Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Power Of The Dictionary

Behold, an amazon link to an underrated piece of tyranny literature: Wild Swans. It's a long, first-person history of 20th century China, from the warlords through the war through Mao.

One of the things that struck me when I first read it (the time was a few years before 9/11, and I an impressionable high school student) about Jung's depiction of life at the nadir of China's communist experiment was the power of the word "counter-revolutionary". Communist propaganda was built around the importance of the revolution, and thus counter-revolutionaries were the ultimate enemy. But who exactly were they? Was there some underground organization? Some foreign government? No. They were whoever party officials wanted them to be.

The word "terrorist", of course, is what I'm really posting about. As IOZ posts more pithily than I can, a lot of legal loopholes have been created for "terrorists" and "enemy combatants" based on the "special challenges" of trying to "fight the war on terror". In non scare-quote words, there's no possible way we can pursue normal criminal justice in occupied countries so the only way we can look like we're getting anything done is to just round up whoever we can and break out the waterboards. After all, they're not in uniform, and they aren't employees of a state, but it's still war!

Except now, they are in uniform, and they are employees of a state, and we're calling them terrorists. When you give words power, you give that power to whoever gets to define that word.

It's tempting to attribute the administration's unabated chutzpah despite sub-30 approval ratings to their stubbornness or isolation from dissenting opinion, but there's a better explanation. Congress remains willing to kowtow any time the president threatens to accuse them of being "soft on terror". Can you really blame him for thinking he can still get away with whatever he wants?

The wiretapping bill is one of those pieces of news that's depressing enough to turn me off of politics for a while, hence the light posting. There is an incompetence explanation - that the Democrats are still living in 2003 and shit their collective pants at any opportunity to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution if doing so might cause Rush Limbaugh to call them a wuss. There is also a malice explanation - that a Blue-team victory in 2008 is so certain, that the Democrats are voting to expand executive power because they plan to hold that power. Needless to say, neither explanation is charitable.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Carol said...

Interesting to know.

5:12 AM  

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