July 13, 2005

The Power Of Language- Re: Is President Bush Evil

When we assign meaning to words we begin to provide them with power. The power to influence change. Change of thought, change of ideology, policy, direction, and much more.

History is replete with examples of fine orators who were able to bend language to their will and in so doing motivate those around them into action.

Forgive me for using a movie quote to make a point, but as was said in Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility."

There is a tremendous amount of truth in that statement. It is the reason why we need to control the use of some of the more descriptive words in our lexicon. For example, if every time you disagree with someone you use the adjective "Nazi" to describe them you begin to diminish the impact and effect of the word and that is very dangerous.

We need to have the use and utility of such words because there are times in which it is necessary to convey the importance of a moment and the strength of conviction about an idea with terms like this.

Q has an interesting post in which he addresses the topic of whether it is fair to call President Bush evil. I'd like to comment on some of the things that he said. Before I do I want to make it clear that I think Q was pretty balanced in his assessment.

"Bloggers on the left of the political spectrum often assert that President George "Dubya" Bush is evil. To some extent, I am sympathetic to that point of view.

Like most Canadians, I disagree with the decision to invade Iraq. The original justification for going to war — i.e., that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction — was proved to be without merit. Meanwhile, attention and resources were deflected from the real enemy: the loose network of terrorists who were responsible for 9/11 and subsequent atrocities (e.g. in Madrid and London)."
This is a tricky area and I am not trying to engage in any sleight of hand, but I think that it is far too easy to dismiss the war as being unjustified because WMDs were not found. There never was a question that at one time Saddam had WMDs. The question is what happened to them and if they still exist who is in control of them.

If they had been found what would people say. And beyond that one other remark regarding the question of allocation of resources. Maybe I am being hypersensitive, but I have read numerous comments from outside of the U.S. in which they complain that the U.S. should have focused on fighting the terrorists and not on the invasion. What bothers me about this is that it comes across to me as if they are saying that the US is the sole country that can do this. Where is the responsibility, where is the accounting of how their countries are responding to the threats of terror. But that is a side note.

"In sum, it is arguable that George Bush and his advisors have screwed up, big time. But "evil" is very strong language, and I doubt it is warranted in this instance."

In the last two sentences Q does an outstanding job of touching upon the power of words I referred to and establishing that evil is probably not appropriate. And that is part of why even though we disagree on some things I find it easy to engage in dialogue with him. He is open minded and not given to hyperbole.

And this then leads me to my next comment about something that I find to be both alarming and troubling. It is a little convoluted, so I am trying to make this easy to follow.

Q made a comment on a different blog in which he said something that another poster found to be objectionable.

"Recently, I made a comment on Snaars' blog that immediately called forth a rebuttal. (Snaars, I hope you don't mind that I've decided to address the issue on my blog. I'd like to broaden the discussion to include my regular readers, who will certainly be interested.)

Snaars' original post, Minority Me (which is quite interesting in its own right) had nothing to do with the war in Iraq or George Bush's presidency. I made a tangential remark, "I do not think Bush is evil in the way Hitler was evil."

To me, this seemed a perfectly unobjectionable assertion. But one of Snaars' regular readers took issue with it:"
Why is hitler made out to be this evil that is so astronomical that in today's society individual's can't compare? … I think evil is as evil is. I think the fact that our defense secretary said that torture was ok to use in abu grave was evil. …
My point is not that bush is more evil then hitler, but i certainly would not want to say it isn't possible … I just want to keep my eyes open, and it is difficult right now because i feel like i'm in the same position as a german during the beginings of World War Two."
Are you kidding me? I don't mean to be rude, but this is the height of ignorance and stupidity. I sincerely hope that the author of this statement is not educated about WWII because if he is I am even more concerned.

If we allow people to bandy about these words without any sort of challenge/comment to why it is wrong we are placing ourselves in jeopardy. And I mean that complete with all of the drama it contains. This is wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels.

Not to mention the additional historical errors including the misunderstanding of what it was like to be a German during WWII as opposed to an American now. I am not a huge fan of Germany, like so many others they slaughtered large numbers of my family. But I also understand the difference between a volunteer army and conscription.

I understand that we are free to protest the actions of the government withour fear of repurcussions. These are significant distinctions.

Back to Q's commentary.
"But we still haven't answered the question, Is President Bush evil? To address the question directly, we have to define the term. What do mean, "evil"?

I'd like to introduce a distinction drawn from the field of criminal law. In law, behaviour is not considered criminal unless two criteria are met. It isn't enough merely to commit the prohibited act (actus reus); one must also have the intention (or guilty mind, mens rea).

Arguably, President Bush has made some terrible decisions with horrific consequences. We might go so far as to say that he has committed the evil act (actus reus). But has he done so intentionally? Does he have the second characteristic, the guilty mind? I hesitate to go so far in my criticism of his presidency."
I would agree that intent is a necessary component of this process. The drunk driver who kills someone cannot be called evil solely for their actions. They can and should be punished, but using a pejorative term such as evil may not be warranted.

"Admittedly, there is one consideration which gives me pause. It seems to me that President Bush knowingly lied to the American people, and the rest of the western world, with respect to the justification for going to war in Iraq. A growing body of evidence suggests that the administration did not just exaggerate the facts, but actively sought a pretext for the invasion, and ultimately invented such a pretext.

If so, this deliberate misrepresentation of the facts was truly evil, in my view: an instance where President Bush possessed the guilty mind in conjunction with the guilty act. This is a grave offence, when a democratic leader lies to the electorate on a life-and-death issue.

But that is the only case in which I am prepared to go so far. And even in that case, I wonder what President Bush would say in his own defence if we could have an honest and open dialogue on the subject — without political posturing. Presumably he thought the invasion of Iraq was justified, even if the private reason differed from the public pretext. In other words, he still didn't knowingly set out to do evil."
It is an interesting idea and there are a lot of different directions you can go in. If the administration knowingly lied. If they did everything that they could to obfuscate the truth so that we could go to war there might be some grounds on which to start discussions about whether the use of the word is evil.

But at the same time we have to go back to intent. Readers know that I think that good intentions are not enough to prevent bad things from happening. However, from the standpoint of our leadership, it seems to me that there is a distinct difference if the actions were taken for the purpose of protecting Americans.

Now we can go back and forth about whether that is right or wrong from now until Sunday, but the reality is that the POTUS is responsible for America first and then everyone else, just as Tony Blair is responsible for England first.

In short I agree with Q's summation.

"In general, I do not believe we can judge people's motives based on media reports. This is particularly true in the present climate, where objectivity is a forgotten virtue and even journalists seem to divide along ideological lines.

I would encourage people to be more circumspect in their language, but I suspect it's futile. I recognize that measured and nuanced positions are ineffectual in the current political climate. It's necessary to use inflammatory language, if you want anyone to pay any attention.

And that causes me deep concern for the future of democracy as a viable system of governance. "

6 comments:

lucy van pelt said...

Evil, no. Smug, arrogant, a willing tool for others who may possibly be evil, but most certaily power-mad and greedy, and, in the words of the lovely Ann Richards that were made about GW's father, he was born on third base and thinks he ran a home run, yes.

Z said...

I think one actually has to possess a working intellect to be truly EVIL. He certainly isn't in someone like, um, SATAN'S league for example. HE is evil.

The Misanthrope said...

What bothered me most about the guy's comment about Hitler was that it appears to have been a topic in his class. While discussing it is fine, I think the professor probably did not do a good enough job in the discussion of pointing out what the world society considers evil across the board.

Jack's Shack said...

M,

I think that Hitler should be discussed, but I am gravely concerned that this man thinks that there is any equivocation between the two.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

even though we disagree on some things I find it easy to engage in dialogue with him. He is open minded and not given to hyperbole.

Thanks for the commendation, Jack. It's true, we consistently have a respectful dialogue even where we disagree.

if every time you disagree with someone you use the adjective "Nazi" to describe them you begin to diminish the impact and effect of the word and that is very dangerous.

We're in complete agreement here. Although I didn't make it explicit, this was one of the reasons I decided to post on the topic.

If [weapons of mass destruction] had been found what would people say.

I would have acknowledged that there was a legitimate purpose for invading Iraq. In fact, I expressed support for the war before it began. It was only when evidence subsequently emerged — evidence that the Bush administration was eager to "finish the job" in Iraq prior to 9/11, that key advisors immediately wondered if 9/11 could be used as a justification for invading Iraq, that intelligence provided virtually no support for the proposition that the Iraqis possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that the Bush administration knew that the justification was a crock even while they made public statements to the contrary — only then did I conclude that the war was a mistake and I had been duped.

If WMD had been found, I would have felt vindicated for supporting the war. Instead, I am persuaded that President Bush violated the trust I put in his word.

I have read numerous comments from outside of the U.S. in which they complain that the U.S. should have focused on fighting the terrorists and not on the invasion. … Where is the responsibility, where is the accounting of how their countries are responding to the threats of terror.

On this count, I plead guilty as charged. Canada doesn't spend enough on its military, and arguably (some would say inarguably) we are too soft on organizations and individuals with connections to terrorism.

I hope you and your readers don't misunderstand my position. I do not fault the USA for responding to terrorism with massive force. Canadians agree with the actions that were taken in Afghanistan, for example.

My criticism is that the war in Iraq appears to have had no rational connection to the war on terror. It is precisely for this reason that I think it was a colossal blunder, one which deflected attention from the real enemy.
Q

Jack's Shack said...

If WMD had been found, I would have felt vindicated for supporting the war. Instead, I am persuaded that President Bush violated the trust I put in his word.

What really irks me about the situation is that I think that we acted upon poor intelligence. I think that he wanted to see things turn out a certain way and I wouldn't be surprised if it was manipulated to reflect that. Bad intelligence and good intentions are a poor mix.

Beyond that I am still quite concerned about the lack of information as to where the WMDs are now or what their status is. It is frightening to think that they could be floating around somewhere.

My criticism is that the war in Iraq appears to have had no rational connection to the war on terror. It is precisely for this reason that I think it was a colossal blunder, one which deflected attention from the real enemy.

I can understand your feelings here, but our thoughts diverge on this point. I see multiple points on which the war on terror can connect with the war in Iraq. I blogged a little bit about those at http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/2005/05/oklahoma-city-what-if-there-was-third.html and http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/2005/05/more-about-oklahoma-city-bombing.html.

Those posts discuss the possibility of a third bomber in the Oklahoma City bombing and an Iraqi connection. The second post also links to the FBI's failure to locate all of the explosives located at co-conspirator Terry Nichol's home.

There is some interesting material there.