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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/11/19

Huxley, and the Meaning of Words

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"Words are dangerous as well as useful."

Thus Aldous Huxley, in his essay A Few Well-Chosen Words. He continues: "...they have made it impossible to think except in terms of language." [1]

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "ŽHe is also a (more...)
 
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3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments  Post Comment


Iftekhar Sayeed

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(Member since Dec 19, 2006), 1 fan, 67 articles, 30 quicklinks, 64 comments, 5 diaries
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President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Recep Tayip Erdogan's famous definitions of democracy may invite a chuckle, but that would be wrong: mistranslation between languages is inevitable, not an example of the native intellect making a monkey of itself before the superior speakers of the language.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 at 3:08:53 AM

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Susan Lee Schwartz

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I have a file on my desktop, called "Words Matter" for an essay I plan to write about mendacity, and the weaponization of disinformation.

I was a teacher for 5 decades, a 7th grade English teacher, and thus I spent a lifetime, with. students reading the words of wonderful writers who could capture the big ideas. My students learned to write with me, not because I "taught ' writing, but because I showed them the power of words.

"Some words matter a very great deal, because they are not words at all"--"they are sirens, bullets, knives. The connotation is missing, entirely, in formal American discourse today, that "these are very bad men, who will lead you into disaster, atrocity, and ruin" "--"and in fact, they already are. Isn't that what kids in camps are? If you don't think so, my friend, then you are on the wrong side of history."

And I say this -- no society or civilization has ever survived when decisions were made based on misinformation and lies!

All the genuinely 'wise' people (experts, academics, policy analysts and brilliant journalists etc) who speak today, are ridiculed. "Truth is NOT Truth," says the spokesperson for our liar-in-chief, who shouts 'Fake News" and tells ignorant Americans that "the press is the enemy of the people.

But, the real analysts -- of this moment in history-- are saying that 'disinformation has been weaponized."

This is the observable reality in this informational era... where the internet has been the conveyor of lies to a huge portion of people, who already know only what the media sells as 'facts.'

Ignorant of history in unimaginable ways, our citizens --- in this era of information technology -- lack the prior knowledge which makes it possible to compare what is in front of their eyes, with the facts of history.

We are seeing a 'cognitive dissonance' where people do not grasp the truth in front of their eyes! Like the sleazey lawyer who was the 'fixer,' for our president.

Critical thinking depends on PRIOR KNOWLEDGE, because no hypothesis or prediction can be based on anything but FACTS.

Opinions are not facts, because the 'belief systems' that promote them are not based on authentic knowledge...and as we know, today people are so wedded to their belief systems, that even when a serial criminal who has spent a lifetime defrauding people, and has treated women in the most debased manner, is still their 'hero.'

History does not lie, and it will show that America was on its way to failure for a long time, and pushed into real decline in the 21st century

Loved your article!!!!

Submitted on Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 at 4:45:37 PM

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Iftekhar Sayeed

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Cognitive dissonance is a great danger - the trouble is, they are not troubled by it. They engage in 'motivated reasoning', cherry-piling facts that bolster their belief. Many psychological experiments have proved this.

You can see it in the MO of a demagogue:

1) create an enemy, no

matter how fictitious;

2) promise utopia;

3) give stemwinder speeches that arouse hatred and hope;

4) disappoint.

We had a demagogue in the 1970s who used these MO, but it was our first national election, callow voters, illiterate...He split the country, created hatred and finally embroiled is in a civil war.

People engage in motivated reasoning, leaving facts by the wayside.

Submitted on Thursday, Jun 13, 2019 at 3:54:14 AM

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Michele Goddard

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Very interesting article. You bring up a topic with is both vital and yet not much thought about or discussed. I have always been a very verbal person. I have always had a desire to use my words in an acutely specific manner to create in others around me a true understanding of my perspective. I longed to create deeper friendships and intimacy by using my words to try and bridge the gap between myself and others through an intellectual process of explaining to them exactly what I think and feel. This was an abject failure even when speaking the same language and being of the same culture of the individuals with whom I sought this intimacy. During the breakdown of my marriage I struggled to understand how my husband and I could both be fairly intelligent people with the ability to express ourselves verbally better than most and yet words increasingly seemed to cause more and more of a barrier.


One day while curling up on the couch with my dog and cat, I watched the cat giving the dog a "bath" licking him as if he were her kitten, and it occurred to me that words are not how we originally evolved. They can can only be so specific and although they can describe emotions, words are the least effective at conveying emotion. You can describe the feeling of a friend's hand touching yours in empathy, but the feeling that you experience when you hear the description is truly only understood as a memory of when you had experienced it before. This is the case with all sensations of affection. If you had never had another person touch you, if you had never felt grief, or joy or orgasm, the best description in the world could not recreate the feelings in you because these are visceral, not intellectual.


I wondered how much better the human race would be if our words were taken from us and we had to convey our thoughts and emotions the way animals do. Of course words give us delineation of meaning and context, but they are not a replacement for physical interaction. And when different words mean different things in different cultures it is even worse. I studied Spanish and French in high school and took Russian in college and I would tell people that if everyone learned English there would be a destruction of culture because words to NOT translate on a one to one ratio. As you have so adeptly explained here, words are crude symbols which may work with universal words like circle and blue, but when it comes to anything with emotion, or cultural context, words are horribly inefficient to convey meaning.


So how do we bridge this gap? We can't rid ourselves of words, but perhaps we can have some cultural awareness for context? If I were a marriage therapist, I would tell a couple in trouble, not to speak to one another in words. I would tell them that they had to communicate without words for period of time, using pantomime and touch only to convey what they need from one another. See what you can convey with touch, with facial expression, with looking into each other's eyes. Wake up the non verbal, the part of the soul that HAS to LISTEN, rather than fill your head with the best "answer" or "retort" to your partner's remarks.


The same with parents. Stop yelling at your children. Stop talking to them. Use less words and more affection. Look in their eyes. Listen with your whole self.


Thank you for this article. I hope people are stirred to examine these things in light of your words.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jun 12, 2019 at 11:14:39 AM

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