This is the fourth post in a series of however many I feel like blog posts on the misuse and abuse of language with regard to controversial topics. For some context, it might be helpful to read the posts in order starting with the first one. The second one and third one may also be of interest. Who knows where the crazy train will stop?
The War on Words grows ever more vicious in the quest of politicians and citizens alike to make it very clear which people cause a grave threat to the freedoms that we imagine we possess and the ones we actually have. The battle is fought under the constant pressure of fear and loathing in the midst of desert lands and is fought over who will control the comfort of the best and biggest oasis. It’s a battle between David and Goliath, evil murderers and other evil murderers in suits, self-righteous folks duped by religious leaders and self-righteous folks who dupe religious voters.
This battlefield is of course heavily populated by terrorists, those people we all know so well. They are called many things, and what they are called depends on whether you want to support them, give them a fair trial, give them an unfair trial before a military tribunal, or kill them at will by drone strike without any awkward questions being asked of you. They have been known as freedom fighters, mass murderers, prisoners of war, enemy combatants under the Bush administration, or (more recently under the Obama administration) belligerent actors. Although the label has some very unfortunate implications for those human right things, I always get the image of a very stern thespian refusing to stop his pantomime in my mind after reading the phrase. In particular, I find it interesting that the definition of a terrorist has undergone such a dramatic change from one that kind of makes sense to one that really doesn’t and just seems convenient for those who want to be able to kill American citizens without due process and start wars without Congressional approval.
Of course, if we actually read the definition of terrorism, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that state-sponsored terrorism isn’t just something that Iran or Saudi Arabia do, and that our country and many others engage in it regularly via security agencies and covert military operations. Understandably, our politicians prefer not to think of themselves as authorizing terrorism or participating in and supporting materially a system that routinely does so, and as a result they are reluctant to use the dictionary definition of terrorism. If they did so, they might have to lie in the bed they have made, an uncomfortable situation no doubt. They would probably see confronting their own cognitive dissonance as torturous.
Speaking of torture, it’s amazing what counts as torture these days. I’ve heard people call their linear algebra homework, their workout routine, or merely listening to politicians torture. That last one is only torture if you try to rationally evaluate everything they say and fact check it. If you don’t think about it, it’s mostly harmless. Far from harmless are what are known affectionately by those who do not have to endure them as enhanced interrogation techniques. They make your linear algebra homework and your brutal workout look like good clean sporting fun.
Perhaps someday we will hold our elected officials accountable for the atrocities committed against our language and our fellow human beings in the name of our freedom. Until then, I suspect that they will continue to abuse our language and our fellow human beings with equal persistence.