International Relations professor Michael Brenner discusses the “downgrading of precision in use of words and terms” including transgender, crisis management, and genocide. Read his full article below (or HERE). Then in the second half-hour Rashid Daoud, and Bilal Sunni Ali (of Gil Scott-Heron’s band) and Brother Lakeem of the Imam Jamil Action Network discuss the ignored-by-MSM background of the George Floyd shooting and similar cases: The longstanding war by FBI and police on black empowerment, including assassinations, frame-ups, cointelpro infiltration, and incitements to violence. See also: www.whathappened2rap.com
(from Michael Brenner’s email)
Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his classic Democracy In America that the country’s citizens did not ‘discuss, they ‘debated.’ Self-affirmation took precedence over the exchange of thoughts. Prevailing in a contest of persons and ideas was more important than reaching a better understanding of the subject at issue. Those traits are more pronounced today than they were in the 1830s.
Among the factors contributing to this phenomenon is the abuse of language. The downgrading of precision in use of words and terms is at once cause and reinforced effect. Often, we literally do not know what we are talking about due to murkiness of their meanings. Let’s consider some examples.
Transgender, transgender everywhere – and not a drop of enlightenment. It’s like a pronoun with multiple antecedent nouns that nobody bothers to differentiate. This is so even as it roils universities, sets off student protest marches, embroils Olympic organizations in daunting legal battles, sparks acrimonious political fights, while stirring ethicists and commentators to take to their computer keyboards. Never have so many expended so much for so little gain in understanding. For this maelstrom has swept into our lives even though almost none of the above mentioned know what they are talking about – literally. The few that may seemingly take pains not to reveal it.
Let’s list these varied meanings:
- Bisexual. This the simplest – someone of distinct gender characteristics who is both heterosexual and homosexual
- Asexual for physiological and/or psychological reasons – extremely rare.
- True Transgender. Someone who has rudimentary sexual organs of both genders
- Hormonic Transgender. Someone whose balance of gender hormones exceeds the normal range for persons with one or the other physical traits. (This is the principal cause of contention in disputes over eligibility for participation in athletic competitions such as track & field). It is important to note that it is biologically impossible for there to be a significant discrepancy between one’s pronounced hormonic balance and one’s physical attributes.
- Incongruence. (Gender Dysphoria) Someone who’s physical and psychological identities diverge. The former may be well defined, yet the person ‘feels’ as being of the other gender identity. The causes or confirming evidence of this rare phenomenon are obscure; are they environmental (treatment as infants) or due to some sort of ‘mix-up’ in the brain chemistry/circuitry? This type of ‘incongruence’ has come into vogue in recent years as a fancy explanation for homosexuality or bi-sexuality. More disturbingly, it provides a justification for encouraging youngsters to think of ‘sexual preference’ as a choice – the socially uninhibited expression of free will. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3T_QpR4FhU)
- Sex Change. It has become fairly common (actual numbers unknown) for people – even young children – to undergo drastic ‘cosmetic surgery’ to substitute one set of sex organs for another (artificial) set. It is combined with hormone therapy that influences secondary sexual characteristics. The latter alone also can be administered to some persons who fit into the above categories. Sex change surgery often is treated in the literature in a rather casual fashion. It is a gruesome, radical procedure. Today, unknown thousands of young children are diagnosed – first by their parents and then by their physicians – as being in this condition. They then begin a multi-year process of “gender identity affirmation.” They are given large doses of ‘counter’ hormones, socialized as the ‘preferred’ sex, and at the age of about 9 are administered medications – ‘puberty blockers’, that ‘pause’ their biological development toward puberty. The last step is drastic surgery. Frankly, I personally see very little differences between these procedures and clitoral circumcision which is denounced and banned in the West and much of the rest of the world. Indeed, they are a far more dramatic assault on the body and on the psyche. Inflicting this painful ordeal that mutilates for life and can leave the person an emotional wreck forever strikes me as a crime. Should it not be strictly limited to persons over 18 who are of sound mind? Under present cultural and legal circumstances, any 5-year boy who tries on his mother’s shoes is vulnerable to this peril.
It seems a matter of common sense and respect for an individual’s human identity to stipulate and enforce such a restriction.
I find it quite amazing that these radical practices should be widely celebrated as a milestone on the road toward liberalization of all that is associated with LGBTQ. Yet, oddly, the hard issues of an ethical, medical and legal nature it raises receive minimal attention. Neither editors, academics nor politicos seem moved by it. Probably, the only way it would earn a place in the national spotlight were if some celebrity to protest loudly that the access to these procedures for people of color was markedly lower than for whites – i.e. Archie might be denied the same right of gender selection as his cousins.
The differentials outlined here are essential for the serious study of ‘transgender’ in its various forms, for medical decisions and for an array of policy decisions. Consider two of the latter. Currently, there is an acrimonious dispute that has been taken to the courts on the issue of whether a person with male physical attributes would be allowed to compete in officially sanctioned track (running) events for women. Some collegiate authorities have allowed this on the grounds that the person in question has self-identified as a woman, dresses and ‘behaves’ as a woman. This is ludicrous. The structure of a man’s body will ensure a decisive advantage – even if the person is undergoing some degree of hormone therapy (not sure in this case). How far are we prepared to carry this “illogic?” If an athletic adult “feels” like a 12-year old, dresses in ‘tweener’ garb, does s/he have a Constitution-given or God-given right to enter the municipal 5K race for children? This is not twisted thinking; it is nihilistic non-thinking.
Then there is the pitched battle over the demand for ‘transgender’ bathrooms in public buildings. This, too, is absurd since there exists an obvious and simple solution. A person so characterized should use whichever facility matches the clothing they’re wearing. Nobody is going to scrutinize them. If the person nonetheless feels ‘unsettled’ by the experience, that’s its problem. There is no good reason why the world should turn itself inside-out for the sake of its comfort.
To be a male, or to be a female?
To love Ophelia as the man I am or the woman that I could be?
That is the question!
Do I love her as another or the self-same?
Indeed, if Truth be told I love her as she or me,
For I love myself – in all my genders
Need I suffer the slings and arrows of Misbegotten gender
Or, by confounding them, end the heart-ache,
and the thousand unnatural shocks of binary tyranny
That psyche is heir to, – ‘tis a consolation
Devoutly to be wished.
To mix and match; ay, there’s the rub;
For what dreams may S/he have
Must give me pause*
Crisis management is defined as the process by which an institution deals with a disruptive and unexpected event that threatens to harm the organization or its stakeholders. High stakes make it vital. Time pressure makes it urgent. The term is used promiscuously: “President ‘X’ is confronted with his sternest test yet faced in managing the crisis created by ‘z;” or, ”the Pentagon moves into crisis management mode as third warship is taken off line by COVID-10 outbreak; ‘Y’s experience with crisis management as chief of ‘J’ makes him the best suited to take charge as the administration’s ‘Q’ Czar now that….” What follows verbally or in writing typically leaves obscure just what ‘management’ means as well the reasoning that leads to the judgement that the situation in question qualifies as crisis.
Some of this ambivalence is intrinsic to all large enterprises, especially ones that operate in the public daylight. For they are at once functional organizations with stipulated tasks/responsibilities and political entities. Moreover, the latter encompasses both external constituencies and internal ones (e.g. the rival or faction that is looking for an opportunity to take over). Therefore, ‘acceptability’ of measures designed to manage the crisis can as important (if not more important) than their effectiveness. The resulting dilemma of striking the right balance, in also recognizing the uncertainties associated with each, inclines the ‘managers’ toward delay and equivocation. That is why the first action usually is consulting with the public relations advisers who help the leadership to issue some sort of anodyne statement. Its main purpose is less to clarify the issues than to buy time while reassuring the relevant audiences that the leadership is alert to the problem and on top of things. The trick is to achieve those ends by coming up with words that say next to nothing, and commit you to nothing. That has become an art form. Anodyne, but with a varnish of gravitas.
Foreign relations pose a greater challenge. For the audiences include external parties as well as domestic ones. Anything you say at home will register abroad. That requires a higher level of skill and finesse. If you have little idea of the direction you will be moving, then buying time is the imperative. Terse remarks are in order. Also, steps must be taken to ensure that members of our government avoid sprouting off. Silence is better than a rumbling of discordant voices. Any official who finds the impulse to blab irresistible should be reassigned immediately to a location with lousy Wi-FI service.
Remember: at all times, treat talk and action as identical; to think of them as distinctly different is to court danger! Words are your shield and your sword.
There are 4 basic types of strategies from which to select a follow-on exercise in crisis management. The first is the Commission route. One announces with great fanfare that a ‘blue ribbon’ Commission, panel, Taskforce or Board of Inquiry will be set up to examine the subject and to make recommendations. Orchestrated leaks as to whom its chairman and members might be should follow immediately. That diverts attention from the substantive issues to the gossip about persons so beloved by the political class. In the U.S. these days, it is de rigueur to include a couple of ‘diversity’ candidates so that the talk show blabbers can engage in animated chatter about the possibility that history could be made by the appointment of the first transgender Aleutian Islander to head a Presidential Commission.
The second strategic option is to pass the dossier and responsibility onto your Vice-President or whomever is the Number 2 in your organization. This has the bonus of luring the chattering commentators into arguing that doing so confirms the pledge that VP ‘X’ will be the most influential in history (as was her predecessor and each preceding VP going back to Teddy Roosevelt)
The third is to contract with a consulting agency to do the job. This choice is very ‘with it.’ After all, we inhabit an age where our perceptions have been shaped by the denigration of government, by the exhalation of the private sector, by the flight from accountability, and the absence of any sense of shame. Just a few weeks ago, President Macron of France was revealed to have clandestinely agreed to pay McKinsey Assoc. 11 million Euros to devise a plan for the acquisition, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. That decision, in effect, expresses a preference for placing the authority for managing an unprecedented public health crisis in the hands of a bunch of (young) amateurs rather than the rigorously trained, finely tunedhaut fonctionnaires who used to be a matter of French pride. In this case, it seems that it is neither ‘acceptability’ nor ‘effectiveness’ that has dictated the choice but rather the doctrinal biases of Rothchild’s man in the Elysee. Is that statement hyperbolic exaggeration? Perhaps.
However, let’s consider the response to the COVID-19 crisis – not just in the United States but in Britain as well. It’s an appalling record of incompetence and incoherence. Nor is all of it attributable to the fecklessness of Trump’s White House. The FDA and CDC, too, get failing grades. The state governments, for their part in mishandling the ‘rollout’ of the vaccines, exemplify disorder and irresponsibility. Despite 9 months of advance notice as to the challenging task that lay ahead of them, almost nothing was done in the way of serious planning – with the exception of two states: the odd couple of New Mexico and West Virginia. The British government of Boris Johnson took the same path in an even more reckless strategy for squandering public funds and enriching friends/donors. They paid Deloitte and a subcontractor SERCO the munificent sum of $38 billion to create and implement a comprehensive Test & Trace system. It proved a sump of corruption and waste that didn’t come close to achieving any of its goals, with a Parliamentary oversight committee officially stating that it made no significant contribution to the fight against COVID whatsoever.
The harsh reality is that the cottage industry that has grown up in recent years in think tanks, universities and consultancies on ’crisis management’ leaves barely a trace on the conduct of real-world officials and institutions – except for the juicy deals they strike with consulting firms.
Final option, the chief receives a cogent briefing from a competent aide, then calls his trusted subordinate and says something like: “Jack – the situation is urgent. Get hold of Beverly and Franck and meet me in 30 minutes in the conference room to see how we’re going to deal with this.” Then comes the consultation, task assignment, decision and coordinated implementation. This last, of course, is pure fantasy – a quaintly charming borrowing from a vintage movie. This conceivably may be the way that Putin or Xi operate on occasion; clearly, no leader in the West does. The same can be said of ‘leaders’ in other large organizations. Most university heads, for example, would go into comatose shock at the mere suggestion of acting so incisively.
Genocide is the most heinous of crimes as recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The term has specific reference to the Nazi extermination policies. With that atrocity in mind, one might think that its use would be restricted to the most extraordinary circumstances. The opposite has happened. It has been banalized. There are no criteria to be met before labelling someone or something genocide. Rather, it now is used as a general term of condemnation and abuse – internationally, similar to calling somebody you despise a ‘bastard’ or a ‘son of a bitch.’
At present, the PRC is being accused of genocide against its Uighur Muslim population by the United States, the EU, Canada, the Netherlands – the latter two through formal legislative resolutions. The facts do not support the indictment for alleged ‘genocide.’ The Uighur population in Xinjiang has grown steadily over the past 50 years. It also has increased as a proportion of the region’s population despite Beijing’s settlement of Han peoples there. Abuses certainly are occurring. Some linguistic and religious restrictions have been imposed. This is a nasty business but has nothing to do with ’genocide.’
The loosening of standards poses awkward questions for China’s accusers. Did not the American engage in a de facto rolling ‘genocide’ of the native population over 250 years which involved mass expulsions, their enforced confinement in ‘reservations,’ and the degradation of their culture as well as outright killings? Didn’t the Canadians do pretty much the same with their even more draconian programs to outlaw use of native languages and to force assimilation? Both countries did exactly what we accuse Myanmar of doing to the Rohingyas. Bringing the issue up to date, we confront the harsh reality of selective condemnation. There is an approximation to outright genocide at present: it is occurring in Yemen. There, the entire Houthi population not only have suffered enormous civilian casualties caused by Saudi-led indiscriminate airstrikes; there also is mass malnutritional and starvation due to an aid blockade and destruction of basic infrastructure which threatens to stunt an entire generation. The United States and the United Kingdom have been active partners of the Saudis in this project – providing crucial logistical support – air refueling of Saudi warplanes, weapons, targeting assistance, Intelligence and assistance to the naval blockade without which the KSA could not have conducted its gruesome campaign.
Britain, France, Italy, the Dutch, Belgium and Germany have also joined in the denunciation of Beijing for its alleged ‘genocide’ against the Uighurs. Yet, their own atrocious actions in Kenya (1950s), Algeria, Libya, the East Indies (Aceh), Congo and Namibia were of a kind and a magnitude that makes Chinese conduct – actual or imagined – looks pale by comparison. The last two constituted true ‘genocide’ by any measure. Citations of these horrific events in the West are scant to non-existent (with the belated, partial exception of Algeria – and, of course, today’s Germany’s unique repentance for the Holocaust). It is in the nature of societies to elide shameful actions in their past. The American South – whether as the defeated Confederacy, the states, or any other collective body – never to this day has apologized for its enslavement of millions of Africans over 250 years. Still, it behooves any decent government to refrain from throwing around accusations of crimes that they themselves have committed in spades.
In regard to ‘genocide,’ we see an instance that goes beyond lazy semantics and casual ignorance. Rather, it is the intentional falsification of a word to be used as a political weapon. The former facilitates the latter.
An especially pernicious manifestation of semantic abuse are Janissary words. Kidnapped words are the Janissaries of campaigns to promote an invented or inverted reality. Their original identities are obliterated. Worse, unlike the Ottoman Janissaries, figments of the past identity can be retained when its resonance is considered helpful. Words are kidnapped for two reasons. One is to slay them; the other is to exploit them. American politics offers rich examples of both variants. The radical right in the United States effectively took control of the term liberal and all its variants so as to tar it with strongly negative connotations. They succeeded so completely in transforming it into a political ‘dirty word’ that it has long been abandoned by Democrats. They now engage in all sorts of verbal gymnastics to avoid its designation for themselves, their ideas or their policy proposals. In the process, they expose any new coinage intended as a surrogate to similar calumnies. For example, the self-styled progressive Senator who is accused by his opponent of not having the courage of his convictions to call his ‘tax & spend’ program liberal.
Conservative itself is a Janissary word. The literal meaning is one who conserves. In politics traditionally, it has been adopted by those factions who see virtue in the status quo and are skeptical of change – especially when change is sudden and challenges established principles. There is nothing conservative about modern-day Republicans who have made a fetish of their supposed “conservatism”. They are at once reactionaries, who want to return America to a mythic past, and radicals who want to introduce basic changes in our public life. The only thing they wish to conserve are the privileges and tax breaks of the upper crust. Otherwise, they are into destruction – destruction of what has been achieved by predecessors so as to clear the way for going backward to a more congenial reality. Their socio-economic thinking in rooted in 19th century social Darwinism, their reference point is the ‘Gilded Age’ of the 1890s. Rolling back the New Deal and everything associated with it is objective number one. So-called ‘conservatives,’ once in power, also aim to fortify the arbitrary powers of the Executive, at the expense of the principle of ‘checks and balances’ etched in the Constitution, in a manner never before experienced in the United States. Internationally, they are dedicated to building a world according to American specifications through generous application of American military power. This package is diametrically different from all that transitionally has been meant by conservatism. The reactionary/radicals kidnapping of the term for their own purposes is made possible by the free and easy use of vocabulary in a literally mindless political culture. For clear thinking is impossible without logically structured language; and clear speaking is impossible without logical thinking about pattern in the discrete experiences we encounter in life.
Exploiting Janissary words normally occurs when they are seen as having a positive image that can be used to market something rather different. Reform is an outstanding example. Its emotive power stems from the implication of progress, an unalloyed good in modern American imaginations. Progress in turn implies improvement or betterment. Reform movements in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world were associated with expansion of voting rights, the breaking of monopolies, the sweeping out of office of corrupt political machines, etc. The beneficiaries in those cases were the ‘people,’ the citizens, the common folk, the little man. Today, the term reform has been abducted and put in the service of change that implies – but doesn’t necessarily deliver – greater efficiency, especially the efficiency of markets, in disregard for the well-being of flesh and blood persons.
Nowadays, the promotion of any social change is labeled reform – whether or not its objects will find their situation improved. Market fundamentalists campaign under the banner of reform when they press for ‘flexible labor markets.’ That phrase is a euphemism for making terms of employment more onerous or simply abolishing jobs via outsourcing, sub-contracting, “gigging” and other methods of boosting corporate profits at labor’s expense. Workers, in the wake of labor market reform, find themselves less secure in their jobs, less well paid and recipients of reduced fringe benefits. It can be argued, of course, that the change improves the overall efficiency of the economy – the unregulated global economy as an economic unit- from which they draw greater wealth than from regulated national economies. Differential effects and system bias are ignored – as are market dysfunctions.
The dogma of market fundamentalism says that systemic efficiencies help everyone. That is not true. There is a redistribution of wealth and even opportunity. There are winners and losers – certainly in the short and middle run. Whether everyone gains in the long run depends on the intervening factors of how market power is structured and what actions are taken by governments. In the decades preceding the financial crash of 2008, reform was even the preferred term of those advocating an end to the regulation of financial markets. They succeeded. The heaviest costs of their success – and the resulting abuse and then failure of financial markets – were borne by the general populace. Their lives deteriorated rather than improved. There was a high positive correlation between implementation of that ‘reform’ agenda and society’s moving backward by the enlightened standards of the past century. the United States, Britain, Ireland and the Baltics – where a combination of faith in the EMT (efficient market theory) dogma and calculated unbridling of finance – have suffered the most from the great crisis of 2008-09. Similarly, American officials and pundits talk about the vital need for ‘Reforming entitlement programs – itself a euphemism for Social Security and Medicare. Reform in this instance means cutting benefits, i.e. a straightforward reduction in the value of what recipients get. Blatant untruths are propagated by the advocates of ‘reform’: Social Security is in crisis; there is no other way to fund these programs. It fact, it is funded until 2040 and there are reasonable ways to fund it thereafter – such as raising the ceiling for FICA and Medicare withholdings. An honest public discourse would not use the word ‘reform.’ Instead, it would refer to cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits so as to distribute the nation’s wealth towards other ends, persons and purposes. It remains to be seen whether the harsh lessons administered by the ‘great recession’ will sensitize us to the practice of enlisting the Janissary words Reform and Progress into causes with no legitimate claim to the words.
Their appropriation by powerful Establishment interests and their promoters not only is a form of involuntary linguistic servitude. It also saps them of the capacity to energize efforts to make changes in institutions that are crying out for genuine reform. Who talks about reform of the Federal Reserve Bank, of the Security & Exchange Commission (SEC), of the FAA, of the FCC, of the IMF, of the World Bank, of the CIA, of the Pentagon?
The term Middle Class has been completely denatured by a process of indiscriminate use. It is a complex phenomenon whose examination reveals a number of current elements in the silent campaign against truth and honesty. It has become a synonym for the great mass of Americans who figure neither among the super-rich nor live below the poverty line. Anyone earning between $30,000 and $250,000 is now declared ‘middle class’ in political parlance. The upper bracket is drifting even higher. One calculating reason for this status inflation is to erase the ‘working class’ from the public vocabulary. That term has acquired unsavory connotations. It implies poor and failure – notions that are linked in American minds. Rather than take steps to improve the lot of the working class, they are offered honorary status in the Middle Class. Admittedly, in our habits of what we buy and how we entertain ourselves, there indeed has been a move toward uniformity, a cultural compression. Nonetheless, life on an annual income of $30,000 is very different in terms of health care, comfort, opportunities for children and many other ways from life on $250,000. A one-size-fits-all vocabulary elides those realities and glosses over the public policy implications. It is a self-serving tool fashioning an image of the quite wealthy as just your average Joe whose taxes should never be increased – even to the levels that prevailed before the Bush/Trump tax giveaways that greatly favored those in uppermost income brackets.
“Words were created to obscure our actions and their meanings.” Anonymous
Sometimes it seems that way.