Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Let’s not forget: Words have meaning

August 19, 2017

Advertisement

Remember “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?” It isn’t so.

Words, the stock in trade of politics and public policy, express value with as much volatility and meaning as any commodity, stock or bond. Words can be used subtly in ways that let us find meanings in the deeds and thoughts of people across time from many cultures and environments.

Words can provide beauty, wit and incisive observations that cut through the verbal fog others use to restate reality (alternative facts). When scammers and confidence men use such words and blend them with conscienceless lying, the resources of the trusting, the gullible and the greedy are easily looted. Words can brutally condemn, incite, insult and, yes, as the fields of psychology and psychiatry have proved, do grievous injury to the mind and the body.

At the moment we are experiencing new and confusing usages that have the whole nation and perhaps the world totally confounded. On the world stage we have tin-pot tyrants across the globe who manipulate language in ways that would make George Orwell gasp.

Here we have a 7-month old presidential administration led by one of the world’s most confounding users of language. We all “hear” what President Trump tweets and says, but apparently his words should never be taken at face value or accepted as statements of truth and intent. Whatever the announcement is, it has to be reinterpreted, defended and modified by his inner circle of explainers. Now, in just this week, we finally know that his first utterance is always his truest, and almost universally dangerous, destructive, ill-informed and morally wrong.

Kansans have not been isolated or exempted from these broad trends in unhelpful communication. First, we have the Big Lie syndrome. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach currently stands as the most skillful practitioner of this technique. His unfounded, unsubstantiated claims of extensive voter fraud that support changes in laws and regulations to make voting more difficult and alienating have been conclusively and consistently debunked. Yet these claims remain the stock in trade of Kobach, who redoubles his efforts by repeating the claims and adding personal attacks on the motives and values of the people who dare disagree.

The “Use of Fluff and Folderol” prize has to go to our reportedly departing incumbent governor, Sam Brownback. He made unfounded promises of economic sunshine and progress for all Kansans to gain legislative approval of enormous tax reductions. All criticism was rejected but never refuted with any evidence. The clear failure of the “real-life experiment” was never admitted. His words in defense have always accused others or deflected blame toward outside, uncontrollable variables such as commodity prices, low oil prices and drought. Never did he claim any personal responsibility for the failure that everyone else could see.

Finally, we have the flip side of words to deceive, confuse and deny truth. Our Sen. Pat Roberts manifests an unwillingness to communicate at all. Doubtless he absorbed reports of the oppositional public meeting experience Sen. Jerry Moran had in Palco concerning repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Roberts chose to ignore the majority of his constituents during the “repeal or repeal and replace” votes in the U.S. Senate earlier this month. When he returned to Kansas for the summer recess he simply made no plans to publicly converse with his run-of-the-mill constituents.

Of what value are words when they come from voices and minds that are not inclined to truth, deliberation and debate?

Comments

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

Mark, this is probably the most on-point and IMPORTANT editorial ever. It would be impossible to improve on your comments about the reality of words, and how they're used.

Thank you !

Bob Smith 3 months ago

Also, just because you call yourself an anti-fascist doesn't mean that you aren't actually a fascist yourself. "...“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence,” Ms. Nauert added. “That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, basically.”..." https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/antifa-left-wing-faction-far-right.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytpolitics&smtyp=cur&_r=0

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

Completely diversionary, off-topic alert....repeat: C-DOT alert.....

David Reynolds 3 months ago

Interesting article regarding words, their meaning & usage.

What I found most interesting is the politically one sided nature of the article. As if only conservatives have the problem.

Examples; Obama's famous "you can keep your doctor...". Pelosi and her famous statement "You have to pass the bill to know what's in it". Or Maxine Waters irrational rants.

Most recently congress men & women, especially Pelosi who now demands that some statues in the House "Hall of Statues" should come down as they are offensive. How politically expedient is that, especially as she has walked past those same statues almost daily for decades without a peep.

I could go on.

I believe the writer, if really concerned about language, could be more balanced in the examples used.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months ago

Yes, and words taken out of context are always used wrong. Pelosi knew what was in the bill. It was in reaction to all the lies going around about death panels and a huge tax when you sell your house, etc. Obama admitted he was wrong when he said you can keep your doctor. He at least admits when he is wrong. When has your lord and master ever done that?

Which is real his tweets or his people's "interpretation" of his tweets? When he uses non words created by Richard Spencer or what his people say he meant? Do we believe that he likes to grab p*ssy, or do we believe that he is a moral Christians? Do I believe what he says? Or do I wait until his people tell me what I should believe. Do I believe my eyes when he is flailing around his arms, just like the disabled reporter does, or do I believe his supporters who say he was just trying to act like a person who is confused? Funny how he has never used those motions before and after about other people who he things are confused.

Sorry, David. I will continue to point out his lies and his moronic and many times rude tweets. You can watch FOX and get the interpretations and repeat it to all of us, but they aren't the president. I'll take Trump at his word.

http://www.snopes.com/pelosi-healthcare-pass-the-bill-to-see-what-is-in-it/

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/14/health-care-defiant-obama-vows-see-through/

Bob Summers 3 months ago

Of course Liberal humans would know what Pelosi is talking about.

Why wouldn't they? They have the same genetic make-up.

It's like when Hyena's vocalize in a laughing sound speaking to one another, they know what they are saying to one another.

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

By your own admission, the same genetic make-up as you, Bob.

David Reynolds 3 months ago

Thank you Dorothy for reinforcing my point.

Your post also reinforces the bias contained in the article.

Well done!

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

So since Barack and Bill have abused the language, it's OK for Sam, Kris, Pat, Donald and gang to abuse it, too? Pretty lame argument in my book, David.

Bob Summers 3 months ago

Words hurt people under the influence of the Liberal gene.

They need safe places and jammies with feet when they hear a word that gives them discomfort.

And remember.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. Bill Clinton.

David Reynolds 3 months ago

Ken instead of pulling the old "attack the messenger" routine, you might give some thought to actually reading posts with some objectivity vs being superfluous in your bias.

Reading my first post you would see I actually called for some balance as the original article is unnecessarily politically biased. My second post was consistent with my first post. You see, in my view, the original article is really just another "attack" article, and it's title does not match the content.

Perhaps your intent was to provide a new usage for the term "lame"?

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

Um, you pulled the wrong critique out of your quiver, David. "Attack the messenger" means that I attacked you, which I didn't at all. What I DID do was to point out that while the original article was critical of one party only, this political one-sidedness does not provide an excuse to the act of wrong-doing, which is manipulating, walking away from or downright running over the truth with bald-faced lies.

What I will add, which Dorothy also pointed out, is that the degree and frequency of lying is qualitatively different with the current crop of 'leaders" of the right wing--this was pointed out during the presidential campaign and the excesses have only accelerated since then.

But I digress: the best stance to take on this topic is to condemn manipulation, lies and other such biases from any and all political persuasions. You actually did not say this when you said that you could dismiss the writer's argument just because he did not provide a balanced set of examples. Had you said that first, and THEN pointed out that both political sides had a problem with telling the truth, I would not have said what I said about your logic being lame.

But there's still time, David. Do you think citizens should not tolerate politicians who make it a habit of lying and if they are caught lying or blatantly obscuring the truth, regardless of political persuasion, that they should be asked to walk it back or be held accountable?

Marc Wilborn 3 months ago

"But there's still time, David. Do you think citizens should not tolerate politicians who make it a habit of lying and if they are caught lying or blatantly obscuring the truth, regardless of political persuasion, that they should be asked to walk it back or be held accountable?"

Completely agree, Ken.

This is why the Democrats lost the election. HRC wouldn't admit to anything and DJT was not in office yet to show his true lying personality. All politicians should be held to the same benchmark. A good example was the continued banter by our former President who never copped to the "I found out about HRC's server when the public did" statement even though he had been emailing her with a fake name to said server.

All politicians lie.

David Reynolds 3 months ago

Ken, as I have said before this was a biased, one sided article.

Regarding the degree of lying? Again you project a one sided approach.

Let's not forget, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Obama, Comey, Susan Rice, Lynch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Clapper,...

All the best

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

So I repeat my question: Do you think citizens should not tolerate politicians who make it a habit of lying and if they are caught lying or blatantly obscuring the truth, regardless of political persuasion, that they should be asked to walk it back or be held accountable?

If every citizen's expectation were this, I think we might have a chance. Without it, it won't matter which party is in power.

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

The writer's point is that words have power to do violence (including lies, which do violence to truth). He used some politicians as examples: does anybody really think today's politicians are NOT the primary example of lies and rhetorical violence giving rise to violent deeds ?

His point is the same one Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount. It's not enough to say you've never murdered anyone: people filled with anger, spewing contempt for others, are just as bad as murderers, since what they do gives rise to murder.

Jesus didn't give politicians an exemption on that. Neither should we.

The writer used as his examples the politicians most-associated in everybody's minds with lies and violent rhetoric. That's simply how you illustrate a point you're making.

The complaint that the writer should have shown "balance" by citing politicians of "the other side" as co-examples is the lamest kind of "political correctness." (And yes, the people who so love to portray themselves as crusaders against "P.C." have their own "political correctness:" they're just not honest enough to recognize, or call it, that.)

It's probably also valid to say that defenders and excusers of political violence and lies are just as culpable as the politicians they admire: their moral blindness makes those politicians successful.

Maybe we can hope that living in the current reality of government-by-lie that resulted from those politicians' success will make some "defenders and excusers" re-think their own attitude. Or as Jesus would say, "repent" of the evil they've done.

That would be the right thing, and the smart thing, to do.

David Reynolds 3 months ago

As I said in my previous posts. There are lies on both sides of the political spectrum.

If the writer and those commenting are truly concerned about truth in politics then there should be equal time given to lying on both sides of the equation.

Lying is never justified...but if one is going to call it out, then please be honest. That's not what I read in these blogs.

I see defensiveness regarding the article. That shows dishonesty in itself by portraying the problem as one sided.

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

We all know politicians "spin" the truth to their advantage. The same could probably be said of virtually all human beings, to some extent.

But the claim of false self-serving "alternative facts" (please note which political faction came up with that concept) is different in ESSENCE: more than a skewed interpretation of reality, some politicians assert a contrary reality. (Which was exactly the argument of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, if moral parallels are of interest.)

The politicians the writer used as examples are all of the latter type. Sam Brownback's repeated assertions, for example, that his financial plan for Kansas was "working." Kris Kobach' and Trump's assertions that there are "three to five million illegal voters" out there.

The political practice of "spinning" facts at least works from facts. It's a vastly different matter when politicians assert an "alternative reality" of their own creation.

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

Getting an answer to my question is a bit like pulling teeth, David. I think by your saying that "lying is never justified," you condemn lying whether it be Hillary, Donald, Barack, Sam, Kris, Barbara, Pat, Bill or whomever, and we should hold them accountable and expect them to walk it back if the lie becomes undeniable, right?

I'm perfectly fine with that: are you?

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

Relevant quote here:

"...if we don't start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it's going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can't have a real debate about anything."

I doubt Al Franken said that because he's a progressive Democrat. And nobody has to be a progressive Democrat to see the commonsense of what he says.

Those who choose the believe that their (their !) partisanship "explains" everything another person says or thinks will explain away the commonsense. That's too bad. Partisanship is what causes the harmful divisions in America, so partisans are the people who most need to hear commonsense. Too bad their partisanship won't let them.

And Franken's right. Truth is in Americans' common interest. That's not hard to understand. Voters and politicians can't make good decisions for America based on lies: and bad decisions do our country immense harm.

Anyone who wants good for America...those we'd call patriots...want truth for America; in their own words and deeds, and those of the politicians they choose.

My experience is that those whose criteria is truth, and those whose isn't, show pretty clearly which side of that dividing line they're on, in everything they say and everything they do.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.