Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our Semantic War Against Our Own General Welfare

That semantic war is also an unwitting war by a people against the general welfare of those same people.  It's not just tragic, but also an embarrassing travesty.

Anyone following a policy discussion today is soon struck with the endless quagmire of disjointing meanings assigned to the same words by opposite sides in increasingly inane debates. It's as though our Congress has been infiltrated and taken over by a tribe of Mad Hatters.

In mathematics, for example, some more learned practitioners used to begin analysis of every supposedly intractable problem with a simple request: "Please define your terms," which always reminds me of stories about Paul Erdos.

In more general terms, all Americans from the ~2000 recognized & growing official professions, should remember 3 simple rules for practical use of a language:
1) define your ultimate goal, not just local ones;
2) define the policies & strategies for linking, staging & sequencing tactics & strategies;
3) do NOT let tactics masquerade as goals for Pyrrhic battles!

Today, I wish Paul Erdos was still here, to ask Congresspeople what, exactly, they mean when they worry about fiat debt.  What the heck does that even mean?

Those frustrated by the semantic war with ourselves may enjoy an old book by Stuart Chase

His 1938 book "The Tyranny of Words[reviewed]" was an early (perhaps the earliest, predating Hayakawa) and influential popularization of Alfred Korzybski's general semantics.

Tyranny of Words is apparently off copyright.
You can download the pdf at

Chase also wrote a later essay called "Danger—Men Talking!" a children's Background Book on Semantics and Communication.

Stuart Chase puts Pirsig to shame, and both language and policy to better use.

It's still exceedingly difficult, and random, for Americans to know what America knows.

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