The Crazy Years and their Empty Moral Vocabulary

A reprint of an column from a decade ago, updated with new examples. The subject matter is still timely. 

*** *** ***

In Robert Heinlein’s famed ‘Future History’ he constructed an elaborate timeline of thing to come, to provide a structure for his short stories.

Looking forward from the year 1940, when the timeline was first formed, it was reasonable, even conservative, guesswork to predict the moonlanding by the 1980’s, forty years later, since the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers had been forty years earlier. Heinlein’s Luna City founded in 1990 a decade or so later, with colonies on Mars and Venus by 2000. Compare: a submersible ironclad was written up as a science romance by Jules Verne in 1869, based on the steam-powered ‘diving boat’ of Robert Fulton, developed in 1801. In 1954 the first atomic-powered submarines—all three boats were named Nautilus—put to sea. The gap between Verne’s dream and Rickover’s reality was eight decades, about the time separating Heinlein’s writing of “Menace from Earth” and its projected date.

Looking back from the year 2010, however the dates seem remarkably optimistic and compressed. We have not even mounted a manned expedition to Mars as yet, and no return manned trips to the Moon are on the drawing boards.

One prediction that was remarkably prescient, however, was the advent of “The Crazy Years” described as “Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum.”

He optimistically predicts a recovery from the Crazy Years, the opening of a new frontier in space, and a return to nineteenth-century economy. Full maturity of the human race is achieved by a science of social relations “based on the negative basic statements of semantics.” Those of you who are A.E. van Vogt fans will recognize our old friends, general semantics and Null-A logic cropping up here. Van Vogt, like Heinlein, told tales of a future time when the Non-Aristotlean logic or “Null-A” training would give rise to a race of supermen, fully integrated and fully mature human beings, free of barbarism and neuroses.

Here is the chart. Note the REMARKS column to the right.



What Heinlein failed to predict was that the Crazy Years would simply continue up through 2010, with no sign of slackening. Ladies and gentlemen, we live in the Crazy Years.

While Heinlein (as far as I know) supplied no rationale for the advent and the recession of the craziness in the Crazy Years, A. E. van Vogt was freer with is speculations: insanity, either of individuals or of peoples, in van Vogt’s stories (and perhaps in the theories of Alfred Korzybski, who discovered or invented General Semantics) is caused by a fracture or disjunction between symbol and object. When your thoughts, and the thing about which you think, do not match up on a cognitive level, that is a falsehood, a false belief. When the emotions associated with the thought do not match to the thing about which you think, that is a false-to-facts association, which can range from merely a mistake to neurosis to psychosis, depending on the severity of the disjunction. You are crazy. If you hate your sister because she reminds you of your mother who beat you, that association is false-to-facts, neurotic. If you hate your sister because you have hallucinated that you are Cinderella, that association is falser-to-facts, more removed from reality, possibly psychotic.

The great and dire events of the early Twentieth Century no doubt confirmed Korzybski in the rightness of this theory. Nothing prevents a race of people from contracting and fomenting a false-to-facts belief: the fantasies of the Nazi Germans, pseudo-biology and pseudo-economics combined with the romance of neo-paganism, stirred the psyche of the German people for quite understandable reasons. From the point of view of General Semantics, the Germans had divorced their symbols from reality, they mistook metaphors for truth, and their emotions adapted to and reinforced the prevailing narrative. They told themselves stories about Wotan and the Blood, about being betrayed during the Great War, about needing room to live, about the wickedness of Jewish bankers and shopkeepers, about the origin of the wealth of nations—and they went crazy.

The Russians, earlier, and for equally psychological and psychopathic reasons told themselves a more coherent but more unreal story about history and destiny, taken from a Millenarian cultist named Marx, and they were, on an emotional level even if not on a cognitive level, convinced that shedding the blood of millions would bring about wealth as if from nowhere. And, because they used the word “scientific” to describe their brand of socialism, they actually thought their play-pretend neurotic story was a scientific theory that had been discovered by rigorous ratiocination—and they went crazy.

Berlin was bombed into submission during the Second World War, and the Berlin Wall collapsed along with the Soviet Empire at the end of the Cold War. But the modern methods of erecting false-to-facts dramas appealing to mass psychology, once discovered, did not fall when their practitioners fell: scientific socialism, naziism, fascism, communism, all have in common the subordination of word-association to political will. All these doctrines have a common ancestor, which is the social engineering theory of language: if you change the connotation of word, so the theory runs, you change the connotations of thoughts. General Semantics says that if an individual, or whole people en mass, adopt deliberately false beliefs, supported by deliberately manipulative word-uses, he or they will have increasingly unrealistic and maladaptive behaviors. Introduce Political Correctness, ignore factual correctness, and the people will go crazy.

The main sign of when madness has possessed a crowd, or a civilization, is when the people are fearful of imaginary or trivial dangers but nonchalant about real and deep dangers. When that happens, there is gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions—the Crazy Years have arrived.

Craziness can be measured by maladaptive behavior. The behavior the society uses to solve one kind of problem, when applied to an incorrect category, disorients it. When this happens the whole society, even if some members are aware of the disorientation, cannot reach the correct conclusion, or react in a fashion that preserves society from harm. As if society were a dolphin that called itself a fish: when it suffered the sensation of drowning, it would dive. But a dolphin is a mammal, a member of a different category of being. When dolphins are low on air, they surface, rather than dive. Putting yourself in the wrong category leads to the wrong behavior.

The Left operate almost entirely by ‘Crazy Years’ thinking, that is, by false to facts verbal formulas and verbal fetishes.

For example, when Karl Marx was called upon to analyze market place forces, and to solve the (insoluble) problem of economic calculation in a socialist commonwealth, instead of actually analyzing anything, he merely renamed them. Marx called inoffensive things, like wage-earning, by an offensive name, like wage-slavery, and called offensive things, like totalitarianism, by inoffensive names, like dictatorship of the proletarian.

Please recall that in the time when he wrote, the word ‘dictator’ referred to some of the more able of Roman generals during their Republic, who assumed power only for the duration of an emergency, and then yielded power back to the commonwealth—it was a term of admiration and respect, not yet darkened by Marx and his Communist and Fascist epigones.

The point of such deadly nonsense is to bypass the rational faculty, that is, to change the listener’s emotional reaction to the topic being discussed without changing any reasoning about it.

One never attempts to argue the justice, logic, or decency of, for example, a legally recognized union between sodomites; one merely agitates for “marriage equality.” One does not argue about the real meaning of the equality of women, one merely sniffs scornfully at anyone using the pronoun “he” formally or the word “girl” informally. One does not argue about killing babies in the womb, one merely sneers that those who call the object of discussion “a baby” rather than “a fetus” are uninformed, or, worse yet, Christians.

And then, the moment the pro-abortion discussion is over, you ask the next pregnant mother you see if she can feel the baby kick, or if the baby has a name yet.

These verbal tricks, like the massy arms and gear of a soldier, are only used in battle or drill, never when off-duty. Note that modern politicians speak not in the elliptical nonsense of PC when off-duty. When, alone with his familiars, not when before mikes, they speak  normally, the same way a soldier shrugs out of his harness and kit after drill. Likewise, no one calls a baby a fetus outside of pro-abort discussions. ‘Fetus’ is a technical term used to refer to a stage of (human) development, not to a species of (nonhuman) being.

For the partisan of deadly nonsense, the person on the other side is neither right nor wrong, since rightness and wrongness are never to be discussed: the person on the other side is merely a jackass, a bigot, ignorant, uninformed, pathetically stupid, Neanderthal, reactionary, bitter, a yokel, a class-traitor, and racist, racist, racist, and racist.

If you are arguing with someone, say, who has a better education than you, a higher I.Q., with perhaps a doctorate in law and a career as a journalist and a published series of books on his resume, that does not matter. The mere fact that he comes to different conclusions than the Party line indicates that he is stupid uneducated Nazi bigot, and a stupid bigoted fascist racist moron.

This is argumentum ad cloaca —— ratiocination via offal. Whatever the loudest donkey laughs loudest at, you take to be untrue. Since that was the way (admit it!) you yourself were convinced, O ye of little mind, it is the first, usually the only means, to which you resort to convince others: the volume and clamor is what matters, not the content.

The reason for the inadequacy of these condemnations, the reason why they are so unimaginative, is because of the paucity of the moral vocabulary of the Left. They do not have words to express outrage, so they sneer and yodel. They are like creature struck dumb, and only able to act out their condemnation by means of antic pantomime.

The more closely they follow Marx, the more impoverished their moral vocabulary becomes. You cannot call someone evil once you accept the proposition that all standards of good and evil are merely genetically-determined group survival behaviors, or merely culturally determined artifacts, or merely ideological superstructures meant to promote class interests. Your concept has lost its referents: it can be used only metaphorically, or ironically.

Likewise, you cannot call someone damned if you don’t believe in damnation. There is no such thing as blasphemy if there is nothing sacred, supernatural, or divine.

Likewise again, you cannot call someone illogical if logic is no longer the standard used to separate self-consistent from self-contradictory statements: because then you would have to argue the merits of the case, and rely on reason, like Adam Smith, rather than on verbal fetishes, like Karl Marx.

Our Progressive detractors have to call the object of their scorn a racist (or a parallel word, such as sexist, lookist, homophobe, capitalist, colorist, agist, whateverist) because that is the only arrow in their quiver. That is the only thing they have to shoot, so they shoot, and do not care how short of the target the dart falls.

I thought it mildly interesting that when I myself was exposed to a Two-Minute Hate by the powers of political correctness (the complaints for the most part came from cronies of the Democratic Underground website, as far as I can tell, not very many from Science Fiction fans), no one called me ‘evil’ even though I was propounding something that must be, by their lights, not merely evil (for I conceived an injustice against a sacrosanct designated victim-group) but a sacrilege, because I likened sacred things (one type of sexual perversion) to things they damned (other types of sexual perversion) and scoffed at them for their pretensions. I was speaking above my station in life, offending my noble superiors.

But the Left has no words for things like evil, injustice, sanctity, sacrilege, damnation, nobility, superiority, and so on, or at least not that they can use such words without a quirk of the smile or a quirk of the eyebrow.

So the Howler Monkeys had to condemn me using the only linguistic formulas their non-condemnatory non-discriminatory non-judgmental philosophy allows: one person said I had psychological difficulties (in which case, one would think I should be cured, rather than condemned?), another said that I was not a science fiction writer, a third said I had no sense of humor, a fourth one said that I was a racist and a misogynist, and they all agreed that I was unreasonable, uneducated and ill-informed (In which case, one would think merely informing me of the error in my reasoning or supplying the deficiency in my data would suffice) and stupid, stupid, stupid (In which case, one would think they would feel compassion to someone of retarded mental ability).

Not one of them used the word ‘evil.’ (Or not that I recall. I did not do them the courtesy of reading each and every comment.)

Why in the world would they not condemn me as evil when I had done what they clearly think to be a grave evil? I gored the most sacred of their sacred cows, so why can they not leap up, arms outspread as human shields to protect the great bovine idol, and call it sacred?

I would not mention this personal example had not I noticed it elsewhere, and often enough to form a pattern. (It is a pattern only, not a rule without exceptions.) For example, many a commenter on the Left smirked and sneered when George W. Bush dubbed the terrorists of 9/11 “evildoers”.

Is that word inapt? — I can tell you that as a writer of hack space opera, who job is to invent impressive space villains and their enormous space crimes, even I cannot think of a evildoer more evil than one who, for no worldly reason, kills himself, and a towerful and a planeful of innocent men, women and helpless children, without warning, without reason, without making any demands, sparing no one, destroying himself in the process, to put himself beyond any worldly reward or retribution. It is a completely evil act, including not merely mass murder, not merely sneak attack, not merely dishonorable and craven ambuscade, not merely random and innocent victims selected precisely for their innocence, but also suicide, the unforgivable sin. To add insult to injury, this unforgivable sin is in the name of a God who (even in the writings of the Mohammedan heresy) expressly forbids such acts, in order earn the name of a martyr, the name reserved for those who patiently suffer, not those who randomly inflict, pain and death in the name of all that is holy. If you cannot call this evil, nothing can be called evil.

But the spokesmen of the Left disdained Bush for use this word. They sneered their practiced sneers.

Why? Because their moral philosophy, inspired (whether they know it or not —— and most of them, uneducated yahoos, do not) by Marx and Hegel, occupy a materialist universe of ever-evolving standards, which means they have no metaphysical underpinning for any kind of standards at all. These are not honest Ayn Randians, fiery with righteous rage, who know enough to condemn evils as evil; these are not upright pagans, solemnly bowing to inescapable fate, willing to condemn those pollutions and acts of pride or cowardice the gods of Olympos or Asgard condemn. Rand takes reason as the measure of Man. Pagans know there is a cosmic order which will not heed human tears, and no man escapes his weird, and that cosmic order is the standard, and that even gods cannot defy the iron-faced elder gods of fate and necessity. Both Randians and Pagans believe in an external standard. Not so for the modern Left. The spokesmen for the Left are postchristians, philosophical nihilists, whose axiom is that all standards are man-made, which means, not standards at all.

There are infinite nuances of postchristian philosophy, and since these groups vomit up printer’s ink like a squid to further obscure their meaning and their motives, a nicety of distinction between them is difficult. We must speak in generalities, keeping in mind that generalities are composed of exceptions and deviations.

In general then, the only way to condemn evil in a universe where there are no standards, is either to refer to a neurological defect, that is, call the man crazy, to a deficiency of personality development, that is, call him immature, or to a dearth of book-learning, that is, call him ignorant.

You can call him morally deficient only if you use a word that does not refer directly to morality: you can call him biased or prejudiced (which, technically speaking, refer to errors in the reasoning process only, namely, filtering judgment wrongly, or indulging in hasty or overgeneralized judgment. It refers not to a sin) or you can say his emotions are disturbed, can call him a hater. If he shows no evidence of hatred or bigotry, you simply assume he is afflicted by these evil spirits at a subconscious level, and is too dull or self-absorbed to be aware of his own defects.

Another condemnation is to say that he broke an admittedly merely local social custom: to call him rude and boorish. But rather than say this, the Leftist will usually employ the elliptical phrase ‘inappropriate’. Since the Left has crusaded against civilized standards of decency and decorum for decades, of course the new standards of political correctness they have successfully imposed cannot be labeled as standards of courtesy and decency, so must be called something else: namely, called by elliptical words empty of meaning, such as ‘appropriate’ or ‘sensitive.’

Now, anyone with a regard for the insight of General Semantics, even if he does not accept the whole of Korzybski’s conclusions (as I do not), still must acknowledge the basic idea. The map is not the territory. The word is not the thing it represents. Calling wage-earning “wage-slavery” does not make wage-earning a bad thing. Calling a sexual perversion an “alternate sexual orientation” does not make sexual morality a neutral thing as such merely a matter of which way you point. Calling a baby a fetus does not make him subhuman. Calling a Jew an ‘Untermensch’ does not make him subhuman.

You can describe your meal as “a well-done sirloin steak smothered in savory mushrooms” or as “a slab of burnt dead cow covered with fungus” but no physical or chemical property of the meal has been changed. No mental or moral property, no association with the act of eating your meal, need change either.

Anyone acknowledging the basic idea must not only, if he is an honest man, avoid misleading emotional connotations, euphemism and cant, he must also, if he is a righteous man, hate Political Correctness, words larded with emotion, nonsense-phrases, Newspeak, and noise. You must hate half-truths and buzzwords and nonsense for the same reason you hate lies: because they are the children of the Father of Lies, and because they deceive the people.

An honest man likewise must not be offended by mere words. If someone calls your steak a slab of dead cow, it is your responsibly, not the speaker’s, to transfer to the new set of words the appropriate emotional connotations that go with the denotations, and, more importantly, not to associate emotional connotations that are not intended.

If you are a Black Man, and someone calls you a “Negro” and he means no insult by it, you may not take insult. If your feelings are hurt, suck it up like a man. If you are a Yellow Man, and someone calls you a “Yellow Man” rather than a East Asian, suck it up like a man. If you are a feminist, and someone uses the word “Man” to refer to the human species, and you think this word insults you, pushes you to the margins, or works evil voodoo on your soul, suck it up like a man, particularly if you insist on being treated like a man. If you are a feminist, and you think the word “lady” insults, demeans, or belittles you, then check your premises, or check into a psycho-ward.

To be blunt, your feelings of offense are false-to-facts, and we should not change our language even if we are kindhearted enough to want to accommodate you: because changing language to accommodate arbitrary considerations produces falsehoods. If nothing else, the writings of all our ancestors now have been retroactively revised without the author’s permission, and the signs in them now point to objects, or carry implications, never meant. I am not making this up: I have met people, educated and literate people, who think the Bible says God created males in His own image, or who think the Declaration of Independence declares that all males were created equal. They think that is what Moses and Jefferson actually meant when they wrote, and that these two authors did not have women in consideration when making those statements.

If we accommodate your hurt and weepy feelings by changing all the stop signs to yellow diamonds, and all the yield signs to red octagons, it causes traffic accidents. I have a friend who boasts that when he was a child he took his younger brother into the corner and taught him his colors wrong, pointing at red objects and calling them ‘green’ and pointing at green objects and calling them ‘red.’ But you do in earnest what he did as a childish prank.

Conservatives, by and large, detest Political Correctness, and, indeed, the entire theory in modern language that holds words to have no meaning except as instruments of class oppression, which also paradoxically holds that word connotations shape the content and conclusions of thought. This theory allows for the social engineering to operate by linguistics.

If you change the word “Negro” to “Afro-American” and ban the use of the word “Negro” from polite speech, the theory runs that all speakers will henceforth judge men only on the basis of their origin, that is, whether they are from Africa or not, and not on their skin color, nor any other racial or cultural or ethnic or historical criteria. A person afraid of meeting a gang of young Negros in leather jackets at midnight in a graffiti-marked dead end alley of some city with gun control laws will not feel apprehension if he merely uses the word “Afro-Americans” when speaking or thinking of them, or, better yet, “youths.” So the theory runs. The bad and stereotyped ideas we have of inner city crime will go away, not when the crime goes away, but when a bad word that causes bad ideas goes away.

Likewise, if you change the word “man” so that it no longer means either “human” or “male” depending on context (parallel to the way “dog” means either dog or bitch depending on context, or “fox” either fox or vixen) but so that it means “male” only in all contexts, the theory runs that you will eliminate misogyny from the speech and therefore the thoughts of men.

This has the added benefit of allowing you to misread and misrepresent all antique documents and speeches, and tell gullible modern students that every reference to “man” was meant by the writer to mean “male.” (See above) “Where no man has gone before” can be misinterpreted to be a slight against women.

This added benefit is that whenever anyone speaks normally, and does not adhere to the latest fashion in Politically Correct mumbojumbo, you are immediately allowed to be offended and angered, and he is immediately the scapegoat on which the sins of the people are laid. His verbal victimization of you (as adjudged only the tenderness of your allegedly hurt feelings) allows you to attribute to him every injustice in history, real or imagined, and to wrap yourself in the flag and wave the palm of martyrdom, without going to the inconvenience of actually suffering any harm or shedding any blood for the cause. From an economic point of view, faux outrage is a free good with no drawbacks. You would actually have to be a man ashamed to whine like a hysterical schoolgirl in public in order to feel reservation to use this ever-winning trump-card strategy. Reticence, however, is not a value that can exist in a subjectivist world view, because if man is the measure of all things, only emotions matter, not reality.

But the added benefit is merely icing on the cake. The main benefit is that you think you can change the world by changing arbitrary word-signs for objects, and you need not go to the effort of working any change on the objects.

As a master of Newspeak, you have become like an Archimage of Roke, except in reverse. The Archimages from Ursula K. Leguin’s masterpiece A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA could gain control over any object in nature, from a sea-wave to a sea-gull, earthquake to a pebble, by knowing its true name, for the true name reveals the inner nature. The master of Newspeak, however, is the opposite. By substituting a meaningless word for a real word, the master thinks to change reality by hiding the real nature of things.

(Leguin in her sequel, THE FARTHEST SHORE, actually had the meaning and the nature of objects being drained out of the world, because one magus, Cob of Paln, had destroyed his own true name while trying to destroy his human nature, his mortality. I wonder if Cob wrought his dark miracles by calling things all by the wrong and unnatural names.)

The belief in the efficacy of Newspeak is an article of faith, not a rational belief. No one has tested the idea scientifically, or even rigorously. Do you actually, truly and really think that Whites hate Blacks because and only because the word “Negro” is used rather than “Afro-American”? Change the word, and you eliminate the hate? Show me an example of when it was done, and I do not mean inside the pages of a fantasy like THE LANGUAGES OF PAO by Jack Vance. Do you actually, truly and really think that Men hate Women because and only because English uses “he” as the neutral pronoun rather than “he or she”? Show me the some language whose pronouns are more gender-neutral —— shall we take ancient Latin and modern Mandarin as examples? —— and compare how women are treated by the ancient Italian patriarchs or the modern Chinese versus how they were treated by the alleged phallocracy in the 1940’s in America.

If the Newspeak faith is false, then the word “Negro” is not innately offensive, whereupon any listener who takes offense at its use is to blame for his own misinterpretation, not the speaker.

For those of you who have not heard, in the real and non-make-believe world, the way standards (non-pliant standards) actually work is this: if someone says something below the standard of offense, even if you yourself are not offended, you have a right to be offended, and you encourage bad behavior (his) if you do not chastise the offender. If someone says something above the standard of offense, you have no right to be offended even if you are offended, but in this case you encourage bad behavior (yours) if you DO chastise the speaker, by permitting yourself the luxury of being over-sensitive, and by discouraging him from being blunt and straightforward. No matter what your personal feelings, you must correct toward the standard. In time, your emotions will come by slow habit to cleave to the standard so that you will take offense when it is proper to take offense, and not when it is not.

This is the mere opposite of using your hurt feelings as a dishonest weapon in a debate, or as a trump card to trample the feelings of others.

It is my habit on this website to ban any commenter who attempts to correct my vocabulary according to the pieties of political correctness. If someone says the word “Democrat” is grammatically incorrect when referring to the Democrat Party, I ban him. If someone says “you mean ‘him or her’ ” I ban him. If someone says the word “Mohammedan” is offensive to the followers of Mahound, I ban him. This is not because I have the power to determine the standard of offense, but because I do not. I hate Newspeak because such is my duty. It is not personal.

Newspeak is the enemy, not only of the Archimages of Roke and the Null-A trained supermen of Venus, and the cringing slaves of Airstrip One in Oceania, but of all men who admire even a minimal standard of honesty.

Newspeak is also our enemy. It not only makes up stupid, it makes us trivial.

The news is full of accusations and counter accusations that stray words or old photos are not politically correct: Caucasian students dressing up as Michael Jackson in the 1980s are now, nigh half a century later, having their careers as politicians ended, because the homage paid to the famed entertainer is interpreted as an insult if it is offered by a boy of the wrong race.

But not to worry:  real coal miners and fictional Disney chimney sweeps from children’s movies are likewise being accused. The drowning dolphin dives when it should surface.

We must discuss the insignificant, and ignore the important, because we live in a false-to-facts narrative where honest speech is outlawed. We live in the Crazy Years.

Do you wonder where Douglas-Martin Sunpower screen might be, or mechanized roads or commercial rocket travel? Or why we do not have the promised moonbase or interplanetary travel? I cannot help but wonder if Heinlein’s story-timeline in some way was right, and that the answer for our tardy future is that we have not yet emerged from the Crazy Years into the future we were promised.

Man will not be sane unless Political Correctness is slain.