It Would be Nice to Live in a World Where College-Educated Adults Had the Ability to Think Beyond Words
Antifa, The PATRIOT Act, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Many fully-grown adults have never developed the ability to think beyond words. Others are keenly aware of how easily people fall for this language game. And tactically exploit this mental weakness.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. William Shirer, the American journalist and author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, described his experiences as a war correspondent in Nazi Germany:
The strangest variant of this way of thinking is the belief that just because a word or a term sounds good, the reality behind it is also unquestionably good.
In October of 2001, the Bush Administration famously decided to expand state surveillance. This allowed federal agencies to monitor domestic telephone conversations, online activity, email, and financial records, among other intrusions, without a court order.
And what did they call this decision? The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.
USA PATRIOT Act.
Better known as the PATRIOT Act. And if you were against it, what did supporters say that your criticisms implied?
In June of 2015, the PATRIOT Act expired. The Obama Administration then restored most of the provisions under the title Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act.
Better known as the FREEDOM Act. And if you were against it, what did supporters say that your criticisms implied?
There’s a country in which the first three names are “Democratic,” “People’s,” and “Republic.” The first and third words essentially mean the same as the middle—this state belongs to the people, and represents them.
In the modern era, government legitimacy is derived from this concept—representation of the people.
So the name of this particular country basically begins: “Legitimate Legitimate Legitimate.” Officially it known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Sounds like a lovely place. It’s more commonly known as North Korea.
The Soviet Union was officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
China today is officially known as the “People’s Republic of China.”
Who could be against entities with names containing words like Republic, Democratic, People’s, and Union? They sound so nice. Even socialist is cleverly named—who could be against anything with the word “social” in it?
There’s a violent organization that calls themselves Antifa. Short for antifascist.
There are people who will say with a straight face that if you criticize Antifa, then you are a fascist. Or they will imply that you harbor fascist sympathies.
Interestingly, as William Shirer notes in the book referenced above, Antifa collaborated with the Nazis to help elect Adolf Hitler. Antifa has its origins in Germany, and, as a communist organization, their primary goal was to accelerate the forces of history. Antifa in the 1930s aimed to bring forth the revolution. They partnered with the Nazis to overthrow the Social Democrats who controlled the Weimar Republic. Antifa supporters believed that a fascist regime was a necessary step to end capitalism and usher in a communist utopia.
During this period, fascist was used as an epithet against capitalist society and anyone opposed to communism. They used this term to describe the center-left party in control of the Weimar Republic. As Stalin put it, “Fascism and social democracy are twin brothers, social democracy is only a wing of fascism.”
In his 2004 book Europe at War, the eminent historian Norman Davies discusses the dynamics of this movement during the 1930s:
“‘Anti-Fascism’ proved quite attractive…Western intellectuals fell for the ploy en masse…Needless to say, ‘anti-Fascism’ did not offer a coherent political ideology. In terms of ideas, it was an empty vessel, a mere political dance. It showed its adherents what to oppose, not what to believe in…What is more, it opened up a wonderful arena for the activities of disciplined activists, whose training in the Leninist techniques of splitting and dividing adversaries would run rings around woolly intellectuals…In the background was the unspoken dialectic that, if Fascism was to be Bad, the Good had to lie with the originator of anti-Fascism—Joseph Stalin’s USSR.”
An article in the New York Times characterizes the modern variant of Antifa as a “diverse collection of anarchists, communists and socialists.”
People tactically name their policies, organizations, and campaigns in order to silence critics and advance their goals.
Does this language game really work?
It is surprisingly effective. Euphemistic words serve as talismans. They have a surprisingly hypnotic power over people.
If North Korea decided to call themselves “The Ruthless Dictatorship of Korea” (RDK), I suspect people who graduated from expensive colleges would actually perceive Korea differently. Despite objective reality remaining the same. Despite the fact that North Korea is already a ruthless dictatorship. Of course, to ordinary people who live in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who bear the reality behind the words, any cosmetic endonym change would make zero difference to their lives.
If you started an organization called “Love and Peace” and spent 100 percent of your time committing overtly brutal and malevolent acts, your group would last twice as long compared with if you named it anything else.
You could extend your organization’s lifespan, garner support, and ward off criticism by repeatedly asking, “How can you be against love and peace?”
It would be nice to live in a world where words didn’t actually work as ornaments to disguise cruelty. But apparently they do. They seem least likely to work when you bear the direct costs of the realities that ornamental words are used to disguise.
Back I was a brand new recruit, one of the senior cadres announced that we were going to have a “GI party.” I learned that this is military-speak for an exhaustively thorough cleaning of the barracks/dorms. Scrubbing toilet bowls with a toothbrush, that kind of thing.
Any time there was a GI party announcement, quiet groans followed. And no one ever said, “What, are you against parties?” Giving something a nice-sounding name doesn’t change the underlying reality.
You can vomit in a bowl, serve it for lunch, and people with $250,000 college degrees will say anyone who doesn’t enjoy the taste hates soup.
Many adults are dumb enough to fall for these linguistic tricks. Others, less stupid, exploit them for maximum effect.
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