Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Dowsers and Terrorists

If I were to claim that one man’s dowser is another man’s water-seeker, then I should do so in the expectation that many would call me a man of rare stupidity who has trouble distinguishing between means and ends, who fails to discriminate between mutually exclusive and inclusive terms, and who suggests, concerning the existence of dowsers and water-seekers, that there is no fact of the matter, but rather only opinion. Yet, analogously, if I were to claim that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter, I should do so in the fair expectation that many would take my claim as just one of those things that everyone knows.
.....Unless some very special and mutually-exclusive meanings are arbitrarily assigned to the words in question, it ought to be obvious that a man can be a freedom-fighter and not a terrorist, a terrorist and not a freedom-fighter, or that he can be both, just as it is obvious that a man can be a water-seeker and not a dowser, a dowser and not a water-seeker, or that he can be both. [1] One set of terms (“terrorist” and “dowser”) refers to someone by the aspect of a specified means, whilst the other set of terms (“freedom-fighter” and “water-seeker”) refers to someone primarily or solely by the aspect of a specified end. The two sets are not mutually exclusive. Nor is it simply a matter of opinion whether a man is a terrorist or not. If a man employs violent terror against both combatants and non-combatants alike as a tactic for the sake of his political ends, then he is a terrorist, whether or not he does so to liberate or enslave, and so on. Furthermore, that an apologist will refer to a terrorist and freedom-fighter simply as a freedom-fighter is of no import to the fact of the matter.
.....So far as I know, no-one has ever claimed that one man’s dowser is another man’s water-seeker, whereas the claim that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter has, as I say, been repeated time and again as though it were commonsense. Also, the terms of the first claim have never been the subjects of political-ideological discussion in the public arena, or, if they have, they have been only rarely, whereas the terms of the latter have frequently been such. Every good propagandist knows that even the stupidest falsehoods can be inculcated by affirmative repetition; and every good blight-spotter knows that any word or phrase which becomes the frequent subject of political-ideological discussion in the public arena is soon degraded by whimsical or politically-inspired abuse, sometimes even beyond worthwhile use, at least thereafter in the public arena itself.
.....All of which brings us to an article in a national newspaper, wherein the author takes a rather more original approach than simply assuming the aforementioned canard. He says:
“The choice of terms here is not between freedom fighter and terrorist but between murderer and terrorist — the former simply killing nihilistically because they are killing in a cause we do not believe in, and the latter using violence as part of an achievable and just political project with which we agree.” [2]
One can never quite tell beforehand what foul tortures the nation’s language will undergo at the whim or political exigency of its paid abusers.

[1] An archaeological geophysicist once told me that dowsing was sometimes used in site-surveys as a rough but effective substitute for some of the more technically-advanced and expensive conductivity-meters, but that their use was never admitted in publication.
[2] Brian Brivati, “Yes, Terrorism can be Justified”, Comment is Free (The Guardian's weblog), 18th August 2009. (A commenter — “LordSummerisle”— provides us with the usual canard: “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”)


dearieme said...

Have you ever seen a sentence beginning "we all know that.." that was true?

Recusant said...

Dearieme, I'm agreeing with you everywhere today. What did you put in your tea this morning?

Lord SummerIsle can be relied upon for a daily dose of cut'n'paste Spartism.

Deogolwulf said...

We all know that a sentence beginning with “We all know that . . .” is false.

dearieme said...

Oh very Cretan.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure about your first footnote? I find it hard to believe.

Deogolwulf said...

Anon., quite sure. He was a geophysicist in a university-department with the highest research-rating. Here is an article by a sceptic who believes it is utter rubbish.