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Thursday 29 November 2018

Thoughts on Thursday: Empty Words, then and now

Empty Words: April 2009

The manifold problems of our present day cannot be solved with a return to the 'good old days', and a reintroduction of the religious attitude into work-life. This puritanical desire to flush the system clean is understandable considering how corrupt World society is presently, but the abolishment of decedent entertainments and of a refocusing upon work, the family and the soul (whether worldly or individual) would fail almost immediately. The problem is not in what our practices are but in how we approach them. Put simply it is a matter of how and not of what. Losing an arm changes what one is, but not how one is. A good man who loses an arm is still a good man, but is now a one-armed good man. This is only a recent belief, of course, for a long time the persecution of those born or made 'different' was positively encouraged, e.g. “the disabled are paying for sins in past lives.” This rhetoric is hateful nonsense.

The problem resides, I believe, in language. This is not to say that if we cleaned up our grammar we would clean up our souls. Not exactly. It is not so simple a matter, however, language is still a part of it and part of the problem. The problem lies in its use, or rather, its misuse. A phenomenon I will call 'empty words' pervades our experience of the modern World. Governments and the media are adept at using them, as is academia and the 'man on the street', that is, the public in all its generality. Politicians talk and talk, academics write book after book, and people engage in seemingly endless gossip about everything, but nothing ever seems to get said. All those hours of interviews with sportsmen, celebrities, politicians, people 'having their say' and all ultimately worthless, because nothing is actually being said. There is no acceptance of fundamentals true to human existence. Even the greatest work of art that attempts to deal with these vital subjects is diluted and dismissed in the public arena of empty words. That we engage in idle speculation and chatter is not a new phenomenon, indeed, it is as important as any other part of what goes to make up being a human. It is as important that we can sometimes brush over the dark and weighty issues that could otherwise drag us down into a nihilistic stupor. The problem is that this 'sometimes' has now become the norm and any other engagement is an extreme rarity. It was in a time that we may call 'the past' (setting an actual date for the birth of the totality of empty words is itself an empty gesture) that words were acknowledged as powerful, but we can not go back to this idealised past, we can only go forwards or collapse entirely.

A young man I know replies when asked how he is with the same answer every time, “good, extremely good.” He is neither a fool or a liar, but has grown up with these empty linguistic structures all around him. Even the fact that I ask him 'how he is' is testament to this society-wide acceptance. So, I would plead with you, the next time you ask someone how they are to actually mean it, if you are to ask them at all.

This might seem an ill-founded concern to some, but in the use of these 'empty words' we stop actually communicating to each other. This can only mean that governments hold more power over us, by dissolving language (whether purposive or not) to such a low-level that it is now almost impossible to get anything heard they effectively remove any resistance. Such is the constant noise of millions of empty words echoing across the all-encompassing moronic media coverage, it's like screaming into a storm. And this is freedom? The freedom to say absolutely anything, no matter how shallow or banal, but who is actually listening if everyone is talking? Everyone wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen. This will all change, in time, but what it will become can only be hoped for or dreaded.

Empty Words: November 2018

You might have guessed that I recently found some old writings of my own on a previously lost USB. If so, well done for paying attention.

This is another from a fairly prolific period that came with the completion of my Masters dissertation. What followed was what felt like a very difficult period in trying to best convey my ideas for a PhD, something that I never managed to do clearly enough to those that provide funding and this lack of financial support was the main reason I gave up in my research. Although there are essays totalling around 50,000 words (or more) from that time and I'm surprised in the breadth and depth of my researches. A lot of the writings about the 18th century merely passed through my head and I've utterly fogotten them, so that reading them now is akin to an out-of-body/mind experience.

However, let's deal with the subject at hand and not my own personal historic digression. It seems that with this topic of 'Empty Words' what I am decrying is the lack of intentional seriousness within our conversations in society, perhaps not at every level at every occasion, but that an occasional slackness has now become the norm and that a failure to even attempt to communicate something truthful has taken root. Certainly in 2009 this might have seemed far-fetched, but it seems like I might have been onto something, if not a something that I described with very much precision.

Let's look at today's 'Humpty Dumpty' POTUS, who uses words to mean exactly what he means them to mean, except that this linguistic failure on his part is not merely in his use of 'hot air rhetoric' or 'salesman diatribe' or my own 'empty words' that pepper his every speech (just look the difference between a live performance and reading a transcript of one of his 'speeches' to see what I mean) that I was concerned with. It is his, and many others, constant 'hiding in plain sight' or 'dog whistle' comments within their public speeches that are of greater present concern.

That being said, the rise of fascism back in 2009 seemed like a historic concern. It felt like although perhaps we weren't quite getting the promised future from our counter-cultural days in the 90s (my own perpsective) and that New Labour had, in fact, turned out the be The Man, but in another form. Despite that, things seemed alright and even the threat of militant fascist Islamism represented by Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda was sufficiently distant or alien as to be a thing to unite against and that the threat from inside our own cuture was an unthought-of possibility. This might explain my focus upon 'the religious attitude' meaning the medieval authoritarianism of the Taliban for example.

Who was indeed listening? As I mentioned. Well, the extremists within every culture apparently, who took this freedom to say anything, to say the most vile and inciteful things possible in the open space of the internet (to begin with). To stir up what they consider necessary, a race war, another one of their final solutions. But, of course, none of them now will use this language. Many of our words might be hollow, but they (the fascists) do know the power of certain words and even in denying the 'left-wing academic' focus on language use, they will use very specific phrases to 'dog whistle' their supporters.

I remember a conversation (around 2008) with an American Zionist who was convinced that secular Europe's fading Christianity (it's "spiritual void") would be replaced with Fascist Militant Islam (if they weren't careful!). He was only partially right, but I suppose I should allow him that foretelling, it's just that it wasn't Islam but Fascism (the distinction between Fascist Islam and Islam will be saved for another day, but it is hoped you can already see it) and they are doing this through our own Empty Words, turning them into Meaningful Fascist Words right in front of us, albeit one's that have eminent deniability built into them.