Another clue that children find language difficult is that they become agitated when someone speaks the 'wrong' language. An English-German bilingual child, Danny, was speaking to a German-speaking researcher; trying to help, his mother (who normally only used English with him) asked, Was macht der Vogel? ("What's the bird doing?") Danny, startled, told his mother, Nicht 'Vogel'! ("Not Vogel!") He point[ed] to the researcher and said Du Vogel ("You bird"), and to his mother and said Du sag 'birdie' ("You say birdie").So Lisa did not simply know Italian or German; she knew each as a language-game limited to certain people. We see thus the importance of associative load. Now clearly Vogel and birdie do refer to very real things; in other words, they are denotationally sound. They are not emotionally loaded at all. The exosemantic content also cleaves perfectly between German and English, or more precisely in this case, between those meant to speak German and those meant to speak English, according to Danny, and it thus proves vital to Danny's ability to make sense of the world through language—and further, we thus see how an exosemantic mismatch, as it were, such as that of Danny hearing his mother speak in German, leads naturally to emotional responses, effectively coloring the connotation of anything heard in a language when it is spoken by the "wrong" person.
Another example: an Italian-German bilingual girl, Lisa, became upset and started to cry when an Italian friend spoke to her in German. On another occasion, Lisa's father said something to her in German, and she responded, No, tu non puoi! ("No, you can't!") Keeping two largely unknown language systems separate is a tricky task, and associating each with different people helps: Lisa can count on knowing that whatever Daddy says is Italian. If anyone in her life could use either language at any time, the learning task would become much harder.
But not all words have the usage-convenience of having their exosemantic content superordinate and prior, and not subordinate or consequent, to their denotational and connotational content. Imagine a term with a broad, unclear denotational scope and a thousand-pound emotional load. Then imagine that its usage can expand to apply to what a certain group sees fit. Imagine that it is used to negatively brand a group who, in response, continually attempt to shrink the scope of the word, reinforcing its already established emotional load. Would this word not be a very dangerous thing?
Language is the scaffolding of thought—and, despite our best efforts at being reasonable and impartial, a scaffolding of emotion and of identity—and we cannot afford to lay meager or ill-formed foundations. If children growing up with two languages learn to rely on group identity markers to help keep them separate, how much more tenuous must our access to clear thinking be if we have different groups using the exact same words, within the same political system, to mean completely different things? Here we come upon the problem of pseudology.
Moldbug notes the problem of pseudology when he describes the language democratic governments have developed to describe democracy negatively.
One of the many divine paradoxes in our political formula is the double valence of democracy. This word, its declensions, its synonyms, carry positive associations well up in the sacred range. Deep in your medulla, warmth glows from everything democratic. Yet at the same time, we have a related family of words, such as politics and its declensions, which seem to mean exactly the same thing - yet reek of heinous brimstone.So democracy is a positive pseudolog. It's supposed to mean something good, but bad things develop when we try to apply it. Its connotation is in a struggle against its denotation. The fine form of government we burden our imagination to conceive is being overwhelmed by negative input from reality. So, by some mystery, there's a filtering process: the negative connotational load is shifted onto other words. When the National Front wins even the smallest election in France, partisanship becomes the ostensible enemy of democracy. The wrong people won—that can't be true democracy! Likewise, the Soviet Union wasn't true communism.
In simply naming pseudology, we are doing linguistic magic. This magic comes in black and white:
As a language evolves, its speakers gradually engage in unconscious versions of both kinds of magic. The English word cream, for example, comes—through the French crème—from a word that meant "skin" four thousand years ago. And when new technologies are developed, languages must adapt by establishing new terminology. These are natural and often unpredictable changes.The key of black magic is the art of naming the nameless, of showing that that which appears natural—that is, ideology in the true sense—is not. A secure ideology (in the man-on-the-street sense of “political memeplex”) is one that has no name. What is the name for that on which American liberalism and American conservatism agree? What is the name for that on which Americans agree? Liberalism is an -ism; conservatism is an -ism; but talk of justice, of human rights and freedoms, is not.But practical politics relies much more on white magic: building an ideography, a set of words, or ideographs, with connotational/emotional and exosemantic/thede-signaling loads pointing in the direction desired by the ideography’s builders. This is the essence of Moldbug’s concept of ‘idealism’.
But words like democracy don't develop the relationship they have with words like populism for the same reasons cream doesn't mean "skin". That a pseudolog used as a positive ideograph would need to externalize its negative semantic baggage onto other words is far from unpredictable.
Simply naming words like democracy as pseudologs is only the first step in repairing our language from their distortion. It's the same black magic act Moldbug uses in naming the progressive latté-sipping crowd Brahmins, as opposed to the mere-middle-class Vaisyas who go to church and vote Republican, not to mention the other castes he names. But the next step, when it comes to pseudological language, is to perform the opposite operation:
There are two operations in black magic: definition and undefinition. Moldbug defines America’s castes; graaaaaagh undefines ‘racism’. Definition consists of redrawing the semantic map of the territory of the world—in rationalist terms, cleaving reality at its joints; undefinition consists of showing that an existing piece of the semantic map does not accurately represent the territory of the world, that it folds together things that ought to be separated, and that it obscures thought by doing so, such that, for example, an attack on one thing that falls under the term can be taken to refute another thing that falls under it, to which the attack at hand does not apply.So the solution to the problem of pseudological language is to undefine it, as before with "racism". In that case, we noted the three common denotational uses or meanings of the word:
a. a preference for one's own race over others
b. an understanding that racial differences are of practical consequence
c. a hatred of other races
James Watson, the biologist who co-discovered DNA, is clearly accepting of b. He was recorded in 2007 as saying:
[I am] inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.This attracted "fury", of course—but why fury? Why not mere smug disagreement? Certainly a debate could be had about whether Watson's statement is correct. The heritability of intelligence could be discussed; the validity of the relevant data could be called into question; different hypotheses could be put forward as to Africa's future. Why didn't Watson get this kind of respect? Because Watson isn't just an "essentialist" or a "genetic determinist"—he's a "racist", as it were.
It would be bad enough if he were simply called an "essentialist", but that label doesn't have the presence, the connotational strength, of "racist". There are a lot of bad things you can call someone, but the stench of "racist" can make turpentine seem fit for a scented candle. When the other words throw parties upon the pages of Brahmin texts, they invite "racist" to roast him.
So under definition b., James Watson is a "racist". Adolf Hitler was also a "racist". But James Watson is not anything like Adolf Hitler. Watson, as far as we can tell, does not express either a. or c., but this does not absolve him of "racism". How useful can a term be if it lumps James Watson with Adolf Hitler? Monumentally so, as it turns out, so long as you've got the long end of the semantic stick. What better way to dismiss a dissenter from your group's ideology than to brand him with a label which, first of all, is universally acknowledged to be bad, and secondly, can be denotationally redefined as your group sees fit?
So "racist", in progressive discourse, is a negative pseudolog, just as democracy is a positive one. You will note the inverse relationship: When you're told that a certain electoral victory was not an example of "real democracy", the implication is of course that real democracy is a Very Good Thing. When a conservative says that progressives are "the real racists", the implication is that the real thing is a Very Bad Thing. In other words, the progressive wishes to distance his sweet ideal from the unpleasant results of its application, while the conservative who chooses to use progressive language must distance himself from what progressives hate. The contours of this language-game reveal the power dynamic behind it.
Thus conservatives who make use of progressive ideographs—pseudologs no less—are playing a fool's game. Because progressives have the power to enforce their definition of "racism" and conservatives do not, for the latter to use the word against progressives serves only to strengthen to negative connotation of the word—thus making it an even more effective ideograph for progressives to use against conservatives. If you speak your enemy's language, you have already lost the game.
Pseudology in general is not as easily avoided as simply refraining from speaking the enemy's language, however; it is natural for a thede to weaken a word's denotational specificity for the sake of maximizing its connoational and exosemantic utility against an elthede. But when you and yours are elthedish to a class whose political formula has a well-established record of success, the identification and undefinition of pseudological language takes on a certain necessity.