November 11 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Our beliefs are more than words

— Professor Patrick Reilly says language should try to reflect reality, not browbeat it by changing ‘marriage’

The greatest, single source of torment for the harassed hero of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is that, under Big Brother, words turn bewilderingly into the opposite of what they originally, naturally meant, as ideology supplants reality: war is peace, slavery is freedom, ignorance is strength. The meaning of words is now owned by Government; old, immemorially accepted meanings lie buried deep and inaccessible under the new mandatory definitions. Winston, in the end, cannot find his way out of this manmade jungle of planned obfuscation.

There are echoes of this Orwellian Newspeak in talk today about pluralism, social inclusion, toleration, discrimination, and to the growing list we can now add sectarianism and marriage. For many centuries, everyone knew what these words meant. Consider, for example, toleration. ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ Voltaire would have been surprised at how his championship of free speech has been misconstrued and misapplied today. He meant that people have a right to be wrong. However convinced you are that someone is talking nonsense does not in itself entitle you to stop him talking or punish him for doing so. Voltaire did not mean that all views are equally valid—himself a man of very strong beliefs, he spent his life denouncing views he considered false. So it did not follow, for him, that the right to say something means that something right is being said. A man has the right to be wrong, but not to insist that others must share his error. Toleration is not approval. A man may get drunk, be a glutton, gamble recklessly, be promiscuous, but he has no right to restrict other people’s freedom to criticise his behaviour. If he is free to act, they are free to censure. He must not presume to dictate to others how they are to regard his conduct, nor condemn them for finding his conduct remiss.

Today there is a deliberately manufactured confusion aimed at subserving the interests of one particular ideological group that is voraciously imperialist in its pursuit of power. Hence the strategically contrived muddle over the meaning of words like tolerate, discriminate and marriage. Etymologically, to tolerate means to put up with, to treat with indulgence and forbearance—we tolerate ‘bad’ things, not good, and we do so because the price of eliminating them would be too high. Physiologically, tolerance refers to an organism’s capacity to endure the effects of a poison or other noxious substance when taken over a long period. It would be nonsense to talk of tolerating a fine single malt and dangerous nonsense to talk of tolerating one’s wife. We don’t talk of tolerating good things. How was your accommodation? Barely tolerable, answers the returning holiday-maker. He means that had it been just a fraction worse, he would have caught the first flight home. It is not the answer that his travel agent, eager for more business, wants to hear.

The word ‘toleration’ has gone up in the modern world, acquiring in its upward mobility a much higher valuation than it once possessed. To be tolerant is now the highest praise we can appropriate or bestow. This is because, unlike Voltaire, we have been brainwashed into believing that in the bazaar of modern opinions and lifestyles, all are completely and indifferently equal and that none must claim to be better than others: different, yes, better, no. As tolerate rises, so words like judge and discriminate fall, becoming synonyms for repressive, coercive, uncompassionate. When used of a statistical test, ‘discriminatory’ actually means unbiased. Now, at the dictate of political correctness, it means biased, unfair, prejudiced, bigoted, startlingly twisted into its opposite. A man of discrimination: once it was a term of praise, honouring an ability to be laudably discerning. Now, from being a virtue to be cultivated, it has become an evil to be deplored. Soon Orwell’s fiction will be fact: our dictionaries will have to be rewritten to match the dogmas of the new politically-correct elite. Relativism rules. The only truth is that there are no truths; the only true belief is that there is no true belief.

But to tolerate is not to endorse. The promiscuous man, the drunkard, the gambler go too far when they say that we must like them as well as lump them, that we must approve their behaviour because we tolerate it. We may legitimately prefer sexual fidelity, sobriety, self-control as superior values. It is the liberal refusal to recognise this right that is at the core of the dispute over same-sex ‘marriage.’ Many people, regarding traditional marriage, as it has been defined and accepted for millennia, as a unique and inimitable value, feel that they are being bullied by a dictatorial, self-constituted clique into approving what they already tolerate, and, for them, this is a demand too far. But in these matters nobody is more illiberal than a liberal; to disagree with them is to be branded a bigot, and the testimony of ages counts for nothing against their beliefs. They are right and there’s an end of it.

We prefer the more tolerant attitude of Christ. He forgave the woman taken in adultery and would not allow her to be stoned, but neither did He sanction her lifestyle. He did not say that adultery was as good as marriage or that we have carte blanche to do our own thing without fear or criticism. He said, go and sin no more—a command that liberals today will condemn as impertinent, intrusive and meddlesome.

To uncover what lies beneath the deliberate distortion of words today, we must expose the hidden agenda of these distorters. Consider the sinister perversions of meaning inflicted upon the concept of social inclusion. Its original, declared aim was the laudable inclusion of all within a free society—integration without assimilation—but, far from being a boon and a deliverance, it has ominously modulated into a threat and an intimidation: a Mafia-like offer that we dare not refuse. Not pluralism itself, but the peculiar interpretation and partisan implementation foisted upon it—this is the concern.

What should mean equal rights for all has been skewed to serve the interests of an anti-religious ideology that arrogates to itself the sole right to decide unilaterally what does and does not qualify as truth, what teachings do and do not possess a real cognitive content.

Pluralism has been hijacked and diverted to a very different destination from that originally proposed.

The fact that there are a number of differing views is now used, in the name of pluralism, to demote all, save one, to the status of mere opinion—only the liberal view is granted the status of being objectively true, and to dissent from it is to be vilified as reactionary and obscurantist. The so-called, vaunted ‘openness’ of pluralism is perverted into a strategy for achieving the goals of one group, thereby enabling them to impose their view upon everyone else. This is where the scam, the duplicity and fraud of pluralism as currently interpreted, are glaringly apparent. Orwell is again our best guide: all views are equal, but one is more equal than all the others.

The intolerance of liberalism is exposed. Liberals claim to love liberty, but the only liberty they love is their own. Words are wrenched from what they have meant for many centuries, frog-marched to suit the aims of proselytisers determined to reshape the world into their own secular image. This is what lies behind the deliberately engineered quarrel over marriage. For thousands of years, long preceding the Christian era, marriage was accepted and established in all cultures all over the world as a relationship between man as husband and woman as wife. It is rooted in both nature and human nature. It came before civil society—it came first because without this all-important, indispensible building block, society itself could not exist or endure.

The Catholic Church did not invent marriage; it found it existing as something natural and good, and sanctified it, raising it to a sacrament and a source of grace. The proposed new legislation seeks to challenge and usurp nature in favour of political correctness, redefining the word to placate the wishes of a minority it aims to gratify. But words, as Doctor Johnson—himself a great master of words—said, are the daughters of earth while things are the sons of heaven; or, as Burns put it, facts are chiels that winna ding. Changing the meaning of words will not change the nature of reality. China calls itself a people’s democracy and Hitler redefined Jews as vermin, but the rest of the world thinks otherwise. You can deny the law of gravity if you choose, but you will still fall to the ground if you step off the top of a building. Language should try to reflect reality, not try to browbeat it. For, in the end, whatever we may propose, reality will prevail and any mistaken attempt to bully it into obliging our predilections will surely end in disaster.

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