On Linguistic Warfare

Whereas the most basic purpose of language is to facilitate communication between people, its development is necessarily a social affair. That being said, the role of individuals in this process cannot be denied. Only individuals think, act, speak, and write; there can be no erection of social constructs without the sum of individual efforts. It is true that a collective endeavor is necessary in order for a particular word to come into use and be understood to have a particular set of meanings with regard to connotation, denotation, and exosemantics. But before this can happen, some individual must take the first step. Someone must have an idea that one cannot express in one’s extant vocabulary and thus feel the need to either borrow a word from another language or invent one out of thin air. Because ideas which cannot be put into words are very difficult to utilize, this creative process is necessary for the advancement of knowledge and technology.

Jargon 101

The next step toward a word gaining widespread acceptance and usage is use within a smaller group. At this stage, a word may be described as jargon. Merriam-Webster defines jargon as “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group” or as “obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words.” Those outside of the group in question often view the former as the latter, with varying degrees of accuracy. The majority of jargon consists of terminology within a specific industry created to allow for greater precision and efficiency among participants in that industry. As Étienne Bonnot de Condillac writes,

“Each science requires a special language, because each science has ideas which are unique to it. It seems that we should begin by forming this language; but we begin by speaking and writing and the language remains to be created.”[1]

However, any social group can have jargon; the defining characteristic is special vocabulary and/or definitions, not use by any particular type of group or toward any particular purpose.

There exists a wide range of applications for jargon within various social dynamics. Jargon can be used as a means of excluding outsiders by speaking in terms that they do not understand, in which case it is also known as argot. The particular pronunciation of a word can also denote in-group versus out-group; this is called a shibboleth. Conversely, a lingua franca is especially used to communicate with outsiders; examples include the various creole languages and pidgins that have formed when people who speak mutually unintelligible languages wish to trade. The general trend over the long-term is for the secrecy of argots and shibboleths to be dissolved, for technical jargon in a specific field to become part of the wider lexicon of a language, and for linguae francae to develop into full languages, but in each case some of these will be lost in the mists of time.

Politics and Weaponization

Because there are disagreements between groups of people and these are debated using language, such disputes necessarily manifest in the linguistic realm. The desire by each side to emerge victorious from these debates causes the above processes to become weaponized. This weaponization takes several forms. First, instead of inventing terms to advance knowledge by giving expression to new ideas, terms are invented for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents. In some cases this creates a direct insult, but the majority of the examples of this are indirect, such as the term assault weapon. This was invented by gun control advocates in the 1980s and was alien to the practice of gun ownership. The goal of these terms was to attack gun owners indirectly by attacking something that they hold dear. With the 1994 assault weapons ban, the term had to be defined in the law as it had no clear prior definition. In any event, the goal of this strategy is not to debate but to ridicule, not to resolve disputes but to broaden them.

A related strategy for less creative political activists is to corrupt the meaning of existing terms. This is done to associate a present political opponent with a hated enemy from the past. A prominent example of this is the word fascist. Fascism refers to a particular type of political order consisting of nationalism, authoritarianism, protectionism, socialism, and cultural conservatism. But the work of radical leftists has debased the term into a general insult to be hurled at anyone who is perceived by them to be insufficiently leftist. The word racist has undergone a similar transformation; having once referred to hatred of people based on their external appearance, it has been corrupted to mean anything that is not sufficiently anti-white. Corrupting an existing word in this manner is less effective than inventing a new word because there are always large groups of people who resist the change in definition, but this only serves to amplify conflict by enabling rivalrous groups to talk past each other.

Of course, the wordsmiths responsible for such efforts are aware that the best defense can be a good offense. This has led to a strategy of curtailing efforts by the opposition to express their ideas, for that which cannot be expressed need not be rebutted. Those in power may resort to “hate speech” laws to criminalize speech that they oppose (another example of the invention of a term for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents). These are made intentionally vague and are meant to be used to prosecute only a few high-profile cases. The intention is to create a chilling effect that deters those out of power from using linguistic processes to their full potential, as they will always be wondering whether they are engaging in crimethink. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and self-censorship greatly reduces enforcement costs.

Because such direct censorship is generally resisted in the West, less direct means of interfering with the opposition’s ability to communicate are often employed instead. Because jargon is commonly used by religious cults to hide their true nature from outsiders and the public has a generally unfavorable opinion of cults, a political operative can conflate this with the efforts of an opposition group to expand a language so that they may express novel ideas. A simpler method is to accuse the opposition of making up their ideology as they go due to their invention of terms, which is surprisingly effective given that all words have been made up by someone sometime.

Unfortunately, the spread of democracy has exacerbated these problems. Because everyone in a democratic system has a slice of political power, everyone becomes a political target. The deliberate engineering of permanent conflict in society that is democratic government ensures that weaponization of language is omnipresent. Thus, all linguistic innovation is hindered to the detriment of rationality and real progress, as efforts which could have gone toward higher endeavors are misdirected into internal disputes.

Solutions and Pitfalls

The above examples have a distinctly leftist flavor to them, and this is not an accident. All of the above tactics are disproportionately used by leftists, and political democracy is an inherently leftist institution. Therefore, most of the solutions will have a rightist character to them, and the potential pitfalls will tend to resemble tragic flaws in which rightists try to adapt leftist methods without removing the aspects which make them distinctly leftist. Let us now counter the above tactics.

The first two, the invention and use of insults as well as the demonization of activities and objects present the pitfall of sinking to the level of the enemy. When confronted with someone who argues in bad faith, resorts to ad hominems, and denigrates one’s cherished hobbies and prized possessions, the desire to be nasty to that person is an understandable impulse. But it is the wrong course of action. The correct strategy is actually best summarized by an enemy of libertarians and reactionaries. To quote Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.” It is best to remain calm and state for the record that what the opponent is saying is not a proper argument or that when an argument is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. If one must go further, then it is best to follow the advice of Sam Brown, “Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.” That is to say, whatever observations one makes should be clearly demonstrable and insightful.

Those who corrupt definitions are a more subversive lot, unlikely to be directly encountered. In most cases, one will be dealing with ignorant, misinformed college students who are convinced of their own competence and know no better. This challenge requires one to be well-informed about the truth, the lies that students are commonly taught, and why their professors are wrong. Most can be reasoned with if the correct approach is used, but forceful suppression is necessary in the most extreme cases. It is necessary to exercise discretion and only debate those who are willing to be convinced of other ideas.

Accusations of cultism or of making up one’s ideology in an ad hoc fashion can be extremely damaging if not rebutted properly. Although leftists frequently engage in these behaviors as well as psychological projection, this counter-accusation by itself is a tu quoque fallacy that does not rebut the accusation. A proper response should present a reasoned case for why one’s political movement is not comparable to a religious cult, or how one’s ideology is internally consistent.

Unlike the strategies discussed so far, the most fruitful approach for dealing with “hate speech” laws is likely to be a simple reversal. Instead of banning “hate speech,” the laws should be changed to ban “communist propaganda.” Such a ban should be as vague and fear-provoking as the laws which muzzle rightists, particularly outside of the United States. Of course, any non-critical discussion of the concept of “hate speech” would count as “communist propaganda.” The end goals of such a measure are both to suppress radical leftists and to show moderate leftists that any power they wish the state to have can and will be used against them when they are not in power. The potential pitfall is to lose sight of these goals and become right-wing counterparts of social justice warriors.

Finally, it will not do to hack away at the branches of evil without striking the root. Although such behaviors can occur on a small scale within non-democratic societies, democracy amplifies linguistic warfare to a fever pitch by making all disputes of sufficient importance into political disputes. As Carl Schmitt writes,

“The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship. The enemy is hostis, not inimicus in the broader sense.”[2]

The historical method of abolishing democracy has been the imposition of an unelected government, whether a military junta, hereditary monarchy, or some combination thereof. Libertarians propose another methodology; that of a stateless propertarian society in which all property is privately owned and all goods and services are provided by competing firms in a free market. These systems deny the general public—those who do not have an ownership stake in the society—a political voice. The restriction of political power to those who have an ownership stake means that it makes no sense for most people living in these social orders to insult, bully, and attack one another over political disputes, as the winner of such a dispute has no direct influence over the direction of the society. When only the king or dictator can vote, or only the private property owner can make decisions over the property in question, only they and whatever underlings they may have are worth engaging with linguistic warfare. Even these attacks will be blunted by the fact that freedom to engage in such attacks is not a universal human right, but a privilege belonging to those who control territory. If one owns a space, one may say whatever one wishes within that space. Those who own no property and cannot convince anyone who does to let them speak are thus silenced, and society is better off for not having to hear their ignorant pablum.

Conclusion

There are two overarching tactics for opponents of the progressive establishment in the current environment of linguistic warfare: play to win or knock over the gameboard. Playing to draw or trying to lose gracefully, as establishment conservatives and libertarians have done for decades, has in large part allowed conditions to degenerate to their present status. Though playing to win is certainly necessary, it will not be sufficient because although it can defeat enemies, the current system is firmly entrenched and designed to produce ever greater numbers of foot soldiers for the establishment. Only demolition of the Cathedral will suffice to return society to a state of peaceful discourse. The resulting end of linguistic warfare would bring about a renewed focus on the advancement of knowledge and technology, paving the way for a proper restoration of Western civilization.

References:

  1. de Condillac, Étienne Bonnot (1776). Le Commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l’un à l’autre. p. 93.
  2. Schmitt, Carl (1996). The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition. The University of Chicago Press. p. 61.
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