Language

Wittgenstein vs. the Woke

A generation of activists has imbued words and sounds with superstition.

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Last summer, protesters from Baltimore to Bristol defaced statues and dumped them into rivers in an iconoclastic spasm, providing a momentary diversion from what the new progressives take to be the real agents of oppression: words. Words matter, they say, plausibly enough. Words have power and consequences, and there must be accountability, they add. These generalities are supposed to settle such matters as whether President Donald Trump calling the coronavirus the "kung flu" caused anti-Asian sentiment, which caused the Atlanta spa shootings, with no factual evidence required. That words have power is a commonplace, but then again so are observations that talk is cheap and that you'd better put your money where your mouth is.

The view that words drive events is the spiritual orientation of youthful leftism. But it's hard to think of a view that would more directly contradict Marxist ideas about history, according to which words are frippery or ideology, concealing the material conditions of production. That sort of realism, which presupposes that we inhabit a physical universe, seems passé. Contemporary social justice movements focus on semiotic injustice, on the alleged violence perpetrated in and by words and images. We appear in this conception to live in a world that we are making with symbols, in a history driven by the production of signs and sentences rather than widgets.

The current censorial atmosphere raises philosophical questions. You start by asking about the effects of somebody's rhetoric and end up trying to figure out whether language reflects reality or reality reflects language. In order to know what sort of power words could possibly have, we'll need to reflect on what they are and how they mean. Fortunately, philosophers such as Charles Sanders Peirce, Gottlob Frege, and Ludwig Wittgenstein spent much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries trying to deal with general questions about linguistic meaning in a systematic way. Some of the central insights they developed have come to be foundational in philosophy and may even constitute something of a toolkit: Wittgenstein vs. the woke.

Meaning and Intention

First, we need to distinguish what words mean both from what the speaker intends and from what the hearer or reader understands. After an imbroglio at The New York Times, the practical necessity of doing some philosophical reflecting became obvious. The Daily Beast in January revealed that longtime Times science reporter Donald McNeil, who was conducting teenagers on a trip to Peru sponsored by the paper, had uttered the word nigger in a discussion about whether the use of that term on social media should lead to a child's suspension from school. Editor in Chief Dean Baquet and Publisher A.G. Sulzberger then successfully pressured McNeil into resigning.

Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a column, which the paper spiked (and Stephens subsequently placed with the New York Post), attacking his employer for McNeil's removal. Stephens staked the whole question on McNeil's intentions.

"Intention," he wrote, "is the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is an aggravating or extenuating factor in judicial settings….A hallmark of injustice is indifference to intention." In this case, of course, the focus isn't on whether someone committed murder or manslaughter, but on what words mean and what people mean by them, which is quite a different matter. Stephens' defense of McNeil rests on the connection of meaning and intention. McNeil, Stephens argues, didn't intend to use the slur-of-all-slurs to attack anyone; he intended to talk about the word and its history.

But merely appealing to McNeil's intentions will not clear his name. We often say something that reveals what we mean or even who we are without intending to. The words I utter or write can fail to mean what I intend; they can even mean the opposite. So, for example, if you ask me for directions somewhere and I tell you to take a left when I meant to say right, still I told you to go left; the sentence I uttered meant that you should turn left, whatever my intentions. What I said was wrong; it didn't mean what I intended it to mean. The meaning of left, like the meaning of a slur, is a public matter, and it would be a lame defense to say that when I spewed a bunch of hate, I had love in my heart. If words actually meant whatever anyone intended them to mean, as opposed to what we mean by them together, we couldn't communicate at all. Meaning, as Wittgenstein argued, is not "in the head"; it's in the public language.

On the other hand, and for the same reason, the meaning of a word or sentence is also definitely not whatever the hearer or reader takes it to be. Otherwise, misunderstandings would be impossible. So if I say "take a right," and you mistakenly take me to have said "left," what I said was correct; you just misheard me. That words can be misinterpreted is also a precondition for any linguistic communication; if words mean anything, then people can get their meanings wrong. You can be responsible to some extent for some of the unintended consequences of your actions, but you can't be held responsible for misapprehensions of your words.

It is possible to hear something as a slur, for example, and maybe even be traumatized by the experience, due only to a misapprehension. A classic example of this is provided by the experience of Greg Patton, a business professor suspended by the University of Southern California for using a Chinese word meaning "that"—nèige—in a Zoom class. At any rate, neither what the person thinks her words mean nor what her hearers think they mean determines what they do mean. This is useful, because otherwise the discussion starts slipping into a netherworld of mental states hiding in people's heads, whether these states are intentions or traumas. That you were traumatized by hearing nèige because it sounds something like nigger cannot itself be used as a basis for determining what Patton said, what his words meant, or whether he ought to be sanctioned.

Use vs. Mention

We need to distinguish using words from talking about them, quoting them, paraphrasing them, and defining them. The philosophy of language rests on what is termed the use/mention distinction: the difference, for example, between hurling an insult at someone and quoting or talking about the insult that was hurled. Queen Latifah starts her song "U.N.I.T.Y." by asking "Who you callin' a bitch?" She obviously does so not to call anyone a bitch but rather to criticize the word's routine use in the hip-hop of that era. Amazingly, the word was cut out when the video first aired on MTV; banning the mention of the word made it impossible for Latifah to make her point.

Gottlob Frege's "On Sense and Reference" is often considered the foundational text in modern philosophy of language, and it pretty much begins, as it must, with the distinction between directly using words and talking about them: "If words are used in the ordinary way, what one intends to speak of is [the things they refer to]. It can also happen, however, that one wishes to talk about the words themselves or their sense. This happens, for instance, when the words of another are quoted. One's own words then first designate words of the other speaker….We then have signs of signs. In writing, the words are in his case enclosed in quotation marks. Accordingly, a word standing between quotation marks must not be taken as having its ordinary reference."

Without this distinction we cannot talk about the meaning of words at all; there could be no dictionary, for example. We employ this distinction all the time. A politician might quote or paraphrase her opponent and then attack what he said. Jake Tapper might describe the ridiculous doctrines of QAnon with a scowl on his face. But without the use/mention distinction, people who are quoting their opponents must also be endorsing their views.

The McNeil situation seems to turn on this distinction, and an even clearer case is provided by Slate's former sports reporter, Mike Pesca, who, in an amazing nadir for the philosophy of language, was suspended from the podcast The Gist for drawing the use/mention distinction. In a workplace Slack discussion in which he was defending McNeil, Pesca said, "The question is: Is an out-loud utterance of that word, in a work environment, fireable, censurable….Even as a point of clarification to a question exactly about the use of that word." Just raising the question turned out to be a suspendable offense, if not a fireable one.

The reference of a directly hurled slur is the person slurred, and it derides or devalues her for her membership in a particular group. But the reference of "slur" (with the quotation marks) is the word slur. "A pig" is composed of four letters, but a pig is composed of flesh and bone. "A pig" is a phrase, but a pig is mammal. Now, McNeil's case and many others are cases in which, quite explicitly, the slur is mentioned, but not used. In Pesca's case it is not even mentioned; Pesca uses "the n-word" to refer to the word at the center of the McNeil controversy. In these cases, the slur is not directed at anyone, in the very literal sense that it does not refer to anyone; we're talking about a word or a phrase, not an ethnic group. Randall Kennedy's book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, is a history of the use of the term, not a history of the people at whom it was hurled. If a history of the African diaspora were published under this title, it would be a racist text rather than a book that sheds light on the history of racism and the use of racist language.

It's true that someone could work offensive terms into conversation by routinely talking about the words as words. But prohibiting even talking about certain words begins to smack of superstition by attributing magical powers to sounds—as does censuring the use of words that sound similar: niggling, for example. Banning sounds starts to create an obviously irrational taboo, registering a fear not of racist or sexist abuse but of phonemes or little squiggles on screens. Making certain sounds taboo might even make it impossible to express the taboo clearly.

In March, NBA player Meyers Leonard was traded by the Miami Heat to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who promptly cut him, perhaps ending his career, because he used an antisemitic slur ("kike") on the streaming video game site Twitch. But you could read many news accounts and not know what slur was used. If one does not know what the slur was, and if the video is deleted from social media, it becomes impossible even to form a reasonable opinion on the whole matter. In other words, you'll need the use/mention distinction to tell us what you're against or why someone was fired.

Types and Tokens

We need to distinguish between words themselves, which are abstract objects, like numbers, and the soundwaves, inkstains, or pixels in which words appear on particular occasions. We can burn all the copies of Huckleberry Finn and redact every appearance of the word nigger that we can find, but we cannot destroy the word itself, which, as the philosopher Arthur Danto pointed out, is "logically incombustible." The same word can be written or spoken here and there, now and then. It's an abstract structure, realized or represented by concrete soundwaves or squiggles. This is true not only of each letter and each word, but of each sentence and each novel, too. Anything that has the right structure or form, the right words in the right order, is a copy of Huckleberry Finn.

The inventor of semiotics, C.S. Peirce, wrote that a word or a text is a type, while its physical realizations are tokens. Each copy of Huckleberry Finn is a token of the same type, which is the novel itself, and every spoken slur is a token of the word that's being uttered. Tokens are particular physical things consisting of vibrations in the air, pencil lead on paper, pixels on a screen. But the novel itself, or the slur, is the structure that all these copies have in common, what makes them all copies of the same book or utterances of the same slur.

By social pressure or outright censorship, it's obvious that you can reduce the number of tokens of a word; every time you pulp or edit a copy of Huckleberry Finn, you've reduced the number of tokens of the word nigger in the world. But you have not done anything at all to the word itself, which is invulnerable. And unless you can destroy the letters of which it consists, which are also abstract types, the word can always be reconstituted, like Iran's nuclear program. However, the fact that a word is an abstract object means that, unlike Iran's nuclear program, it can't be blown up—and also that it can't be used to blow up anything else.

We should think rationally about what sort of power words could possibly have; they definitely cannot have the sorts of powers currently being attributed to them. The current flavor of language-oriented activism explicitly confuses words with things. It treats them as though they are supernatural weapons, and suggests that words themselves give rise directly to the concrete forces that drive oppression. But an abstract object cannot accomplish violence in the physical world.

You can deface a statue or dump it in a river or melt it down, but you can't vandalize, drown, or melt a word. You can cancel a person by trying to get him fired or forcing him to recant, but you can't cancel a phrase. Indeed, you might want to keep even the worst word in the world around so that you can mention it—so that you can give a realistic picture of the devastating history of racism, for example. For the word has many uses, not only in expressing but, as Kennedy's book shows, in exposing bigotry. Fearing the abstract structure itself, which is everywhere and nowhere, which has no meaning in itself but only in particular things people use it to express on particular occasions, is merely some sort of superstition.

Words are a lot harder to suppress than one might wish, and their suppression is far less desirable than it might appear to be. Trying to suppress them cannot have the sort of concrete effects in ameliorating injustice that the woke anticipate. The picture of the nature, meaning, and effects of language behind the current wave of speech repression is not defensible.

Rarely has philosophy, in its millennia-long history, provided firm or useful results, but these are some that are relatively firm and fairly useful for showing that the current arguments against free expression rest on untenable or incomprehensible claims about the power of words.

NEXT: Brickbat: Thick Skin

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  1. Ceci n’est pas une pipe, the map is not the territory. Those with the power to say what words mean control the language, language controls thought. Ironically, those with the power to say what words mean are called “powerless”. Everybody wants to be a helpless victim because helpless victims are the most powerful people on the planet.

    1. We are just watching the oppression Olympics on steroids. A race to see who has collected the most victim points, then that person is surely the most virtuous, and they get to yell the loudest and must be listened to / respected even if they have nothing to put forward but trash.

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    2. Well said, both of you.

  2. This is the best article I have read anywhere about anything in quite a while. Elegantly finishes germs of thoughts that I have had in an only inchaote way.

    1. I agree. Excellent takedown of religion that shows how the left has joined the right in celebrating magical thinking.

      1. It’s really neat how you jam a favorite talking point in there, even when the actual hypothesis of the article is diametrically opposed to everything you stand for.

    2. Wouldn’t say it was the best but it was pretty excellent. I agree with the general thesis but I think the article would have been stronger if it had acknowledged that words have power and some words have the power to wound, to trigger trauma. That doesn’t mean we should infringe on free speech. It means we should encourage humane sensitivity. Some words can do symbolic violence to a person. The current woke linguistic regime takes this much too far but it needs to be acknowledged any how.

  3. Use vs. Mention

    ARE THESE VERBS OR NOUNS? Words have meanings.

    The power surrounding the word at the center of this article moves from group to group. The current power rests mostly with those who use its use or reference in any context by the wrong individuals as an excuse for (often unearned) indignation, mobbing and even outright violence.

  4. When dealing with the pomo mob of SJW cultists the better framework for understanding would be “words are weapons sharper than knives, makes you wonder how the other half dies”. That is all. There is no meaning to these people beyond power and it’s exercise in pursuit of their goals and right now their goal is to make the world burn.

    1. Michael Hutchence was a huge hippie influence. *Love* inxs

  5. I thought this article was great. Thanks for writing it. Made me start to wonder:

    Do self-described Objectivists celebrate the current trend towards absolutism where every word has one, and ONLY one socially acceptable meaning and thus context is rendered irrelevant?

    That consequence seems to be the epitome of their philosophy as far as I’ve seen for the past 50 years….eliminate all context in order render every idea as a contextless TRUTH according to their hero’s construction of what it means to be a human being.

    I’ve always found it absurd, that Ayn Rand preached that all context must be eliminated from individual’s perceptions of reality in order to live as “Man qua Man” but with so many forces today shaping common language towards that end, maybe the idea was more prescient than absurd.

    Rand has convinced a small, myopic faction of faith-blinded followers that to live as a Man ( that capital “M” means human, not “male”, for you brainwashed youngsters out there), you must blur relevant distinctions to render all notions of context irrelevant to any choice…doesn’t sound like any form of humanity I’d want to be part of. Thankfully, the law of human action ensures that end cannot be reached even though it can certainly be experienced transiently.

    1. BEST N*P EVAH!

    2. Snore

      Amazing! That same review pops up at Amazon for every book you ever shat out you soporific dullard.

  6. Wittgenstein was a berry swine was just as sloshed as Schlegel

    1. There’s nothing Nietzche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the raising of the wrist

      1. Now you are just beating a dead horse.

  7. My whole damned semester of Linguistic Philosophy compressed into one article.

  8. I have a fixation on the evils of government. Specifically, government is evil because its diktats are one-size-fits-none. Everything else which is done is not a monopoly. No matter how much you hate a business, there are alternatives. Yes, you can ignore Amazon if you want a new lamp, shop local; you will have a lot fewer choices, you won’t have reviews out the wazoo, and you will have to physically and slowly visit stores to see what they have. But it can be done, unlike if government ran stores, where there would literally be no legal alternatives. You would have to buy the government lamp, you would have to prove how many you needed, you could not buy fewer or more.

    Because of this, the more government does, the less choice people have, and people do like having choices, including the choice of buying no lamps. There would be no new lamps, maybe brighter so you need fewer, or spot lamps so you could buy more and cheaper lamps to have more focused lighting.

    Thus all this angst scattered all over society, left and right, is entirely due to expanded government reducing choices, angrifying people who hate being restricted, and the natural inclination is to force everybody else into your choice, since the alternative is having to put up with their choice.

    Simple, really: small government means everybody gets their own choice, but the downside is they have to make that choice. Big government means the only choice you have is how much effort you put into fending off other people’s choices and fending off people who are fending off you.

    One way leads to progress and reasonably happy people. The other leads to eternal fending off and anti-progress.

  9. figure out whether language reflects reality or reality reflects language.

    Now, *that* is a first world problem.

  10. I get to the ‘meaning and intention’ paragraph and I see that the author doesn’t understand.

    They’ve listed the *old* rules. The modern left knows these rules. They don’t care. Those aren’t the rules they are playing by.

    Oh, and by assuming that *intention matters* you are re-victimizing people, natch.

    1. It’s all about how the listener interperats what is said. For instance when a progressive say hello, it really means they are trying to kill you, the best option is to defend yourself

  11. None of this discussion is relevant to what’s going on, which is just to make opportunities for holier-than-thou proclamations, and excuses for getting rid of people without stating the real reasons.

  12. Wokeness is nothing if not a religion. Adherents must suspend skepticism, never question, and submit to the movement. Belief is critical, but like all mob-based ideology, belief must always be updated to embrace the latest revelation (and properly castigate those former saints who have sinned).

    In wokeness, words are equally slippery. Just remember: blasphemy is a crime, but like in all religions, guilt is predetermined. Evidence will be adjusted as needed by the priesthood.

  13. Great article with the exception:

    “…and maybe even be traumatized by the experience”

    Can we at least determine that words are not actions, and “trauma” by words is suspect? Yes, a cruel parent can inflict no end of harm through what they say to their child; a denigrating boss can make an employee’s life miserable with their words, but absent a power relationship [and the ability to inflict actual duress], words are still just words. We imbue them with force beyond their capacity, which is why they have come to be regarded as having superstitious power in and of themselves.

    1. My response in my day:

      Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

      Simple rule to live by in a peer to peer relationship

  14. ‘“but we cannot destroy the word itself, which, as the philosopher Arthur Danto pointed out, is “logically incombustible.”‘

    Sure, but you isn’t have to destroy a word because it has no physical form.

    Once the government gains the capability of direct mind control, the word can be effectively “destroyed” by removing every memory of it, along with all tokens.

    Just think of the bad thoughts that will be impossible to think in the future.

    1. America isn’t a racist country.

      Muslims are all right.

      Donald Trump isn’t a genius.

      Mexicans are people too.

      Poverty and wealth have nothing to do with hard work.

      Maybe life sucks and it comes down to a choice between which breed of asshole is going to control our thoughts.

      1. I really don’t know how progressives could program our thoughts. Would the contradictions go through, or make heads explode?

        Men and women are equal.
        Men are scum, and women are awesome.

        Sexuality is fluid.
        If your gay, you were born that way.

        Fascism is horrible.
        China is awesome.

        Progressive thought is objective.
        Everything is subjective.

        I’m fact-based.
        Everything is a lie.

        You don’t know history.
        I choose my own history.

        Violence is horrible.
        Government violence is awesome.

        Government is awesome in general.
        Borders are racist.
        Defund the police.

        Science is real.
        Evolution is true.
        Genders are made up.
        Heterosexuality is oppressive.

        Tolerance, compassion, and empathy are our greatest strengths.
        I love standing up to the elderly for their oppression of trans people.

        Etc, etc.

        I think you could program a head to do that, but it would remind me of 1984. Or Russia under Lenin.

        1. Poor Tony. You just rhetorically whupped his ass.

        2. When did I say China was awesome? When did I say men suck? When did I say any of these things?

          Try arguing against something someone actually said.

          1. When did I say “Tony”?

            1. But have you asked anyone you’re accusing, or are you getting second-hand characterizations by partisan media figures?

              You’re so close to a tidy mind. Just consult primary sources.

              1. This is based on primary sources.

      2. America isn’t a racist country.
        America is not. Why else would other cultures come here? Is there racism in America? yes. Do we then have to assume that all of our culture is predicated on racism and nothing else matters but that foundation of inequity? Coming soon to a culture near you.

        Muslims are all right.
        Most Muslims are all right. Their doctrine is askew in that it preaches that all Muslims should work to destroy any infidel. Most don’t act literally on that doctrine. Some do. They make headlines.

        Donald Trump isn’t a genius.
        I don’t know what his IQ is. Would it matter if he was a genius? Are the other clowns running the show any smarter or just politically stuck in their ways?

        Mexicans are people too.
        Yes, Mexican Citizens. As such they are welcome to try to immigrate to the United States through the channels available to all immigrants. Seeking asylum as a way to cut in line doesn’t make the case for their immigration more acceptable.

        Poverty and wealth have nothing to do with hard work.
        Hard work and the choices one makes can pull them out of poverty. Without hard work one will not escape poverty. Government programs have proven to be more deterrent than helpful.

        Maybe life sucks and it comes down to a choice between which breed of asshole is going to control our thoughts.
        You live the way you want and let others enjoy their world as they want to envision it. No one controls anything you are not willing to relinquish. The choice is how much you are willing to bend a knee.

        1. Let everyone live free and unrestrained… except Mexicans and Muslims, because their culture is wrong.

  15. Good article!!
    The next time someone tells you what a word, any word, actually “means,” bear in mind that I once undertook such a experiment for a seminar about metaphor and metonymy with a goal of “defining” a comparatively simple word: “plow.”

    I was working under the hypothesis that an individual’s understanding of a word reflects their entire personal history and use of that word — as verb, as noun, as used as metaphor, etc. I researched its use in just a couple of languages and cultures.

    Without going into great detail, let me just say that the working draft of that paper went to nearly fifty pages. And that was just scratching the surface (pun intended).

    1. 50 pages.

      Holy fuck.

      1. “Holy fuck.”

        I think I uttered that exact phrase myself…more than once.

    2. Hopefully you got plowed after turning in the paper.

      1. “Hopefully you got plowed after turning in the paper.”
        I did. So did my girlfriend, although that’s a different meaning.

        1. “…although that’s a different meaning.”

          Keep going.

          1. Hopefully he got to at least watch.

            1. ++ 🙂

              Well, no. But she did — in a mirror.

              1. You are a good sport. Respect.

            2. isn’t a thing until someone else is watching.

              1. “sn’t a thing until someone else is watching.”

                Yeah. Been there, too, a time or two. But not really my thing.

          2. Okay. Getting “plowed” as in getting laid, from the female perspective. This whole paper started from a line attributed to Max Black: “The chairman plowed through the discussion.”

      2. If only he picked the word “plaster.”

        1. Please DO NOT give me any new ideas!

  16. I feel like Reason is playing catch-up, but I will give them credit. This content is good. Should have been here in 2015, but I’ll take it now.

    And if they have to bring in outside talent to fight this cancer on society, so be it.

    1. yeah they had to bring in Nancy to report on antifa, too scared to go there themselves I guess?

  17. >>successfully pressured McNeil into resigning

    dude didn’t have to resign. great piece, also.

  18. Why are people saying this was a great piece? It’s totally naive. It’s true and well explained, but there’s no audience for it. People reading it here already know it. The phenomenon to which it refers is promoted disingenuously by true disbelievers. This is like trying to explain to that cartoon character who says, “Stop hitting yourself” that you’re not hitting yourself.

    1. I think it does help explain the problem more lucidly for some. Many intuitively understand there is something wrong with how McNeil was punished for uttering the n-word but might have trouble clearly articulating their intuition in a debate.

  19. Nice of Sartwell to inform us of philosophical concepts regarding the use of words, and how far the left has gone in giving them superstitious power. No doubt in their quest for power. As a libertarian, I find the kindergarten lesson of “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” as simpler. But Sartwell’s language is useful in dealing with the more sophisticated.

    From an initiation of force perspective, consider what one is saying when they claim they have a right to defend themselves with violence when they are harmed by words. They are telling you, that if you are harmed by their words, you should physically harm them to defend yourself. That or they aren’t living by the Golden Rule, and just want power over you. Regardless, it’s a declaration they’ll initiate force against you when you say something they don’t like. And we should point it out.

    1. To clarify, you think you should have the right to blow a child’s head off if she wanders onto your lawn without permission, correct?

      1. It’s okay if they’re unborn or newborn though, right Tony?

        1. So that’s a yes?

          1. That depends. Is she acknowledging her privilege?

      2. Or you can say in a mean way Get off of my lawn and that show of word force will literally make the child crumble in defeat.

  20. “You can cancel a person by trying to get him fired or forcing him to recant, but you can’t cancel a phrase. ”

    If you can cancel a person, there is no need to cancel a phrase.

    1. Since you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you’re a bit dim, a person is temporary and typically has minimal impact. Words can last forever and may reach across cultures. Did you read the article, or scan it to cherry-pick a quote that you could use to look more ignorant?

  21. Its magic. Totemic thought. The same mindset that thinks a cloth over your face will protect you from a virus, or that banning guns will stop murder.

  22. That the mere mention of words can have bad consequences is also not a new phenomenon in social use of language. Observant Jews today never utter the name of God; when they read it aloud they substitute other words for what is written in front of them. In historical linguistics we talk about “taboo deformation”, ie certain irregular changes to words that have some religious or magical significance.

    1. ‘That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.’

  23. Do you use “gift” to mean “give a present”? Do you use “begs the question” to mean “asks or raises the question”? Do you use “most awarded” to mean “has received the most prizes”? (If you’re a car company, you certainly do.) If so — and I’ll bet you do — there goes your argument.

  24. “Muslims are all right.

    Most Muslims are all right. Their doctrine is askew in that it preaches that all Muslims should work to destroy any infidel. Most don’t act literally on that doctrine. Some do. They make headlines.”

    The “all right” ones are that way because they are inherently decent people, not because of Islam. They would be even better off without it.

    Sorry, I am still smarting from the school bombing in Afghanistan which killed 40-50 or so teen girls. Don’t see any other religion or philosophy leading to that sort of selective female genocide, except selective sex abortion, which has killed many millions of girls over the last forty years, mostly in Asia.

    1. I think all religion is bad, on balance, though it’s perfectly legitimate to have a value system that doesn’t include humanism, free thought, or individual liberty. There’s nobody up in the sky telling us the correct way to live in the world.

      The argument goes that the Muslim holy text is somehow different in kind from the Christian holy text. This supposedly makes Muslim backwardness deterministic, and somehow excuses the vastly greater horror and death perpetuated by Christians during their religion’s existence.

      All tribal belief systems get people killed. People were killed over Trumpism. More probably will be.

      American Muslims are all the proof you should need that Muslims can moderate. Just put them in a middle class somewhere and away from resource-starved imperialism-ravaged shitholes. There are recipes for terrorism, and frankly I didn’t see much mention of Muhammed when Tim McVeigh and the Trump cult did their terrorism.

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