A word is designed to keep a thing the same, while time flows around it. I name it so that it will be there tomorrow … and the next day. All kinds of plans can be made once we use the word instead of the thing. For centuries this has been handy.
Still, we have all been let down by words. Whatever I call it, it doesn’t stay that way for long. Eventually we all run up against the realization that the word is not the thing, the map is not the territory. The relationship between words and reality is a percentage game. Politicians take advantage of that fact. “That’s not what I would call it!” is the beginning of most arguments.
In another life, I used to begin General Semantics classes with a question: “If I tell you that the trees outside are purple”, then what do you know?” It would take some time to sort through the alternatives, before everyone agreed that the only thing to be known was that I said that – nothing more about the trees outside or imagining what was going on in my mind. We have become so enamored by the power to produce a world with words that we are losing the connection to reality. Grammar that was once the engine of civilization now lies like wreckage along the side of the road. Critical thinking is lost in the mess.
The problem now, in 2019, is that words are losing their value. The current leader of the free world needs words to lose their significance … because most of the words about him are bad. He treats words as he treats other agreements, as if reality were arbitrary. trump wants that arbitrariness … the fact that what you say about something doesn’t really matter because the map is not the territory… to overwhelm the folks less able to think for themselves, so that they will turn to him as savior. Rather than lifting people up, he wants to drag them down to his level.
When the words stop meaning anything, we will be back where we began. We will have to start over. No one will trust words for a while. Eventually, everyone will keep their word again. Language will once more become a bond instead of a breaker. That’s the only way we will survive. We will always be vulnerable to the con artist – one who doesn’t mean what he or she says. What makes words work, like money, is their agreed-upon meaning. This is a social contract and ultimately relies upon the goodwill of everyone involved. Such a world has always been vulnerable to those who just pretend.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Words are being twisted and torqued into meaningless piles of selfish dribble. When words are no longer trusted, only action will remain as an outlet for personal expression. Un-labelled emotion bursting forth is the stuff of revolution. trump is what we’re left with when words don’t mean anything anymore. And clearly trump is failing.
For the abstract words like Justice and Freedom to mean anything, if there is to be a difference between Good and Bad, concrete words must begin to make sense again. Language must once more be supported by the facts. Only when we trust what we can see, will we reach again for the invisible. There is no sense to the future if we don’t return to meaning what we say.