RE: Allowing the sweet voice of reason into our lives

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 19:46:22 MDT

Samantha writes

>>> I don't have "ideological opponents".
>> That's very unusual for one who has thought a good
>> deal about politics, at least here in the U.S.
> What I mean is that I am attempting to see those who disagree
> with ideas I hold dear and even those who are dangerous in
> disagreement as not, for all that, "opponents". If I cast
> them as opponents then I have effectively declared ideological
> conflict and even war.

Are you familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? There is
some truth, here, I believe, that our terminology can indeed
affect our intuitions, feelings, and thoughts in ways that
can be detrimental. Yes, I can imagine that relentless
labeling of those who disagree with one as "enemies" or
"opponents" could grow to have this effect.

But the possibility has been overblown, in my opinion. The
high point of this view occurred in the 1950's. Since then,
the counter-reaction has been that we are not so much damaged
or affected by our terminology as had been thought. All
human languages, for example, are almost equally effective in
connoting, with some interesting exceptions. But they're no
longer regarded as all powerful in shaping our thoughts.
Certainly "If I cast them as opponents then I have effectively
declared ideological conflict and even war" sounds too extreme
to me. But I suppose that it's possible that this is indeed
how your mind works.

Usually, today, if, let's say, it is found that some Administration
has an "enemies list", it is considered symptomatic of how they were
thinking in the first place; it's not really supposed that they would
have had any less injurious disposition had they only thought of an
effective euphemism.

There is definitely a trade-off here. We can calmly begin to think
of "those people who we disagree with" when we fear that referring
to them as "adversaries" will bring to mind irrelevant memes. On
the other hand, if you are confident that miscellaneous semantic
links *won't* lead you astray, you can and should feel perfectly
free to employ accurate terminology.


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