19 April 2012

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Language as a political tool + NEWS for TODAY & essay

Short Essay + News of a Play for today Friday at 7.30pm and Exhibition by Alfonso

Dear friends,
We are supposed to be all intellectual and reverent about languages, but underneath the skin of
cultural hype, we have the original beast that bites the hand that feeds it. Politicians and the
media have given us words such: Gotcha, Annus horribilis, and of course, Elephant, never mind white
The theme of this Sunday's meeting is: Language as a political tool. And quite unexpectedly some
world leaders have kind offered us a display of real life examples of language in politics, certain
expressions come to mind: crocodile tears, teaching a grandmother how to suck eggs, and being
between a European Union, sorry, a hard rock and the deep blue politics.
All in all, language in politics can be quite an entertaining pass time, but as I point out in my
short essay the real question in language in politics is who is calling the shots (OK enough jokes!)
when it comes to meaning?
More importantly, this evening, Friday at 7:30pm, The Jesus Master's Superstars will be giving a
performance of FUNNY TRAIN STORIES (in English, Spanish and French) at the Escuela Oficial de
Idiomas. Some members of the Philosophy group act in the play. The play received raving reviews by
critics (i.e. me) and the laughing Hyenas (enough, I said!!) enjoyed all the jokes.
Best Lawrence.
Play Friday 20 April (Today) doors open at 19:30pm
By The Jesus Master's Superstars
Directed: Almudena Estelles Pantoja, Percival Orantes Morales and Matilde Fluixa
At Salon de Actos Escuela Oficial de Idiomas
c/ Jesus Maestro S/N
Metro Islas Filipinas
(For more details please call me 606081813 –leave a message if I don't answer)
-----Alfonso Art Exhibition----
La Paloma Exhibition Hall
Calle Toledo 108 - Madrid
17-30 April 2012
Monday to Friday 10.00 – 14.00 / 17.00 – 20.00
(If you want a copy of the catalogue please let me know.)

----Short essay----
Language as a political tool
One of the main issues in the philosophy of language is that of meaning. Precisely how does a
physical event such as a spoken word or written word carry the meaning associated with that word?
Another issue we find with language is what is the purpose of language? The physical-meaning issue
(above) is about information. However, we generally assume that the function of a natural language
(Spanish, Dutch, and English etc) is to communicate with others. We now know that communication does
not only mean to "inform" others but rather to influence others to do something, or to believe
A very good example would be the STOP sign at the end of a road. The meaning of this single word in
more than just "do not move" it is also telling us we are approaching a dangerous location, we have
to be careful but above all else we must physically stop moving or else!
But language is important beyond the belief that it is a social phenomenon. It is certainly one of
the most efficient tools or weapons we have to protect ourselves with or manipulate our environment.
It is certainly up there at the top of the list with the teeth of sharks, the muscles of a cheetah
and the chemical signatures of bacteria or viruses. In other words in the environment of biological
materialism language is also a very efficient tool or weapon to exclude others.
Those who do not know a language are therefore excluded from the information sharing property of a
given language. We mustn't assume that just because a language is used to manipulate others this
manipulation is always for the worse. After all, nature and biology are amoral. For example,
information about the best places to hide from invaders would be advantageous to those who speak the
language the information is conveyed in.
Therefore, language as a political tool should be seen as the use of language for the purpose of
controlling power and authority. In and of itself this need not be a negative implication, since it
is possible that power and authority are used for the benefit of everyone. But as we also know from
game theory, it is more profitable for a few to cheat when the large majority play by the rules.
In the context of modern politics we can observe three, of many, features of how language is used in
politics or by politicians. First, language is associated with the political concept of nationalism.
In other words language can be used to exploit emotional weaknesses instead of appealing to people's
Secondly, given that the only criteria required by a language to reveal the information locked in
its syntax is to know the language, governments are not too enthusiastic about teaching other
languages efficiently. This might easily expose weaknesses in their policies by people understanding
what other governments are doing in similar circumstances.
Furthermore, since both language and information have always to be in a physical form this creates
the necessity of keeping information secret by securing the language in its physical form- i.e.
documents, photos etc. Thus a culture of secrecy is created to make sure information that can be
prejudicial to those in power is not leaked.
And thirdly language in politics is used or presented to create ambiguity amongst the population:
labour camps instead of concentration camps, refugee camps instead of isolation camps, national
security instead of state secrecy, markets instead of corporations or sovereign funds. One reason to
create ambiguity might be to keep hidden the intentions of government and politicians.
A very good example of political ambiguity is article 16 of the UN declaration of human rights,
Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or
religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to
marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
The use of the terms man and women creates the ambiguity of not knowing whether this should mean men
can only marry women and vice versa. Or whether only men and women can marry. Or even men and women
as opposed to children. Or do men and women here mean male and female.
My bet is on the meaning of men only marrying women and vice versa. If the intention was to be clear
and precise they could for example have written adults and children in one case, since as far as we
know dogs and cats do not get married and male and female are the same as man and woman.
So by using the words men and women the United Nations are creating an ambiguity to discriminate
against men who want to marry men and women who want to marry women. But the ambiguity also
discriminates against children since it does not qualify what is a man and women: there is nothing
to suggest that men and women are not equivalent to males and females in this document. If no
ambiguity was intended then the use of 'individuals of a certain age (give the age)' would have been
more than sufficient. We can also safely assume that the United Nations was linguistically competent
enough to make the distinction. From empirical evidence we know that states discriminate against
homosexuals and that many states discriminate against children especially by allowing children to be
Article 16 is not only an example of language used for political ambiguity but also language used
for discrimination.
Going back to the theme of governments not being enthusiastic about teaching other languages in
Czechoslovakia, under the Soviet Union people who wanted to learn English were basically ostracized
from the system. Once again this manipulation of language makes it easier for states and governments
to control not only the flow of information but the meaning of the language i.e. interpreting
information. During the Soviet regime the meaning of profit was to steal and rob; no doubt as
propaganda against the west. This became an issue after the fall of the system when people started
stealing state assets in the belief that they were making a profit; that was the polite explanation
Given that natural languages are biological phenomena they are also subject to an evolutionary
selection process. I do not mean by this that languages are genetically inherited; the capacity to
generate an information carrying system such as a language is, but that meaning and use change and
evolve to meet the needs of the group at a given time.
Thus certain political institutions whose function are to manipulate a language, but maybe disguised
as language academies for example, are destined to fail in the long run. Partly because language
needs to change with social needs and partly because languages cannot be quarantined or immunized
against outside influence. Admittedly this process takes time maybe even over generations. However,
what is clear is that a failure of language in politics is as telling and informative as propaganda
is not.
That words and language change meaning in life and politics is not in doubt the question is who is
today playing Humpty Dumpty, (Chapter six of Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll):
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it
to mean — neither more nor less.'
Is it the people or politicians who are determining the meaning of words we are exposed to today?
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Thursday's Open Tertulia in English
Important Notice: From December 1st, the Tertulia will take place at O'Donnells (ex-Moore's) Irish
Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)
----------From Luisa---------
Please not you will have to let her know in advance if you wish to attend, thanks:
Data of language exchange,
Location: Café Comercial
Address: Glorieta de Bilbao, 7
Website location:

Dates: on Saturday
Time: from 12:30 to 14:45
Price: 2.50 € (exchange organizing, hiring the top of the cafeteria and coffee, tea, soda, wine or
beer are included).
Luisa - email to confirm please alvarez_luisa@hotmail.com
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Language as a political tool + NEWS for TODAY & essay

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