This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Words without meaning

Part and parcel with ideology is the use of words that give the impression of deep meaning but which actually have no meaning at all. I’m talking about words like: Freedom, Equality, Progress, Competition, Democracy, Patriotism, Rights.

These are slogans, not ideas. They are invoked, as a sorcerer would invoke a spell in order to counter some invisible spirit. They give the impression of thought while not necessarily requiring any thought at all. If you want see what I mean for yourself, just wait until the next time someone uses one of these words, and then try to discern exactly what they mean. Usually these slogans are pronounced more for emotional effect, or to convey a feeling, than to convey a reasoned argument. Try it.

Take, for example, the saying that “all men are created equal.” This sounds good. Heck, it sounds really good. Very humanitarian. But what does it mean? It would require a treatise to really get specific about it, and no one wants to read a treatise, much less think one out inside their heads. This means that most people just take it as it stands: “all men are created equal.” Which is to say, they take it to mean whatever they want it to mean. They adopt the phrase and fill it with whatever validates their particular point of view. This phrase in particular is so pleasing and so vague that Christians and atheists can both use it with equal vigor. Sometimes they may even use it in unison, as if they finally found some common ground, thinking that they each mean the same thing when they say it. Until they find out that they don’t.

The same thing goes for freedom. Everyone loves to talk about protecting our freedoms, but once you get down to it everyone means something different. Do you mean the freedom of a man to marry a man? No? Well then maybe you should stop going on and on about ‘freedom’ and start being more specific. What you probably meant, in the end, was that you believe in moral goodness, which may or may not involve the exercise of personal freedom. I’m good with that. I like moral goodness. I just wish people would say that. I wish people would say what they really mean, and stop saying things they don’t. But this is a result of ideology. Ideology is already an oversimplification of reality, a set of explanations that are popular not because they explain but because they sound good. And words like Freedom, Equality, Progress–these are the same. They are used not because they are filled with thought but because they are filled with feeling, and in the absence of understanding, feeling reigns.

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