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Words and Their Consequences

How society responds to what it is taught.

by James Leroy Wilson
April 24, 2002

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Words and Their Consequences_James Leroy Wilson-How society responds to what it is taught. By definition, thoughts validate the intention. That is, if I think I have good intentions, then I do have good intentions, even though my conclusions and actions may actually be bad.

So based on the premise that everyone in a discussion has good intentions, the roots of disagreement must have been established somewhere other than the benevolent parts of our personality. And differences persist even among those raised of the same culture, history, and religion. They are not the determining factors of one's worldview. Rather, a worldview is a product of one's personality and experience. Personality would include innate talents such as intelligence, and experience would include what one has been taught, through both formal education and the media.

The stakes are high when we use words. An angry parental voice that yells to the children "Stop!" or "Cut that out!" can frighten them and cause them to stop their bad behavior. This fright is not damaging; it's a disciplinary measure that encourages good behavior.

What is damaging to the child are words like, "You idiot!" or "You'll never amount to anything!" Supposing that such words are spoken by a parent or teacher in anger, and that they "didn't really mean it," it would still take a child of rare intellect and ego to completely disregard the words. Such words are hurtful, in a greater sense than just "hurting one's feelings." They cast doubt upon one's ability to succeed. And if the speaker "didn't really mean it," why was it said? How can the spoken word not proceed from a thought?

Likewise, the fate of civilizations lie with the word. It isn't which words are true, but what words are taught as true, that determine the course of history. Those who interpret history negatively, and the actions of individuals in society pessimistically, speak the truth only insofar as people will believe them. If children are taught that the world is evil, that liberal civilization was built on fraud and genocide, and that society is controlled by the greed and racism of the few, then it is likely that most of those children will indeed suffer in the world because of "greed" and "racism." Even when they are not the actual reason for failure, they are the ready excuses for failure. Even when they do not justify petty to serious crime, they can rationalize such behavior: the system is corrupt, so I'm just getting what I can get. If the world is bad, why be good?

It is impossible to teach ethics yet maintain that the world is evil. Teaching people to obey the law and do what's right, yet also teaching them that if they do, the "system" is going to screw them in the end, is not tenable. There are few ascetics among us - moral and spiritual uprightness bears a relationship to the comfort of the body. The body is not separate from one's soul, and if it was, many churches wouldn't see the point of speaking out against supposed economic wrongs, or to involve themselves in politics at all. The moralists say we should show compassion for others and aid in the comfort of others, at the expense of one's own. But why is material comfort a good only for others, but not for oneself?

The way out for some is the idea of social justice. Design the laws to punish greed and racism, and to distribute benefits to the poor though government administration. Regulate the price of labor because, while the buyer of a retail commodity is not compelled to think of the welfare of the retailer, the purchaser of labor is, for some unexplained reason, supposed to be responsible for the complete well-being of the laborer. To combat prejudice, enshrine all categories of possible bigotry into law, so that every business transaction will be held to legal scrutiny. And when none of these prove sufficient to defeat greed and racism, claim that, as a society and as a government, we're just not trying hard enough.

There are three obvious wrongs here. The lust for power is at least as bad as greed and racism, but in this worldview government power, the use of violence and coercion, is exalted as the savior and ennobler of civilization. And also, when "systems" are either to be praised or blamed for one's state of well-being, personal responsibility is diminished. Life is defined by how outside forces act on it, instead of being defined by its response to circumstances. People are either lucky or cursed, and the object of leftist politics is for the cursed to punish the lucky. And last, crimes such as greed and racism can rarely if ever be proven with hard evidence - that's why everyone in society is convicted and punished, paying higher taxing and enjoying fewer liberties in order to combat these wrongs.

The better way is to teach and preach optimism, hope, and personal responsibility. Violence - loss due to force and fraud - is an obstacle, and we have the choice for government to be either the punisher of violence in defense of civil society and liberty, or for government to be the chief inflicter of violence and enemy of liberty in society. Other obstacles - the sins and errors of others - can be countered with superior moral teaching and market ramifications.

It's a tough lesson to swallow - if no one else is responsible for my happiness, then no one else is to blame for my misery. But if society learns, and teaches, that each is responsible for their own happiness and welfare, that there is no safety net, and that government is not responsible for one's problems, it encourages individuals to both work hard and to make as many friends and allies as possible. The world is designed to reward the meek and the trustworthy, those who forsake force and fraud. All we have to do is give it a chance.

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