Saturday, November 24, 2007

Race, Ethnicity, And Culture

Words can have more than one meaning. The definition of a word is not necessarily that which is in the dictionary. In some cases, the dictionary may provide more than one definition for a word, and yet still not cover all of its popular usages.

Largely, a word is defined by how people use it.

However, when we are debating important issues, with an eye towards eventually influencing public policy, it is important that those of us who are on various sides of an issue tighten up our definitions, so that we can come to an agreement on precisely what we mean to say. The first step in a debate is to define our terms. If a word is being used in a sloppy manner, then it muddies up the water of debate.

The engine of a word is its definition. The word can accomplish nothing if it does not have some sort of agreed upon meaning. This is not to say that words may not have multiple meanings. They certainly may. Often the multiple meanings may cause a kind of diffuse cloud of meaning in the collective mind of our society. Sometimes, as with a word like love, or family, such a diffuse cloud of meaning may be desirable, because the feeling we have of love and/or family is so large an all-encompassing that we don't believe a precise definition the feeling any justice. This is the land of poetry.

The words ethnicity and culture are extensions of our feeling of family. First, there is family. Out of family comes community. Out of community comes culture. Because these words grew out of family, since the ideas which make up the definitions of such words are complex with emotion, since community and culture are, in a sense, extensions of what is known as the "family romance", they betray the elasticity of meaning in language.

I am certainly not trying to kill poetry here, nor am I trying to kill that which is undefinable in culture.

However, if a person uses a word and yet can not tell you exactly what they mean by the word at the center of the argument, then their argument, to some extent, lacks meaning, not only for the individual making the argument, but also for the person hearing the argument. Indeed, the person on the receiving end of the argument will likely have an entirely different idea of the ideas being discussed.

This happens, in particular, when certain words have one meaning for public use, and yet another occult meaning which is shared only by initiates. We recognize that there are people who use words in such ways so as to pull off sleights of meaning. An example is the use of the word "rock n' roll" back in the 1950's. The word sounded innocent enough to parents. "Oh yes, my kid likes that rock n' roll music." But, of course, the occult definition of the word "rock n' roll" was to have sex. Thus the innocent sounding music of the rock n' roll genre betrayed a worldview which was much less innocent than parents may have been led to believe. As such, the word had a subversive quality.

If the Vlaams Belang and its members are using words such as ethnicity and culture in a subversive way, then we ought to be aware of it? Agreed?

I contend that, thus far in the current blog war, the word ethnicity is being used to mean both race and culture. If this is so, then let us be clear about it. In order to clear up such confusion, I would suggest that we define our terms so we are all talking about the same thing. Instead of using the words "ethnicity" and "culture" as synonyms, let us use, instead, the words "race" and "culture", so that we know what we mean, and so people like DeWinter can not pull any sleights of meaning by using words with double definitions, one for the public purview, and one with an occult meaning intended only for initiates.

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