In light of the recent decision by the Supreme Court, the one upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare, I thought I would share my thoughts on the ever increasingly important subject of words and what they mean.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a quotation with you.
“This is an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism; embodying in its genius and its principles all that is chivalric in conduct, noble in sentiment, generous in manhood, and patriotic in purpose; its peculiar objects being:
First, to protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and oppressed; to succor the suffering and unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of soldiers. Second, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the states and the people thereof from all invasion from any source whatever. Third, to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure and from trial, except by their peers in conformity to the laws of the land.”
The above is the purpose statement of a long-standing organization in America. This organization claims to uphold Christian principles. From the quote above, it would seem to be a very good organization that does good by anyone’s definition of good.
The problem, you ask?
This is the purpose statement of the Ku Klux Klan.
Read through the quotation again. (I did remove the word “Confederate” before soldiers, so I wouldn’t give too much away.)
I think we can all agree that the Klan didn’t do what it claimed to do. Or if they did, they had very different definitions of the words “chivalry” “humanity” “mercy” “innocent” “defenseless” “protect” “defend” “unlawful” “seizure” “trial” and pretty much all the rest of the words in the quote.
Either they were liars, or they were stupid. Those are the two options. Either way, the result was a group that claimed to uphold everything that is good, but became a symbol of everything that is bad.
The words the Klan chose to represent them were robbed of meaning by the Klan’s actions. The words that were organized and arranged in order to ground the Klan in goodness became so meaningless to the members that the Klan is remembered for racism, lynching, rape, and murder.
Here’s how all this relates.
Whether we like it or not, words mean things. We cannot forget that words mean things! It is when words lose their meaning that truths are classified as lies and vice-versa.
It is when words cease to mean things that what we all know is “right” get’s relegated to “right for you” and what we all know is “wrong” gets downgraded to “wrong for him, but not for me.”
It sounds unnecessary, but this is the level to which we have reduced the search for truth. The leaders of our American society are now arguing over the simple idea that words mean things.
There once was a time when this was the agreed upon view of truth. Certain things were true, and true meant that they were a reality by which all people have lived, at all times, in all contexts.
The leading theories on truth have shifted, my friends. Now, something can be true for one person, but not for another. Now things can be truer for one group than another group. Now we’re seen as “intolerant” or “unreasonable” for making any kind of moral truth claim.
Everything in the realm of truth has been reclassified as “opinion.”
Objective truth is seen as archaic, unreasonable, simple-minded, and quaint… anything but real. Anything but true. Interesting isn’t it? In our messed up philosophies, truth can’t be true.
There are those out there who say that nothing is truly, actually, objectively, independent-of-opinion, wrong. Of course, were you to “wrong” them, they would change their tune. They don’t believe in wrong, until they are wronged. That’s because we all know at bottom that right and wrong are real things. But if we can change that reality, if we rob “right” and “wrong” of their meaning, then we can monopolize their definitions and become authors of our own reality.
These dangerous, demoralizing, de-defining ideas start with words.
The Supreme Court decision on Obamacare is a prime example of the philosophy of words meaning nothing. In the decision, the SCOTUS reinterpreted the phrase “by the states” (repeated 7 times in the document) to mean “by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
Justice Scalia summed up my thoughts, and my point, very well. “The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a state… Words no longer have meaning if an exchange that is not established by a state is ‘established by the state.'”
Indeed, Antonin. You’ve hit the nail on the head. According to the SCOTUS (and our society and culture as a whole) words no longer have meaning. Words no longer mean things.
Lets take defining things back! Remember that words mean things!
Here’s how I handle the issue in argumentation. Whenever someone makes an appeal to words meaning nothing I respond with the phrase, “Yes, and purple giraffes igloo in northwest by blue, also.” It may be sarcastic. It may be rude. But it makes the point. If we’re going to abandon the idea that words mean things, let’s go all the way! Let people get a glimpse of what a world without meaningful words looks like. Let them see that words mean things. They have to!
Fight this trend my friends. Words mean things. If you think they don’t, then by all means construct a rebuttal… just make sure you don’t use any words. When it comes down to it, if words don’t mean things, then you’re just another Klansman.