Thursday, January 08, 2015
from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The Role of Language in Ideology + news
This Sunday we are discussing: The Role of Language in Ideology.
It is befitting that we should talk about language and ideology at the
start of the year because we have two important elections coming up in
Spain, an election in Britain and the electoral machinery in the USA
would be cranking up to full swing by this time next year. And all these
elections are a hound track race of ideologies. But what is more
important for us on Sunday is whether an ideology gives us the right to
kill others no matter how crappy our ideology might be? In my short
essay I come to the conclusion that language is not the fluffy little
cute kitten purveyors of languages want us to believe; languages behave
more like a "collaborator" or a "pawn" for ideology.
In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:
The link to my essay on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic is
The Role of Language in Ideology
As far as we humans are concerned visual information is one of the most
important means of communication we have. It also happens to be one of
the many primordial senses in biology. It seems to me that when we see
things, including events folding out in front of us, what we see goes
straight to our emotions. As if visual information by passes the
rational process of our brain and instantaneously activates our
emotions. Compare this with the written instructions to install a new
operating system on your old pc!
But there is one problem with visual information: what I see is purely
subjective. For example, I can see a piece of cake in a shop window and
don't think much about it whilst my friend might think it's a nice piece
of cake. But make no mistake about it, visual information is a survival
component in our life including our rational life.
Moreover, visual information is probably the fulcrum of any ideology; by
ideology I mean to include politics, pressure groups, and religion.
Ideology is usually never based on some harmless idea such as the
principle of excluded middle or the harmony of the chords. I mean we
don't build temples to worship the law of excluded middle or have a
super supreme court to safeguard the principles of chord harmony.
Ideology is always about power and authority and eventually about wealth
creation and distribution.
When we travel abroad as tourists we all go to see the magnificent seats
of power, the Westminster parliament, the white house or the Vatican: I
mean we never want to see the printing presses that print the latest
version of the Sale of Goods Act that protects our rights as consumers.
And when we vote, we never examine a candidate's beliefs with a forensic
zeal to affirm whether these beliefs are supported with real hard
scientifically proven facts. No, what matters is whether the candidate
belongs to our party; the party with the more beautiful people than the
opposition. Or whether the candidates are tall, beautiful or handsome.
Although not-so-attractive or having zero-style-awareness in clothes can
have their own positive visual impact and hence votes.
Managers of ideologies use imagery to the best of political advantages:
grandiose architecture, fancy costumes, terrifying uniforms, pomp and
circumstance and, of course, top class business suits. Appearances
matter because they affect our emotions most of all and they are the
first to impinge on us.
But what is language? Or rather what kind of language has a role in
Whilst I contend that visual information is the fulcrum of any ideology,
all ideologies are today the product of a social and rational society.
Thus, while visual communication is a one way process and subjective,
language is more than that. Language is public and objective. And this
serves the managers of ideologies equally well since what's more
desirable than what is objective and has public acceptance? The piece of
cake I don't like and the scare crow I'm afraid off, that's just me, but
if everyone don't like the piece of cake in the window or are afraid of
the scarecrow, isn’t that an ideology? Basically, at the very minimum
language gives ideologies respect and legitimacy.
As I said, the majority of people do not carry out a philosophic
forensic analysis of the beliefs and dictates of ideologies. Firstly,
because not many, in a given population, know how to carry out a
philosophic forensic analysis of an idea, and secondly, because those
who benefit from the ideology make sure that not many can embark on a
philosophic forensic analysis of anything. By "make sure" I do not
necessarily always mean a conspiracy or manipulation, but also reality
that includes such mundane things as: how do we change a paradigm? Have
we got all the facts? Indeed, can we get all the facts? What kind of
risks are we prepared to take? And is it true that we are better off
with the devil we know rather than the devil we don't know? But have no
doubt, those who manage ideologies do manipulate and oppress objective
investigation into their doctrines and beliefs.
Thus, if a language is going to be the means to communicate ideas
between members of a society, the semantics of that language must also
be known by everyone and the meaning words and expressions must be
familiar to all. Except that the managers of ideologies use the syntax
of a language, but like some vicious parasite, they hijack the meaning
of a word or expression and then proceed to change that meaning for
their purpose through the use of double speak and propaganda.
For example, the word "Aryan" in the late 19th century (see: Wikipedia)
was what we would call today a technical term in anthropology, but by
the early 20th century the National Socialists hijack the term
(Aryan race) to mean the top race, the perfect race.
And to demonstrate my point that this manipulation need not be the
product of oppression or conspiracy, I refer you to the term
"collaborator" which in British English took the negative meaning of
helping the enemy. A meaning that reached its zenith during the Second
World War and the decades after. Thus in Britain this word became part
of the political speak with very serious negative connotations. This did
not happen, say in the USA or other English speaking countries. The
Economist tried to "rehabilitate" the word a few years back, but people
of my generation still feel uncomfortable using this word with a neutral
Hence, we can see language being used by proponents of ideologies (and I
remind you that I am using ideology to encompass normal political
thinking, religions and pressure groups) to appeal to emotions and to
make people believe and act in one way or another.
If visual information is a basic means for us to make sense of our
world, the spoken and written word is the foundation of society and
civilization. All societies have some form of passing on and sharing
their experiences, whether written or verbal, with others and future
generations. Written information has the marvellous advantage for
rational and ethical societies of being permanent. We can refer to this
information without any hesitation or doubt and can be reproduced
without any deterioration; written information is not affected by
Chinese whispers. It is no wonder that those who manage ideologies
commit their beliefs and dictates to paper (or clay tablets); this gives
them the secure feeling of permanence and guaranteed posterity. The very
two deceptive beliefs that have caused the end of ideologies more often
than any gun or sword.
But the written word has one very serious flaw; basically because the
written word is permanent it is also easy to apply some form of
philosophical forensic analysis. We can examine ideological beliefs, and
we can subject these beliefs to how the world really is or was at the
time. However, this could easily be a Pyrrhic victory since it might be
too late for the victims of ideologies to seek redress or to have
justice. In fifty years time philosophers might be able to explain why
the doctrine of continuous economic growth failed, but the nice academic
paper with a high impact factor might not do much to the person who will
become unemployed because their company was one percent short of
The role of language in ideology is, of course, to influence people's
actions and beliefs, but what is of greater interest for us is the
question: what are the unintended consequences of the role played by
language in ideology? Could it be that the unintended consequence of
language is that the victims of ideology are bereft of justice?
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h
from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The Role of
Language in Ideology + news