Thursday, April 12, 2007

Two New Anti-Concepts

Today's intellectuals are trying hard to create two new cognitive package deals, a form of anti-concept which perverts an existing concept by destroying its original meaning and substituting a new meaning. This new meaning is never defined explicitly and is always surrounded by some fog so that a listening member of the general public will say something like "Yeah, it could mean that." And that is all the intellectuals want from the public, the benefit of the doubt, because their goal is to change "It could mean that" to "It does mean that."

The two words are skeptic and denier. The use of these terms is intended to cast a negative image or light on a certain group of people, those who dissent or disagree with government funded, sanctioned and established agencies who declare a certain idea or theory to be true.

Both of these words, skeptic and denier, are valid concepts with valid meanings. Let's look at skeptic first. This I think is a word whose current usage lends itself to the corruption of package dealing. According to my Webster's New World College Dictionary a skeptic is "1) a member of any of the ancient Greek philosophical schools that denied the possibility of real knowledge of any kind, 2) any person who practices philosophical skepticism, 3) a person who habitually doubts, questions or suspends judgement on matters generally accepted, 4) a person who doubts religious doctrines especially those of Christianity."

Do you see what's missing here? According to this college dictionary there is no such thing as a rational skepticism, so any student who adopts these meanings will believe all forms of skepticism carry a negative connotation and implies an irrational doubting. So when this student grows into an adult and hears of say, global warming skeptics, the first image that pops into his mind will be that of an irrational (habitual) doubter, one who doubts regardless of evidence. (I suppose this is what happens when dictionaries are put together by people who don't know how to form an objective definition. But I digress, that might be material for a future post though.)

Of course there is such a thing as a rational skepticism. A skeptic can be one who doubts because of a lack of evidence or he may be aware of contrary evidence. This kind of skepticism is a healthy rational skepticism which every scientist, indeed every person, should cultivate.

(An irrational skepticism, ala the above Webster's definitions, is what is found in most colleges today where students are taught there is no truth, you can't be certain of anything, what was true yesterday may not be true today and on and on. This of course fits exactly the ancient Greek skeptics denial of the possibility of real knowledge.)

Since my Webster's is a 1968 edition, we can see that skeptic = irrational denier has had a long head start in our culture and that today's intellectuals are just cashing in on the ground work laid for them. The new meaning of skeptic is intended to be something on the order of "one who arbitrarily and habitually doubts the officially declared truth of the powers that be." Once accepted, the existence of a rational, justified skepticism will be lost to the culture. So when someone is labeled a skeptic, he will be considered a member of a lunatic fringe to be ignored and dismissed out of hand.

The same thing is happening with the word denier. According to my same dictionary a denier is 1)one who says no to a request, 2)a contradictor, 3) one who disowns a family member, 4)one who refuses to believe a doctrine, 5)one who refuses to give, and 6)one who indulges in self denial or abstinence. Another modern meaning not mentioned in my dictionary is one who is accused of error or fault who then denies the charge. This last carries the negative stigma of possible wrongdoing or erroneous behavior.

But if one looks at #4, one who refuses to believe in a doctrine, one can see that this is the correct identification of the global warming critics of today. This is the valid meaning that the intellectuals intend to obliterate by substituting the meaning conveyed by meaning #2, a contradictor, which implies the act of contradicting regardless of good or bad reasons. So the new meaning of denier is one who denies regardless of reasons, i.e. arbitrarily.

It looks to me like the liberal, secular left and the conservative, religious right have bought in to these package deals in an effort to destroy their common enemy, capitalism. Fortunately the general public hasn't bought it yet but there's no telling how long the public can hold up under the onslaught of the MSM who are some of the biggest package dealing pushers.

I'm somewhat optimistic because newspapers still present two sides of an issue in their editorial pages as pro vs con instead of fact vs denier or truth vs skeptic. On the other hand, modern thinking is so badly compartmentalized I can see where they could be cajoled into ascribing the new meaning to critics of global warming and the valid meaning to other forms of criticism. Thus the method of doing this could be, using the word critic when referring to other forms of dissent but using skeptic or denier when referring to global warming.

This attempt to give new meanings to those two words is ambitious because any success at all will put all related concepts under eventual attack.
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