“Science” vs “THE Science”
Controlling the Narrative
I read this past week, with some amusement, that the AP Stylebook now strongly suggests limiting the word “the”. No more “the poor” or “the French”, but “people who are monetarily challenged” or “people who speak French” (I guess…). To “the” AP, using the word “the” dehumanized the individuals.
Initially, it struck me as perhaps a new low of gratuitous virtue-signaling, but the longer I thought of it, there was an important message here. Words do in fact mean something! They are an integral part of the message and must be chosen with care. “The” (sorry..can’t help it) Progressives have understood this for a long time. They have spent as much time on the choice of words as on the ideas those words describe.
When “The” Progressives prattle on about “following THE Science”, or “THE Experts say”, they are using the word “the” in an attempt to add importance to the object. This is in the same way that saying “may THE Force be with you” or “THE Ohio State University” is meant to convey a certain gravitas. In reality, in referring to “The Science” or “The Experts” the “THE” becomes a possessive. What the people really mean by “THE Science” is “concepts with which we agree”. Likewise, “THE Experts” means “people who share our opinion”.
But their manipulation of language doesn’t stop there. Take for instance the omnipresent “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”. This phrase in reality is a euphemism for “marginalizing those whose race, politics or theology offend us”. In the same way, those who constantly accuse people of spreading “misinformation” or, even worse “disinformation” merely employ these words to describe truths which they find inconvenient. In fact, calling themselves “Progressive” is yet another euphemism. “Progressive” is a code word for “intolerant”.
Also this past week, Pfizer denied conducting “gain of function” research as they were merely engaging in “directed evolution”. A Binghamton University professor was slapped down for terming her favoritism for “non-white folks” as “progressive stacking”. Of course there is the infamous “Inflation Reduction Act” which did everything but accomplish its stated goal.
All of these remind us of the other euphemisms, such as “undocumented immigrant” for an individual who broke the law but could no longer be called “illegal” and the “Holy Roman Empire” which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. Funny how nearly all of these euphemisms arise from a particular philosophical bent. The question is “Why do people do this?” The simple reason is: IT WORKS.
Edward Bernays, a double nephew of Sigmund Freud, was a genius in “public relations”:
His successes are legendary. He encouraged women to smoke by calling cigarettes “Torches of Freedom”. He wrote Crystalizing Public Opinion (1928) and Propaganda (1928). Their significance is evident as both are still in print and available on Amazon:
He changed the concept of “propaganda” into “engineering consent”:
Despite Bernays’ Jewish heritage, his work was admired by Paul Joseph Goebbels who adapted his techniques in manipulation for the Third Reich as Minister of Propaganda. Goebbels himself understood the power of capturing the narrative, having obtained a Doctor of Philology from the University of Heidelberg in 1921.
Warren Bennis, a pioneer in modern leadership studies, paraphrased Cato the Younger:
Cicero spoke and the people marveled.
Caesar spoke and the people marched.
While at the University of Southern California, Bennis mentored David Logan. In turn, during my stint at USC, David Logan mentored me. Logan and his co-authors explored reasons for Organizational Performance in two breakthrough books:
Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life
Both of these books emphasize the critical role that language plays in shaping perception and response. Basically, if you want to change the way people think and act, change the way they talk.
Language is proscriptive as well as prescriptive! It is a window into the culture of an organization as well as the philosophy of an individual, for sure, but it is more, much more, than that. It is the tool with which to shape and form that organizational culture and that individual philosophy. It is future-based!
That is one of the reasons the Left (and the Unholy Trinity of our world (Big Pharma, Big Tech and Big Medicine) pay so much attention to the words they use to shape the narrative.
But it is even more than that…in some respects, even more ominous. In 2015, Dr. J.K.G Lein and I presented a paper at the annual meeting of The Computational Social Science Society of the Americas entitled, Political Speech: Poem, Preaching, Performance? A Pilot Computational Study:
In this age of the written word, especially the written word as experienced as you experience this essay, digitally on a computer screen, we tend to forget that there is another dimension to the spoken word. Interest in Rhetoric as a study has greatly diminished among the general population…but not all of it. Segments still understand the power of the spoken word and its ability to persuade populations.
A complete report of our study is too detailed for this essay, however those interested may download the paper. Suffice it to say that there are physiological reasons for choice of words. The meter, rhyme and cadence of the spoken word play a pivotal role at the midbrain “gatekeeper” level which allows the concepts of those words to be presented to the decision-making cortex.
Eric Havelock described his experience listening to a radio address by Adolf Hitler in October, 1939:
The strident, vehement staccato sentences clanged out and reverberated and chased each other along, series after series, flooding over us, half drowning us, and yet kept us rooted there listening to a foreign tongue which we somehow could nevertheless imagine that we understood. This oral spell had been transmitted in the twinkling of an eye, across thousands of miles, had been automatically picked up and amplified and poured over us. Havelock, EA: The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (1982) p.32
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, The Vox Institute has been training politicians and industry leaders in techniques of verbal communication since 1988:
From their Linkedin site:
Vox Institute was founded in 1988 as a training and research institute specialized in acoustic and non-verbal aspects of speech communication. Its mission is to provide scientifically based courses/coaching and assessment of communication skills. Vox Institute provides tailored courses using leading-edge technology for assessment and coaching in vocal and non-verbal skills of speech communication. The content and methodology allow the clients to benefit from the latest scientific discoveries in the field of speech communication. Its founder and director, Branka Zei Pollermann PhD, has been involved in Geneva University scientific research since 1980. She is the author of numerous publications. Her professional profile is multi-disciplinary and her academic credentials include: a doctorate (PhD) in psychology (University of Geneva), and three university diplomas in: general linguistics (Geneva), psychology (Geneva), English and Italian language and literature (Zagreb). Her postgraduate studies covered the fields of phonetics, linguistics, philosophy and sociology. In parallel to her work at Vox Institute, she held part-time teaching and research positions at: Faculty of Psychology (Geneva University), Geneva University Hospitals, CERN, Phonetics Institute (Zagreb University).
The intertwined nature of rhetoric, politics and culture is actively pursued by those wishing to control the narrative. It is the subject of graduate work in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin:
The Journal of Rhetoric, Politics and Culture proudly celebrates it “activist roots”:
Rhetoric, Politics and Society is a book series under the Springer banner:
A brief perusal of these websites indicates their philosophical bent. This description from the website of Journal of Rhetoric, Politics and Culture is instructive:
Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture (RPC) embraces a pluralistic approach to rhetorical scholarship. The journal is open to a variety of methodological approaches, from close textual and/or historical analysis to critical/cultural, ethnographic, performative, artistic, and/or theoretical work. The journal invites scholarship on rhetorics of marginalization, structure, materiality, and power; politics, advocacy, and activism; and beyond. Foremost to its mission is featuring perspectives that question in/justice, in/equity, power, and democracy and that attend to interlocking structures of power within their geopolitical and historical contexts. This journal also invites rhetorical scholarship that archives, documents, theorizes, or participates in forms of individual and collective public interventions, advocacy, activism, and resistance to such structures.
Those of us attempting to counter the messaging of the Unholy Trinity must realize that the individuals and groups who oppose us are consummate professionals. There is an active body of academic work continually supporting their worldview. It is not enough for us to present the data and the facts. As Joe Biden has publicly said, he cares about truth, not facts. The problem is that “truth” is another of those malleable concepts that can mean virtually anything a person wants it to mean. We must present our position in a sophisticated, convincing manner. We need to foster a level of scholarship into communication skills that is at least the equal of that arrayed against us. We need to utilize all of the technological advances at our disposal with ethics and integrity. It is a monumental task, but a Noble Cause. Let’s all do our part!
Brilliant. Thank you
Whoa, I recently found myself writing “The Ukraine,” when Ukraine would have sufficed! I got the chills reading how we are susceptible to the cadence of language when we need to be focused on the reasoning behind it. Shakespeare understood style and used it as a part of his art, and I love the results of his work, but it is scary listening to documentaries showing Hitler’s staccato, his pretentious poses and his gesticulation. My brother recalled a time when he attended a protest gathering where the speaker told the attendees that to stop the war, people had to kill their tv and their parents. In a crowd of hundreds, he was the only one who laughed out loud at how ridiculous the suggestion was. I fear we have again failed to hear the meaning of what is being said. Yes! Words mean things!