Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Reclaiming the Narrative - the Importance of Language

Thus we may know that there are five essentials to victory:
  • He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
  • He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
  • He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
  • He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
  • He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Section III: Attack by Strategem

I'm going to be writing a series on "Reclaiming the Narrative"; how we as conservatives, libertarians, and patriots can not just take back but dominate the social and political discourse. Recent events, and how they've been carried forth in the media, reinforce that conservo-libertarian views will not be accurately portrayed by the opposition and the narrative of the body politic will be entirely governed by the views of the liberal-statist totalitarian who seeks to squelch speech, not promote it.

I'm starting this series with the quote from Sun Tzu because it states very well what we must be prepared for to combat our opposition daily. To get our principles of individual sovereignty and liberty, limited Constitutional government, and fiscal sanity in the hearts and minds of more of our friends and neighbors, we must not retreat from any debate. We must not continue to allow the opposition to define the arguments. We must not accept their premises. We have to have command of the issues and our own narrative, and that begins with the importance of language, our use of it, and deconstructing how the opposition bastardizes it.

Words Mean Things, and We Must Fight For Their Meaning

We have lost control over our language. This is part of the larger speech-limiting trend of "political correctness". The same words mean very different things to the opposing sides. I and those who agree with me tend towards clear, unambiguous definitions and usage.

Take the word "respect" for example. Drawing attention to the definitions 3 and 4 provided by dictionary.com:
3. esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: I have great respect for her judgement.
4. deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgement: respect for a suspect's right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly
A person thinking like me would use "respect" to refer in general to the lives and livelihoods of each and every fellow person. I respect people of different races. I respect the individual rights of people who want to live a lifestyle at variance with my own sense of personal morality. My respect means that I will treat them with the same courtesy as any other simply because they're fellow humans. To the opposition though, respect takes on an additional connotation: respect also encompasses the definitions of endorse or support.

Don't think this is true? Look what happens to someone who is opposed to say, same-sex marriage (a not uncommon position for people in this society). If their opposition is vocal, they are instantly labeled a homophobe. They are considered to be hateful when they probably have never exhibited one iota of hate towards a gay person even once in their lives. They are to be ridiculed and lambasted, even though in their own daily lives they respect (real definition) gay people by their virtue of being fellow humans. However, if you support same-sex marriage, you then will get respect (liberal definition) from the language police.

Another example from current events: the Sandra Fluke fiasco. The Obama Administration has proposed administrative rules that would require employers and other organizations who offer health insurance to their members or associates policies that include coverage for contraceptives and abortifacient medications, regardless of the employer or organization's stance regarding not providing those items as a moral, religious issue. Instantaneously, the public narrative became that to oppose providing contraceptives/abortifacients as part of an insurance policy or as a government handout was the same as:
  • Wanting those products banned
  • Wanting women to die
That's a completely absurd conclusion to reach. The question is not one of whether or not these items should exist but who should pay for them. Should those items be part of an insurance policy? That is solely up to the insurer and the subscribers. It is not for anybody to dictate - and if you choose not to, that does not mean you are against their existence. However, because conservatives and libertarians are so pathetic at using language to get ahead of the inevitable liberal-statist assault that they're sexist, misogynistic pigs, the meme that we're sexist, misogynistic pigs was the one that carried the day. We have to fight back against the inevitable (come on, who couldn't have predicted the exact liberal-statist reaction versus opposition to "free" birth control?) onslaughts from the opposition by attacking with language from the outset. Support in the liberal lexicon also means you want to fund the activity - with everybody else's money.

So, how do we attack with our language from the first sentence of debate? Let's look at another "loaded" word from the liberals' perspective: choice. Liberals are fine with "choice" so long as you "choose" what they're in favor of, as in the case of abortion. Face it, "choice" in that issue has become synonymous with "abortion". Thankfully, there's an organization in my area that's getting in front of this particular word.

About three years ago, two pro-life Christian ministries in Pittsburgh merged to better serve the needs of young women with unintended pregnancies and spread the message that they do have a choice and the correct choice is life, be it through parenting their baby or adoption. In addition to Christian ministry and counseling they also offer limited medical services, parenting classes, free or charitably subsidized maternity and infant/child clothes, and other necessities like diapers, formula, etc. Prior to merging, they were known as the "Pregnancy Care Center" and "Crossroads Pregnancy Services". What are they known as today? The Women's Choice Network - and by the way, they minister to and counsel young men too; it's not lost on them that it literally takes two to make a baby.

They have unabashedly charged right into the battle of reclaiming the language. The two sides are life or abortion - choice is a misnomer because both sides are offering "choices". And what of the "pro-choice" opposition, Planned Parenthood? I've checked, and they don't seem to help people be parents, planned or not. Some choice, and a very loose definition of "parenthood" since I don't think the plain meaning of the word includes "avoidance".

Don't accept the liberal definition of words. Fight for each and every one. Force the opposition to say what they really mean. When liberals are forced to tell the truth about their intent and their actual skewed definitions of the words they use, they lose.

Pick your words carefully, turn the opposition's words against them by insisting on and fighting for plain meaning, and stand by the words you use.

The Structure and Order of Language is Just as Important

Words, when strung together in phrases or sentences, have clear and unambiguous meanings too. They have to be fought for just the same as individual words. I and like-thinking people do not read meanings into phrases that aren't there. Where the Constitution, for example, says "Congress shall make no law..." it means just that. There is no wiggle room; it is an absolute. The freedom of speech and the press doesn't mean that the freedom is subject to what we want or like to hear depending on who is writing the laws - there shall be no law!

Here's an example of requiring plain meaning interpretation from my Christian faith. John 14:6 reads, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (NIV) If you claim to be Christian, then for you this is an absolute, inviolate statement. This does not mean that other faiths are to be discriminated against or their adherents forced to convert, but it does mean that if you believe, you again have no wiggle room for mincing words. Or, to build on what I wrote above, I respect Jews and Muslims and their absolute freedom and right to practice their faiths, and will defend their rights to do so, even though I disagree with their faiths. To the other side, if you said you disagree with Islam, or if you went so far as to say it's wrong, you'd be labeled an Islamophobe and a hater. That is absurd.

Naturally, there's an opposition view to John 14:6. In the view of the larger national church that (thanks be to God) my local parish and diocese split from, "the" is actually "a" and John 14:6 is an equivocal statement. In their view, the plain meaning of the sentence can't be what it says because it doesn't comport with their world view. It comes a no surprise that a "bishop" of that church once said, "The church wrote the Bible; we can rewrite it." Plain meaning has to be fought for everywhere; there is no safe haven.

How about how words are ordered? Take a look at the Declaration of Independence. When Jefferson penned three specific unalienable rights that we are endowed with by our Creator he laid them out as, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Why is order important? Like a list of ingredients on a packaged food product, the most important, the majority component, is listed first and the remainder in descending order. Let's change the arrangement of the three slightly:
  • Life
    • Liberty
      • Pursuit of Happiness
Looking at the words in that construct, we can conclude that the unalienable right to the Pursuit of Happiness is irrelevant without the unalienable right to Liberty, and that unalienable right is irrelevant without the unalienable right to Life. The last can not stand without those above it. You can't pursue your happiness without liberty, and you can't have liberty without your life.

The same goes for the federal Oath of Office used for, interestingly, everybody except the President of the United States (which, of course, is Constitutionally provided in Article II, Section 1). They all start with absolute loyalty to the Constitution. The naturalization oath for immigrants becoming citizens first requires them to renounce their previous loyalty to another nation, and then pledge allegiance to our Constitution and laws. Order is essential to understanding both intent and importance.

Order, intent, and importance will be the focus of my next essay, which will be on prioritization of issues and efforts.

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