Here’s are three quick lessons, in political philosophy, in the philosophy of mind, and in the philosophy of language respectively. 1) Political behaviour is behaviour. 2) He who controls thought controls behaviour. And 3) he who controls language controls thought.
This is because, some quibbles aside, we think in language. So if we don’t have a word for it, we can’t think it. (Call this, if you will, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.) And if a word we use is inferentially associated with another word – e.g. Islamic and terrorist – then when we think the one we’ll think the other. (David Hume)
I’m neither a linguist nor an historian, so I’m in no position to say whether what follows has always been thus or there’s something new here. So I’ll just say I’m noticing an interesting variation on how language controls thought. Instead of a word (and hence a thought) leading to another, new words are being introduced, or old words repurposed, that have no meaning whatsoever. That is, they neither refer to anything nor are they intended to. But that doesn’t mean they do no work for us. On the contrary, though they lack any cognitive content, they bear (what John Austin called) perlocutionary value, by which he meant what the word does for the speaker, or more commonly to the hearer.
Consider, for example, the words ‘lived’ and ‘unearned’, as deployed by SJWs in the phrases ‘my lived experience’ and ‘your unearned privilege’. (My thanks to Pamela Lindsay for both these examples.) That neither has any meaning is made clear by asking how an experience could fail to be lived, or what kind of privilege could be earned?. In both cases the mistake is treating ‘lived’ and ‘unearned’ as modifiers. But they’re not. Both ‘my lived experience’ and ‘your unearned privilege’ are designed to signal subscription to a particular political narrative, just as to scoff at either phrase is to signal opposition to that narrative.
If this be doubted, consider the call to ‘decolonise’ the classroom, or ‘indigenise’ the university. When I say no one knows what these words mean, I mean no one knows what these words mean. That’s because they don’t mean anything. They’re sounds people make to signal their woke identity. And to dare their hearers not to share in that identity. Even to ask what ‘decolonisation’ could mean is to commit (what Gilbert Ryle called) a category mistake. In fact people who use ‘decolonisation’ – not unlike the faithful vis a vis the Filioque – don’t know what it means to ask what it means.
The trick, I’ve discovered, is to stop asking. Since the call to decolonise my classroom asks nothing of me, I’ve learned to treat it as the virtue-signalling it is. That that’s what and all it is is revealed by the way others treat my vice-signalling. They’ve learned to indulge my racist pro-colonialist mutterings with the same knee-jerk smile and a nod with which I indulge their woke-patter. I guess we both figure that God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world.
Not so my wife. She’s convinced that though woke-talk is patter, it’s well on its way to becoming – in fact in some places it’s already become – compelled speech. I used to mock her alarmism. Lately I’m not so sure. Yes, my Marrano ancestors were forced to confess Jesus, but they never actually believed any of this nonsense. Until, since language controls thought, they did.