A Twelve-step Program to American Recovery

The holiday silliness has barely subsided and, zippo! we’re thrust breathlessly back into this interminable election. While the de-throning of Obama is high on my wishes for 2012, it’s time we confront our national miasma at a much deeper level. Even if we elect President Perfect this year, it’s not going to pull this wonderful country out of the irrational mess it’s in. A real fix must come from each of us and requires more of each us than just casting a vote.

I decided over the holidays that my small part of the cure is to write a series of posts discussing what common sense tells me we need to do heal our culture and our future. I offer these ideas for your consideration in the hopes of opening discussions, of triggering questions, of setting off ripples of thought. If you don’t agree with me, tell me why; if you think what I say makes sense, tell someone else. We have the power to restore this country – if we have the will.

Part 1 – Calling a Spade

“In the beginning was the Word…” The Apostle John begins his gospel with this phrase and in so doing places language in a pre-eminent position. After all, our universe was spoken into existence, so it is not surprising that our national salvation depends also on words.

In the last few years I’ve found it impossible to have rational discussions about governmental issues, and that difficulty arises partly from the misuse of language.  If words lose their meanings then we have lost our most important method of communication. If we lose our means of communicating, we have no way to solve our problems. I was appalled when Time magazine came out with its “Person” of the Year Award. Time gave that award to the Protester for “…shin[ing] a light on human dignity..” (Memmott) What?! What part of “dignity” involves defecating in public, gang rape, and ruining people’s livelihoods? If that is “dignity” then that word no longer has meaning.

Meaning is under attack in many different ways:

    • Political Correctness, which is the most obvious culprit, is not just politeness run amuck. PC is a planned policy designed in the 30’s by a Marxist think tank as a method to destroy Western culture. Look up the Frankfurt School (Lund). People are being shunned, verbally attacked, sued, and fired over using terminology that might be construed as offensive by some imaginary someone, somewhere. People who fall into the PC trap assume that if we call a spade a porcupine, it will grow spines.

-- Driving by the neighborhood school this Christmas I was reminded of our PC restrictions; the school billboard read, “ Closed for Winter Break.” Not Christmas break, never mind that there would be no “winter” break if it weren’t for Christmas.

-- And events that happened before the birth of Christ are now designated BCE instead of BC -- Before the Common Era, in spite of the fact that the “Common Era” started with – you guessed it – the birth of Christ. That’s another troubling trait of PC thought – it seeks to hide the truth.

-- I was once lectured sternly for referring to Mexican immigrants as “Hispanic.” Our ESL instructor informed me that “Latino/Latina” was the preferred term. Who knew? Why?

-- I’ll never forget calling a travel agent who answered the phone, “Destination Specialist.” She was a travel agent. A spade is a spade. I had faith she could get me where I was going long before she called herself a specialist, so what was the point?

    • Even worse, “someone” is redefining words, boldly using them in outrageously incorrect ways and doing it often enough that the careless among us hop aboard, and help rob the original terms of their meanings.  I think of the verb “hate,” which now can only be done by a conservative and refers to the act of disagreeing with a liberal. “Hate” used to be a negative, oftentimes violent emotion, but no longer. Guess we’ll have to make due with “antipathy,” but the Greek words never have the zing of the old Anglo-Saxon ones. 
    • That same “someone” is inflating words, blowing their definitions way out of proportion. “Harass” used to mean aggressively, negatively, repeatedly bugging another person. Now, it just means telling an off-color joke. “Abuse” used to mean seriously, violently harming another individual. Now, in some circles, it is used for normal parental discipline.
    • We also see words defined down to avoid calling a spade a spade. Recently, Obama was caught telling an outright lie about bridges that needed repairing. His spokesperson said he had merely “over-suggested.” Oh, that’s what they call it now.

Language is a contract we make with each other.  We all agree that when I say “tree” my listeners will picture a large woody plant that provides shade and fruit and fuel. If one person pictures a Lamborghini and another an alligator and another a chocolate cake, it gets hard to connect in any meaningful way. One of the most serious sins we can commit is to break that contract. Remember the snake in the garden? “You won’t really die. You’ll just get smart.” Really?  As Adam and Eve discovered, a spade is a spade.

Eve fell for the language changes and that seriously affected her ability to think. (Adam fell for Eve, and that did him in.) One of the first rules of logic is that a thing is what it is and is not something else. My bathtub is not my toenail, which is not my dog. If we attempt to think about a proposed tax cut, it is useful to know if it is in fact a tax cut, or a retraction of a proposed tax hike, or an attempt to confiscate money from the Social Security funding. It makes a difference. When “it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” we’re in trouble.

Speaking of trouble, no society can function without trust and trust cannot be built in a culture that does not value truth.  All the contracts and regulations in the world cannot keep things running smoothly if we’re all willing to lie to each other. A young man I love dearly once told me that it was OK that the government lied to us since it was for our own good; the end justified the means. That approach worked so well for the Nazis and the Soviets that it’s surprising to find it alive and well amongst our children; we learn nothing from history…

And history is making it clear that our language is under deliberate attack and with it our entire culture. This phenomenon is not unstoppable, natural, linguistic slippage. It is being orchestrated, and therefore it can be stopped, but we need to wake up and get on it. Unless we – and by that I mean most of us – decide that truth is more important than any political agenda, that being able to say what we mean is our most fundamental freedom, no one we elect will be able to save us.  

Let each of us listen and read with sharpened intent. Let each of us choose what we say with pure truth in mind. Let each of us speak up when we see our language being bent into the grotesqueries that currently fill our national airways. Let’s begin with total respect for one of God’s greatest gifts – the word.

Works Cited

Lund, Bill. The Origins of Political Correctness. Accuracy in Academia. February 5,     

Memmott, Mark. 'The Protester' Is 'Time' Magazine's Person Of The Year. The Two-