The Value-Laden Language of the Left

As Nietzsche presciently observed over a hundred years ago: "All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside-down."

Political nomenclature has always tended to be value-laden.  Start with the watershed movement known as "the Enlightenment."  The term itself means coming into the light — i.e., gaining information and knowledge and thus advancing, first intellectually but not only that way.  It also involves exercising one's intellectual power to better understand the world, to educate oneself and, on a macrocosmic level, help engender socio-political advancement through the use of scientific scrutiny.  In other words, becoming enlightened is emerging from Plato's cave.

When the Enlightenment began in the eighteenth century, the shadows in the cave mistaken for reality were religious constructs and belief systems.  Like everything else, they too must be subjected to intellectual rigor.  As Kant noted in his Critique of Pure Reason, everything, including religion, must be analyzed through scientific and rational analysis.  Whatever fails the rigorous test of intellectual scrutiny, including religion, must be cast aside as an anachronism, or worse. 

The term "enlightenment" is thus charged with an intellectual force.  Who indeed doesn't want to be enlightened?  What person or what movement wants to be considered "ignorant," the opposite of "enlightened"?

The Enlightenment arose as a reaction to and intellectual rebellion against traditional religion in the West.  For centuries leading up the Enlightenment, Jewish and Cristian principles were founded on the natural law, a set of unchanging moral precepts that derive from God and are thus infused with unquestionable authority.  The term "natural law" is also value-laden.  It conveys the idea that anything opposed to it is abnormal, aberrant, and contrary to nature, which is the natural order created by divine providence.

But the Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century argued that if the natural law cannot pass scientific muster, it is in fact artificial, not natural.  Natural is that which makes sense, that which can be intellectually justified.  Being enlightened is the act of subjecting the so-called natural law to intellectual rigor, identifying its shortcomings, and emerging from the cave.  In that way, it co-opted, without saying so, the term "natural."  It became that which makes sense, first as a scientific precept, then an intellectual one, and finally as a moral one.

If we fast-forward roughly two hundred fifty years, we find a modern equivalent of the term enlightenment in the politically charged word "progressive."  Like becoming enlightened, being progressive means advancing, moving forward.  When the progressive movement started in the United States in the late nineteenth century, it engendered a period of political activism and social reform leading to the passage of many salutary changes in the way business and society operated.  But the term has a life much beyond that historical period.  And as it continued to be applied to other realms, the value-laden nature of the term came in handy.

Now in particular, as the left continues to usurp the political narrative and silence alternative voices, it is felicitous to observe how progressive policies apply with God-like authority to sexuality and other realms.  First, for example, the term "sexual preference" has been erased.  Indeed, at her Senate confirmation hearing, our newest (at least in the short term) Supreme Court justice quickly apologized for daring to even use the term.  The woke, and thus only acceptable, phrase is "sexual orientation."  That is because, to assume that one chooses his sexual identity is to presuppose that the person actually has a choice in the matter.  Having a choice means accepting responsibility for how that choice is exercised.

But wait a second.  Wasn't the whole swing to scientific rationalism beginning with the Enlightenment all about rejection of the natural law?  Wasn't it about making one's own choices, and thus being one's own judge of moral correctness?  Wasn't it ultimately about moral relativism?  If so, why now pass the buck to God, or at least nature, to explain what Jewish and Christian principles always viewed as aberrant sexual behavior?  Do we detect at least an inkling of guilt underpinning the left's obsessive insistence on the use of that term?

Control over language easily morphs into control over thoughts and ideas.  Just think: despite the scientific evidence to the contrary, the obligatory use of the term sexual orientation contains within itself an explanation of why one is attracted to a particular sex.

Take another example.  What about the terms pro-life and pro-choice?  While both are value-laden, at least pro-life accurately describes what its proponents believe.  Were that same precision applied to the opposite term, the movement would be called pro-death.  That doesn't sell papers.  Instead, therefore, they fall back on the Enlightenment approach.  The individual becomes the moral arbiter.  He — here, she — makes the "choice" and, since it is hers to make under an enlightened view of the world, it carries with it no moral opprobrium.  And just to make sure of that, a value-laden term is applied to the murderous act.  No, wait, I'm wrong; it is nothing even close to that.  That world-famous physician/theologian/scientist, Justice Harry Blackmun, proved that life doesn't begin during the first trimester.

All of these seemingly definitional acts of linguistic choice are really attempts at moral persuasion.  And they can become truly dangerous when they cancel any effort to reset, any attempt to question the validity of what the operative nomenclature signifies.  But then again, returning to the prescient German philosopher, God is dead, so anything goes.

Image via Pxhere.