Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

JusticeThumbby Deana Chadwell
The truth is I really don’t want to talk about this – I think I’ll scream if I have to hear the names T_____ M_____ and G_____ Z_____ again. I promise to avoid them, but I do want to talk about justice and recently those names appear in neon conjunction with the concept of fairness — a key idea in any civilized society and it’s one that we’re beating nearly to death. I feel honor-bound to come to its rescue.

The Merriam Webster dictionary gives the following definitions for justice:

o the administration of law;
o the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
o the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
o the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action
o conformity to this principle or ideal i.e. righteousness
o conformity to truth, fact, or reason.

As a student of linguistics, an English professor, a writer, and as a Bible-studying Christian I have a strong interest in the integrity of language. Language is a solemn contract we have with all those with whom we speak – words mean what they mean. I can’t replace the word eagle with nincompoop and successfully convey anything about eagles. I can’t amend the word mouse with, say, the word murder – a murder-mouse – and say anything useful. Without the agreed-upon meanings communication disintegrates and chaos follows.[pullquote]If a person has an idea that he wants people to accept, but it won’t be in their best interests to do so, and he doesn’t have a good, logical, factual reason for them to do so, how does he proceed? He starts by monkeying with the language.[/pullquote]

Granted, languages change; we can’t stop the metamorphosis of a language any more than we can stop a glacier. Sometimes these changes are nostalgic for me as an English teacher – the words less and fewer no longer have separate meanings. A lot is now recorded in dictionaries as one word. Alas. The efforts of exhausted English teachers notwithstanding, languages always simplify; there’s no point in bemoaning that.

There is, however, a point in mourning the loss of crucial words that have been mutilated for nefarious purposes. If a person has an idea that he wants people to accept, but it won’t be in their best interests to do so, and he doesn’t have a good, logical, factual reason for them to do so, how does he proceed? He starts by monkeying with the language. If enough of the key terminology can be altered, twisted, misused, overused, under-defined and over-generalized, then the thinking processes of the citizenry can be thoroughly disrupted and our villain will succeed in dividing and conquering because communication will have been destroyed.

The word justice has been attacked for just this reason. I knew I was going to have to write this piece when I heard a discussion between Greta Van Susteren and a lawyer for the T____ M_____ family. Her name is Jasmine Rand. I felt myself suck in a sudden breath when I heard this young woman (a lawyer!) exclaim her satisfaction that public furor had brought about the arrest and charging of G_____Z___________. The police did not find adequate reason to formally charge him. The local prosecutors did not want to pursue the case because they knew it was a weak one that they could not win. That is what the law allows; those with the specific authority and with the best access to pertinent information make the decision. These people were administering justice – see the final dictionary entry above – “conformity to truth, fact, or reason.” But Ms. Rand thought it a superior form of justice for the outcry of emotionally wrought people, none of whom were witnesses to the incident and most of whom did not even reside in Z___________’s community, to determine whether or not this man was charged with a crime.

She admitted – quite proudly – that she was more than a lawyer (I would have said less), that she was involved in social engineering, the mechanics behind our president’s favorite cause — social justice, which is evidently, in her eyes, a higher form than plain old justice. She was quite pleased that the governor of Florida had illegally appointed a special prosecutor to illegally force a trial. No grand jury was impanelled. No legal indictment handed down, but people had raised a ruckus – a ruckus that it now appears was partially financed with Department of Justice (!) funds. But then this is social justice, premium justice, not just regular, denim-clad justice. Ms. Rand’s idea goes way beyond personal responsibility for personal sins. She wants to engineer our society. Did any of us ask her to do that?

She wants G______ Z___________ held responsible for every miserable thing any white person ever did to any black person, anywhere, ever and she doesn’t want a silly old jury having any say in the matter. Or she wants to sacrifice the freedom of one innocent man to bring about enough mayhem to justify more heavy-handed government. And it looks like our president and our attorney general agree with her. I’ll have to admit, it’s such a much grander concept, this social justice — never mind that no black person, anywhere, will be enriched by hounding G______ Z___________ to his death. Never mind that a jury of his peers declared him not guilty of any legal fault. Never mind that the evidence reveals a man intent on being responsible (oh, the irony), a man under attack with no help in sight. Evidently social justice doesn’t require “conformity to truth, fact, or reason,” nor is it dependent at all on “the administration of law,” in fact it seems social justice cannot be accomplished within the boundaries of law.[pullquote]Now it appears we have switched to an older, more tribal form of justice known as revenge. A white man shoots a black man. It doesn’t matter why or under what circumstances. Someone from your tribe killed someone from my tribe so my tribe is going to hurt someone from yours.[/pullquote]

Law. Now there’s another term that’s dying a slow and agonizing death. For over 200 years this country has operated on a well-designed, well-researched system of law. We haven’t done this perfectly, but we have striven to be a nation that holds all of its citizens to the same standards and these standards are set in law – a system that leans heavily on truth (as best we can know it), on fact (provable information) and on the rational use of both (reason). We hold our leaders to those same expectations – at least, we used to.

Now it appears we have switched to an older, more tribal form of justice known as revenge. A white man shoots a black man. It doesn’t matter why or under what circumstances. Someone from your tribe killed someone from my tribe so my tribe is going to hurt someone from yours. This is the work of progressives (another suspect word) and yet it is a massive jump backward to human kind’s oldest and ugliest past. Tribal revenge, after the initial infraction, has no interest in personal guilt, draws no distinctions between tribal members, cares only about inflicting pain – to anyone. If we sink to this uncivilized level, chaos will reign and martial law, law enforced with tanks and machine guns, will replace all that we know of justice. Look at the Middle East.

Justice, perfect justice, is one of God’s most important attributes. It is the attribute that demanded punishment for sin. (It was His Love that sent His Son to the cross to pay that penalty for us.) Because we were originally created in God’s image, we have justice engraved in our hearts. Even small children know when something is unfair.

My youngest grandchild’s first sentence was a commentary on justice – she remarked on the fact that her sister was enjoying a lollipop and she wasn’t allowed one. (She was only 17 months old and had forgotten that her sister Julia had saved hers from the night before.) Violet pouted her little lip out, tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, her voice dripping with accusation, “Julia lolly.” It was a pronouncement, a legal argument, both an opening and closing statement. As far as she could see life was unfair and she was outraged; the apparent injustice hurt her soul.[pullquote]Injustice hurts all of us. And today we are surrounded by it. Teachers aren’t allowed to fail students who refuse to learn. We can’t do anything about illegal immigration. We have to pretend the radical Islamists are good people.[/pullquote]

Injustice hurts all of us. And today we are surrounded by it. Teachers aren’t allowed to fail students who refuse to learn. We can’t do anything about illegal immigration. We have to pretend the radical Islamists are good people. We are to swoon at the heart-throb picture of a terrorist on the front page of a magazine. We are to forget Benghazi because “it makes no difference.” We are to ignore the will of a jury. We must “respect” a president who demonstrates disdain for all that is American, including our system of justice.

Justice is a holy concept, a foundational concept, and no society can prosper without it. Since God is just, we can know that eventually balance will return, and those who would break the laws nature builds into every human being will pay for their trespasses. In the meantime, we must guard the contract of our language and speak out when others try to maim it. Language, too, is holy – one of God’s greatest gifts. Let us not abuse it.
__________________________________________________
Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com.
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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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13 Responses to Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Maybe someone can recommend a good book on the subject. But I find it of interest how words change our perception of reality. And I’m not necessarily talking about the attributes of deceit, moral cowardice, and narcissistic self-indulgence that also gives power to certain words over others.

    There truly does seem, at least to me, to be a significant component whereby our language determines to some extent not only how we parse reality but our ability to do so. Deana did touch on this in her article. But the subject further interests me if only to try to explain just how captured some people are by language.

    Surely most people cannot be this stupid, cowardly, or self-indulgent to allow a mere choice of words to entirely change their world views. But some are, and perhaps enough are that any other effect is insignificant. But I can’t help wondering just how much our epistemology is based upon the words we use — even to the point of hindering thought and understanding. If Eskimos really do have several dozen words for “snow,” for example, you would suppose that they could nuance much more real meaning in a snow-filled world. It’s arguable that a person without these various nuanced verbal concepts of the types of snow might not even notice the different types of snow in the first place. It becomes akin to a comedian who makes us laugh by simply pointing out the things we just don’t ever consciously notice.

    Words are clearly highly important in terms of our ability to think about things. But words alone are just a marker, a symbol for something that exists in the real word. So when thoroughly stuck arguing with a committed Leftist or “Progressive,” I will sometimes say something such as “Let’s set aside the words and get to the actual meaning behind them.” And I find that this is very difficult for some people to do. All they have is the words. The words have become their tokens. In many respects, their cliché words have become a replacement for actual thinking, a shortcut which is a convenience for those who simply don’t want the responsibility of perhaps thinking differently from the herd.

    But we must be able to see the meaning behind the words, and brain studies I have seen confirm that there is some mental aspect that does, or at least can, pre-date words. Imagine trying to teach a young child what “2” means. There is a purely intellectual component, of course. But ultimately the word or concept is functionally useless without getting behind the symbol. So, as many teachers or parents surely do, they get out, say, two cookies to illustrate the number two.

    Much of Leftism is based upon not being able to get out the two cookies. In fact, their ideas would collapse, the pleasing self-conceits fold, if you got behind the words. And although I still wonder about the epistemological component of language, it does seem obvious that words on the Left are used in replacement of thinking. In essence (as is the nature of the Left), reality it set aside because the political concepts are thought to be most important. And these concepts take on a life of their own. Having floated above reality for so long, reality itself becomes an enemy to these words and concepts.

    So there is a lot of thinking that just doesn’t get done. And what I think happens is this becomes a habit, a habit that soon leads to reliance upon others to do your thinking for you. Whatever the case may be, the deceitful non-thinking idea of “social justice” is reverting us to our dumber, more violent, and inglorious tribal past.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      George Orwell discussed the misuse of language both in his essay “Politics and the English Language”, which can be found in some collections of his work, as well as in the novel 1984 (including the afterword discussing Newspeak). That would be a good place to start.

      • William Lutz wrote a book called Doublespeak in which he chronicles the current Orwellian misuse of language, however, he writes from a decidedly left-of-center position, so it is, while well-organized and informative, rather laughable.

    • Well now, that was an essay in itself. It is true, linguistically speaking that words are a second stage of sorts — if they weren’t we would never be in that frustrating position of not being able to express ourselves adequately, and I doubt other arts would have developed; we could just say what we were “thinking” and not have to play a violin.

      It is also true of English that whereas it is much richer in vocabulary than most languages, it lacks specificity of structure. English has rubbed up against so many other languages early on in its development that we’ve lost a lot of the semantic devices that assist in clarity. That complicates the situation.

      • Kung Fu Zu says:

        “it lacks specificity of structure.”

        It is also why English syntax is so difficult, on the one hand, yet allows for beautiful phrases using unconventional sentence structure, on the other.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve noticed for some years the fundamentally tribal way liberals look at the world, including the legal system. I did a parody for FOSFAX 214 about dividing the US into Left and Right nations, living in accordance with their ideologies. In the former, legal guilt or innocence in criminal trials would be determined not by the facts of the case, but by the identities of the victim and (alleged) perpetrator, and in particular on their relative positions on the hierarchy of Official Victim Group status.

    But to be fair to Jasmine Rand (which is probably more than she deserves), it IS possible to believe that different tribal loyalties are why the alleged perpetrator was not charged, so that the outcry was merely seeking justice. The family claimed at the time that all they wanted was a fair trial. When it didn’t come out as they expected and wished, they changed their mind, so clearly their basis all along was tribal, but some of their supporters may not have been.

  3. MarkW says:

    In my experience, placing social as a modifier for any word is similar in effect to the old style non-.
    Social justics equals non-justice.
    Social science equals non-science.

  4. MarkW says:

    Speaking of languages simplifying over time, why doesn’t spelling do the same?
    Other languages that I’m familiar with, when they adopt a new word from another language, they change the spelling of the word so that it matches the existing rules from that language. English is the only language that I know of that keeps the original spelling.

    Another point is that I may be old fashioned, but I regret that “yee” has been dropped from the language. Having “you” cover both the singular and plural case, in my opinion, causes lots of confusion.

    • Kung Fu Zu says:

      ‘but I regret that “yee” has been dropped from the language. Having “you” cover both the singular and plural case, in my opinion, causes lots of confusion.”

      That’s what “ya’ll” is for.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Properly speaking, that should be y’all (a contraction for you all). “Ya’ll” is a contraction for “ya will”.

        • Kung Fu Zu says:

          I stand corrected!!!

          • Timothy Lane says:

            There’s a nice example of this at the Florence Mall. They had “Florence Mall” on a water tower adjacent to the interstate. Then the feds said they couldn’t have such an advertisement, so they changed it to read “Florence Y’all”.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There are such words in other languages, too. A lot of French purists have been unhappy over “le weekend”, for example. (One of my French readers in high school had a woman pronouncing the word as if it were an actual French word, noting that this would be an incorrect pronunciation.) I also remember reading a short article at the time over other English words imported into French, but I don’t remember them (this was nearly 50 years ago).

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