Words are Important

This morning my wife and I were briefly discussing quantum physics. Yes, we do that sort of thing; up and feed the dog, let him out and then some coffee in the bedroom with her sitting up in the bed and me ensconced in my thinking chair. Sometimes we talk about family, sometimes about our schedules (not so much in the time of COVID) but often we discuss philosophy, theology, physics (her bailiwick, not mine), cosmology and on Saturday and Sunday mornings the scores of the high school and college football teams we follow (mostly local and Division III). So, back to this morning where midway into our conversation I suddenly realized we were talking from two different perspectives about what “quantum” actually meant. We’ve had this issue before regarding other topics where I’ll be using a word to describe something and she’s thinking of the same word but it has a different meaning for her. Our favorite, and one on which we’ll never reach consensus is “Conspiracy.”

This is a problem I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions but needs to be continually brought up in the context of trying to reach a consensus on solutions for problems. It is one of the reasons U.S. negotiators too often get taken for a ride in international negotiations. My last monograph was “Whose Truth” wherein I explored how the same fact could be presented in different ways. The same holds true with words. Let’s say we’re going to attend an international conference on peace in the Middle East. Right there we have a problem for no one has defined what “peace” means. To us it means not just the absence of conflict but an in place system where different cultures reside within the same area with mechanisms to protect individual liberties for all inhabitants. To others coming to the conference it means the absence of conflict held in place by an overriding authority which controls all inhabitants through fear and the exercise of power. So, the conference is doomed to fail before it begins because there was no agreement on what “peace” meant.

What does “liberty” mean, what does “freedom” mean, what does “republic” mean? All these, and more, are words in play during our ongoing shouting sessions, especially in Presidential election years. Yet, there is no standardized meaning of the words being used by the multiple sides engaged in those shouting matches. We no longer teach Civics in our school systems having replaced it with something called Social Studies that concentrates more on the differences that exist in our society than on the system of government which is supposed to protect individuals while providing a strong structure “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”.

Too many of our citizens are illiterate regarding their responsibilities in our system of government. Polls indicate that only 32% of American citizens know the three branches of government. That means 68% don’t know the basics of our republic. Fewer than a third of our citizens can actually define what “impeachment” is and even fewer know that Federal judges can only be removed through the same impeachment process as is used for Presidents. Again a large majority cannot define what a “Democratic Republic” is even though they live in one.

I ascribe this problem to three entities; the education system, the media and the professional political class which has been allowed to grow up in this republic. If we had a requirement for each person to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before they are eligible to receive a high school diploma we would have more logical discussions of political issues. If we had a media and opinion givers more attuned to serving the public than frightening it, we would have less shouting and more conversations. If we replaced the professional political class with actual citizens who were giving up careers temporarily to serve in government we would have a more temperate, more collegial atmosphere in that government. Of course, I favor term limits, (see my blog “If I Ran the Zoo,”) I also favor a whole host of other ideas that would lessen the power these professional politicians hold over the people they’re supposed to be serving. Like taking control of how the House and Senate are run. Allowing members to set their own rules is like hiring a fox to guard the henhouse. Employers set the rules for how companies will run and these people are supposed to be our hired representatives thus we the people should be setting the rules for how things are done. Perhaps the concept of allowing two political parties to control the country is now a passé concept since many of the members in those party hierarchies are not elected by the people. Perhaps getting a handle on campaign financing will help.

We can do these things but not until we’re all using the same dictionary to define terms. I’d be interested in your ideas on how that might come to pass.

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