Thursday, December 01, 2005

Intellectual Fashion Models
And The Obliteration of Meaning

Words are tools we use to form concepts. Without a word to apply to a thing or abstract idea, we have little mental control over the world around us. We have little ability to understand the world around us. A person who does not know the names of the varieties of trees, does not tend to notice the details of said trees as readily. In fact, he may not recognize a particular tree as being the same tree from season to season. (I should know, for I have, only in the past few years, learned the names of trees.)

A Jacaranda Tree would serve as a good example of what I mean. From season to season, a Jacaranda looks completely different. During the winter it is barren. During the spring, it breaks out in a riot of purple flowers. In the summer, it is all green leaves, waving in the breeze. And, in autumn, it's castanet-like seed pods fall along with the green leaves. Until a few years ago, when I fell in love with the purple canopy that hung above a certain street in my neighborhood, for those blessed weeks of spring, I did not give any thought to Jacarandas. I would wander by them, and not notice. But, when I saw a whole three block area of houses canopied and glowing, unfolding like a lavender hallway to heaven, then, I had to know the name of those trees.

Oh, I could have remembered them with the words "lavender hallway to heaven," (and believe me, I do remember many things in such florid language) but I would not have come, as readily, to recognize the continuum of the Jacaranda Tree, as it progresses through the year. I would always have been looking for those purple flowers, and, in missing them, not realized what I was seeing.

In learning the word Jacaranda, I was able to encompass and synthesize the annual experience of a Jacaranda Tree. I was able to file all the various experiences of the Jacaranda (the barren branches and trunks of autumn, the purple canopy, the waving green leaves, and the Castanets) into one word, one idea. And, I was able to recognize the Jacaranda, as a Jacaranda, throughout the year, no matter in which neighborhood I saw it.

Now, why the hell am I going on about Jacaranda Trees?

Because, lately, I have been thinking about how words have been abused, and have thus, lost their meaning. A couple months ago, I wrote a post wherein I explained why I would no longer be using the word Islamofascist. Basically, I realized that the word fascist brings with it, all the ways in which it has been used in the past few years. It means Ronald Reagan. It means George Bush. It means Nicaraugua and the Contras, and American Foreign Policy, it means Tipper Gore, and people who don't want teachers putting condoms on bananas in the classroom.

Yes, it means all these things, but it doesn't mean Mussolini, or Italy in the 1940's, or trains running on time, or rounding up Jews, and hauling them off to Germany on trains.

Similarly, the word Nazi has lost it's meaning. Once again, it means George Bush, and it means American Foreign Policy, but it also means a guy who will serve you a great bowl of soup, but will be a complete dick the whole time he's taking your order.

When words like Fascist and Nazi have their meanings thus obliterated, they no longer carry with them the seriousness they once did. They're actually more like lifestyle accoutrements; handy phrases to bandy about, in order to gain entre in certain social circles.

For a long time, I have wondered how anyone could seriously call Bush a Nazi in a time of war, in a time when we face an enemy who, when it comes to killing, really do say, "to the Jew first." But, now I know. The reason is, the word "Nazi" is no longer connected to Germany of the 1930's and 40's, it is no longer connected to Hitler, or concentration camps, or to the industrialized murder of six million Jews.

Oh sure, most people know something of the Holocaust, and most know it was a very bad occurrence in history, but the real meaning of the word Nazi is not fixed in their heads. The meaning of the word swims blearily in their mind's eye.

Thus, when we are confronted with the modern day version of Nazism, when we hear Bin Laden and Hamas, and Hizbollah call for "Death to the Jews," we do not recognize it. It's more like part of the background of undefined things which float by us day to day, unnoticed.

And, of course, the word evil is not acceptable anymore either, especially when it is applied to truly evil people. Oh sure, it's ok to say American Foreign Policy is evil, but that's because the word doesn't mean anything serious. As I said, it is a lifestyle accoutrement.

I thought back today, to the days when I used to wander into Border's looking for some mental stimulation, and periodically I would pull a Chomsky book off the shelf, because he had been recommended by people whose intelligence I had admired. And, I would order a cup of coffee, and make sure to let the girl behind the counter see that I had a Chomsky book in my hand. You know, so that she would think I was hip. And then, I would go sit down in one of those stinky Borders cloth chairs, and I would read Chomsky's drivel, all the while, holding the book up for all to see. (Nowadays, by the way, I am more likely to cringe when I have to ask a Border's clerk for help finding a book, as I did a few weeks back when buying Robert Spencer Pollitically Incorrect Guide to Islam.)

And, later, in social circumstances, I would try on Chomsky's words and phrases, like one would wear a new shirt, or jacket, or maybe even an unusual, but cool, hat. These words were magical in their ability to conjure up an aura of hipness, "Pinochet, Chile, Cambodia, manufacturing consent, the Tuskeegee incident, etc., etc., etc."

You see, if I was able to bandy about a few flashes of history in a way that served to discredit United States Foreign Policy, if I was able to conflate the evils of the world, and then magically inflate those of Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, then I could appeare to be hip.

Oh, but the Lefties may object. They really believe this stuff. Oh yes they do. I was just a poseur the whole time. I lack integrity, and the courage of my conscience.

No, it's not that simple. I really did believe those things. I was a truly angry individual, and those ideas served to justify my anger. Whether or not I knew those ideas, and anti-American condemnations, to be true in totality, whether or not I was convinced that I understand just how they jibed with the reality that I had been watching unfold during the course of my lifetime, I did actuallly believe those things, and I did so, with a religious fervor. I was an evangelist of anti-Americanism. I use to preach my hatred of America to my band members, to my girlfriends, and later, to my immigrant wife, who would look at me like I was crazy, and later, after I had come around, admitted to me that she thought my behavior was childish, and sad.

Well, now, I, also, know it was childish and sad. Such wrath is born of the personal, not the political. I had issues with my family, and with myself, and I still do to this day. But, when the towers fell, I saw, clearly, for the first time, that there were people out there for whom anti-Americanism isn't simply a psychological phenomena, or a fashion statement, but instead, that for men like Bin Laden, anti-Americanism meant they were willing to go to any lengths, to do anything they could, to kill as many of us as possible.

Why my fellow intellectual fashion models do not come around, I can not say. Maybe, the depth of their pain is greater than mine. Or, maybe, their sense of history is weaker than mine, and maybe, the meanings of words never took root for them. Maybe, they truly can not recognize evil, because, sadly, they are left with no word for it, and thus, no concept of it.

Yes, I think that is it.