Friday, September 10, 2004

Thirty-five?
from the mind of  Duke.

Allow me to relate to you a conversation I recently had with my brother:

[him] ...and if we hadn't gone into Iraq unilaterally...
[me] Hold it, define the word 'unilateral' for me.
[him] Alone.
[me] You can't tell me that we went into Iraq alone.
[him] Well, alone or with just a few others.
[me] Ah, you'll have to define what you mean by 'a few' then.
(he obviously saw where I was going with this, because...)
[him] Thirty-five.
[me] Thirty-five? There is no way you can sit there and tell me with a straight face that thirty-five is 'a few'. That is not unilateralism.
[him] But we were prepared to go to Iraq alone. So even if we actually didn't, I can still call what we did unilateral.

Simple isn't it? Of course we acted unilaterally. It just depends on what your definition of 'unilateral' is! And it doesn't even matter which contrived definition you choose, because you can just keep changing it every time you need it to mean something different.

I'm a computer programmer by trade. Programming languages are really nothing more than sets of definitions that are understood by both the human and the computer to mean exact things. This is how you and the computer communicate. Every beginning programmer is at some point astonished that a single misplaced character can cause a million lines of code to fail. This tends to drive home the lesson that if you don't have solid, precise definitions, you have nothing. If you are unwilling or unable to operate within the constraints imposed by the language, you are not a programmer; you are a monkey pounding on a keyboard.

By necessity, natural languages are less well defined than programming languages. But at their core they still rely upon the idea that it's awfully convinient for everyone to have the same words to describe objects and concepts. This is why the exchange with my brother was so disturbing. It wasn't merely that he was using a different definition than I, but that he was changing his definition every time he felt like it.

As long as I'm using the word 'definition' so liberally (ha!) I would be negligent not to consult a dictionary. So let's give that a try:

def·i·ni·tion
Function: noun
the action or the power of describing, explaining, or making definite and clear

Hmm, okay. Let's follow that link:

def·i·nite
Function: adjective
free of all ambiguity, uncertainty, or obscurity

That's it. So look again at my brother's statements. Was he trying to eliminate ambiguity? Or was he knowingly doing the exact opposite? 'Unilateral' is hardly the only word that has suffered such a fate at the hands of those on the left. Think about words like 'terrorist', 'occupation', 'recession', and how many wildly different meanings have been attached to them by liberals over the last few years.

The reasoning behind this is clear: If I don't say anything I can be held to, no one will ever be able to tell me that I'm wrong. Liberals have decided that the application of these and other words has political value, and will endlessly contort themselves to be able to continue to use them, even when the original definitions have long since ceased to apply.

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