Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Calling out the Symbol Rulers

Korzybski told us that "those who rule the symbols rule us." In the upcoming issue of ETC, we present a new feature, "Calling out the Symbol Rulers," in which we hope to provide ongoing information of use in evaluating and challenging the statements of our rulers. Here's one contribution to that effort.
In the past few years, we have seen a huge blossoming of both "citizen journalists" and funded on-screen and on-line commentators, each with an opinion and a story to tell. Between the changes in media ownerships laws and the ever-widening use of the Internet and camera-cell phones, we get a lot of news about the source of which we know very little. Whose reports do we believe?

Enter Disinfopedia. Based on the uniquely Internet-based web page mechanism known as "wiki", this site evaluates media campaigns and invites readers to join in the effort. The introduction states that the site started as "a collaborative project to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests."

In keeping with the wiki philosophy, anyone who views a page can also edit it. Wikis manage this potentially chaotic feature by self-government. A community of dedicated participants monitor changes to the site and reverse or flag those that appear malicious, capricious or just plain incorrect. But this doesn't amount to censorship, exactly, because both a change to a page and its correction remain available to anyone interested enough to view the page's history.

The site offers not only reviews of political statements and media campaigns, it also provides tutorials on how to evaluate such statements and research their underpinnings. This link- and information-rich site belongs on your favorites list.

Friday, December 17, 2004

GS in the News

Charley Reese, syndicated columnist for King Publications, has published a very nice, concise summary of general semantics and the value of applying it to daily language. He offers some examples drawn from today's headlines:

The important thing to remember is that the word is not the thing itself. People who confuse words with reality are said to suffer from a belief in word magic. Words actually produce no effect whatsoever on reality. They are just arbitrary symbols we use for the purpose of communication. ...To say that a country is a "terrorist state" does not prove that it is.
I hear people say that Arab textbooks teach anti-Semitism. Have they ever seen an Arab textbook? No. Do they read Arabic? No. Then what they are really saying is that somebody else told them that Arab textbooks teach anti-Semitism.
If you want more information about this interesting and useful method for clarifying your thinking and understanding of the world, visit the Institute for General Semantics.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

War Words

How can any war be termed noble? In war, one set of humans kills another, sometimes brutally. In any other situation, we call that murder. But somehow, when the entity directing the killing is a country, we accept the same act as "necessary" or "good" or even "approved by god."

Sometimes war is waged in order to show valor; a person who imagines a justification for commiting institutionalized murder can claim inner dignity, and this dignity somehow transfers to war itself. Some philosophers have even praised war as an ennoblement of humanity, forgetting the pronouncement of the Greek who said, "War is an evil in as much as it produces more wicked men than it takes away." -Immanuel Kant, philosopher (1724-1804)

I believe that as long as we glorify war, we will continue to forget the insanity of it. Young men and women generally go to war for the first time in their late teens or early twenties. At this age, I have observed, we seem to form our most significant impressions, opinions and memories. The intense and deeply felt camaradery of battle, similar to the first moments of parenthood, the discovery of a new philosophy or any other unfamiliar but essential event, seems to burn into the circuitry of our personalities. From that time on, we define ourselves by our behavior during the event, and judge the emotional content of all other events by it. Anyone who has listened to a World War II vet talking about Pearl Harbor or on D-Day will understand how vital and immediate the experience is for him. Once I heard a vet say that no experience since his war days ever thrilled him to the same extent.

I suspect that the people who arrange for wars, based on their own ideas of personal or national aggrandizement or security, depend on young men and women wanting just exactly this kind of emotional commitment to war. If you only sent mature adults to war, they would put down their guns and walk home as soon as they recognized who stood to gain from the war (the leaders) and who stood to lose (themselves). Adults can make these judgements.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Man after my Own Heart

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.
-Steven Wright, comedian (1955- )