Am I the only one who feels like he’s taking crazy pills around here? No? That’s a relief. Half the country is feeling a little insane after the Orlando terrorist attack as we go through another round of finger pointing about what caused this. In a statement released after the attack, Donald Trump said,
“Last night, our nation was attacked by a radical Islamic terrorist. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11, and the second of its kind in 6 months. My deepest sympathy and support goes out to the victims, the wounded, and their families.
“In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘Radical Islam’. For that reason alone, he should step down. If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the Presidency.”
To which President Obama replied,
“Let me make a final point, for a while now the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize the administration and me for not using the phrase ‘radical Islam,’. That’s the key they tell us. We cannot beat ISIL unless we call them ‘radical Islam.’ What exactly would using this label accomplish and what will it change? Will it make ISIL less committed to try to kill Americans? Would it bring more allies for military strategy than it is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”
The President has committed two slights of hand here that reverse the truth. First, he is making it seem like he has no problem saying the words by saying them in a consequence and implication free context. He is not saying it in relation to a threat we face, but in relation to what someone else has said about him. Thus, it’s meaningless. Second, he is the one who insists that calling the threat by a different name will make it go away. The obvious question that has been asked is if it doesn’t make a difference then why not just say it?
Every society that has either faced serious threats or produced any lasting wisdom has grappled with this question. In ancient Greek philosophical circles there was the idea (attributed to Socrates but hard to pin down exactly) that “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” In Indian philosophy everything in existence is categorized into padarthas. Padartha is pada (word) and artha (meaning). So, to understand anything it has to first be categorized and named correctly. The oral Vedic tradition stresses the right pronunciation of words.
In the Bible what is the very first thing God does? He labels things. He calls things what they are by giving them words and pronouncing their names. When He does, He is then able to make the judgement “it is good”, thus implying that there is evil and that they are distinct and have their own set of correct words. Why do orthodox Jews have to call God by names other than His true one?
In ancient Rome, Emperor Marcus Aurelius wondered during one of his many military campaigns, “This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature or form? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?” In his pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, and in dealing with Rome’s enemies, he knew that first he must call things what they are.
In the annals of American philosophy we have “calling a spade a spade”, “keeping it real”, and “it is what it is.” And of course, “the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem.” (Oh yeah this, too.)
But the man who best tied this to statecraft was Confucius,
“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done goes undone. If this remains undone, morals and the arts deteriorate. If morals and the arts deteriorate, punishments will not be properly awarded. If punishments are not properly awarded, the people will stand in helpless confusion. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”
This recognition of the power of properly naming things led to, among other things, a practice of name taboos for emperors in which he would take several different public names for different settings. Prominent public figures would also take nicknames, noms de plume and aliases and keep their real names hidden. A trait that can be found across cultures is the belief that not using or concealing a person’s real name protected them from curses or evil forces. In China,
Traditionally personal names were selected with attention to their meanings —names often suggest good luck, good looks, good morals, or goodness in general. But attention was (and is) given also to the number of strokes that made up the characters of a name.
Fortune tellers were often consulted about this to make sure that a child’s name accorded well with his moment of birth. In traditional times, and occasionally today, names were created to protect a child from harm. By giving a baby a name that was impressively unappealing, it was hoped to avoid the notice of envious or malicious spirits that might seek to harm a conspicuously attractive child.
You’ll recognize a similar phenomenon in Harry Potter. Everyone in the magic world refuses to say Voldemort’s name in the beginning, for fear that the very act of pronouncing his name gives him extra power, and not saying his name means everyone can put off confronting his immanent return for just a little while longer. Perhaps if we don’t name radical Islam and name its war on the West, we won’t have to deal with it?
When President Obama refuses to say radical Islam is our enemy and that we are at war with it, he is violating deeply embedded, ancient rules of human perception, knowledge and the ability to act accordingly with them.
“Hindrance to the perceptions of sense is an evil to the animal nature.” Marcus Aurelius says. That is, any living creature that denies what its eyes perceive will face harm or death as a result. “Hindrance to the movements is equally an evil to the animal nature. And something else also is equally an impediment and evil to the constitution of plants. So then that which is a hindrance to the intelligence is an evil to the intelligent nature.” When a Muslim commits an act of mass murder and himself says he does so in the name of Islam, and pledges allegiance to a world wide Islamic movement, you are not only insulting my intelligence to insist otherwise, but you are doing evil to intelligence itself. (Yes yes yes NAXALT.)
By the way, George Bush was guilty of the same thing. “The War on Terror” was a fundamental mis-naming about which Donald Rumsfeld said “Saying we were in a war on terrorism was like saying we were in a war against bombers or we were waging a war on tanks…”
It goes further. Our refusal to name the enemy is getting people abused and killed. From the Fort Hood shooting, to Chattanooga, to the Boston Bombing, to the Rotherham sex ring, to San Bernardino, to Orlando – in every situation there was a point when someone said something or wanted to say something but didn’t for fear of being accused of some form of bigotry. The result is a mound of bodies.
Roughly half the country refuses to correctly identify what happened in Orlando. Thus, we have the embarrassing spectacle of House Democrats holding the world’s most retarded sleepover party. Or as Guy Benson put it, the ugly sight of a civil rights hero (John Lewis) going full circle and participating in Congress’ first anti-civil rights sit-in. It’s enough to make you want to shout reality at their faces.
Confucius made his “rectify the names” remark when China was falling apart and splitting into numerous warring states. He was asked to advise one of the new emerging states on what they had to do to rule successfully. The first thing he said in his diagnosis was that the old dynasty had lost touch with reality by coming up with all sorts of convoluted names for things (workplace violence, overseas contingency, Department of War Department of Defense etc.). The very first order of business was to call things what they are.
Scroll back up and compare Trump’s and Obama’s statements. There is a rectification of names coming in November to the culturally warring states of America.