin' Christ! I'm moving to Denmark where people aren't afraid of a little socialism.
Factoid 1: Benjamin Whorf studied a bunch of languages and the cultures around them. He concluded that language controls how people see the world.
I never read his studies, but I understand what he was thinking. I see it in the languages I stumble through.
In English, water is a liquid. When that liquid boils and becomes a gas, we have steam. When that liquid freezes and becomes solid, we have ice. We look at water, ice, and steam as three different things.
In Thai, water is nam and a liquid. When that liquid boils and becomes a gas. It's ay nam or gas water. When it freezes, it's nam plo or hard water. Thais look at water as one thing with a range of forms from hard through mushy through liquid through boiling liquid to steam.
In Japanese, water is mizu. Ice is koori. Steam is yoki. There is another word: yu, for hot water. The Japanese look at water as one thing. Water you can make tea with is something else.
Whorf would say. English-speakers think of ice, water, and steam as different things, but hot water as a kind of water.
Japanese-speakers think of water and hot water as different materials. In Japanese, hot water is as different from plain water, as plain water is from ice.
Thai-speakers, think of them all as variations of the same thing. They feel the innate waterness in all the variations. Like in Thai Buddhism, everything is one. End of factoid 1.
In my nearly 70 years of experience, I've found: when confronted by a phalanx of stupidity, take refuge in the academic. Then, after you're hit by the stupidity of academia... travel to some other country and take refuge there.
Right now, it's academia keeping my testicles from rising to their original home inside me. I can ignore the feeble-mindedness of my fellow countrymen, if I can somehow explain it. That's what academia does. It explains stupidity.
The Whorf hypothesis is one of those explanations. I've never been a wholehearted supporter. But sometimes it... well... it just works-- or looks like it works. Let's take a look.
Insurance companies and conservatives excite the plebeians by dredging up images from the Cold War. They scare common folk by conflagrating socialism with communism. Everybody remembers that communism was bad. It takes your freedom away. Socialism is the same. Free medicine will take your freedom away.
The American people fall for it, hook, line, and healthcare. It's not logical, but it fits with the way Americans see the world.
Throw a word like socialism out there, and people use it to dismiss logic. You've got a word that acts like a symbol. The symbol replaces thought... and forms a worldview.
Ask for national healthcare? You're a socialist. Want to end the slaughter in Afghanistan? You're supporting terrorism. Criticize Israel? You're a Nazi... or at least an anti-Semite. Logic flies out the door, replaced by words that trigger a flood of unstoppable emotion.
Take political correctness... please.
I post an article on my Facebook page that shows statistics proving SUVs are less safe than regular well-built every day cars. I wonder in print why anyone would drive an SUV if even the last excuse (they're safe) has been proven wrong. In less than 45 seconds, I get an answer:
People should have the right to drive what they want and not be forced into little crap cars and not be forced into using inconvenient mass transit just to soothe your big pc egos.
And I shoot off my reply to his reply:
People should have the right to nail their penises to a lamppost. That doesn't mean it's a good idea. That you CAN do something stupid doesn't mean you SHOULD do it. It is STUPID, after all.
That discussion, as short and idiotic as it was, showed something about language.
Label something as PC, then you can dismiss it. The label itself is enough. If you don't have the label, you need a real reason.
So then, are the feminists, the Al Sharptons, the Christians right? Do words have such power that we have to censor them so they don't do any damage? Do we have to say The N-word or The F-word, because the real words will cause so much trouble?
Let's take a look:
Everybody knows it's taboo to criticize a person just because of religion. It's taboo to say someone is evil because they're Muslim. The tabloids tried it during the election. I remember the OBAMA IS A MUSLIM headlines. (Though the paper didn't say he was evil because of it.) But tabloid journalism is different from what you can (and should) say every day. If we avoid saying Muslim is evil, will we avoid thinking it?
My local free newspaper reports that a 25-year old Egyptian man cut off his own penis to spite his family. Why? He was refused permission to marry a girl from a lower-class family. After begging his father for two years with no consent, the guy heats up a knife and slices off his candy cane.
My question: why was this in an American newspaper? So they can say "penis?" So they can say something nasty about a Muslim without actually saying the WORD Muslim?
Them Muslims is wacky, huh? Anyone who'd cut his dick off would fly a plane into a building, right?
Factoid 2: There is a group of verbs called performatives. These are special, magical verbs. The utterance of them, creates (performs... get it?) the action. Verbs like promise, assure, warn, ask, and guarantee are performatives.
If I say, “I promise I won't cum in your mouth,” that MAKES the promise. I don't have to do anything else. The promise has been made, just by uttering the words.
Compare this to a normal verb like suck. Saying “you suck my love tube.” does not automatically give me a blowjob.Some further action is necessary. End of Factoid 2.
Take the word “Gay,” please!
In the late 1960s, the word GAY was invented to replace the word homosexual or fag. Homos used it to talk about people who have sex with the same gender. The language changers picked it because of its original meaning: happy. The idea was to lend an air of happy-go-luckiness to anal-penile fluid exchange. Homosexual was too academic. Fag besides being a pejorative for homosexual, referred to anything negative or wimpy. A pretty negative word.
The inventors of Gay thought, along with Whorf, that if you change the words people use, you change the way they think. If you make people say something that means la-de-da every time they refer to a homo, they'll come to associate the two. Homos will become nice and la-de-da.
So what happened? Did GAY become a performative? Did using the word make it happen?
You bet your anal warts it didn't. What happened was that the word completely lost its original meaning. In 1950, someone might describe their weekend at the beach as a gay old time. By 1975, that would happen only if the beach was on Fire Island.
By the late 1980s, Gay began to take on an additional negative meaning. Something like wimpy, unfashionable, or just plain bad.
This example comes from the Internet Urban Dictionary. Man, these seats are gay. I can't even see what's going on!
See? The language changed. People's thinking did not. The mental image came first. Changing the words did NOT change that image. The new words fell back into the slots that the old ones filled. Gay was no more positive in everyday speech than faggot.
This is what the N-word and the F-word people don't get. (L-word people, however, seem have a lot of fun with it.) You can change the language as much as you want. You can avoid taboo words. But, changing the words does not change people's attitude.
Take abortion. (I won't say it)
In the great abortion debate, nobody wants to be anti-anything. Both sides are pro-. Take your pick. Pro-choice or pro-life. Does that reflect the reality? Are these words performatives? You say it and then you are it?
Pro-choice is really pro-abortion. Not pro-forced abortion but pro-right to abortion. It's like saying that people who favor legalized heroin or legalized murder are pro-choice. Of course it's a choice. Do it or not. That's not the point. Abortion is the point. Pro-choice is pro-abortion.
And how about pro-life? Most anti-abortionists are Christians who favor the death penalty. They oppose free healthcare which insures that babies will have doctors to see that they don't die in childhood. It insures the rest of us don't die for lack of funds or access to hospitals. Their attitude? Let 'em be born, then don't give a shit about 'em. These people are not pro-life. They're just anti-abortion. Call it what you want.
I'm the only pro-abortion guy I know who says he's pro-abortion. There are a few anti-abortionists out there who call themselves that. If you go around shooting doctors, you can't call very well yourself pro-life, can you?
So is Whorf right? Well, not exactly.
Language doesn't make culture and emotions. There are, however, things in the culture that language can use. People with an agenda can manipulate language to nudge people into thinking one way or another. But, it's the thought, or in the American case, the lack of thought, that's the key. Not the words.
Me? I like to call a fuck a fuck. Not the F-word. But most Americans are too lazy or too stupid to realize they're being bullied. They allow themselves to be pushed around by language and in the end, just don't give a fuck.
-->Some kind of artist dept: I felt it's only fair to acknowledge George Bataille as the inspiration for the beginning of last month's column. If you have a strong stomach, I recommend his: Story of the Eye. Whadda book!
-->New idol dept: I recently saw Jean Claude Van Damme's first starring-role movie, BLOODSPORT. Van Damme is okay, but he's got a lousy toupee (actually a set of toupees-- one for when he's supposed to look young, and one for when he's supposed to look VERY young) and way too much make-up. But the bad guy in that movie is a guy named BOLO YEUNG. He's a huge Chinese guy who looks more Indonesian than Chinese.
He is so evil, so full of nastiness, it was love at first sight. I want to see EVERYTHING. He's a G-d!! I Wikipedia-ed him and found out he SWAM from China to Hong Kong to get away from Communism. Now he lives in LA. I don't know how he got there, but it wouldn't surprise me if he swam when the commies took over Hong Kong.
Anybody with vids or other info about this guy, let me know!! I'm in love!
-->Cleaning out dept: In this post-print era, one of the few magazines I actually pay for is the Utne Reader. It's a liberal digest of magazines and other world publications. Since a Facebook quiz told me I am a "left libertarian," it should be right up my alley, right? Usually, it is.
But, during a recent fit of lebensraum, I started throwing out clippings. While going through the pile, I found one from U.R. Sept '07. In it, they complain about YouTube and Google Search for providing gateways to "Hate." Of course, HATE means people they disagree with, the KKK, Rightwing Skinhead Bands, holocaust revisionists etc. While the Utne Reader “provides information,” these groups "spew propaganda."
I wonder what THEY say about the Utne Reader.
-->Pay up, you most evil corp! dept: No I'm not talking about Starbucks. This is the one you'd expect: WAL-MART. They've agreed to pay $35,000,000 to settle a suit by workers in Washington State who were forced to skip meals and breaks... and work overtime for no extra pay. Doesn't sound like enough money to me.
RELIGIOUS ENDNOTES SECTION:
The magazine said that the daily briefings had covers that included photos of soldiers praying. Bible verses accompanied the photos. One cover showed a large Baghdad monument of two crossed swords with a tank beneath it. The quote?
OPEN THE GATES THAT THE RIGHTEOUS NATION MAY ENTER, THE NATION THAT KEEPS FAITH.
Err... I thought Iran was the nation that keeps faith.
-->Which part of the first amendment do you like? Free speech or establish religion? dept:
A US Court of Appeals held that a Pennsylvania kindergarten teacher had a constitutional right to refuse to let a parent read The Bible to children in her classroom. The court said that: parents may reasonably expect their children will not become captive audiences to an adult's reading of religious texts.
The premise of the reading, though, was for adults to read a passage from their child's favorite book. So what if The Bible WAS the kids favorite book?
I say, read it. What's censorship is censorship, and I'm against it.
Of course, that means OTHER parents should be able to read the MARQUIS DE SADE. That was MY favorite book in kindergarten.
-->Proof: Church makes you more Christian dept: The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of the public overall said torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified. Among white evangelicals, the number was 62 percent. The survey also found that support for torture increased among those who reported attending church most often. Mighty Christian of them, I'd say.
-->Ich bin ein Berliner dept: The population of Berlin voted strongly against (only 14% support) a referendum that would give public school students the choice between taking religion or ethics classes. 16 German states have such a law. It allows students to choose: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim. It's like I was allowed to choose, French, Spanish, German or Latin when I was a kid.
The smart folks in Berlin threw out the proposal. I hope they're enjoying their Latin classes.
-->Ich bin nicht irisch dept: The Irish minister for justice has proposed a "Blasphemous Libel" law that would fine up to $130,000 any speech that is "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion." As of this writing, the law has not yet passed, and God damn it, I hope it doesn't.
-->But pornstore bans are legal? dept: A local business group asked the city of Broadway Virginia to ban churches in a three-bock downtown area. The merchants said that the churches would be bad for business and they asked the Town Council to ban them. The City Attorney said NO GO. It would be illegal, the constitution and all that, you know?
I donno. Since when do people care about the constitution and all that?