Archive for September, 2005

Semantics, Idelogy and Philosophy: Tools of Tyranny

September 10, 2005 Leave a comment

se·man·tics ( P ) Pronunciation Key (s -m n t ks)n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
1) Linguistics. The study or science of meaning in language.
2) Linguistics. The study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent. Also called semasiology.
3)The meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form: We’re basically agreed; let’s not quibble over semantics.

phi·los·o·phy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (f -l s -f )n. pl. phi·los·o·phies
1) Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
2) A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry: the philosophy of Hume.
3) The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
4) The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology.
5) The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
6) A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory: an original philosophy of advertising.
7) A system of values by which one lives: has an unusual philosophy of life.

i·de·ol·o·gy ( P ) Pronunciation Key ( d – l -j , d -)n. pl. i·de·ol·o·gies
1) The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture.
2) A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.

I want to take a few minutes of your time and attempt to break down the semantics, philosophy and ideology of the side of America that I feel is leading us down a similar path of fascism and authoritarianism. Do we have a lexicon that is used to marginalize thought? Is there a system of thought that is being used to control how we think and act? Is there a set of doctrines that the prevailing systems of authority use to narrow discussion and help guide policies that ultimately sabotage us? I feel the answer is yes.

In the title of this post I referred to the three factors as “Tools of Tyranny.” I want to stress that much like a baseball bat, or anything in life, these “tools” can be used for practical or impractical purposes. A baseball bat can be used to play a game or it can be used to violently submit someone. Semantics, philosophies and ideologies have similar capabilities; they can either be transparent, honest, fair, humane and thus beneficial to society or they can be used as tools by tyrannical systems to assist in crimes.

The next thing I want to emphasize before we go on is a simple moral: what Noam Chomsky calls the “principle of universality”: “We should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others – in fact, more stringent ones. Commonly, if states have the power to do so with impunity, they disdain moral truisms, because those states set the rules.”

Are there standards that we apply to ourselves that we do not apply to others? The answer is clearly yes.

If it is “obstructionist” (this particular quote is from pro-war CNN pundit Tucker Carlson) to use veto power over Security Council resolutions proposed by the US then surely the record of vetoes the US has accumulated would be “obstructionist” as well, if we accept the “principle of universality.”

Equally, if it is not okay for Saddam to disobey international law then it is not okay for the US to disobey international law. Resolution 660 condemns Iraq for their invasion of Kuwait due to its apparent violation of the UN Charter and “that there exists a breach of international peace and security.”

We can go on for awhile but I feel the point has been made. An impartial observer would notice that the failing of the application of the “principle of universality” is the balance of power as it exists. There are clear political and military reasons why the US can veto UNSC resolutions and France cannot. It is the same reason why the US can violate international law and invade countries illegally and Iraq cannot: the balance of power is tipped towards the US.

This abuse of power is not uncommon to human history. There are centuries of historical examples that show people, groups, political parties, states and alliances misusing their power for corrupt purposes.

Long before World War Two it became apparent that the US would be a leading actor in global affairs. Even during WW2 the State Department began planning on their role in the Middle East. In a 1944 U.S. State Dept. we learn that: “…oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”

In an August 1990 memo – National Security Directive 45 – spells out the U.S. interests in the region: “U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf are vital to the national security. These interests include access to oil and the security and stability of key friendly states in the region.”

In a 1996 study by the RAND Corporation – a federally funded research company known for it’s studies to justify U.S. policies – stated that a nuclear presence in the Gulf helps secure our interests there: “The dependence of the West and Japan on Persian Gulf oil and the power and wealth that come from controlling that oil guarantee U.S. interest in that part of the world for as far into the future as anyone can see.”

Not long after the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, former National Security Adviser to President publicly stated that control over Iraq’s oil fields “gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region.”

Iraq – with its second largest known reserve of oil – is at the heart of a region very close to Washington’s source of power.


The language we use applies to everything but it is clear that the point of my post is centered on our illegal occupation of Iraq so the country will be my source for providing examples.

One of the clearest examples of the exploitation of semantics in regards to Iraq is the rhetoric aimed at Saddam Hussein, the Ba’ath Party, Sunnis and the crimes we exploit for being there.

The job is not a difficult one since Saddam was a thug who actually did do most of what we claim. What is left out is our role throughout the decades, before, during and after Saddam’s regime.

We claim to be fighting terrorism – an abstract noun – but semantically the word “terrorism” has a “simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.”

Words are shaped carefully to provide the desired effect.

Renana Brooks points this out about President Bush in the Nation:

What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language–especially negatively charged emotional language–as a political tool. Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others.

Fear is also sold to the public semantically and is the dominant feature of successive US administrations. We are constantly sold fears about foreigners, outsiders, evil-doers and other nefarious creatures but are equally constantly shrouded from our roles in conflicts and how those policies and actions make us more vulnerable to threats. President Bush constantly tells us that the war on Iraq is to make us safer from threats we should fear but even the CIA has noted that “Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of ‘professionalized’ terrorists.”

The Wall Street Journal noted before the 2004 Presidential election that:

The White House hopes the 2004 race will be built as much as possible around national-security themes, a staple of the campaign being the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


There is a system of thought that prevails in our society. It tells us we are exceptional, paternalistic and superior. There are not many examples that need to be provided. Religion has historically played a large role in our domestic and foreign affairs.

We see this philosophy in the recent catastrophe in the Gulf Coast. Victims, politicians, media pundits and outraged citizens in the US and around the world question how can the wealthiest country and leader of the so-called “Free World” do nothing and let tens of thousands of people suffer. “How can we help so many people around the world and not help ourselves here at home?”

Much of the American public accepts the notion that we are the World’s police. That we have special privileges linked to our heritage that allows us to make global decisions. It permeates from our National Security Strategy and articles from the press. Foreign Affairs had this article called “America’s Imperial Ambition” where we are enlightened on the fact that “America’s nascent neoimperial grand strategy threatens to rend the fabric of the international community and political partnerships precisely at a time when that community and those partnerships are urgently needed. It is an approach fraught with peril and likely to fail. It is not only politically unsustainable but diplomatically harmful. And if history is a guide, it will trigger antagonism and resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world.” The article is not necessarily arguing against the empire, remember we are worthy of it according to our philosophy, but saying Bush is too aggressive. The problem is the execution; not the goal.


Our ideology is very similar to our philosophy.

The United States of America – so we are told – is sacred. We are special. We are better. Our ideology allows us to point to the flaws of others to make ourselves look better and to allow us to act criminally while hiding behind a veneer of altruism and humanitarianism.

We are a classless, free, democratic society with the right to choose from mostly corporate selections. Whether it is food or politicians.

Most of our press information derives from massive corporations shrinking in a game of consolidation. We call it “free market.” They rely heavily on government press handouts as “official” sources.

Our ideology is demonstrated on the backs of bumpers with stickers that read: “God Bless America” and “Power of Pride.”

This ideology allows us to assert that we are bringing democracy to Iraq. Where imperfections and flaws are mentioned – which are many – we can easily say that nothing is perfect and that it is better than what they had before. It does not have to be true. It merely needs to be said to provide comfort to any doubts that what we are doing is wrong. Nevermind that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had a more progressive and “democratic” (another word that is highly abused in our lexicon) constitution than what it is being drafted up as we speak. Forget about the elections, representatives of Parliament and the social services provided by the Ba’ath Party.

The point here is not to defend Saddam or the Ba’ath Party but to bring up the “principle of universality” again. If a flawed system of government by our creation can be called “democratic” and sign of progress in the region then clearly Saddam’s similar system – or Iran’s system of government – with resemblances of democracy gets the same treatment, right? Under our prevailing ideology the answer is no.


With many more examples that can be illustrated I think what has been provided is useful to demonstrate that there are serious threats to any rational, humanistic and legally sound structure of our global society. The role that semantics, philosophy and ideology play in our society and around the world shares similar features.

There is a lexicon that twists and distorts words into meaningless slogans. We use these slogans for many purposes but mostly to demonize “enemies” and to absolve ourselves in our crimes.

There is a philosophy and ideology that is one-sided, hypocritical, jingoistic and paternalistic and class conscious. These are used in the same way fascism and totalitarianism used them: to rule people with fear and in return get them drunk on nationalism and exceptionalism in order to dupe the masses in accepting crimes that we would not accept from officially designated enemies.

This is symbolistic of the times we face and the choices we can make. According to Isaac Newton every action has an “equal and opposite reaction.” Consider the said existence of thought exists in America today; what will be the equal and opposite reaction?

Categories: Uncategorized

It Took A Hurricane To Awaken Our Humanity; What Next?

September 10, 2005 Leave a comment

I felt something familiar when the Hurricane struck Louisiana. It was that same feeling I had on that infamous September day. It was one of those things that etch itself into your brain eternally.

On Friday August 26, 2005 The White House announced they knew of the threat of Katrina warranted a statement about the “emergency [that] exists.” Sunday August 28, 2005 the local government announced the “mandatory evacuation.” On Monday August 29, 2005 Katrina hit Louisiana. There was never an attempt to assist those who could not leave out of the path of the hurricane. Days went by before the President even met with the cabinet members. Actually, Bush did not even leave his vacation until the day after the hurricane and he first went to San Diego. Vice President Cheney stayed on vacation for days after the storm and Secretary of State Rice went shoe shopping the day the hurricane hit. FEMA did nothing for days.

In Biloxi, Mississippi the local National Guard unit remained on base doing calisthenics and playing basketball while the local townspeople sought refuge at the local middle school across the street. The media referred to black people taking food as “looters” and that white people were “finding” food and water. Tens of thousands have come to my home state as refugees! There is a toxic pool of shit that will have unknown effects on the environment. What more can I add that you don’t already know about? I am sure you have seen the story about the man who lost his entire family so he jumped to his death and opened his head in front of onlookers; children, adults, grieving victims. I am sure you have seen the image and heard the story of the 6 year old boy who took care of half a dozen infants and toddlers because the parents were lost. I am sure we have heard about the distraught police officers who commited suicide.

There are a number of things that bother me about these incidents.

A lot of the suffering could have been avoided. It sickens me to know we left behind tens of thousands of poor people. Race has been an issue but not as big as class. The federal and state governments knew of the danger and did nothing for those they knew were helpless. They were told to go into the Super Dome. Tons of buses were left in New Orleans and there was no effort to remove these people; they were left in a city under sea level, with detiorating levee’s and a massive hurricane on its way.

For decades we have known about the dangers the Gulf Coast faces to hurricanes, especially the levee in New Orleans. In 2001 FEMA reported that a hurricane was a likely disaster. The local newspaper reported consistently about the dangers the city faced and how the funding to repair and improve the levee’s and flood control systems were being cut. There is no excuse.

We could not have stopped the storm but we could have at least offered to assist those left behind out before the storm. We had the chances. On numerous occasions those chances were denied. Policemen, aid and other resources have (some like foreign aid still is pending or being denied) either been denied or told to wait for approval by the federal government.

I do wonder how much of a role the fact that 30% of the National Guard forces (especially units trained to handle such a situation) from Louisiana, relevant equipment and other resources were tied up in the illegal war in Iraq.

I am sure we all have heard Barbara Bush’s insensitve and obviously class-based comment by now. But what troubles me the most is that it had a kernel of truth to it: in some sick and twisted ways these people are better off. They are currently not left to poverty with apathy from us. We are making sure they are clothed, fed, housed and even providing credit cards with free money. People are opening their homes, wallets and time to assisting these people. They are being acknowledged. We are showing that their welfare is an important concern. It bothers me that it took such an incident to recognize and act on what we know is right. People should not be left to live on Desolation Row.

So what does that say about our actions up to this new awakening? What does it say about the portions of the US that resemble a third world country? What does it say about the third world countries? What does it say about Africa, Latin America, Asia and parts of Europe? The world is covered with this wretchedness called “poverty.”

Our leaders talk so much about security and free trade but do next to nothing to provide the basic necessities for all. At this current juncture in time the United States carries a large amount of guilt for many of the problems we face: wars, arms proliferation, and nuclear proliferation, breakdown of sound international laws dealing with peace, global warming, poverty and diseases. An impartial reflection on the current balance of power, how it is shaped and used explains explicitly why the US carries such weight of guilt. It is not about being “anti-American.” It is about acknowledging a basic fact of reality.

I have heard a wide range of comments about the hurricane. Religious extremists from all sides have blamed God for the action. We are told he is punishing the sinners but apparently it is only the poor sinners since the wealthy ones were allowed to escape by the divine one. We are told by a Rabbi that Bush was being punished for approving of the pull-out of parts of the Gaza strip but God punished everyone around but Bush. Perhaps it is the repeat of the story of Job. We have heard it all, most of it is garbage. Some people are looking to blame anyone or anything but themselves. Some even blame the victims.

Some have summarized all the victims by the actions of a small minority. Those looting jewelry and electronics tainted everyone in the eyes of some. Those who have shown to be ungrateful to the assistance receive AFTER the storm has branded all victims as unappreciative burdens who do not deserve to be helped.

Much like with our wars and perhaps personal incidents of our lives we exploit the flaws of others to mask our own flaws. The strategy is a common one to us all.

I think Jesus Christ broke down this flaw with a basic moral. He defined it as hypocrisy:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

With Iraq we point to the speck of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to hide the plank in our own eye. With the hurricane some exploit the personal flaws of victims to hide their hatred, ignorance and lack of concern for others. I am sure we can all relate to the parable in some way – literal or metaphorical.

Another thing that has bothered me is gas prices. The gas we have been pumping into our vehicles at outrageous prices was refined well over a month ago, long before the storm. Gas is not like wine; it does not ripen with age. Oil companies and gas stations have jumped at the opportunity to exploit the storm for profits. It is no coincidence that this recent trend in gas prices (long before the storm) follows a similar pattern in profits being reaped by the oil companies. ExxonMobil and Shell have reported huge increases in their profits but no one hammers them on the obvious link to price gouging.

What else can I say right now? Another crime has been committed against us by our own government and big business is booming off of it. The environment is more vulnerable. We are less secure. We are more in debt and we are turning down assistance for political purposes. The people have awoken with a keen since of humanity but have not recognized the errors of our past.

Will we quietly slope back into apathy and stop caring again? Will our future become more uncertain and the probability of more natural disasters, terrorist attacks, economic depressions and wars increase? Will the guilty get away again and will our government look away at crises profiteering again and again?

I am afraid so but that is up to us. It’s time for the movements concerned about peace, survival and justice to make another move…

Anyway, here are some related articles to the hurricane and other relative information on some of the other obstacles we currently face. I will write more later…

Canadians Beat U.S. Army to New Orleans Suburb

UN Hits Back at US in Report Saying Parts of America are as Poor as Third World

‘Progressive Communities’ Seek to Make a Difference

Israeli Soldiers Tell of Indiscriminate Killings by Army and a Culture of Impunity

Iraq: US Influence ‘Too Much’
By Dahr Jamail

Warnings Went Ignored as Bush Slashed Flood Defense Budget to Pay for Wars

The Dispossessed of New Orleans Tell of Their Medieval Nightmare

Hurricane Katrina and the War in Iraq
by Stephen Zunes

What Cuba Has Offered the People of the Gulf Coast (Venezuela and Russia have also offered help. It has been reported that all three have been down. Rice has claimed Russia was not turn down and that “other” offers were pending…)

Republicans Accused of Witch-Hunt Against Climate Change Scientists

Bush Gives New Reason for Iraq War

Report Scores Runaway CEO Pay, Alleges War Profiteering

Secrecy Shrouds Patriot Act Powers

Iraqi Activist Taken Up by Bush Recants Her Views

Iraq on Brink of Meltdown

The Third Front of the Gulf “Terror”

The Outer Limits of Empire
By Howard Zinn

Some Things You Need To Know Before the World Ends
By William Blum

The Afghanistan Food Crisis
By Noam Chomsky

Great Flood of New Orleans
By Rahul Mahajan

No weapons in space

top 25 censored stories of 2006

The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources

Categories: Uncategorized