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Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

To a writer, words are tools intended to convey meaning and express beauty; to governments, words are tools intended to obscure meaning and oppress nonconformity.  To writers, language is the means by which we attempt to convey our thoughts to others; when we succeed, we introduce others to new ideas and possibly give them a new way of looking at a particular topic they may not have considered before.  But to authoritarians, language is a means of constraining thought and smothering new ideas.  Proper use of language opens minds; improper use closes them down.

The obfuscatory language government uses to obscure violence is a prime example.  There are a host of special words by which governments cloak their barbarities: abduction is euphemized as “arrest”, robbery as “confiscation” or “asset forfeiture”, sexual assault as “searching”, and murder as “execution”.  But those traditional terms are quaint and relatively clear in comparison to the obfuscatory language invented by modern propagandists to conceal evils in sterile, bloodless, technical-sounding terminology.  Intentionally ramming another car at freeway speeds with the specific intention of causing someone to crash is cloaked under the boring-sounding phrase “performed a PIT maneuver”.  Firing barbed probes carrying 50,000 volts into another human being is desribed by the apparently-mundane “deploying a taser”.  An armed government thug intentionally murdering someone in the street is called an “officer-involved shooting”.  A sadistic thug paid to torture and rape human beings held in cages against their will is a “correctional officer”, and so on.

The longer and more clinical a phrase, the less emotional weight it carries; Orwell would’ve well understood why the government wants to replace the word “ram” (short, direct, terse, active, hits like a punch) with the phrase “perform a PIT maneuver” (long, indirect, mushy, passive, hits like a nerf ball).  But it’s even more instructive to compare these phrases government operatives use to whitwash their own behavior with those used to demonize “enemies of the state”.  How do cops describe a legally-innocent person they choose to accuse of some crime?  “Perp”.  What about a person who refuses to allow puritanical busybodies to control their consensual, private behavior? “Criminal” (There are a number of even shorter, punchier words for “sex criminals”).  And those who refuse to comply with what they believe to be tyranny?  “Traitors”.  Government actors aren’t incapable of using direct, easy-to-understand language; they’re perfectly capable when they want to represent an ethically-complex situation as a black-and-white one.  But disguising their own abominations requires exactly the opposite approach: confusing simple minds with complex phrases so as to create ambiguity where little exists.

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Today is International Whores’ Day.  It is not “Sex Worker Day”; that is March 3rd.  Today is a day to shamelessly celebrate our shameless history, not a day to cater to the precious fee-fees of amateurs by neutering our terminology so as not to offend their delicate sensibilities with a raw, unsanitized word like “whore”.  But for the past several years, I’ve seen a number of sex worker organizations and social media accounts doing just that, and in doing so participating in the same process of sexual sanitization which inspires modern picket-fence gays to absurdly claim that huge fascist corporations and gangs of uniformed thugs employed by the state to inflict violence on sexual minorities are more welcome at an event commemorating an anti-cop riot than kinky queers are.  While the neo-Victorians who dominate 21st-century public discourse

…reject the belief that sex is innately bad, they also believe against all reason and evidence that it’s something like a radioactive material which must be handled with special and elaborate precautions or else it becomes the single most destructive force on Earth.  They imagine that engaging in sex for the “wrong” reasons, or without the benediction of elaborate rituals of consent, or with people separated from one another by more than a very few years of age, is terribly harmful…the desire to describe…sex…as “good” or “bad” is a very strong one, and for the neo-Victorian mind to accept sex into the “good” category it must be ritually purified by amputating all of its darker aspects, branding even the discussion of them as “violence”, and even pretending that they aren’t even sex at all.  This belief flies in the face of reality; sex, fear, dominance and violence are inextricably bound together, and only by living in a state of complete denial can someone pretend that the only valid, “healthy” and legal sex is that which is so sanitized and neutered that it resembles the real thing about as closely as a hamburger does a heifer…

Today is not a day for sanitized words or concepts; it is, in fact, exactly the opposite: a day to fight society’s attempts (via law and police violence) to sanitize the wilder, unrulier, more chthonic aspects of sex.  This is a day for sexual outlaws, not well-behaved “workers”; it is a day to celebrate the triumphs of criminalized human beings against a society that would rather we didn’t exist.  It is a day to oppose censorship, not to engage in self-censorship; a day to honor a means of survival that predates laws and governments by eons; and a day to celebrate a power which will always defeat even the most pernicious attempts to domesticate it.

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My go-to argument for skepticism about flying saucer sightings (which have been in the news again lately) is as follows: Any technology capable of getting here across interstellar distances would be able to avoid detection.  And if they wanted to be seen, they’d simply hover over New York City or something.  It’s basically the same as my argument against the idea that hypnosis can promote recall of past lives: If the deities or forces that control reincarnation wanted us to remember past lives, we would.  And if they didn’t, the Divine will couldn’t be circumvented by a parlor trick.  See, avoiding detection by radar and the like isn’t that difficult; we already have ideas (and elementary techniques) about how to do it right now.  But people without a background in physics and/or astronomy really don’t grasp just how difficult it is to get from one star to another within any practical timespan.  Popular sci-fi makes it look easy, but it’s incredibly difficult.  Surpassing the sound barrier was mostly a problem of engineering & metallurgy, but surpassing the light barrier is so hard we don’t even have any widely-accepted (by physicists) theory about how it might be done.  Compare the plethora of fictional ideas about what FTL travel might look like (hyperspace, wormholes, tachyons, spacetime folding, etc, etc, ad absurdum) to Renaissance fantasies about going to the Moon; the real thing, when we finally develop it, will probably resemble Star Trek about as closely as a Saturn V resembles a kite towed by birds.  I’m defintely not saying that there are no such thing as alien visitors; what I am saying is that I won’t get excited about it until I’m offered more convincing proof than, “Some jet-jockeys saw lights that appeared to move impossibly fast.”

Incidentally, there’s a reason I say “flying saucers” rather than “UFOs”.  Even when I was a tween (during the ’70s UFO craze) and people asked “Do you believe in UFOs?” I’d answer, “Yes, I believe there are things that fly that those who see them can’t identify.”  At the time, I was still young and impressionable enough to believe in alien visitation, ancient astronauts, the whole schtick.  But even then, I recognized using “Unidentified Flying Object” to mean “definitely an alien spacecraft” was dumb.

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Eradicating harm—[as now] redefined—may only amount to performance art, in which the semblance of action is all that is needed.  –  Eric Smith

Crying Wolf

This tendency has only worsened over the past decade:

The standard definition of harm has undergone concept creep…Where once the potential for harm existed in contact sports, accidents, physical altercations, traumas and so on, one might now find it while reading a question on an examlistening to a recorded debate in a classroom or encountering an opinion on social media…the broadening meaning of harm…can cause activists to spend so much time on relatively innocuous actions that they have none left for the arduous task of dealing with real societal harms like housing and food insecurity, failed educational institutions, violence in inner cities and disproportionate mortality rates…Defining harm as shallowly as many modern activists do leads them to mistake symbolic gestures for concrete strategies for change…the redefinition of harm [also] infantilizes people of color…I don’t think a world in which people of color give their power away so easily is one any self-respecting person of color would want to see…

Checklist (#986)

Your periodic reminder that Uber encourages its drivers to spy on riders and rat sex workers out to the pigs:

Uber…hire[s former pigs and spooks]…to help police catch suspected [sex worker]s…[by turning over their] uploaded information…[and] account identifiers…to…the…[pigs, referring to sex work as] human trafficking [equal to] carjackings…Uber works with the [rescue industry giant] “Polaris”…[to indoctrinate] Uber drivers [with absurd and overbroad “signs of] human trafficking[“]…

A Moral Cancer (#991)

It’s unusual for prohibitionists to admit they’re openly targeting black people:

[Prohibitionist] groups are applying…pressure on the Biden administration to institute a nationwide ban…o[n] menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products…precisely because of [their] popularity with African Americans…[even if] the law [is only] enforced against sellers…entrepreneurs would still have ready access to both cigarettes and menthol flavoring…[and] combin[ing] the two…[is a fairly simple] process…Unless the federal government attempts to turn menthol itself into a controlled substance, there will surely be many small-time sellers of menthol cigarettes meeting the demand of the millions of Americans who smoke them, including at least 77 percent of black smokers, but possibly as high as 88 percent (and around a quarter of white smokers)…Recall that Eric Garner’s [murderer used]…the petty crime of selling loose cigarettes a[s an excuse, and]…Garner’s mother, Gwendolyn Carr, became a vocal opponent of a proposal to ban menthol cigarettes in New York City [as a result]…in Massachusetts, which banned menthol cigarettes in 2020, at least one [black market]  seller is facing prosecution…the brunt of enforcement [will certainly] be borne by [black] people…

This is, unfortunately, par for the course; “progressive” campaigns to “improve” people against their will always ignore the fact that their moralistic crusades always disproportionately harm minorities, especially black people.

You Were Warned (#1108)

Prohibitionists, censors and profiteers will continue to harass businesses thus until FOSTA is overturned:

A woman has sued Reddit [because] ex-boyfriend…repeatedly post[ed nude] images of her as a 16-year-old.  The lawsuit applies controversial measures instituted in 2018 under FOSTA-SESTA…The resulting case will test the limits of platforms’ legal shields amid ongoing efforts to [destroy] the law behind them.  The woman…[claims] that “Reddit knowingly benefits from lax enforcement of its content polices, including for child pornography”…She’s accusing Reddit of distributing child pornography, failing to report child sexual abuse material, and violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act…

The Widening Gyre (#1128)

It’s ironic that the newest target of “sex trafficking” scarelore is Target:

A…Reddit…user…who writes under the username Peeky-Lou…[and is so obsessed with] human trafficking…[fantasies that] she…[carries “]several legal self-defense items[” to go shopping at Target predictably imagined that]…three men…[in the store were] follow[ing her]…“It felt as if I was being surrounded like a wild animal —hunted, even,” she wrote…The…[nitwit spent] an hour…wandering around the store, [scaring herself silly with melodramatic fantasies of]…“darkness in his eyes…an eerie smirk [and]…sinister gaze”…[when] a male employee…walk[ed] her to her car…[she] saw [something that]…”solidif[ied] all of my suspicions…A white windowless van was parked in the lot“…

To Molest and Rape (#1129)

Rapist cops are sometimes treated like other rapists if their victims are prepubescent:

A [typical and representative] Louisiana [cop] has been sentenced to life in prison for raping and sexually assaulting three girls, all less than 11 years old…David Monceaux [was sentenced] to…two life terms and a 50-year sentence consecutively…without probation, parole, or suspension of sentence…his youngest victim was 4 years old…

Predictable Consequences (#1130)

Prohibitionism is an inherently violent belief system:

A mansion owned by Feras Antoon, a Pornhub executive, was torched in an apparent arson last [week].  Police…were initially called to [the Montreal] property…at 11:30 P.M when two people were spotted trespassing…when [they] arrived…shortly thereafter they found…a…fire…so massive that more than 80 firefighters were called in and the neighbours were forced to evacuate…

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Spelling Optional

Have schools just completely given up teaching kids to spell?  Because it seems that nowadays, people coining neologisms just spell them any way they feel like without any regard for pronounciation whatsoever.  It might make sense (it’d still be wrong, but at least understandable) if these dolts only interacted with each other via text and never, ever pronounced any of these words out loud, but that isn’t the case; if anything, many of them prefer to watch videos rather than learn via the written word.  Intentional misspellings have long been common in branding, but at least the brand spelling could usually still be pronounced correctly; “Kool-Aid” is pronounced the same as “Cool-ade” would be.  But one of the brands of cannabis edibles I often find in our house is called “Flav”, apparently prounced “Flave”; there was a ’90s rapper whose stage name contained the same linguistic abortion.

Silent E is not an optional rule, as Tom Lehrer reminds us; he even warns against adding an “x”, advice apparently unfamiliar to the halfwits who coined the wokism “Latinx”, a construction which manages to be an offense to two languages.  This may come as a shock to those who believe the name “Xavier” is pronounced “ecks-ayvier”, but the letter “x” is only pronounced “ecks” if set apart by a space or hyphen, as in “x-ray” or “X factor”.  “Xylophone” is not pronounced “ecks-why-low-fone”, and “box” doesn’t rhyme with “Bowflex”; why then do the rather dim imagine “Latinx” should be pronounced any way but “laa-tinks”?  And how the devil do its adherents imagine “womxn” should be pronounced?  I can’t even think of a wrong way to vocalize that.  But the idea that adjacent letters can be prounounced as though there were some kind of punctuation between them isn’t limited to “x”, oh no;  I regularly see people pronouncing the neologism “cishet” (a contraction for “cisgender heterosexual”) as “siss het”, which it cannot be because “sh” is a digraph, a pairing of two letters that make one sound.  “Washing” is not pronounced “waass hing”, and if you want the coinage to be pronounced the way it commonly is, it should be spelled “cis-het” at the very least.  Suffering Sappho, people, I have no aversion to neologisms; I use plenty of them myself.  But doesn’t English have enough exceptions to rules of spelling and pronounciation already without y’all adding new ones totally unmoored from either tradition or logic?  Words mean things, and so do spellings.

POSTSCRIPT:  A reader has pointed out that “mishap” is pronounced in the same way as “cishet”, so it’s an unusual but not-unheard-of pronounciation of that combo.  I therefore rescind my criticism of that one, though I personally still think it sounds awkward.

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Unspeakable

When one studies primitive cultures, one finds they always believe that words have magic power, for example the idea of a True Name, or not speaking the name of God aloud, or whispering certain words so as not to tempt evil spirits, or the idea that the very act of writing is a form of magic; consider that the Egyptian Thoth was among the greatest gods because he invented writing, and the Germanic Odin was said to have crucified himself to induce the vision that led to the discovery of writing.  We really haven’t changed much.  Take offensive words, for example; any reasonably-polite person will avoid words that he believes might offend his listeners, but many people nowadays are so terrified of the magical power of words that they avoid using a “bad” word even in the context of discussing the word itself rather than using it offensively.  And so we are forced to endure endless kindergarten formulations such as “the F word”, “the N word”, “the R word” (which I encountered for the first time this week), etc, as though the speaker or writer thought even spelling the word in question would summon Voldemort or Hastur the Unspeakable.  But such asininities are ultimately futile; I mean, is there any English-speaking adult who doesn’t recognize “f***” as “fuck”?  Of course not; the bowdlerized form merely becomes a synonym for the unholy combination of sounds.  This is what is called the “euphemism treadmill”; any euphemism eventually becomes the semantic equivalent of the Forbidden Word in the brains of listeners, so that it, too becomes contaminated and must be replaced with a new euphemism.  The process only stops when the negative associations do, and there is no shortcut.  It’s why I use old, new, clinical, and vulgar terms for whores mostly interchangeably; slapping a nice label on a stigmatized group doesn’t make oppressive laws and ugly propaganda go away.  For example, though many reporters are now using “sex worker” instead of “prostitute”, they might as well use the latter because the way they use it (ie the tone, accompanying adjectives, infantilizing statements about us, etc) is no different. The words aren’t the problem; bigotry, hate, and evil laws are.  It’s the same for every oppressed minority group, and subjecting someone to the fucking Inquisition because sinful sounds slipped forth from his larynx will change nothing except to make the world a poorer, uglier, nastier place.  So please, stop wasting your damned energy policing other people’s speech, and start using it to speak against policing others.

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Anti-sex, pro-censorship gangs want to be called “abolitionist” because it lets them pretend their racist schemes are a continuation of the 19th-century campaign against chattel slavery.  But in actuality, they are a continuation of the 19th-century campaign to harass, spy upon, inflict state violence upon, and generally destroy the lives of people who did things the prohibitionists (whose movement was rooted in US evangelical Protestantism) disapproved of, such as alcohol, extramarital sex of any kind (including masturbation, homosexuality, and sexual imagery), abortion, interracial fraternization, etc, etc.  Only the most deranged of this warped cult of busybodies actually believe they can “abolish” human nature; what most of them really want is a permanent government-backed war on human nature, AKA Prohibition.  Prohibitionists not only live in a fantasy world, but demand that the rest of us live in it with them.  And they want the state to restrict the liberties of those they fantasize about, and enact violence on those who refuse to pretend their fantasies are real.  Supporters of Prohibition are properly called Prohibitionists, not “abolitionists”.  Words mean things; call prohibitionists what they are, not what they pretend to be.

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How is it that the US mass media can simultaneously fret about the fraction of people who are obese, and proclaim foods or activities that promote a lower body mass to be “healthy”, yet simultaneously claim that, for women at least, obesity is “healthy”?  It’s because the word “healthy” is not, and has not been for decades, a semantically neutral one.  “Healthy” is one of the modern signifiers of moral purity, and “unhealthy” = “sinful” (as openly proclaimed on the packaging of both “decadent” and “guilt-free” desserts).  So even though obesity is objectively sub-optimal for “wellness” by medical standards, using that word in front of the Great Unwashed signifies a moral judgment on the overweight person.  In order to conform to the current rules of “wokeness”, media must proclaim that obesity is “healthy” when what they actually mean is, “Obese people are not lesser humans, and it isn’t your job to shame them for being fat.  It’s their business, not yours”.  In the popular media, “wellness” isn’t an objective word but a declaration of moral fitness, a judgement on a person’s character.  It would certainly be a lot better for society as a whole to stop pretending that illness is due to divine retribution for an “unhealthy” (read: sinful) “lifestyle” (a word long used by crypto-moralists to judge others, especially queers and sex workers).  But given the considerable energy US culture has invested in that myth (cf preachers who blame hurricanes on same-sex marriage, and busybodies who cast shame on, or even call the cops on, people for visiting their friends against politicians’ “orders”), that’s unlikely to happen anytime before the collapse of the Empire.

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The censor-morons are loose, and they’re attacking the small targets so their totalitarian masters can expend their energy on big ones like the internet.  –  “The Return of the Censor

Censorship, once condemned by all ethical people, has now become almost universally popular.  From the most totalitarian of governments down to the youngest of adults, it seems everybody without a functional moral compass (which is to say, the great majority) wants to impose their ideas of “right” thinking and “correct” speech on everyone else.  China, of course, is leading the way, with a new Maoist-type campaign to purge schools and libraries of books deemed insufficiently pure, but the West isn’t far behind.  In the UK, cops are knocking on doors to intimidate people who made statements online that the cops didn’t like, and early this month a woman in Melbourne was actually arrested for posting on Facebook about a protest against totalitarian “lockdown” orders imposed by the Victorian government.  In the US, the pandemic is only one of many popular excuses for censorship; others include “hate speech”, criticizing the police, and (for social media platforms) either engaging in censorship on their own or not censoring often enough for the tastes of censors.  I know that last is confusing, so let me state it a different way:  Some politicians and other control freaks want to censor Facebook, Twitter, et al for engaging in censorship themselves, while others want to censor the same entities for not censoring enough.  Yes, it’s complete lunacy, and it isn’t limited to the internet; culture warriors in academia, Hollywood, and even corporate America are firing,expelling, or otherwise ostracizing people for engaging in wrongthink, or even for failing to chant approved party slogans with sufficient enthusiasm.

When I was a librarian, Banned Books Week was little more than an academic exercise; censorship was an intermittent and generally impotent threat proceeding from small numbers of narrow-minded busybodies, which was easily defeated by librarians and other guardians of our shared cultural heritage.  But that was a generation ago, and would-be censors have become numerous, aggressive, well-organized and (most concerningly) popular.  Few of those under 30 even understand what free speech is or why it’s important, and the majority or those over that age imagine all sorts of exceptions that they believe should be reasons to violently suppress speech, ranging from “it hurt my feelings”, to “it was said or written by a dead person who did things considered normal then, but which are now mortal sins”, to “it contains ‘bad’ words”, to the ever-popular “But SEX!”  As I wrote last year, the censor-morons (a term coined by D.H. Lawrence, one of many writers now considered “problematic”) are loose; furthermore, they are multiplying like bacteria and have already infested all the centers of power.  For now, the courts are mostly still defending the rights of those with enough money, resources, and patience to fight “cancellation” through official channels.  But if you will take the time to read all of my essays for this occasion starting in 2012, and working your way up a year at a time to the present, I think you’ll see a very frightening trend.  We are watching the advent of a new dark age, and in such times no light is entirely safe from being snuffed out by zealots, speech-cops and bureaucrats whose ideal model for human society is the anthill.

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Phrases like “essential worker” and “nonessential business” are now being bandied about by the collectivists without any apparent recognition of what such phrases say about their ugly view of humanity.  People are complex individuals who often find comfort in belonging to something larger than themselves; they are not ants or mechanical parts to be reduced to “workers” and declared “essential” or “nonessential” (for the latter read “disposable”) by their owners.  The idea that bureaucrats have the right to make such pronouncements over the lives of individuals, and to dictate that some people are unworthy of being allowed to make a living and feed their families, is a totalitarian abomination.  Even if you accept the extremely shaky premise that it was “necessary” to forcibly cut off some people’s income in order to manage a pandemic, no society which pretends to be “free” has any business sorting human beings into categories as though they were produce.  Rather than subjectively (and such decisions were extremely subjective, varying wildly from state to state and country to country) declaring some people’s businesses, jobs, and needs expendable, governments could instead have established clear, objective criteria to which businesses had to adhere in order to go unharassed.  For example, the plexiglass shields which have now appeared in grocery stores and other “essential” outlets would be equally effective in many other businesses, regardless of whether politicians declared them “essential” or not, and cops have repeatedly demonstrated in the past few weeks that they imagine their busybody interference in the lives of people who are doing mundane things that aren’t remotely unsafe (such as walking with a spouse in a park) to be “essential” despite its potential to expose people to infection (especially when they actually manhandle such people and lock them in the filthy cages which have become breeding grounds for pestilence).  In short, the only people who have demonstrated themselves to be “nonessential” during this crisis are the sociopathic control freaks who imagine that everything they do and say is important, while other people are simply interchangeable objects to be sorted through and either used or discarded.

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