How Language Tricks Our Feelings, Shrouds Our Thoughts

17 06 2009

“Become you own magician, and show others how these tricks are performed.”

Continuing discussion about how we think and talk about matters of ultimate concern in home education, from the Snook post Homeschool Freedom Fighting: It’s SO Not About the UN . . .

We’d communicate so much better if it weren’t for the darned words! 😉

I prefaced a teasing comment last night with the words “mischievous grin” in brackets. As I quick-checked my spelling on Google, I saw four meanings, only the third of which was the meaning I had in mind. The other three were qualitatively different and would have been trouble if anyone had taken my usage those ways:

1. maliciously or playfully annoying.
2. causing annoyance, harm, or trouble.
3. roguishly or slyly teasing, as a glance.
4. harmful or injurious.

So I used the word anyway but not without thinking to myself (for the millionth time) that our beautifully powerful words are being turned against us on purpose, as in 1984’s Newspeak, as when I listen to Sarah Palin channeling nonsense as presidential-level utterance, as Meg Ryan said to an insulting French concierge in the movie French Kiss:

Kate: Hi there. C’est moi.
Concierge: [coolly] Welcome back, Madame, to the Georges V.
Kate: Huh… it’s incredible how you do that. The words come out – “Welcome back” – but the meaning is completely different. What’s the deal, is that a French thing or a concierge thing?
Concierge: As Madame wishes.
Kate: You did it again. Tell me something, because I just… I don’t get it. Do you enjoy being that rude? Because when you do that, it just gets underneath my skin, and it makes me… completely… INSANE!


. . .One character says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

. . .[In Orwell’s] essay “Politics and the English Language”. . . he laments the quality of the English of his day, citing examples of dying metaphors, pretentious diction or rhetoric, and meaningless words – all of which contribute to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. . .

Orwell said that political prose was formed “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell believed that, because this writing was intended to hide the truth rather than express it, the language used was necessarily vague or meaningless. This unclear prose was a “contagion” which had spread even to those who had no intent to hide the truth, and it concealed a writer’s thoughts from himself and others.

I see this in home education both online and IRL, that even good intent and real effort to think and speak truth have been infected, and we’re all suffering for it. Highly contagious, maybe on its way to pandemic. I found this long essay by an interfaith ministry student, thinking and communicating clearly about how the words we hear and use, either help or hurt clear thinking and communicating.

Unfortunately, one of the main culprits that we face in this process is actually language itself. Language is an extraordinary tool. We would not be where we are as a species without it. But because, as a species, we are so hardwired to respond to language with belief, because so much of what constitutes how we experience reality is the result of linguistic constructions, language can become a font of illusion as easily as it can be a tool for the enunciation of truth.

Often, hearing is believing. Thus, when you are around people who constantly talk about God, always within the context of the unstated assumption that of course God exists, this has a profound effect on you. .

It is the same thing with values. If you are around people who constantly talk as if something is wrong or is right, you will probably come to think both that values are objective and that the specific value judgments of that group are accurate, whatever they happen to be. Likewise, if you are around people who constantly talk from the assumption that God exists, you are likely to find this a reasonable proposition.

In contrast, if you are around people who either talk from the assumption that God does not exist or who merely do not reference God at all, you are likely to find the belief in God a ridiculous proposition.

(I think this, by the way, is probably the primary reason why religious groups want the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer to take place in school. The more instances something is mentioned in a positive context, the more taken for granted it will be. In contrast, having children spend the majority of their time at school in which the belief in God is not assumed is highly threatening to the indoctrination process.)

The less you go to church or other faith activities to have your programming updated, the less sure about the existence of God you will probably become.

Language allows for these sorts of magic tricks, cognitive illusions, to be performed on you. From different perspectives, different things will “feel” true . . . This is especially useful when listening to politicians. Those that seek to manipulate you are able to do so in large part because of language. The masses are more powerful than the elite, and the elite know this. But the elite also know how to manipulate the masses through the use of words.

Become you own magician, and show others how these tricks are performed.”

Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently enrolled in the Pebble Hill School of Sacred Ministry, where he is studying to be an interfaith minister.

His interests include all forms of experiential and technique oriented spirituality, especially shamanism and the out-of-body-experience; social justice, including environmentalism and building a sustainable global community; and the study of how to live effectively and maximize human potential.



49 responses

17 06 2009

Suppose you read a DefCon One (wartime!) blogpost, using words like:

shameful, absolutely shameful
absolutely disgraceful
this incident infuriates me
this woman intimidated this young man and acted like a bully
he suffered consequences

(Okay, I know real, literal, institutionalized torture is in the news but it’s not that.)

Would you think it was criminal child abuse resulting in serious injury or wrongful death, at the hands of culpable authority at school or church?

Perhaps wrongful restraint and imprisonment of elementary-aged special education children, that led to suicide or severe mental trauma?

Surely it was at least tasering with no lasting harm, like another young man got from school authority at a public event, presumably for failure to show proper respect and decorum to the speaker, by daring to ask a question during question time? Or perhaps being impeached from student leadership and facing expulsion, such as the bullying this young man got from school authorities, for not showing proper decorum at CHURCH?

It gets increasingly less fitting and PRODUCTIVE to use the language of life-and-death outrage as we go down the scale of authoritarian abuse.

But even so, would it occur to you to speak that way about merely this? Resulting in nothing worse than this?

The Rules — every parent and student had to sign in advance, agreeing to these terms.

Watching the video Spunky linked, I wondered if it were his uniform violation (the long “necklace” he donned) that was at issue?

“* Proper attire is required . . . No
sneakers or flip flops are allowed.
* No writing or decorations or any kind are allowed on student caps. All
students carry a yellow rose. No other items are allowed to be carried
during the graduation processional.
* Those not dressed as required will not march at the Civic Center and will
receive their diploma the following Monday at school.”

Why WAS his long “necklace” under his robe until after he’d checked in and marched in approved uniform to the seats? IOW why wasn’t he wearing it proudly from the start if it really was “appropriate” — because we all know it wasn’t, including him. (And if wearing a gun concealed beneath one’s outer clothes in a hidden holster isn’t also “carrying” it, there might be a good defense in parsing that word but otherwise, not.)

Presumably we are discussing a young adult male at least 18 years old, old enough to be a parent himself rather than a self-centered little kid acting out in public for the attention. He’s old enough to enlist in the military and go off to war and suffer REAL consequences without mommy and daddy to swear about how unfair it is, when his drill sergeant acts like a real bully in response to the real uniform or the real behavior code being really violated? Maybe a few of his classmates missed graduation altogether to start fulfilling that much more demanding contract.

If the point is that participation in public institutions isn’t the same as individual liberty, sure — duh. But 18-year-olds in the military (or in school) have to DIE from authoritarian mistreatment — it’s happened in my state more than once to freshmen on the football field e.g. — before words like “despicable” and “absolutely shameful” or “disgraceful” are “appropriate” imo.

So maybe all this incident is useful to illustrate, are the striking similarities between large public high schools and the military, and how similar to prison both can be when unwilling individuals are conscripted into them.
CHOICE makes all the difference.

17 06 2009

Scott Somerville (conservative hsing HSLDA lawyer dad then more recently, creator of the K-Dad network) used to write with very thoughtful language at his blog “Somerschool: Truth, Justice and the Homeschool Way.”

It elevates everyone’s thought process, to elevate the dialogue. (Just like it drags everyone’s thought process down when the dialogue descends to ranting and playground warfare.)

So one of his conversations I most appreciated was on more thoughtful, productive ways we can talk and learn about the toughest policy issues:

Abortion has turned into the “trench warfare” of American politics. You stick your head out of your trench and somebody on the other side will shoot at you. After a while, you learn to keep your head down–they always said, “In polite company, you don’t talk about sex, religion, or politics.” Abortion manages to be all three. That’s why I think it’s so important for our kids to study out this issue.

Do You Really Want Kids To Think, or Just Believe?
I understand Scott to be saying this discussion is about how we can better educate homeschooled kids on the issues, not for arguing the issues ourselves. Better! 🙂

So, holding tight to my “belief” that Scott does really “think” about tough issues, and means to encourage all homeschooled kids to do the same — I accept that he’s brought this up hoping to deepen their reasoning and understanding of how sex, religion and politics intersect and affect real lives.

In that positive and collegial spirit, and with great respect for every family’s right to accept or reject the input as they see fit, let me offer a couple of education resources that might be hard to come by otherwise, for conservative Christian homeschool kids. First, my own willingness to answer their questions and describe my own current perspective as a stay-at-home mom and unschooling non-partisan who believes that without respecting free will, nothing can be moral, that coercion and power imbalance can poison even the most moral human ideals.

And that choosing love in your own life can redeem even the most immoral. That applies to friendship, education, marriage, motherhood, public service, work, war and peace, and I think I’m prepared to argue, to salvation itself. Isn’t free will a basic tenet of Christianity?

So secondly, here are the two nonfiction books I recommend most highly for broadening homeschoolers’ education on this issue and starting to “reconcile” our polarized politics in favor of greater humanity and compassion for all life. Dworkin’s elegant legal argument is my best pick, and the new history of American girls who didn’t have abortions is my 16-year-old daughter’s pick, out of all we’ve ever read. (And we read everything!) Oh, and there’s one we both admire for its complex and senstive power of story ,I guess it’s technically fiction although not really imo – the Cider House Rules by John Irving.

The Girls Who Went Away: The HIdden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler

Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom by Ronald Dworkin

Posted by JJ at 10:02 AM, Sep. 26, 2006

17 06 2009

My next post in Scott’s thread was explicitly about language:

Why Talk is So Hard
Heard part of a wonderful NPR program this morning about the words we use making it almost impossible to come together and understand each other. It should be available for listening online later tonight or tomorrow, whereupon I’ll catch the whole thing. Linguist Geoff Nunberg is a big favorite of mine and has a new book out this sumer (see below)

The part of the show I heard specifically included the words we use to polarize abortion, also marriage protection, etc —

Politics & Society
Political Glossary for the Midterm Elections

Listen to this story…
Talk of the Nation, September 27, 2006 · Defeaticrat, culture of corruption, and security mom are all part of the election-year war of words. Guests explain the strategy behind the slogans.


Geoffrey Nunberg author most recently of the book, “Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show”; linguist at the School of Information at Berkeley

Frank Luntz, Republican pollster

Before that, there was a good discussion of Protestants who are NOT radical or evangelical but are value voters and very concerned about morality. There was a whole riff on polls being problematic because when they change the wording even slightly, results swing wildly and commentators can’t figure out what we really want!

Posted by JJ at 6:26 PM, Sep. 27, 2006

17 06 2009

This time last summer we had
Power of Political Story in Educating Our Old Brains:

Refuting political attacks, rumors and even outright lies would logically seem to be a matter of substantive evidence, yet cognitive scientists are proving it’s really not. It’s power of story. And even as I say this and you might believe me, we both will continue to rationalize our own beliefs as strongly evidence-based even when they’re not. There IS substantive evidence for that as the way our minds really work — and that we won’t actually accept that evidence even as we think we do.

I’m one of the biggest champs of thinking and reason and research around, but I’m learning that my own brain doesn’t always tell me what it’s thinking. 🙂

Even as we research the facts to repeatedly reject an untrue rumor or “story” we are embedding it in our brains’ data bank about “reality.” These mechanisms are in FACT mostly unconscious and that’s the substantive evidence I find most enlightening to my own politics, both educational and presidential. 🙂

Language whether from blogs, ads, speeches or polls isn’t ever just what it seems.

17 06 2009

Brain Frames in the Political Mind:

. . . [Listen to] linguist George Lakoff on what recent brain research demonstrates about the power of language to shape unconscious thought… and why he believes anti-democratic forces in this country will prevail unless progressives start using language that can change brains.

I just heard him respond to a caller that, “MERE EDUCATION WON”T HELP. . . Unless you learn how thinking really works, from grade school on, you’re gonna be susceptible . . . you teach people about training and metaphors, that the Father of the Country isn’t “Daddy”, as a normal way of thinking . . .

17 06 2009

So the word “slutty” and the phrase “knocked up” plus their possible implications and how they are aimed and shot, at whom, have been in the Palin family news this week.

But now that the apologies have been publicly extracted and accepted, with more strangely out-of-place words about statutory rape and sexual exploitation and the fine military fightin’ men and women —

Now come more public words, and not in jest and not inadvertent, hateful venomous words sounding as if they merit the same, or higher, level of public retraction and apology to the defamed or offended, especially to the private family members of celebrity, including a true child, a little boy. Will Sarah Palin demand it? (yeah right)

And if it were up to me? Some compulsory remedial education!!

Fire David Letterman Protest:

Among the more alarming lines of attack — particularly given that the rally was held because Letterman supposedly made a joke about Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Willow — was that Letterman’s son Harry was born out of wedlock (he recently wed Regina Lasko after dating for over a decade).

“Should we talk about his son?” one protester asked Green. “I believe his son was born out of wedlock. I believe there’s a term for that.”

“Is someone making jokes about his child?” asked another. “Especially, you know, when he had a daughter out of wedlock himself” (he didn’t; 5-year-old Harry is his only child).

“How dare he?” asked yet a third, the most offensive of all. “When he has a bastard son, and a slut for a wife” (Letterman’s wife Lasko has kept a notoriously low profile).

It should be noted that Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Bristol gave birth to baby Tripp (out-of-wedlock) in December and broke up with the baby’s father, Levi Johnston, in March.

Other conservative talking points thrown around at the rally included, “Close the borders!” and “I only watch Fox News,” as well as the general sentiment that Jay Leno is a better host than Letterman.

17 06 2009
Mrs. C

“The less you go to church or other faith activities to have your programming updated, the less sure about the existence of God you will probably become.”

I guess the programming doesn’t work very well since we Christians still sin. Or is the cure in V9.8, coming soon? :p

I’m glad I don’t have enough time to get embroiled in the who’s calling which person a bastard, slut, or other name of the week.

Annnyway… just thought I’d add that from the missionary blogs, I note that an easier culture to work with would be cultures that have WORDS for God, Saviour, etc. that match up with the Christian ideal. Japanese is tricky, from what I hear, as is Mongolian, because of this lack of a common word to use when chatting with others. I wouldn’t have personal extensive experience with the languages to know this myself, however. :]

I’d have to imagine that Spanish and English would be “easier” because even “Adios” and “good-bye” are specificially talking of the Christian God blessing the person addressed, etc.

17 06 2009

Well. 😉

18 06 2009
Nance Confer

“The less you go to church or other faith activities to have your programming updated, the less sure about the existence of God you will probably become.”

I guess the programming doesn’t work very well since we Christians still sin. Or is the cure in V9.8, coming soon? :p


Believing in a supernatural being doesn’t preclude behaving badly. Apparently. 🙂


18 06 2009

The words we learn (and the meanings they carry in our culture) provide the scaffolding, the frameworks, for our thoughts. If the words aren’t strong and solid and balanced, well-connected in structures suitable for human support as we rise above the mundane limits of ground level thinking, then our lines of thought can’t be either. So we’re up there trying to think without a net, in constant danger of crashing and burning. And even if we don’t plunge to our intellectual doom, even if we navigate around the hazards and weak spots, get lucky and somehow cling to reason up there, the whole time we’ll be dropping trash and bricks and tools down on other folks, through the holes and over the edges.

How’s that?

18 06 2009

Okay, how about words like “hate” and “book-burning” as connected to Christians PROTECTIN teh gay? The words in this power of story will mess with your mind. . .

Christian group sues for right to burn gay teen novel

18 06 2009

We were talking in the earlier thread about this GM post. I just noticed how it relates to home education advocacy, that the perception of home education matters, independent of how well we’re raising our kids to be good citizens in reality.

And those public perceptions are built by the words we use:

My story with cars is personal and individual, but I wasn’t alone in changing my mind about brand loyalty to my father’s oldsmobiles. GM got itself written out of too many family stories like mine in our American community, after too many decades of not changing and not caring, banking on big business and big politics as usual.

So GM can fiddle with its brands, dropping some that aren’t selling anymore and building new ones. Government can create a car czar and take taxpayer treasure to bail out all our automobile companies and scold them about being clueless and hidebound. At this awfully late date it somehow might even lead to some good cars, maybe even to exciting personal transportation that wouldn’t be “cars” at all. Something truly changed rather than just rebranded.

Or they might just wind up where Twinkies and Wonder Bread went, anyway.

Perception is everything, says the marketing expert. If the public isn’t buying what your community or business or lobby is offering, it doesn’t matter how good you know you are, or it is, from the inside. Or how fickle or unfair you think public opinion is within any identifiable community. . .

Is home education writing itself into family stories, connecting with Americans generally, or working hard to do exactly the opposite, bend our efforts and arguments toward making ourselves special and separate and uniquely branded, so precious and rarefied, such a niche market privately traded, that in hard times people just can’t care much?

18 06 2009


“[South Carolina] Republican leaders said they do not think online racist jokes by party activists will have a long-term impact on the party’s ability to attract black voters and candidates. . .”

So they say the words in jokes don’t matter? (Someone should tell Sarah Palin’s Fire Letterman protesters. Their words in response to his joke have escalated to “pervert” and “sex offender.”)

Of course the ironic and genuinely funny part, is if they actually think it and believe racist jokes have no effect. Because that would, in denying that distorted language has power, prove dramatically that it really DOES limit thinking!

p.s. speaking of racist jokes. . .do you think “vacuum cleaners” can be racist?

18 06 2009

And how about this? Events after the election surround us with repeated familiarity until we may actually think we voted for the guy even if we didn’t vote at all. Mind games . . .

Lies, Damn Lies, and Votes for Obama
Why do so many people say they voted for the president when they didn’t?

. . .Studies show that patients have a hard time remembering when they visited the doctor, let alone what their doctor told them. Same with voting. Say you normally vote but can’t quite remember whether you voted in the most recent election. You might well say you did. And because you like how Obama’s doing so far, you figure you probably did vote for him.

19 06 2009
Nance Confer

I agree with the Rs. Their ability to attract black voters and candidates will remain unchanged. 🙂


19 06 2009

Excellent example! 😉

19 06 2009

In public and especially in politics, let us ponder the the differences between two arguably interchangeable words like Senator and Ma’am:

“Do me a favor,” she said, “could say ‘senator’ instead of ‘ma’am?’ It’s just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it, yes, thank you.”

Or the difference between being called Liz or Elizabeth:

Elizabeth Becton will never forget this incident, nor will she live it down. . .If you think I’m kidding, definitely watch the “don‘t call me Liz” video below.

Come let us ponder together, what happens in the public mind when you make an issue of which word you’re being called — despite your intent, does it improve your status, or maybe diminish it? How many words of protest before you start being the butt of your own joke?

(Homeschool advocates sure learned that the hard way, see Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves”!)

Contrast those women with this one, whose preference of title became an issue but she wasn’t the one TAKING issue.

More posturing about “respect” from people who clearly just don’t get it. Words matter, and more than clothes make the man, words make his meaning. This is the dawning of the Age of Intelligence, hopefully replacing the ages of class warfare, male dominion and blind faith “doctoring” up freedom.

Instead those who did take issue and refused to use the respectful word choice, became the the victim of their own word games. . . especially when the issue’s taken by professional wordsmiths, as in this case. You’d think they (like Letterman?) would hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of us, would hold themselves consciously — even scrupulously, now there’s a good word! — responsible for their words as perceived, not just as intended.

What about senators calling a general “Betray Us?”
What’s in a name?
“Ignorance from drive-by punditry”. . .

Click on “What’s in a Name” in Snook’s sidebar category cloud to get words-for-thought reading, like:

Homeschooler Joke on SNL, Sigh
Thinker Pinker on Stickler Stinker
Thinking We’re Thinking is What’s Wrong
Salute When You Call My Son a Cross-Dresser!
Define Education: Black, White, Well-Read All Over?
Bill Ayers Speaks Here in ‘Protest-Free’ Zone
Rick Warren v the IRS: Guess Who’s More Powerful

19 06 2009
Nance Confer

I always think it must be tiresome for the news channels to respond to the calls to call the President by his title every time he is referenced. Not just the last name. Of course, it’s just normal usage to say “President Bush” at the beginning of an piece and use “Bush” for later references. I noticed it more during Bush’s term but have seen this complaint a few times recently with references to Obama.

Like PETA jumping on the fly story. Haven’t you got any real issues?


21 06 2009

I see PETA the same way. OTOH it’s a lot easier to protect our society from honest but silly words for “life issues” than dishonest words for deadly serious life issues. In both cases real education (not schooling or indocrination) is the best answer.

Note the words and phrases in quotations, how the real meanings behind them and even our ability to think or talk clearly through the twisting, is all covered up in the best Orwellian style:

If the far right of the Republican Party and we of the Religious Right had had our way by now there would be a constitutional amendment and/or laws forcing prayer in schools, disenfranchising gay men and women, banning all abortions under penalty of death, banning gay men and women from serving in the military, launching a neoconservative led and religious right backed holy war against Islam, fixing Israel’s borders permanently to incorporate all the land taken in 1967 forever into a “Greater Israel” based on the “fact” that “God gave the Jews” the land “forever,” capital punishment would be used routinely to punish a variety of crimes including being gay, civil rights for blacks, women, gays, unions would be in retreat, and — other than enforcing “morality” – George W. Bush’s style of “free market” non-governance would be permanent.

Think this is all far fetched? Then you never sat in secret meetings with Pat Robertson or the late Dr. Kennedy — as I did when I was a religious right leader — fomenting plans to “bring America back to God.”

If we’d won America would be a slicker more dangerous version of Iran

Picture America if Sarah Palin was president, both houses of Congress had a deep Republican majority, and the last 30 years of appointments to the Supreme Court had all been far right choices. Picture Fox News as the only TV news with access to the government, and the editors of the New York Times in jail for “treason.”

The Religious Right has been awash in anti-democratic (even anti-American) religious ideologues for the better part of 40 years. For instance I knew the founders of the so-called dominionist or “reconstruction” wing of our movement personally, people like the late Reverend Rousas John Rushdoony the father of “Christian Reconstructionism” and the modern Christian home school movement.

Rushdoony (who I met and talked with many times) believed that interracial marriage, which he referred to as “unequal yoking”, should be made illegal. He also opposed “enforced integration”, referred to Southern slavery as “benevolent”, and said that “some people are by nature slaves”. Rushdoony was also a Holocaust denier. And yet his home school materials are a mainstay of the evangelical home school movement to this day!

Rushdoony’s 1973 opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, says that fundamentalist Christians must “take control of governments and impose strict biblical law” on America and the world. . .

26 06 2009

More dangerous language reported, from Joe the Plumber:

At an event Thursday for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity (one of the lead organizations behind the Tax Day Tea Parties), Wurzelbacher suggested Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) should be lynched.

[yet] . . .Wurzelbacher appeared at a Tea Party in Michigan on April 15, where he claimed that he and other protesters were wrongly labeled as extremists.

27 06 2009

Rhode Island Slavery Legacy Prompting Name Change

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The country’s smallest state has the longest official name: “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

A push to drop “Providence Plantations” from that name advanced farther than ever on Thursday when House lawmakers voted 70-3 to let residents decide whether their home should simply be called the “State of Rhode Island.” It’s an encouraging sign for those who believe the formal name conjures up images of slavery, while opponents argue it’s an unnecessary rewriting of history that ignores Rhode Island’s tradition of religious liberty and tolerance.

The bill permitting a statewide referendum on the issue next year now heads to the state Senate.

“It’s high time for us to recognize that slavery happened on plantations in Rhode Island and decide that we don’t want that chapter of our history to be a proud part of our name,” said Rep. Joseph Almeida, an African-American lawmaker who sponsored the bill.

Rhode Island’s unwieldy name reflects its turbulent colonial history, a state that consisted of multiple and sometimes rival settlements populated by dissidents.

. . .Opponents of the name charge argue that “plantations” was used at the time to describe any farming settlements, regardless of slavery.

Rhode Island merchants did, however, make their fortunes off the slave trade. Slaves helped construct Brown University in Providence, and a prominent slave trader paid half the cost of its first library.

Still, Stanley Lemons, a professor emeritus of history at Rhode Island College, said changing the state’s name ignores the accomplishments of Williams, whose government passed laws trying to prevent the permanent servitude of whites, blacks and American Indians.

“There are different meanings for this word,” Lemons said. “To try to impose their experience on everyone else wipes out Roger Williams.”

27 06 2009

I said earlier I couldn’t even translate Jenny Sanford’s public statement, so full of religious code it seemed. Now, what about the bible language of her public politician husband, regarding state business??

[Governor Sanford] brushed aside any suggestion he might immediately resign, citing the Bible and the story of King David _ who continued to lead after sleeping with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, having the husband slain, then marrying the widow.

“What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily _ fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there,” Sanford told members of his cabinet in a session called so he could apologize to them in person and tell them the business of government must continue.

27 06 2009
Mrs. C

I don’t even read the religion into it, except as they are *pimping Jesus* to fit the situation as they like it. This guy is no king, and you know… God forgave David’s sin, but did you see what it did to EVERYONE around him? Selfish dude.

27 06 2009

Interesting language in itself, Mrs. C! Some folks will argue that your words — pimping Jesus to fit the situation as they like it — pretty much define religion! (Not spirituality or inner faith or ethics, philosophy, etc, but the organized, politicized, war-justifying destructive competition that is the main plot of religious history.)

But either way, I agree with you, not him. Murder for adultery and then redefine holiness as supporting your continued reign after committing it and getting caught, sort of Henry the Eighth? And that’s the Christian story he really wants to go with? Wow.

27 06 2009
Mrs. C

Agreed, JJ. And such talk leads feeble-minded people astray from the true Jesus IMO. Not to mention, make Christians look like irrational nutballs (shaddap if you were about to say it LOL).

I do think we need to base our laws on *something* and I should rather live in a Christian majority country than an Islamic one, even were I not a Christian. I am starting to wonder, however, if this is because Christianity seems a mile wide and an inch deep and for all the talk of Christian fundamentalism, most self-described Christians are really not fundamentalists.

27 06 2009

LMAO! (I was.)

27 06 2009

It’s a very authoritarian view, fundamentalism. That’s what seems unacceptable never mind religion, about all absolute Authority — of the Parents, School, the military, local society like Lord of the Flies, and any form of totalitarian government.

I once wrote this about how we teach children about Authority (not particularly from, but including, religious fundamentalism):

I don’t believe — and so I will not guide (much less condition) my children to believe — that every choice is a two-way fork between wrong and right, sin and virtue, submission or torment.

I would consider myself a failure as a responsible parent if a child of mine grew up believing that the differences between a good choice and a less good choice are ever clear, or to be decreed by whichever authority claims most direct dominion over their private affairs at any stage of life, from a teacher, preacher, boss, peer or government agent, to the nursing home staff on the other end of their lives.

Nor would I want them to parent my grandchildren to choose to please authority first, and themselves later.

If choice isn’t deeper than that, it isn’t choice at all.

27 06 2009

In the Catholic priest child abuse scandals, that was the central outrage that enabled it all in my view, not the theology as an ethicist might interpret it, but the institutionalized teaching of salvation through submission to authority, the blind faith that it must be some divine plan for children to suffer in silence what was happening, and go along with it.

In all the actions and apologies later, I never saw the Church address and reconcile this wicked, wicked tenet of their institutionalized power.

27 06 2009
Mrs. C

Ah! The difference between Catholicism and Protestantism cannot be overstated, then. You know… Martin Luther… salvation through faith alone? That’s why there are so many Protestant schisms, and Catholicism is pretty well one big block. If I don’t like my church, there’s another one down the street that would suit my needs, the idea goes.

In Catholicism (my family and D’s are Catholic, so I guess that makes me “ethnically” Catholic/Irish), you do NOT just go to another church and think it’s kewl. You can’t even technically go to another Catholic church in another city. I know this for a fact as my husband’s grandma, at the end of her life, was moved into an apartment outside the “range” of the home church she had been a part of for over 80 years. The priest couldn’t travel 5 extra miles for a “shut in” visit. At her funeral, after all her years of faithful service, the attending priest called her “Martha” instead of “Marcella.”


Well… I think there are probably more pedophiles out there in more places than we imagine and it is not confined to the CC. But I think you’re right that this was a tragic abuse of trust for the children and the parents and the COMMUNITY by the church. When you receive a new priest, what goes on in the back of your mind shouldn’t be, “so… is he a gay pedophile, straight pedophile, or what?” Talk about new job jitters… I’d hate it.

27 06 2009

And think about it — isn’t that what’s wrong with School special ed too, why kids get hurt and parents rebel, because the Authority is institutionalized into this vast inhuman set of depersonalized operations and rules and procedures that you’re supposed to take on faith, because they know best.

Probably also why Jim Crow laws and sexual harassment of girls and women worked so well for so long (and domestic abuse) — because we taught lessers to obey their betters, basically. Remember when children were to be seen and not heard, even in the family? I think it’s all part of the same obsolete (yes, I do call it wicked at least in this day and age) miseducation and socialization of the young, to submit.

This is why the “parent rights amendment” mentality offends and alarms me. It’s exactly the wrong language and belief for us to be communicating to the public about why home education should remain free (and even serve as an example for the future of all American education.)

27 06 2009

Interesting about the protestant churches allowing free movement while the Big See doesn’t. So, here’s a question I never thought about before — which of those are the public schools more like?

I’d have to say the Big See! The Authority to set artificial school zones and then enforce them up to and including criminal penalties, trapping children and whole families in impossible learning situations, is pernicious imo.

27 06 2009

You know what else is funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) about how language shapes our thoughts?

When homeschoolers talk about “school” no one feels the need to jump in and defend “education” as a positive thing to be embraced and supported, so critics should shut up. We all can talk about “school” as an imperfect and even overbearing institution from which families should break free and guard against with skepticism, not confusing it with the cherished human value of education and learning and ideas and knowledge.

So why can’t we do the same with “Church” then? Why is it we can’t discuss “Church” exactly as we do “School” — as separate from and increasingly even counter to, the human value of faith/morality/healthy philosophy it supposedly is instituted to perpetuate?

Government and public institutions aren’t the whole problem then; it’s us, and how we don’t think right about the whole problem. Maybe what we need is an amendment to protect private individuals from all institutions, period!

27 06 2009

Parent Authority, same abusive potential hiding in that institution. That’s the truth we can’t see when our language conflates good parents like us, with our defense of “Parenting.”

Let’s toss a pebble in, see when we hear the splash, to test how far down this parenting idea goes and how deep the water at the bottom of it is.

So, were there any real choices to be made in the parent’s system of rules, and any expectation that [the kids] could take responsibility for their own choices, and that this isn’t defined by doing as the parent commands. . .

Or do they only “earn consequences” when they don’t take responsibility after the fact, for not having had real responsibility in the first place? Was it all a set-up like the Prison Experiment, where human psychology was known by the lab controllers in advance and yes, “inflicted” on the subjects to prove the point?

Is it really “taking responsibility” to do only what your own parents say, to choose only whether to obey or accept whatever “consequence” they choose to “inflict” on you to keep control of you, whether berating or beating, prison, even teen motherhood — yes, inflict is the word I mean to use, to mean what I mean, which is pretty much the opposite of a teen actually taking responsibility for her own beliefs, behaviors and life decisions –

And why would we teach that “consequences” are downside only, negative reinforcement or punishment?

My bottomless idea that I hope our kids are learning from our parenting, is that all choices large and small have consequences that connect to everything else, that it matters utterly which roads we take in which woods, but they might all be lovely roads in their own way, and it’s not just the path in any case, but how we choose to walk it!

27 06 2009
Mrs. C

JJ, I’m sure you and I both have guided our children as they matured. Sometimes when they were younger, sure, we got all authoritarian on ’em and told them they were NOT going to open that oven door, no way.

Then they get a little older and can understand the idea that you can open the oven door *this* way, use this glove, etc. etc. We let go bit by bit and let our kids take those risks upon themselves.

For *me,* I know I shelter my younger children much more than the average bear. How much of that is due to their disabilities, and how much of that is just because I’m used to doing things that way? I’ve been thinking on some of the things you and your friends have been discussing and reading Temple Grandin as well.

The conclusion I’ve come up with right now is that I must teach Elf to separate from me. But he does not want to be away from his mom. I’m *pretty sure* most other nine-year-olds don’t genuinely believe they are Keebler elves who must stay with their moms. And I feel like I am going backwards… offering the Elf *fewer* choices because I know what’s ahead for the guy.

God forbid I die and he *has* to go to public school. I keep thinking he would not function. (No, I’m not planning on dying :]. Just being cautious.)

27 06 2009

Mrs. C, I think you are an admirable mom however it turns out. 🙂

28 06 2009
Mrs. C

LOL OK, I’m holding you to that in a couple hours when I drop him at Children’s Church, and he loudly proclaims he doesn’t want to be there. That he doesn’t WANT to learn to “get along with friends,” and have I ever thought about that? About his Constitutional rights and what he wants?

Pray for me, JJ. :p

Anyway, I hadn’t thought of education in terms of Catholic and Protestant models of organization. Now that you mention it, that may be why Catholic private schools are much more prevalent than Protestant ones. In a Protestant school, there can be more diversity of thought and here we are, lobbing verses at each other to support our own opinions. Certainly I wouldn’t, say, send my children to a strict Calvinistic school nor yet a UPC school. It would have to be juuuust within my narrow band of acceptability.

I think that’s also why there are so many different religious curriculum providers ranging from the more liberal all the way to super-conservative.

28 06 2009

So “Church” can mean just about anything, as can “School” never mind the mashup “Church School”?

28 06 2009
Mrs. C

Pretty much. Just talk to an unschooler about school, or a homechurch person about the church she attends. LOL

Hey, I’m back from church. Elf went without a peep of objection. *whew* Though, notice I don’t go downstairs to collect the children anymore after service. Bad of me, but I send an older child and figure, if things are really really bad, the teacher can ask said child to relay a message that I need to speak to him LOL.

7 07 2009

Hey, here’s a Creation preacher admitting openly that it’s all about language! And winning of course. . .

“We saw to it from a very early age, as soon as they could talk. . .It’s never too early to teach your children truth!”
et cetera.

7 07 2009

Looking for something to link for Beta as a new secular home-education mom, I came across this language-tricky comment under Unschool to College: Let’s Call It Real Education:

Maybe she will . . . continue the Great Definition Debates of Our Day about the power of story in education words, and maybe get herself a snazzy nickname like the one I was called over at unity-n-diversity the other day: “Big Words.”

I like this a lot, which is puzzling. Seems to me “Big Words” doesn’t work as a slur for an intellectual — it would, as a fond, friendly nickname like “professor” or “doc” or else as a sardonic put-down of someone barely able to grunt out a basic vocabulary. But how is “Big Words” any insult to someone who does in obvious fact love and use a full palette of words, including many “big” ones? Don’t you risk the confusion of your slur being taken literally as complimenting the person you mean to deride? And using two such short, boring, single-syllable words to do it — economy of expression as if each of the eight letters was priced separately! — leaves one wide open for the denouement such as the Hero Wesley in the Princess Bride sneering, “I’m glad you asked. . . and I’ll use SMALL WORDS, so you’ll be sure to understand!”

Oh well . . .but we were talking about college-quality words in this thread, not little words for little minds.

This morning’s public radio is reporting that Dr. Kevorkian spoke at UF last night to about 5,000 students, his first appearance since being released from 8 years of prison. Among his controversial and mixed remarks, he said euthanasia was slowly being legalized but incorrectly (ah, so it does matter HOW we think through and then do these things! Thought so) and that his method — courts called it “second-degree murder” — was a dignified “service” all terminally ill individuals should be legally able to privately choose, or not, as a universal freedom, a human and humane civil right, and (here’s my word connection) that one way to help that consciousness change would be to call it something else, something more accurately descriptive.

He says it’s not about “death” and ending life, but about ending pain and suffering.

So instead of euthanasia, he proposed it be legally called “patholysis.”

The crowd reportedly liked Kevorkian’s speech, until he brought in other public policy topics where emotion and common culture vested in certain words, block clear thinking and communicating, thus complicate public policy — for example, how we must support every member of the military as a “hero” just for doing what he considers a “job”. He was roundly booed for that. (Although it was the same point they applauded earlier in his remarks about euthanasia, how the words used unconsciously in our culture, can cumulatively create our reality, whether we can acknowledge it or not.)

Back to homeschooling and college admission, I see this effect everywhere in the words and policies of the process — so does Favorite Daughter btw (I secretly predicted to myself that she would become a linguist but for now, she’s leaning toward poet-novelist or maybe political satirist a la Stewart-Colbert.)

Take the word “test” for example. As in SATest or ACTest.

In the scientific method of inquiry, “test” means to actually do the intellectual work of applying your hypothesis under defined conditions as an academic, to see what happens, yes?

So academically, test doesn’t really mean to market a form full of multiple choice questions to an entire population of non-scientists, to predict who would be most profitable to the institution if allowed to access the facilities, where they might someday qualify to start thinking like scientists and apply a hypothesis and finally start to learn something under their own power. . .

But college admissions word confusion like this, is culturally so ingrained that we can’t even see it, so we can’t think about it clearly, much less talk about it publicly to change policy. And without that, we can’t fix any of it “correctly” (as Kevorkian says) in law.

So I guess we soldier on (not as heroes, just doing our job as parents and students?) as plucky individuals undaunted by a murky sea of quasi-legal education words, that don’t mean much of anything in the context of real education.

8 07 2009

Sarah’s Secret Diary:

It’s the same old double standard. I am not one of those who would whine and cuss. It’s just not how I’m wired!!! But the minute I start to whine and cuss, the mainstream media totally misunderstands my verbiage and the combination of things that brought me to this place of knowing. And I know that I know that I know those crappy bloggers will put out more confliction stories.

I keep explaining what impacted me, but everyone seems more confused and ironic than ever. What is it about average, hard-working Americans like me that Americans can’t understand?

10 07 2009
Michael, Madonna, Manny — and MamaBear? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Manny and MamaBear for deeper goals and values, shall we? And let’s mash it up with the language of Michael’s iconic Billie Jean lyrics, for any extra insight about “agendas, fears, […]

18 07 2009
Lucifer Effect Includes Calling Other People Cockroaches « Cocking A Snook!

[…] It all starts with “semantic distortion.” […]

24 07 2009

“It’s not about something that happened but rather about the way things work.”

New movie called “In the Loop” about language in government, statecraft, war and peace etc — Young Son and I heard about on NPR in the van the other day, laughed our heads off and put it on our to-see list, and now there’s this NYT review:

War of Words, Misspoken and Spun

Published: July 24, 2009

It is somehow fitting that the unruly plot of “In the Loop,” a sharply written, fast-talking, almost dementedly articulate satire on modern statecraft, should commence with a verbal slip-up.

In an atmosphere of impending military action, as the governments of Britain and the United States gear up to invade an unspecified Middle Eastern country, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the British minister of international development, gives an interview to the BBC. Surprised by a question outside his area of expertise —whatever that might be — he declares that in his view “war is unforeseeable.”

This statement, which might sound either obvious or opaque to a casual listener, ignites a minor firestorm in and around 10 Downing Street, since Simon’s words seem to depart from the official line. Offered a chance to walk his gaffe back, the poor fellow only digs himself deeper. Winging it in front of the news cameras, he observes that, while peace is of course a desirable state of affairs, it is sometimes necessary to climb “the mountain of conflict.”

The genius of “In the Loop,” directed by Armando Iannucci and written by a crack team of British wits, is that it turns this mountain into a series of festering molehills. War is a deadly and consequential business. That much goes without saying, and when some of the motley technocrats and would-be statesmen who populate this film do say it, their words sound either embarrassingly tinny or patently self-serving. And that’s the point: Grave matters involving global power cannot finally be separated from the pettiness of democratic governance, which is impelled by careerism, vanity, moral compromise and, in London more than in prim Washington, by ear-singeing profanity.

If Anglo-Saxon epithets were armaments, Britannia would rule the waves, thanks to the uncivil tongue of Malcolm Tucker, a powerful press officer. Almost nothing he says can be quoted here. . .

24 07 2009

More about how important “words” can be in shaping the national debate over underlying issues that may not be what they seem at all.

Obama Says Words Ill-Chosen

WASHINGTON — Trying to tamp down a national uproar over race, President Barack Obama acknowledged Friday he had used unfortunate words in declaring that Cambridge, Mass., police “acted stupidly” in arresting black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. “I could’ve calibrated those words differently,” he said.”

Limbaugh btw, said today on national radio that “you have a black president trying to DESTROY a white policeman” and saying Obama was prejudging based on bias, with a race chip on his shoulders . . . and a black GOP strategist (Joe Watkins) just called Limbaugh “brave” rather than racist for “saying what he thinks” even when it’s politically incorrect. Then he goes on decrying the president for daring to “wade into the issue” and “not be measured with his words.” This man is saying on MSNBC that the president (but not Limbaugh) is the one “injecting race into the incident” and that he has “set a bad precedent.”

Yep. Language: how it tricks our feelings and shrouds our thoughts!

“Rush Limbaugh speaks truth to power!” the black GOP man is saying.

21 02 2010

Pop quiz to see what political free speech has wrought in your own brain, one year into the Obama administration: quickly now, which party stands for a fair shot and more extensive rights for minorities? Which party has “shut down the legislative process in the name of achieving their legislative goals” and strong-armed their Congressional colleagues?

Switch papers with Snook and let’s check our answers. Did the words mean what you think they did or is this some NewSpeak hell of Babel?

“They’ve essentially shut down the legislative process in the name of achieving their legislative goals.”

21 02 2010

Is it morally preferable to kill babies with socialized medicine or without it, and is the question itself even possible to discuss once language has been twisted into facile gibberish?

22 02 2010

So why aren’t we highlighting this language, repeating it until it embeds even in the revolting (pun intended) mind?

Gen. David Petraeus, the military hero of the Republican (and even non-Republican) masses and the current leader of U.S. Central Command, cast himself as decidedly outside the Dick Cheney school of counter-terrorism thought on Sunday.

Appearing on Meet the Press, the general made a compelling case against torturing terrorist detainees, saying he found it far more pragmatic and beneficial to stick to methods authorized by the army field manual.

“I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. . . Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of interrogation methods in the army field manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works.”

Petraeus wasn’t done there. In another contrast with former Vice President Cheney — as well as the vast majority of congressional Republicans — he reiterated his support for closing Gitmo . . .”in a responsible matter. . . really thought through and done in a very pragmatic and sensible manner.”

As he noted, Petraeus has held these views for some time, so it’s not surprising to hear him say it again.

What does stand out is how infrequently he is invoked in the political debate on torture and Gitmo. The Obama administration, after all, has the endorsement of one of the most respected military figures of the modern age on two key policy disputes. And rarely do they or others mention it.

22 02 2010

She’s been peddling divisiveness for so long — and so many others have followed her lead — that the act has been largely stripped of its newsworthiness. On Saturday, she touched briefly on policy. But mostly, she came off as a humorist gunning for applause and a spotlight. The targets and lines were unoriginal. . .[see link for vitriolic examples galore.]

The CPAC crowd was in stitches. But for those who have sat through Coulter’s speeches before, the routine was old and predictable. The political discourse over the past year has made everyone calloused. The vitriol just doesn’t seem vitriolic anymore.

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