Controlled by Words
Certain words have an unsuspected "controlling"
effect listen to any political speech
and you'll hear a batch:
Many people feel attached to such words, believing
they express "personal values". This
is like wearing the same clothes as everyone
else in order to express your unique personality.
Social Mechanism v Personal Mind
The social meaning of a given word has
less to do with dictionary definition than with
common emotional reflexes triggered by
the word. For example, consider these quotes
(from politicians after 9/11):
Most people seem to regard "freedom"
and "civil liberties" as two different
things one must be protected while the
other can be dissolved (in times of danger,
But what (other than different emotional reflexes
to the words) is the difference between
your "freedom" and your "civil
liberties"? Surely your freedom consists
of nothing but your civil liberties"?
Perhaps common reflex reactions to the word
"freedom" arise from decades of media
images of strong leader types using that
word. And perhaps reflex reactions to "civil
liberties" derive from images of whiny,
politically-correct protesters (as portrayed
by the media).
Not all words have such hypnotic associations.
No matter how many times the word "orange"
is associated (via ads) with the telecoms company
Orange, most people aren't reflexively
reminded of the company when reading a passage
in a novel about an orange sunset.
So what's different about those words which
have hypnotically "reflexive" and
Most of the words that have an unsuspected
"controlling" effect can be classified
as false nouns (also known as "nominalisations").
For example, "freedom", being a noun,
implies a thing. But no such thing
as "freedom" exists (it can't be located
anywhere in space-time).
False nouns such as "freedom" serve
as convenient abstractions, but their
abstract nature makes them good conditioned-reflex
triggers. Why? Perhaps because people find it
difficult to override a conditioned social "meaning"
if it's nebulous (hard to pin down, out of reach).
For example, government PR exploits the abstract
concept of "security" (a false noun).
We're supposed to sacrifice some "rights"
(another false noun) for the sake of "security".
But the reflex associations most people have
to the word "security" are probably
unrelated to anything a government can
provide by dissolving our "rights".
Unless you unravel and override these abstract
concepts, they elicit relatively "mindless"
associations and reactions.
Sacrificing a few "rights" for "security"
may sound like a good idea in principle
until you start to think about it.
In law, you are protected against some "abuses
of state power". Many of the ways you are
protected have been legally enshrined since
Magna Carta known as your "rights".
Some "rights" exist because of long,
hard struggles by people who risked their own
"security" to protect people from
heavy-handed state authorities. Should any of
these "rights" be sacrificed due to
the tiny risk (less than, say, one in a million)
to your "security" posed by terrorists?
What's your opinion?
The word "responsibility" has a dictionary
definition of "morally accountable for
actions". But it's not clear whom
one is accountable to, or by whose morals.
Presumably some moral "authority".
The whole idea of "responsibility"
depends on an arbitrary notion of "authority".
The appeal of "responsibility"
is that it makes conformity and obedience to
"authority" seem virtuous. (The common
emotional reflex triggered by the word "responsibility"
seems to be pride and/or respect).
(Contrary to conventional wisdom, abandoning
"responsibility" isn't a licence to
do harm. Such licences are available only from
responsible state authorities. James Bond, licensed
"Freedom" seems like the main selling
point of western "democracy". Most
western citizens, however, have no choice but
to drastically constrain their "freedom"
for most of their waking hours (in the
distinctly unfree state known as wage
slavery, or "employment").
Most western children aren't free (to not attend
state schools). Attempts to escape the shackles
of school or wage slavery are generally regarded
as "abuses of freedom" by the official
protectors of that "freedom".
"Efficiency" is a persuasive
word who would oppose it? Who'd be in
favour of "inefficiency"?
It helps to distinguish between two types of
as understood in everyday language.
ii) "Efficiency" as understood in
In economics there's a type of "efficiency"
which increases profit. No other type
counts. Economic "efficiency" is sometimes
equivalent to "inefficiency"
as understood in everyday language. The corporate
"downsizing" phenomenon is a good
example very "efficient" at
increasing profits, but very "inefficient"
in terms of the "externalised" costs
to society (public spending on welfare, medical
Although economic "efficiency" means
something very different from everyday "efficiency",
most people have the same emotional reflex to
the word, regardless of the context. "Efficiency"
triggers an approving reflex.
In the name of "efficiency", publicly
funded infrastructure and decades of publicly
funded research/development (in computing,
aerospace, biotechnology, etc) is sold cheap
to private companies who couldn't survive without
the "inefficiency" of this public
funding. What's your opinion on privatisation?