Tag: language

Political Language is Biased Against Nonviolence

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Without a doubt, language is essential to the perception of an idea. Using two different words for the same idea is a surefire way of molding opinions about it. For example, let’s take a look at these two sentences.

  1. The obese man lounged in his armchair after a long, non-sedentary day at work, gorging on sugary pastries.
  2. The heavyset gentleman unwound in his chair following a long, active day at work, eating crullers.

Now, these two sentences have quite similar denotations, that is, the dictionary definitions. However, the connotations are in no way equal. Surely, the image of the second man is that of one in considerably better shape than the first. Connotation is a very useful rhetorical device, as it gives the user complete ability to mold the emotion that his or her words give off. Emotion, the undisputed king of political success, is a hugely useful tool to manipulate.

Connotation can take a number of forms. Most overtly, it comes by using one word in place of another, in the form of a synonym. Above examples include the use of “heavyset” in place of “obese” or “crullers” instead of “sweet pastries”. In politics, these substitutions are commonplace.

For instance, many officials of the Vietnam era referred to the war as an “armed conflict”. Though it is true that the U.S. never officially declared war, this is trivial. By calling it an armed conflict, they hoped to lessen the emotion behind it. Of the two, “war” carries a much stronger emotional impact, which is why nonviolence advocates called it a war.

Another key example occurs often, even today, down by the border. Proponents of tough border laws are quick to denounce the waves of “illegals” entering the U.S., whereas those who support more open borders are more apt to use the phrase “undocumented immigrants”. Of course, these mean the same thing, but that is no matter. They still are able to create two very different opinions of those who cross the border without following the law.

In addition to separate word choices, though, there is a more subtle yet also more powerful way that many use connotation. This comes through establishing the default form of a word, and giving the antonym of it a negative prefix or suffix.

In the above examples, the word that shows this, of course, is “non-sedentary” from the first sentence. Though the word merely means the same as “active”, inclusion of the word sedentary implies that activity is not the default. The obese man, likely perceived to be unhealthy, is not expected to live an active lifestyle. Thus, the break in being sedentary is different or surprising.

Politicians commonly do this exact same thing, and it is perhaps causes perhaps the most dangerous thing in America: violence.

In the U.S. today, there is not a lot of room to agree in politics. But, most people can come together on one thing: unprovoked violence is not a good thing. Though many have differing definitions of just what constitutes unprovoked violence, in our own, highly subjective ways, we can generally come to a consensus on this key issue.

So, that being said, why is violence perceived as the norm? When talking about a lack of violence, there are plenty of synonyms. Peace, equality, and understanding first come to mind. Yet, the chosen word is generally nonviolence.

Why do we describe nonviolence as something it isn’t, instead of something that it is? By using the term in a passive manner, instead of a proactive one, society implies that violence is in the mainstream, and let’s face it, it is. But, it would be quite interesting to see how that society might change their views if the language behind them changed. Would fewer people support a war, if the deaths were murders, not casualties? And, would they support nonviolence more fervently, if it was only known as inequality or anti-peace? How about the word “freedom”?

Would more people believe in the idea of it, if talks were about freedom growing, not government shrinking? A single, working class mother of four on welfare wants to hear nothing of her benefits shrinking. Why would she? Maybe they are helping her stay afloat through hard times. But, put in place the notion of her freedom increasing. That same working class woman probably does not feel as if she has a great degree of freedom under her crony capitalist oppression. Upon hearing of smaller government through the positive term, not the negative, her perception will change.

Language is a powerful tool. It has the ability to shape the minds of millions through the complex web of emotion. The way things stand today, though, it is shaping them all to view freedom and nonviolence as a second cousin that only comes around every few years. This pushes the very ideas into the dustbin of history and makes normal their opposites. Perhaps, by changing up the way words are used, and proactively describing ideals, the freedom movement will see increased success. Or perhaps, the very idea of freedom will never be more than an afterthought.


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The Errors of the Second Amendment

By Glenn Verasco | Thailand

Note: This is my first new blog entry in nearly two months. The new Thai school year began in early May, and I have been a bit too overwhelmed with work to focus on completing any publishable material. I hope to return to my weekly-ish publishing pace soon. In the meantime, please check out my podcast which has several new episodes recorded during my blogging hiatus.

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I have previously expressed gratitude towards gun control activists who accept the meaning of the Second Amendment for what it is, and honestly call for its repeal or alteration. While I disagree with these individuals politically, I have great respect for their intellectual rigor and honesty.

I have no respect for those who are too ignorant to grasp the meaning of the Second Amendment. And I hold those who intentionally misrepresent it in the worst kind of contempt.

A common result of ignorant or intentional misreadings of the Second Amendment is the argument that the phrase “well regulated” refers to guns or gun ownership. Another is that “the right… to keep and bear arms” is that of the militia, not average civilians. Some of those who make these fallacious arguments conclude that the Second Amendment is poorly written and should be treated as obsolete.

I will concede that the Second Amendment is poorly written. However, this will not be to the delight of gun control activists. The problems with the Second Amendment are not in its meaning or purpose, but in its punctuation. Using some of the knowledge I have accrued over the years as an ESL teacher, I will explain what is wrong with the Second Amendment’s grammar.

First, let’s take a look at 2A to refresh our memories:

Image result for 2nd amendment text

The Second Amendment is often spoken of in terms of clauses. In a grammatical sense, this is erroneous from the get-go as there is only one clause in the Second Amendment.

The first half of the Second Amendment (from “A” to “state”) is not a clause at all, but something called an absolute phrase. An absolute phrase is a noun or noun phrase (a group of words used to denote one person, place, or thing) followed by a participle and attached modifiers. The noun phrase is “a well regulated militia.” The participle is “being necessary,” a present participle of the verb phrase to be necessary. The attached modifier is “to the security of a free state,” a pair of prepositional phrases. “To the security” functions as an adverb, modifying the adjective “necessary.” “Security,” a noun, is modified by “of a free state,” which means this last prepositional phrase functions as an adjective.

Absolute phrases function as parenthetical adjectives that modify entire main clauses. Parenthetical elements are not essential to the main clause of a sentence. They give further details or explanations, but they do not alter the meaning of the main clause.

Here are a few other examples of sentences with parenthetical elements (in bold font):

The fossa, a large, weasel-like creature, preys on lemurs in Madagascar.

Jonathan’s kidneys, which would have fetched $600 an ounce on the Swiss black market, were stolen by a public relations firm.

If we remove the parenthetical elements, the fossa still preys on lemurs, and John’s kidneys are still in the hands of a company with a very strange business model. The main clauses do not depend on the parenthetical elements. It is the other way around.

The main clause of the Second Amendment is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The subject of the sentence is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The predicate is “shall not be infringed.” All clauses have a subject and predicate, which is why the second half of 2A is a clause and the first half is a phrase.

Here are a few examples of main clauses that follow absolute phrases with some color coding.

(The absolute phrases are underlined. The main clauses are in bold. The phrases or noun phrases of the absolute phrases are in red. The participles and attached modifiers of the absolute phrases are in green. The subjects of the main clauses are in blue.  The predicates and attached modifiers of the main clauses are in pink.)

A spotted pterodactyl whizzing past her head, the exotic dancer dropped to the earth in the fetal position.

Another night’s sleep stolen by his LSD-induced nightmares, Gregory groggily got ready for work.

A putrid aroma serving as the prime attraction of hagfish stew, the chef added three tablespoons of burnt hair to the culinary disaster before him.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

What you will notice by looking at only the blue and pink halves of each sentence is that the exotic dancer fell to the ground whether or not we know about the pterodactyl. Regardless of his drug habits, Greg was not feeling great when he brushed his teeth and tied his tie. The chef garnished his stew with burnt hair no matter why people enjoy hagfish. And the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed… period.

The absolute phrase in the Second Amendment tells us why we cannot be deprived of our right to own or carry guns. It does not tell us the conditions or circumstances that must arise for this entitlement to kick in because there are none. If conditions applied, you would be able to find subordinating conjunctions like if or when.

Something else you may notice is that the Second Amendment has two commas that the other three sentences I have written do not. To the chagrin of James Madison, these commas are both comma splices, unwarranted uses of the comma.

“A well regulated militia” and “being necessary to the security of a free state” are part of the same parenthetical element. There is no reason to divide them with a comma.

Even worse is the comma between “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and “shall not be infringed.” Splitting the subject of a clause from its predicate is a mistake that my students in Thailand rarely make. I do not know how this got past the other Founding Fathers and the original  states as they ratified the Bill of Rights.

Unlike French, there is no central authority on the English language, so technically there is no right or wrong. The English language is unregulated and subject to the whims of the public. English speakers are free to preserve the linguistic conventions they prefer, and to alter the ones they do not.

This goes to show that gun rights supporters who are burdened with keeping the flame of liberty alight should be stubborn and unwavering when it comes to language. Progressive and authoritarian attacks on the English language will never cease from threatening the rights that our philosophy deems self-evident.

Ultimately, the Second Amendment doesn’t matter. It could be removed from the Constitution entirely tomorrow. What matters is that we stay true to our beliefs (from gun rights to free speech and beyond) and stand up to our dissenters relentlessly.

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The EU is Flawed, but Not How I Previously Believed

By Owen Heimsoth | United States

Over the past several months, my beliefs on foreign policy have drastically changed. In fact, I wrote this article critiquing a proposed United Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I am still opposed to this idea, but for different reasons.

My opinion on the European Union and general foreign policy has basically taken a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. I have become sharply more internationalist and pro-globalism. This has been caused by a careful mixture of more research on global affairs, and also life experience.

Quite simply, I made several straw-man arguments in this anti-EU article.

First up was an argument about a potential cultural collision.

Each country in the EU has its own culture. Obviously, some of the better run governments are run in homogeneous countries. In this situation, there are twenty-three different cultures and histories that are to be mashed together. This would become a melting pot bigger than the United States. This doesn’t even include the cultures of different regions of a country.

First off, there is no statistical proof that homogeneous governments are so-called “better off.” In fact, the USA is the melting pot of the world, yet has the highest GDP out there. Culture mixing exposes others to new ideas and teaches those to be more accepting of others. Yes, there may be some cultural clash, but Europeans are also raised having more multiculturalism than Americans like myself.

Next up, I argued that language would become an issue. This ignores the fact that most Europeans, especially those in the West, speak two or more languages.

My last major argument was about religion and the three countries in the EU that have a state-endorsed religion.

Religion would also come into play. There are three countries in the EU that have a recognized state religion-The UK, Denmark, and Greece. There are also multiple countries in the EU that favor a religion but doesn’t list it as official. In the formation of the “United States of Europe,” religions would clash and states would likely leave because of this. State secularism would have to be adopted and many countries would be opposed to this.

This is ignoring the fact that people are increasingly staying away from religion. Actually, being non-religious is the second most popular affiliation in both the UK and in Denmark. This lack of religion is becoming more popular among young citizens.

To finish my article, I argued about 2 failures of the EU. I noted EU-imposed austerity measures as a problem causing the debt crisis, but this is just factually incorrect and simply not the cause of the crisis.

The EU, of course, is not without fault. In fact, there are a number of key issues with it. That being said, straw-man arguments against the union are very common. Despite clear flaws, all government deserve a proper and fair evaluation. By doing so, we can begin to focus on the problems that do exist and further liberty worldwide.


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