Thursday, 14 March 2013

Yoking Slogans

There is a joke about a prisoner who on his first night in gaol hears his fellow inmates calling numbers.
"148" is followed by guffaws. "51" gets rollicking laughter.
He asks his cellmate what is going on and is informed that jokes are retold so often that jokes are numbered for ease of telling.
"29" he calls.Silence.
"44".Deeper silence.
In desperation "148".More deep, embarrassing silence. 
"Mate, it's the way you tell them" says his cellmate sadly.

Language gets reduced to a point that it becomes indistinguishable from numbered bells evoking a Pavlovian response, lacking either meaning or subtlety. Such a reduced language can neither serve to convey or allow thought or debate. 

It was Dr Johnson who described the metaphysical poetry as "heterogeneous ideas yoked together by violence". Yoking together words in a binary to create a slogan posing as a truth or an argument has become the prime methodology of the populist left.

This gives us such implacable nonsenses as "climate justice" and "social justice", where the inarguable virtue of justice is yoked to favoured fashionable term to create a the needed slogan which has no meaning other than that ascribed to it by the user, judgement implicit in language. A similar and even more pernicious binary yoking is "marriage equality" where the progressives sacred word is used to create a a slogan out of marriage.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.' That was in "Alice Through The Looking Glass". Invented terms allows for the Humpty Dumptyisation of language, its reduction to a set of value judgements. Rather than a means of communication, this process is designed to strip language of an ability to communicate complexity, ambiguity or real meaning, to short circuit debate by reducing language to the prisoners joke log.

We should contest every term, dispute every assumption, allow nothing to be built in to language. If language is reduced to a list then we won't lose the argument, there will be no argument to lose.

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