“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.”
~Philip K. Dick
That’s a sobering quote, right there. It’s one that I have played particular attention to since I began my show–Sovryn Tech
–almost three years ago. Language is, very literally, everything.
What we call things gives us much of our understanding of a thing. Even if we don’t know the full etymology of a word, we often recognize various parts of it from other words that we know, which then consciously or unconsciously colors our perceptions. It’s true.
One time, in a very unfortunate family situation that I lived in, I remember calling myself a “libertarian”. The woman who heard this thought that the word equated to “ultra-liberal”, and while equating that word to “classical liberal” would have been pretty accurate, the idea of “ultra liberal” is clearly off base. Sure, libertarians are considered “socially liberal”, but when the woman called me “ultra liberal”, well, you can get the sense of the demonizing being done there.
But then, you can sense the demonizing because that word “liberal” means something to you. And if you’re reading this blog, it might be a good bet that you see it as a negative connotation (little known secret about me, though, when I gave a shit about the political system–aka, pre-anarchist–I was a Democrat). See my point, again?
So I think there are a lot of very deep concepts that we as humans misunderstand because the language we use (particularly English, in this case) creates…well…misconceptions. In fact, let’s start off with that word “human”.
Technically, the modern-day human is known as Homo sapiens. The word homo means earthly being or man, and the word sapiens means wise or knowledgeable. They are words that describe humanity just fine as we are now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its problem. What I think it does is separate us from our origins, from where we came from. It makes us different from the animals, and thus gives us perhaps an undeserved sense of importance. And frankly, we’re not so far removed from some of our animal brethren. The chimpanzee. The bonobo. Incredibly closely related to us. Most primates belong to the genus Pan (instead of Homo), and I’ve often wondered why humans themselves aren’t just part of the Pan genus? Likely, it comes out of some degree of religiousity. Some notion that we are special under some kind of omniscient being. And I think this may give humans the attitude that they are above nature. That they are above everything around them, when in reality they are just another part of it. Certainly people are special, but also certainly we are NOT “all connected, man”, though we are part of a larger biosphere that allows us to grow and thrive. We are little different than the animals. And accepting these facts may bring a tremendous amount of respect and understanding towards the human condition. With this in mind (and I’m not the first one to think of this), I’ve come to call humans Pan sapiens–instead of Homo sapiens–whenever I bring it up on Sovryn Tech. Because I think it better highlights our origins, our place in the grand operations of the universe, and just how much further we have to go, perhaps. It’s a very fine-pointed distinction, I agree, but I find it an important one. Accept it, folks, we are animals, straight up. And it’s time we started acting like it (Notice how few other members of the animal kingdom engage in mass murder of their own kind? Yeah, maybe we could take some notes from our origins).
But please, I’m not here to condemn human achievement, by any means. I’m not here to create a rallying cry against civilization and technology. Far from it. I’m just interested in refining our understanding of things.
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.”
~Arthur C. Clarke
Ever thought about that one from the great Mr. Clarke? Our world–our “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan would call it–is mostly covered in ocean, not habitable land. Why isn’t it called “Ocean” instead of “Earth”? Without getting into some kind of Pangea-style argument, I wonder if because we consider land so important on this planet, is that what lends us to thinking we can just dump toxins or detonate nuclear bombs in the oceans? Is there an unconscious priority given to habitable mounds of dirt because of the very name of our planet? If it were called Ocean instead, would there be an unconscious reverence for water? Water is so important to our existence, it’s hard to believe there’s any need for more motivation to have healthy aquatic bio-regions, but maybe there is? While today saying a phrase like “Life on Ocean” would be incredibly confusing without context, perhaps we could try using it anyway as our planets new name? I’m tempted to start calling our planet “Ocean” on Sovryn Tech from now on. Crazy idea? Yeah, maybe. But I think it’s fun.
Here’s one for the conspiracy theorists out there. On Sovryn Tech I’ve had a long standing “rule” to call the United States of America (because there’s also a United States of Mexico, technically, you know) not by that name, but by “the Colonies”. Some conspiracy writers have theorized that Britain may have only temporarily–if at all–lost control of those original colonies that later became the USA (and I’m not saying I necessarily believe it). Now, that’s not exactly the reason I like to call the US the “Colonies”, it actually comes from the lead singer of the phenomenal metal band, Whitesnake’s David Coverdale. When he is on tour in the US, and elsewhere when he references the US, he calls it the Colonies. While I don’t know that he necessarily means to insult the USA, I find that it sounds like an insult, and really, I like insulting the USA (the government, that is, I think the land itself is unique and particularly gorgeous, especially New England). Another finer point I appreciate in calling the US “the Colonies” instead, is that to my mind it highlights the notion discussed by the likes of Leland B. Yeager and others that the United States was actually more free when it was under the rule of King George. More free by a long shot. And not just that, but potentially a monarchy is more free than a republic or democracy. Of course, I’m an anarchist, and I don’t generally support incrementalism (we’ll never get anywhere with that), but I really appreciate the way the idea of monarchies being more free challenges the mainstream ideologies in America today. So you see, calling the United States of America “the Colonies” strikes up conversation and thought in a way few things can. How about that for the power of words?
No, really. This has to stop. And King George can solve this one, too, ironically. Seriously, though, you can’t have a genuine, serious conversation about our solar system without laughter every time you mention this–in hindsight (woo, punned you there, too)–unfortunately named planet. While it had multiple names to choose from upon its rediscovery (what?) in 1781–including Hypercronius (which, hint hint, is the name of my first PC game that you can buy here
)–and of those very early settled on names it was not originally going to be Uranus, as that name was chosen only out of a degree of consistency, since all of the other planets are named after various gods. Oh yes, the original name for Uranus was Georgium Sidus
(translated: “George’s Star”), after King George III. Honestly, I like it. And so what if it’s named after a king? That’s no worse than being named after a god. At least King George III actually existed, as to where no god does. While I’ve yet to use this in my own parlance as yet, I think I plan on calling Uranus Georgium Sidus
instead post haste
. Because there are tremendous possibilities related to that planet (SEE: Colonizing Uranus
, har-har), and we’d be better off if we could get through those discussions without having to stop for sherry and giggles halfway through.
There are many more words and names that this could get applied to, and maybe in the case of English, in particular, the whole style of the language could use an overhaul (SEE: Non-violent Communication
, which I both support, try to use, and appreciate). Maybe you think this is all far too drastic, and there are more important things to worry about. Yeah…maybe. However:
- I think it’s fun to do and toy with.
- I think it all may actually do more good than harm.
- Why not?
So, call me crazy if you wish (you’re far from the first person, you should see what happens when I mention using Base-12 math), but I bet I got you to think about things didn’t I just by questioning a few terms?
Those powerful, powerful words…