WE have sketched a method and described a few foundations for what may some day become a better language structure. With these beginnings the reader may agree. He gives them verbal assent. But the semantic discipline is not to be achieved verbally. One must practice it, as in other disciplines. Training in semantics gets into the reflex arcs of the nervous system and after a while we respond, as an airplane pilot responds to a shift of wind or pressure.
One learns by doing. You ask me, “Do you drive a car?” I reply, “I do.” “All right,” you say, “drive mine.” But if I reply, “No, but I know all about it,” you will not allow me to touch the wheel, if you are in your senses. Schoolchildren are learning semantic reactions with Korzybski’s structural differential. For myself, I try to learn by analyzing everything I read; by listening closely to conversations; by applying the test of operations to statements whose referents are hazy; by asking what, when, where? Semantics provides a method for reaching agreement. On how much can we get together —before the controversy begins? One’s attitude toward argument, political, economic, social, begins to change as he practices. One shifts from the belligerent “You’re wrong!” to “Exactly what do you mean by your statement?”
Says Adam!, “Man is a creature of environment and nothing else.”
Says Adamo, “You’re wrong! Man is solely a product of heredity.”
And so hammer and tongs for two or three heated hours. Suppose that Adam 2 was, as it were, in training. He does not counter with a charge of lying. He mildly asks what Adam x means by “man,” “environment,” “nothing else,” in the context. He notes that the statement is charged with absolutes, is without meaning as it stands, and that there is nothing to accept or refute. Now, says Adam 2 , let us put the matter into a specific situation. Here is Adam 3 living in the slums of New York, an immigrant from the plains of Poland. How much of his behavior is the result of generations of peasantry, how much the result of Rivington Street? Unless Adau^ is a hopeless bigot, he will be interested in the behavior of Adam 3 , and will come down from his high horse. After enough cases are examined, he will probably admit that people are influenced both by their genes and by experience. Mutual referents are thus found; agreement is reached. Then, if Adam! and Adam 2 have nothing better to do, they can commence an argument, on this foundation, as to the relative strength of environment and heredity. Referents are harder to find here. I have been in training long enough not to waste much time with relative strengths—unless the prospects for other diversions are limited. At this point in the discussion, I begin to look about for a game of tennis.
Suppose we try to describe a trained semanticist a decade or more hence. I picture a good-humored young man with quick eyes and a slow tongue. You doubtless know the type and perhaps belong to it yourself. (For “young man” also read “young woman.”) Sensible and tolerant to start with, he has developed these qualities and others until he can make a clear judgment as skillfully as a trained patternmaker stamps a die. He will be aware of the growth and the structure of language. He will have some scientific knowledge about the world outside him on the three levels of macroscopic or normal, microscopic, and submicroscopic; and some knowledge of the senses, the cortex, and nerve currents, inside. He will have a clear idea of what the scientific method means, for which he must perform from time to time a few simple scientific experiments. He will know a fact from an inference as a watchdog knows his master from a chicken thief. He will know when an inference is a sober hypothesis and when it is a drunken extrapolation. He will cut down on his use of the “is” of identity. He will try never to forget that words are as much symbols as p and q and have no power in themselves. He will be extremely conscious of high-order abstractions, constantly on the search for referents, with the operational approach always in his cartridge belt.
He will be wary of terms with emotional tie-ups, such as “rugged individualism” and “sanctity of the home.” He will be practically impervious to most debates, arguments, and heated discussions, except for clinical pur-
poses. He will devote little time to classical philosophy, political commentaries, polite essays, or newspaper editorials, but he will appreciate fiction, poetry, accounts of travel and exploration, and competent research work. His natural sense of humor will be pleasantly exercised by constant search for verbal spooks. His standard of evaluation will be survival and comfort: Does this event seem to contribute to improved conditions of human livelihood, or does it not? About other principles he will be diffident. He will tend, through no particular merit of his own, to become more kindly in his judgments. This is inevitable as he shifts from a one- or two-valued to a multiple-valued standard, and ceases to class “bad” girls or “lazy” boys as wholly bad or wholly lazy. The two-valued logic of absolute choice between “either” and “or” will no longer bind him. He knows that in a given situation there are normally many choices. As he begins to look outside rather than inside, rigidities and hatreds will tend to melt. His country is not going to the dogs because of what a labor leader or a President or a great banker says he is going to do, or even because of what they do. When he takes a stand, it will be based not on hifalutin principles but on factual information. It will be a pleasure to see him fight when the stand is taken.
The young semanticist will realize that he cannot acquire useful concepts by thinking alone. Most concepts also demand doing. It is perfectly hopeless to sit down and think about “money,” “credit,” “democracy,” “sex,” “internationalism.” The cortex turns into a
merry-go-round. No, if he wants more knowledge, he must go outside his mind and observe things in action, take measurements and records, inspect the results of those who have observed and recorded. He knows that if a concept is inconstructible and unworkable in the real world, it is meaningless. And from time to time he remembers Stefansson’s account of the ostrich in The Standardization of Error. The ostrich, by popular accord and definition, is a bird which buries its head in the sand at the approach of danger. Actual or biological ostriches, however, run like hell.
His mind will be open for exciting discoveries in the real world—inventions, new ways of employing energy, new sorts of atoms, finer observations in medicine and physiology, but especially verifiable knowledge about political and social affairs. He will tend to be at peace with his environment, content with the understanding that this is his world and he is a part of it, and not yearning for other worlds whose locations, dates, and compositions cannot be determined.
Pursuit of “fascism” As a specific illustration, let us inquire into the term “fascism” from the semantic point of view. Ever since Mussolini popularized it soon after the World War, the word has been finding its way into conversations and printed matter, until now one can hardly go out to dinner, open a newspaper, turn on the radio, without encountering it. It is constantly employed as a weighty test for affairs in Spain, for affairs in Europe, for affairs all over the world. Sinclair Lewis tells us that it can happen here. His wife, Dorothy-Thompson, never tires of drawing deadly parallels between European fascism and incipient fascism in America. If you call a professional communist a fascist, he turns pale with anger. If you call yourself a fascist, as does Lawrence Dennis, friends begin to avoid you as though you had the plague.
In ancient Rome, fasces were carried by lictors in imperial processions and ceremonies. They were bundles of birch rods, fastened together by a red strap, from which the head of an ax projected. The fasces were symbols of authority, first used by the Roman kings, then by the consuls, then by the emperors. A victorious general, saluted as “Imperator” by his soldiers, had his fasces crowned with laurel.
Mussolini picked up the word to symbolize the unity in a squad of his black-shirted followers. It was also helpful as propaganda to identify Italy in 1920 with the glories of imperial Rome. The program of the early fascists was derived in part from the nationalist movement of 1910, and from syndicalism. The fascist squadrons fought the communist squadrons up and down Italy in a series of riots and disturbances, and vanquished them. Labor unions were broken up and crushed.
People outside of Italy who favored labor unions, especially socialists, began to hate fascism. In due time Hitler appeared in Germany with his brand of National Socialism, but he too crushed labor unions, and so he was called a fascist. (Note the confusion caused by the
appearance of Hitler’s “socialism” among the more orthodox brands.) By this time radicals had begun to label anyone they did not like as a fascist. I have been called a “social fascist” by the left press because I have ideas of my own. Meanwhile, if the test of fascism is breaking up labor unions, certain American communists should be presented with fasces crowned with laurel.
Well, what does “fascism” mean? Obviously the term by itself means nothing. In one context it has some meaning as a tag for Mussolini, his political party, and his activities in Italy. In another context it might be used as a tag for Hitler, his party, and his political activities in Germany. The two contexts are clearly not identical, and if they are to be used one ought to speak of the Italian and German varieties as fascism! and fascism 2 . More important than trying to find meaning in a vague abstraction is an analysis of what people believe it means. Do they agree? Are they thinking about the same referent when they hear the term or use it? I collected nearly a hundred reactions from friends and chance acquaintances during the early summer of 1937.1 did not ask for a definition, but asked them to tell me what “fascism” meant to them, what kind of a picture came into their minds when they heard the term. Here are sample reactions:
Schoolteacher: A dictator suppressing all opposition. Author: One-party government. “Outs” unrepresented. Governess: Obtaining one’s desires by sacrifice of human lives.
Lawyer: A state where the individual has no rights, hope,
or future. College student: Hitler and Mussolini. United States senator: Deception, duplicity, and professing
to do what one is not doing. Schoolboy: War. Concentration camps. Bad treatment of
workers. Something that’s got to be licked. Lawyer: A coercive capitalistic state. Teacher: A government where you can live comfortably
if you never disagree with it. Lawyer: I don’t know.
Musician: Empiricism, forced control, quackery. Editor: Domination of big business hiding behind Hitler
and Mussolini. Short story writer: A form of government where socialism
is used to perpetuate capitalism. Housewife: Dictatorship by a man not always intelligent. Taxi-driver: What Hitler’s trying to put over. I don’t like it. Housewife: Same thing as communism. College student: Exaggerated nationalism. The creation of
artificial hatreds. Housewife: A large Florida rattlesnake in summer. Author: I can only answer in cuss words. Housewife: The corporate state. Against women and
workers. Librarian: They overturn things. Farmer: Lawlessness.
Italian hairdresser: A bunch, all together. Elevator starter: I never heard of it. Businessman: The equivalent of the NRA. Stenographer: Terrorism, religious intolerance, bigotry. Social worker: Government in the interest of the majority
for the purpose of accomplishing things democracy cannot do.
Businessman: Egotism. One person thinks he can run everything.
Clerk: II Duce. Oneness. Ugh!
Clerk: Mussolini’s racket. All business not making money taken over by the state.
Secretary: Black shirts. I don’t like it.
Author: A totalitarian state which does not pretend to aim at equalization of wealth.
Housewife: Oppression. No worse than communism.
Author: An all-powerful police force to hold up a decaying society.
Housewife: Dictatorship. President Roosevelt is a dictator, but he’s not a fascist.
Journalist: Undesired government of masses by a self-seeking, fanatical minority.
Clerk: Me, one and only, and a lot of blind sheep following.
Sculptor: Chauvinism made into a religious cult and the consequent suppression of other races and religions.
Artist: An attitude toward life which I hate as violently as anything I know. Why? Because it destroys everything in life I value.
Lawyer: A group which does not believe in government interference, and will overthrow the government if necessary.
Journalist: A left-wing group prepared to use force.
Advertising man: A governmental form which regards the individual as the property of the state.
Further comment is really unnecessary. It is safe to say that kindred abstractions, such as “democracy,” “communism,” “totalitarianism,” would show a like reaction. The persons interviewed showed a dislike of “fascism,” but there was little agreement as to what it
meant. A number skipped the description level and jumped to the inference level, thus indicating that they did not know what they were disliking. Some specific referents were provided when Hitler and Mussolini were mentioned. The Italian hairdresser went back to the bundle of birch rods in imperial Rome.
There are at least fifteen distinguishable concepts in the answers quoted. The ideas of “dictatorship” and “repression” are in evidence but by no means uniform. It is easy to lump these answers in one’s mind because of a dangerous illusion of agreement. If one is opposed to fascism, he feels that because these answers indicate people also opposed, then all agree. Observe that the agreement, such as it is, is on the inference level, with little or no agreement on the objective level. The abstract phrases given are loose and hazy enough to fit our loose and hazy conceptions interchangeably. Notice also how readily a collection like this can be classified by abstract concepts; how neatly the pigeonholes hold answers tying fascism up with capitalism, with communism, with oppressive laws, or with lawlessness. Multiply the sample by ten million and picture if you can the aggregate mental chaos. Yet this is the word which is soberly treated as a definite thing by newspapers, authors, orators, statesmen, talkers, the world around.
Let us now introduce a man with really exceptional mental equipment. Here is a definition by Harold Laski in a foreword to a recent book on Germany—not Italy, mind you, but Germany.
I suggest the conclusion that Fascism is nothing but monopoly capitalism imposing its will on the masses which it has deliberately transformed into slaves. The ownership of the instruments of production remains in private hands.
A poor-white tenant farmer in Arkansas reading this statement would get almost nothing from it—a succession of blabs. The words and the phrasing are as unfamiliar to him as though Laski were talking a foreign language. A reader of the Ne<w Republic living in New York has no such blank reaction. The statement is to him apparently clear.
But the student of semantics, while he sees well enough what the reader of the Neiv Republic sees, goes further. Meaning in the form of a row of abstractions does not satisfy him. He finds three high-order terms equated and an inference applied to one or all of them: private ownership = capitalism = fascism. He is immediately suspicious of the identification of three tuneless, spaceless, descriptionless entities. He never saw an “ism” imposing its will. He asks what are the referents for “private ownership,” “monopoly capitalism,” and “fascism.” He wonders what is meant by “capitalism imposing its will on the masses,” remembering that this is a stock phrase in socialist propaganda. He thinks of chain gangs, galley slaves, Negroes on plantations before the Civil War. “Ownership of the instruments of production” troubles him as another stock phrase. He recalls how Berle and Means in their Modern Corporation and Private Property show that many legal “owners” of large corpora
tions have nothing to say about their “property.” They collect dividends, if any, and drop their proxies in the wastebasket. “Private hands” worries him more. He knows that whatever titles private persons may hold to property in Germany or Italy, the Government jolly well tells them when, where, and how much to let go of.
In brief, by the time he gets through trying to find referents for these exalted terms, his mind is about as blank as that of the Arkansas farmer. He is not disposed to argue with Mr. Laski, because the apparent meaning has faded into a series of semantic blanks. Laski is not necessarily wrong; he is saying nothing worth listening to. Knowledge cannot be spread, sensible action cannot be taken, on the basis of such talk.
But should not one be afraid of fascism and fight against it? The student of semantics is not afraid of evil spirits and takes no steps to fight them. If he observes, or is reliably informed, of secret societies devoted to seizing by force the United States Government, he may be prepared to fight them. If he sees a citizen or an official preventing other citizens from talking about their grievances or airing their views, he may be prepared to fight. If he observes a group persecuting people called Jews or members of the Negro race, he may be prepared to fight. If the armies of Mussolini or Hitler invade his country, he is prepared to fight. But he refuses to shiver and shake at a word, and at dire warnings of what that word can do to him at some unnamed future date.
The analysis of “fascism” shows what the student of
semantics is likely to find in many departments of human affairs. How much are educational methods in the schools and colleges affected by bad language? How about the learned body of doctrine known as “art criticism,” across whose battered corpus art critics glare angrily at one another? Can appreciation of those forms we label “art” be taught through words, or only at the lower level of direct sense impression? How far is failure of meaning responsible for those grave difficulties between men and women we call “sexual problems”? What is the semantic justification for the people termed “intellectuals”? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they wise, or just wordy? What is the semantic explanation, if any, of “mental healing”? Does the healer eliminate one set of absolutes in the patient’s mind only to install another set?
Do some certified doctors treat names of diseases rather than bodily disorders? Dr. F. G. Crookshank, contributing a monograph to The Meaning of Meaning, asserts that they do, and gives a long case history of “infantile paralysis” to prove it. Dr. Alexis Carrel in Man the Unknown is equally emphatic. He says that physicians must take into account the uniqueness of each patient, and that their chief function is to relieve the sufferings of that patient and to cure him. Many doctors still persist in pursuing abstractions. “Medicine, installed in its palaces, defends, as did the Church of the Middle Ages, the reality of Universals.” There is untold confusion of the symbols indispensable to the creation of a
science of medicine with the concrete patient who has to be treated and relieved.
The physician’s lack of success comes from living in an imaginary world. Instead of his patients, he sees the diseases described in the treatises of medicine. . . . He does not realize sufficiently that the individual is a whole, that adaptive functions extend to all organic systems, and that anatomical divisions are artificial.
The separation of the body into parts for study has been necessary and helpful. But to apply these artificial divisions to the patient-as-a-whole is dangerous and costly both for patient and for physician. Thus many doctors have fallen into the same word traps as the older scientists, with their matter, space, and time as separate entities.
How many of our fixed horrors—of blood, spiders, mice, snakes, thunderstorms, catching cold, darkness, enclosed places, tramps—are fears of words rather than of actual things, of an abstract “spider” rather than of real spiders weaving in a real world? How far can the semantic discipline dissolve these horrors, and restore to us a calm interpretation of our environment? I broke a mild case of snake horror by first studying the characteristics of snakes, then watching them at zoos, and finally allowing a friendly king snake—his name was Humphrey—to crawl up under my vest and out at my neck in the presence of a roomful of people to keep me steady. That ended that. I experienced snakes instead of worrying about Snakes with a capital S. Highbrow and lowbrow. The semantic discipline throws a curious light on what constitutes intelligence. As matters stand, there is a kind of vested interest in intellectual matters claimed by some of us who are handy with our words, especially the long ones. It probably comes down from the time when plain people could neither read nor write, and the priest was both spiritual and intellectual leader. In spite of the indefatigable labor of the modern high-speed press, awe of the printed word persists. Do we word men deserve this homage and respect?
Roberti is a writer and lecturer dealing with social problems. In the dark of the night, turning upon his pillow, he gets an idea. He revolves it on the triangle’s left side. It sounds good. Presently he is writing a book about it, buttressing it with such facts as prove amenable. Publishers are impressed. Even some reviewers bow low at such lofty abstractions, such obvious learning. Adami buys the book and finds it hard going. He puts it on top of the piano, hoping to study it at a later date. Clearly there must be diamonds under the thick rock. The important subject, the long words, deserve intensive drilling. Perhaps they do. More often the book may be left upon the piano, for Roberti has not located many of his referents.
You ask, “What is fire burning?” Robert replies with a knowing look, “Oxidation.” You are awed into silence, although “oxidation” means no more to you than “burning.” Neither does it to him. By using a synonym with
more letters, he takes his place as your intellectual superior. He is often unable to perform or describe the operations which give validity to the concept of oxidation. How often are children put in their places by such fraudulent means? How many professors instructing the young keep their positions because it is widely held that they know a subject when all they know is the symboli-zation connected with it? The fact that one knows the names of insects or plants does not make him a competent biologist.
CincinnatuSi grows corn and hogs in Iowa. He went to work when he was fourteen. He knows about George Washington and the cherry tree, and about Lincoln freeing the slaves. He once read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and now reads the Farmer’s Own Journal, the bulletins of the Department of Agriculture, and the Saturday Evening Post. He was mighty glad to receive his AAA checks, for they saved his farm, but he complains of “long-haired professors” at Washington. Robert! works with words, Cincinnatusa. with his hands. The intellectual deals in abstractions and generalizations, the plain man with the soil, trees, cement, tools. A recent school examination manual reads: “There is nothing in which stupid persons cut a poorer figure than in grappling with the abstract. . . . Their thinking clings tenaciously to the concrete. … It is the very essence of the higher thought processes to be conceptual and abstract.” Thank whatever gods may be for that tenacious clinging! Cincinnatusi has a store of lofty
generalizations of his own, mostly theological, but he is not interested in ideas, or where he fits into the scheme of things—until something like the depression or the drought hits him hard. He is much closer to his referents than is Roberta His meanings are clear where Robert’s are often vague. He handles more Thingumbobs. The plain man by reason of richer firsthand experience may be a wiser human being than the intellectual, and has thus a genuine grievance against those who work sorceries with words.
The difficulty is not that intellectuals deal in words and theory, but that most of them do only half a job. Too frequently they are off chasing ghosts with Plato, Nietzsche, or Spengler. The plain man will not be saved by half-truths, but neither will he be saved by looking down his nose at his manure-spreader. A semantic discipline may provide intellectuals with opportunity to do a real job and assume a leadership which they often do not merit now.
This brings us to a consideration of that worthy human being known as a “liberal.” Referent? Say many readers of the New York Nation. Such people are actuated by love of fair play—a complex balance between intellectual judgments and generous feelings, in proportions varying with each individual. In a given social situation—Spain, Cuba, the Herndon case—they whip from their pockets, as it were, a foot rule of principles concerning “democracy,” “justice,” “liberty,” “free speech,” “the rights of minorities,” with which they proceed to measure the
event, as Mr. Justice Roberts measures an Act of Congress by placing it alongside the Constitution. If the situation does not fit the foot rule, the moral indignation of the liberal knows no bounds. I ask in all seriousness, is this enough to form an intelligent judgment? As the whats, whens, wheres, of the modern world grow more complex, expert knowledge is more necessary than moral judgments. The liberals have recently got themselves into some pretty bad messes in trying to settle the affairs of Puerto Rico, the doctrinal purity of Mr. Trotsky, and certain labor troubles in cooperative and consumers’ organizations. Even legal procedure is getting ahead of them. Compare the efficiency of the new arbitration machinery for settling cases out of court with the aid of technical experts. When a manufacturer sues a jobber in the textile business, and both parties agree to arbitrate, an expert in the textile industry hears the case and makes the award.
The liberal type is too valuable to waste time befuddling itself with foot rules. I prefer to see it, as it sometimes does, modernize its approach to social problems, listen more to experts, reserve judgment, get full of referents rather than of principles and moral indignation. Intelligent individuals generally should stop feeling obliged to have “sound” opinions on every issue. “It is humanly impossible.
The student of semantics will tend to reverse the usual relationships between speaker and listener. If he is the listener, it is the duty of the speaker to use language
which he can understand. This is a cardinal principle of good communication. If the speaker is unable to use words which connect with the listener’s experience, better keep quiet, or talk about the weather. It is the speaker’s task to study his audience, for an audience should not be expected to endure unintelligible noises.
When the speaker is a scientist or a technician, versed in the jargon of his trade, and when the listener wants to learn about earthquakes or bacteria or the technique of marginal trading in Wall Street, then speaker and listener must work hard together, finding common referents. The former keeps his technical terms at a minimum, the latter locates referents as rapidly as possible and adopts the proper technical terms for them. With patience and a little understanding, the communication gulf can presently be bridged.
A man is not a fool because he does not understand your technical language, any more than an American is a fool because he does not understand Persian. In a mixed audience of both specialists and laymen, the speaker must decide, of course, to which group he shall primarily address himself. There is no fixed principle involved, only a general admonition to talk to the people one is talking to, rather than to oneself. There still remain a few wilderness areas on the continent where soliloquies are in order.
“Unfamiliar terms,” says Huse, “are understood by translation into the familiar; abstractions by translation into concrete terms. . . . We have no guide except our
own experience.” What a talisman for authors! We should try to write prose which connects with the maximum number of Thingumbobs in the reader’s experience, and so carries over a maximum of meaning. An obvious corollary” is that good writing for grown-ups may be bad writing for children, and good writing for farmers may be bad writing for factory workers. The test of excellence shifts from rhetoric to the background of the listener.
Side glance at the pedagogues. Teaching children is too often a one-way process. Many teachers shower the pupil with symbols, but because of limited Thingumbobs, the pupil hears little save blab. If he is to pass examinations and not surfer the torture of falling behind in his classes, the pupil may be literally forced into psit-tacism: learning like a parrot, understanding nothing. No one has leaned over him and helped hold the bowstring where symbol and referent meet. When you teach your boy to drive an automobile, handling clutch, brake, and wheel, what an eager student he suddenly becomes! Progressive schools seem to be on the right track when they seek to tie words to things, but frequently their methods are sentimental and artificial. They erect models of a phoney life for children to touch and handle. Also progressive schools sometimes fill youngsters with principles and political opinions. Even if the opinions appear admirable, they are no part of good educational method. Children should be taught to seek facts and delay conclusions if they are going to learn to think.
The “pupil,” observes Henshaw Ward, is an abstraction who can absorb all knowledge, is on fire with zeal, amenable to all improvement. The “pupil” can be trained to all perfections by “education.” But Tommy and Sally are human beings with a surprising power to resent the intrusion of book learning. We should realize that such a Gibraltarlike defense probably has a biological reason behind it. In America we have a faith that all our problems will be resolved by education. We refuse to look at Tommy and Sally sprawled glumly in their seats; we concentrate on education up somewhere in the clouds. “The present orgies of reason at Teachers College will probably seem to the educators of i960 on a par with the belief of Luther that a bodily Satan came through his window.” Two words now dominate the pedagogues, according to Ward, “constructive” and “creative.” To say that a method of teaching is “not constructive” is to utter a curse, while to call it “creative” is to bless it. Meanwhile the going language of educators as expressed in. their learned papers reflects “the most repellent style ever developed by insensitive minds.” Ward is perhaps unduly hard on the pedagogues, but I confess that I fall into a swoon whenever I try to read their output. Much educational theory is apparently up a blind alley at the present time. Perhaps an understanding of semantics might fetch it out upon the main road.
The semantics of sex. In the department of sexual behavior, as in other departments, it is difficult to draw a line between language habits and the folkways tha#’
accompany them. We can be reasonably sure that language influences folkways at the growing tip, the point where customs shift and change. Sometimes words apply a brake to change. A public man may orate about the sanctity of the home and urge that divorce be made harder when he knows that his own son is even then consulting with a lawyer to frame evidence for a collusive divorce. This does not necessarily indicate hypocrisy. He may be sincerely defending a principle to which his son’s dilemma is a regrettable exception. It is like paying relief money while denouncing the dole.
Reformers try to change institutions largely by means of words. Years ago people began to talk about the -emancipation of “woman,” but many talkers continued to treat their wives like dummies. Arguments for the “equality of the sexes” fell into a swamp of false identification: woman = man. This is an overswing of the pendulum from the principle of feminine inferiority. Both principles are meaningless in the light of operations. A woman is not a man and is not inferior to a man, but is an organism with certain different characteristics.
For centuries the concepts associated with the words “masculine” and “feminine” hindered the education of both sexes. A boy in his efforts to live up to the abstraction “masculine” would try to be virile, dominating, dissipated, chivalrous, overtouchy about his honor, convinced of his intellectual superiority, and so on. A girl would try to be submissive, abnormally modest, given to fainting spells, coy, full of nonsensical notions about
clinging vines, convinced that her poor silly head was incapable of adding up a column of figures, and so on. This process of monster-making threw grave difficulties in the path of John and Mary when they fell in love. Neither could know much about the real characteristics of the other, because of the artificial concepts with which the heads of both were stuffed. When they were silent they might become real youth and maiden; when they opened their mouths they often could not find each other for the bales of straw scarecrows between them.
Into this extreme differentiation of the sexes, the words about “equality” swept like a fresh wind. Many men gave up with a sigh of relief the attitude of protecting women. Many girls and women struggled against biological limitations to surpass their brothers in sports, and their husbands in money-making. The pendulum is still swaying between the artificially contrasted roles of the sexes and the artificially identified roles that succeeded them. If “equality” had not befuddled us, we might have analyzed the real differences and developed them to enrich the lives of both men and women.
What can ive know? If the semantic analysis is accepted, one may legitimately inquire, What can we know? Granted the maps we now carry around are distorted, where shall we find better ones? If Adam/s map of the Spanish situation today is dotted with nonexistent “fascisms,” “communisms,” “anti-Gods,” “anarchisms,” what can be done to replace it?
It is one thing to create semantic defenses against an
erroneous picture; it is another thing to draw a better picture. After all, one feels impelled to discuss the Spanish situation, to have ideas about it and express C them, to form judgments, to support one side or the other, to refer the problem to public policy in America, to vote and to act in respect to Spain—or Mexico, or China, or Youngstown in the midst of a steel strike. One is inclined to say, “My map may be wrong, but it is the only map I have, and so better than none.”
For myself, I would rather make my way with pocket compass than with a map I knew to be inaccurate. If the Spanish situation furnishes no dependable facts, I should prefer to keep my mouth shut. This is hard for people with active brains, but the semantic discipline demands it. When one does not know what he is talking about, he had best keep quiet. If there is no “constructive” action in sight, it is unfortunate, to be sure, but better to accept it than to go drawing pictures of terra incognita in the zeal for being “constructive.”
No completely accurate picture of any situation involving large numbers of people in action, especially violent action, can be formed by one individual. The characteristics are too complex. But no completely accurate map was ever drawn by a topographer. Maps good enough to chart a course can be drawn when enough facts are gathered, and that is as much as laymen can ask for in social affairs. It is ridiculous, of course, to hold that no judgment can be made, no action taken, until we have personally acquainted ourselves with all the relevant
facts of every social situation which confronts us. One must find competent people whose observations can be trusted. For foreign affairs, journalists like John Gunther and Raymond Swing come to mind. They report what they see, not what they would like to see. One must do a certain amount of estimating as to where the balance lies.
What the semantic discipline does is to blow ghosts out of the picture and create a new picture as close to reality as one can get. One is no longer dogmatic, emotional, bursting with the rights and wrongs of it, but humble, careful, aware of the very considerable number of things he does not know. His new map may be wrong; his judgment may err. But the probability of better judgments is greatly improved, for he is now swayed more by happenings in the outside world than by reverberations in his skull.