We’re Going to Need a New Word

Gen Michael Hayden at NSLJ Symposium

Michael Hayden, former head of CIA and NSA. Source: Wikipedia

We’re going to have to find another word.

That’s what happens when organized groups with an agenda do their lying thing and massage, twist and shave the meaning of a word that evokes powerful emotions into a meaningless, politicized hulk of its former self.

Words have power to evoke emotion and, with some words, outrage. Somewhere back in the first half of the twentieth century the big-time government monsters among us figured this out. Instead of accepting the plain meaning of plain words and changing their behavior, they set out, first to find substitute words that would blur the emotional response to their reactions, and then to batter the meaning of existing words into dust.

Thus, mass murder became a “final solution” which morphed into “ethnic cleansing,” while slavery and brainwashing were called “re-education.” Killing a baby was labeled a “choice” and then a “termination.” In this century, we have been treated to the spectacle of torture being called “enhanced interrogation.”

It’s all the same lie, the same manipulation, the same evil.

This manipulation of words is a separate and additional evil from the acts that it attempts to gloss over. It is an act of aggression, aimed, not at the victims of whatever it is trying to cover up, but at the sanity of society as a whole. If our words become politicized gibberish, our thinking becomes muddled and gibbering along with them.

The precise and honest use of language is the essential tool for precise and honest thinking. What the spinmeisters are doing by butchering our language is destroying the ability to think clearly of the citizens of our nation and our world.

Torture is the “final solution/re-education/choice” of the first decade of the 21st century. The deliberate destruction of our public sensitivity to torture through the use of lies and ridiculous parsing has led to the destruction of the meaning of the word itself. We have arrived at the it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-is- is point with torture.

We are faced with having to find a new word, even as the old one continues to be twisted, narrowed and broadened into utter meaninglessness.

What began as the American experiment in justifying torture to a population that had long prided itself on how well it treated its prisoners has morphed into the use of the word to label criminal malfeasance and taking positions on social issues that one finds disagreeable as torture.

On the one hand, we have our CIA and neo-con enthusiasts going around seriously trying to claim that water boarding a helpless prisoner is not torture because it doesn’t break bones and rupture internal organs. On the other hand, we have the totalitarian nitwits of the abortion-at-any-cost crowd at the United Nations trying to claim that the Catholic Church is torturing women by saying that abortion is the killing of an innocent child.

Top that off with a conjoined United Nations attempt to claim that the Church’s admitted malfeasance in the area of child sexual abuse by priests is somehow or other torture, and you’ve got a word that no longer means much of anything.

Did the Catholic Church torture children by transferring sexual predator priests from one parish to another? No. The Church made a hash of its own moral authority and violated everything it stands for. The Church violated civil laws and its own teachings.

Is the Catholic Church the only institution with a history of allowing sexual predators to flourish in its midst? No. Virtually every institution that I know of has done this, which would make the UN’s new definition of torture ubiquitous rather than specific. What is different about the Church as opposed to other institutions is not a matter of law. It is a matter of outrage.

The Church betrayed Christ by transferring those priests. Every bishop who did this put clericalism and the good old boy buddy system ahead of his call to be a shepherd. Every bishop who did this betrayed his calling and his Lord; his Church and its people. These bishops behaved like corporate CEOs instead of priests, and that is the outrage and betrayal of their actions.

This was not torture. As evil as torture is, this was something far worse. It was a betrayal of Christ crucified among us by the men who have vowed to represent Him in this world.

This mis-use of the word torture to try to advance political and social agendas is a specific evil all of its own. Torture as a word is becoming another meaningless victim of our desire to to do evil and not be called evil for having done it.

Destroying a word as important as torture has ramifications that go far beyond linguistics. It means destroying an idea, maiming our moral understandings and weakening our ability to think rationally.

Torture is never acceptable. Torture is an intrinsic evil. I’m going to write about this in more detail, but the American experiment in thought control via the many lies and verbal shape shiftings surrounding our use of torture against prisoners since 9/11 is an evil that is separate and distinct from the evil of torture itself.

If we are outraged by the United Nations propaganda attack of trying to claim that the Catholic Church is torturing women by saying that abortion is a sin — and we should be outraged — we have only ourselves to blame. We, the United States of America, are the ones who have destroyed the meaning of the word in order to obfuscate our own actions.

This brainwashing of the public mind by insisting that torture means something other than what it means has side effects. Evil doesn’t just stake its claim in our societies and content itself with that one spot. It is a kudzu vine that takes root and grows outward, overtaking and smothering our moral sensibilities.

The evil of lying to and brainwashing the public to accept torture by narrowing the meaning of the word into preposterous meaningless has a flip side. We are seeing that flip side at the United Nations. If a word can be narrowed into meaninglessness, the same word can also be expanded into meaninglessness.

People with agendas can use the residual emotion the word still evokes. They use this residual emotion to justify political attacks by linking the word to actions where it does not apply and than claiming a faux moral outrage against organizations, actions and even ideas they dislike.

The Church did not commit torture when it betrayed Our Lord by transferring abusing priests. That is not what the word means. The claims that the Church is today committing torture against women by teaching that abortion is a grave sin, are too stupid to try to answer. It is obvious propaganda. It demands that the public acquiesce in its own brainwashing.

But the basis for making such claims lies in the torture to which the word torture has been subjected in recent years by the social and cultural brainwashers of our own government.

The great sin — and I use that moral word deliberately — is the lie and violation of human thought that is propaganda and brainwashing by the callous mis-labeling and mis-use of powerful words. This is done first to lie to whole populations of people about matters of terrible import, and then, in its ultimate application, to get them to lie to themselves about the same things.

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  • FW Ken

    Before it gets started again, it turns out we used to treat water boarding as torture when others did it.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201170.html

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      FW Ken,
      Mr. Wallach’s op-ed is in error. He conflates the “water cure” that the Japanese used during WWII with water-boarding.

      The Japanese would force water down the throats of prisoners until their stomachs were full and distended, and, then, would jump on their abdomens. That is what was known as the “water cure.” And, that is the torture of which Japanese war criminals were convicted.
      The other examples given only slightly resemble water-boarding. They cannot be compared to how the C.I.A. used this particular EIT on the THREE terrorists. God Bless!

      • FW Ken

        Three or three thousand. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Perhaps this judge and professor of war law is wrong. But it sounds like splitting hairs to me. Inducing the sensation of drowning, however it’s achieved, or whatever it’s called, creates fear and terror which violates the proscriptions of Catholic moral doctrine. And, as I’ve noted before, experts in the field say that this doesn’t produce reliable information. So why do it?

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          FW Ken,
          And, as I asked you before, in the combox for the Sarah Palin/baptism story, show me when the Holy See ever condemned the C.I.A.’s use of water-boarding against the three terrorists, if you can? I’ll gladly read it.
          I also explained that the use of water-boarding, and other EITs, was not to get information, but, to break their resistance so that they would co-operate with their interrogators. Furthermore, I provided links that showed how successful EITs were in stopping terror attacks and saving lives. Water-boarding KSM led to finding out where Usama Bin Laden was hiding, eventually. He’ll never kill another American. And that is a good thing.

          Sometimes, especially in law, hairs need to be split. The fact remains that the U.S. did not prosecute Japanese war-criminals for water-boarding, as used by the C.I.A. Even when “water torture” was listed, it was among a list of other acts that were unmistakably torture.
          Read more, here:
          http://wizbangblog.com/content/2009/04/27/regarding-those-claims-about-wwii-waterboarding.php

          http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/180785/begala-mangles-facts-torture-debate/mark-hemingway

          • FW Ken

            When threads get very long, I usually skim and rely on discus to notify me of responses. For some reason, I was not notified of your last comment. I’m not in a position to make a substantive rely, but will try to get back later tonight or tomorrow.

  • Nick_from_Detroit

    Mrs. Hamilton,
    It is you who is misusing the word “torture” by equating it with Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), I’m afraid.
    I was born in 1967, and growing up thirty years after WWII, “torture” had a pretty understandable meaning. From the Random House Dictionary:
    “[T]the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.”

    Pouring water over a terrorist’s head, while taking every precaution for their safety; turning off the air conditioning; or, conversely, turning it down to make the terrorist chilly; is not torture. This was why the Bush Administration requested that John Yoo find out, legally, where putting a detainee in an uncomfortable position ended, and where torture began. Because they also believed that the word had a definitive meaning. The result was the defining of EITs.
    It was the New Left that kept attempting to change the meaning of the word, in order to attack the U.S. during the 1950s & ’60s. They were somewhat successful, as your blogpost indicates, in rendering the word meaningless. Putting terrorists in uncomfortable positions is now the same as beating, electrocuting, and burning them with cigarettes.

    Also, torture is not “intrinsically evil.” At least not according to the Catholic Church. The Church condoned the use of torture by the secular authority, under precise conditions, during the Middle Ages, remember? It wasn’t nearly as bad as portrayed by secularists today, but, the Church did acknowledge that there were abuses and that torture should not be used today for any reason. That is not the same as saying torture is intrinsically evil.
    Or, you would be saying that the Church taught evil, which is impossible. God Bless!

  • Mrshopey

    For those paying attention, the UN will lose credibility because of this mislabeling. To their credit, they have been redefining things for a long time now. For those not paying attention, the Church will be one big, bad institution that harms children. It is troubling when a place like the UN can not comprehend that although a Church can require internally a investigation, and/or removal from priesthood, that not all countrys are like the US in their laws protecting children. IOW, they can not make Kenya authorities arrest a priest on charges that do not exist there.
    The UN is becoming more of a joke.
    Those paying attention in the Church still have the right to be angry as they are not in all cases following and doing what needs to be done in these cases. WE should be setting the bar for how to deal with these – not the other way around. When they do audits, etc, on the Church they should find we went above and beyond what the law requires, not just the minimum requirements. We do that because we are Christians and it is the right thing to do, not because it is demanded of us.
    In the mean time, the UN can only be viewed as on a witch hunt…

  • Ray Glennon

    This is a powerful post with lots of many topics that warrant comment. I will just pick one – the power of the Word. Shown below is the opening from a talk I gave to our Catholic Charismatic community several years ago on Word Power. I think it relevant here.

    “James Webb (Naval Academy graduate, highly decorated Marine, novelist, former Secretary of the Navy, and former Senator from Virginia) opened Chapter 1 to his 1991 novel Something to Die For with these words…

    Washington is a town whose only industry is the making, shaping, processing, and marketing of words. Words to define how citizens should conduct themselves. Words to direct and limit industry. Words to calm friends and warn enemies. Words
    to throw at one another in the halls of Congress or in front of devouring cameras. Words that in the end can kill, or impoverish, or imprison, or empower. And also recycled words—on editorial pages or inside pages of legal briefs—dissecting other words, assessing implications, making distinctions, arguing their true meaning as if the words were holy writ. Words without poetry or music, whose mastery brings money and authority.

    Nineteen hundred years earlier (around 90-100 AD) Chapter 1 another book opened in a similar way:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. (John 1:1-5) And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him. (John 1: 14,18)

    Jim Webb was writing about “words” in Washington and St. John about the “Word of God.” Jim Webb is writing about the capital city in the most powerful nation on earth. It is the city of the West Wing, Capitol Hill, and the K Street lobbyists. It is a city where the powerful vie for attention and influence and the humble are left voiceless. It is a city where the powerless are overlooked, and the weakest of all, unborn children, are left unprotected. St. John tells us of the Word and how the Word was made flesh—the mystery of the Incarnation. It is in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we learn that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town in a remote province ruled by but far from the most powerful city on earth. He was born of humble parents in the most humble of settings and his first visitors were simple shepherds. And unlike modern Washington, the visit of the Magi shows how the rich and powerful that came bearing gifts for the humble.

    Two strikingly different views of “Word Power.” Jim Webb presents “words” as the way to obtain what the world values—money and power. St. John introduces “the Word” as the light of the world who gave the power to become children of God to those who believe in his name.”

    Blessings and sorry for the length of this post.

  • Pastor Chris

    Find yourself a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and read chapter 6 “Humpty Dumpty.” The entire chapter is a conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty about the use of words. Alice and Humpty Dumpty had it on the nose decades before anyone thought of “spinning” or “reframing” or whatever else you want to call it. Here’s an excerpt – but the whole chapter is worth it!

    Humpty Dumpty took the book, and looked at it carefully. ‘That seems to be done right—’ he began.

    ‘You’re holding it upside down!’ Alice interrupted.

    ‘To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that SEEMS to be done right—though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now—and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents—’

    ‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

    ‘And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I couldn’t find a recent relevant post to put this comment, so I’m putting it here. Hope you see this Rebecca. Here’s another outrage in the news today:

    http://www.thewrap.com/hgtv-cancels-pilot-anti-gay-hosts-flip-it-forward

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks Manny. I’ll write about it.


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