I haven’t made this public until now, but I think I’ve figured out a cure for cancer.
I need a bit more time to test it all. For now, and before we lose any more lives to cancer, here are the basics, starting with a definition from Webster’s: Cancer is “a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis.”
My cure interrogates the “malignant tumour” and the “invasive, metastasizing growth.” So—to throw it out there—what if we understood cancer strictly as “potentially unlimited growth” rather than as “a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis”?
Mine is a shorter, sweeter definition than Webster’s. Overnight, we can cure nearly every case of cancer in the world. Astounding! Even better, this definition views cancer as a net benefit. We can only hope our individual investment portfolios all get cancer.
I would patent this approach to better health, but I’m afraid it’s not original. What I call “language enhancement” has been embraced by visionaries for generations. Language enhancement is popular because it works.
Consider a few recent examples.
Want to improve thinking and reasoning skills at an undergraduate university? No problem. This work is well underway. Canadian universities, so bursting with creative language enhancement that they’ve gone supernova, have EDI departments staffed with professionals who specialize in making sure language does what it needs to do. For example, the thinly worded phrase “differences of opinion” has been enhanced into “epistemic violence.” “Violence,” once cloistered to mere “physical injury,” has been enhanced to include any disagreeable activity, including thinking and reasoning. (To be clear, language enhancement is neither a left nor right phenomenon. Anybody can enhance language to cure what needs curing.)
Want to shoot a novel injectable product into the arms of large populations of morons who won’t take it? Call it a “vaccine” and then enhance the definition of “vaccine” to include what your injectable product does—which, weirdly, isn’t what a vaccine is supposed to do. (Calling the injectable a “multivitamin” might be a stretch, but no harm in testing the language in a focus group.)
Want to force a doctor to kill you because your vanity won’t let you die like the weak human being that you are? Don’t call it “murder,” call it “euthanasia.” Scratch that. Too technical, and too many teens have written papers on euthanasia in high school and concluded it’s murder. What about “doctor assisted suicide”? Sounds helpful, almost cheery, but “suicide” sounds too much like murder. How about “medical aid in dying”? It keeps the helpful tone, and, really, that’s all you’re doing: helping somebody die. It’s not like helping somebody down a staircase, or helping a bullet find a new home in the back of somebody’s skull—this is a doctor helping a patient. Now that I think about it, why not call it “healthcare”? No doctor will be able to object on conscience grounds, since “healthcare” is what we pay them to do. If they choose not to deliver “healthcare,” we don’t have to pay them. This could work.
Now what if, after two years of economically, mentally, and spiritually destructive lockdowns, a few thousand mostly working-class people protest in the nation’s capital a little too obnoxiously about how the lockdowns hit them harder than anybody else? That’s easy. Call what they’re doing “populism.” Call them—all of them, every single one of them—“white supremacists.” We’ve already enhanced what “populism” means, and it means “white supremacy.”
While we’re on the topic, it’s hard not to notice that the chowderheads who clotted up the streets of Ottawa demanded, among other various and sundry freedoms, “freedom of speech.” For some eccentrics, “freedom of speech” sits at the bottom of the intellectual pyramid, the base upon which all other slabs of thought are piled. Take away this foundation and the edifice crumbles.
That may be so, but we can cure this view with some simple, straightforward language enhancement. The good news is that this work is already underway. As I write, crusaders are working hard to enhance what “freedom of speech” is. It is “a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis.”
Those unfamiliar with language enhancement should know that it doesn’t always work. But breathe easy. If these cures and enhancements fail to do their good work, a suite of Silicon Valley tools will ensure nobody sees information, misinformation, and disinformation that isn’t “true.”
The cure for everything already exists. Fortunately, we have a dedicated group—dare I say a rabid group—of crusaders working in every sphere of life to get words to mean what we need them to mean.
After all, the problems of life were never more than grammar problems.
Readers of this newsletter already know the damage crusaders cause by “enhancing” language. An abuse of language is an abuse of power, Josef Pieper reminds us. Sophists will, like the poor, always be with us. For them, language will never be anything but a means to power.
As I say, the membership of SAFS knows this already. You already know that the anarchic crusaders who rewrite dictionaries to suit their needs care nothing about meaning. They don’t redefine words for greater precision. They do it to destroy meaning.
So why state the obvious?
So we don’t forget. So the next generation knows and doesn’t have to suffer the hell of learning it for themselves. So we ourselves don’t become hypnotized by the pleasure found in destroying what is valuable or enchanted by elastic meaning and the lazy luxury it offers.
This special issue of the SAFS newsletter reflects on SAFS’s first 30 years of fighting for academic freedom and scholarship, and forecasts challenges facing the Society over the next 30 years. Profiles of SAFS presidents, ideas for how to broaden SAFS’s impact, and discussion about why the principles underpinning SAFS matter round out a celebratory issue.
SAFS has never been more needed. The cesspool of the COVID-19 Pandemic offered a perfect breeding ground for authoritarians, bureaucrats, cowards, and other fungi that grow in sad, dark places. The cultural shifts brought by the pandemic will be with society and universities for a long time. With luck and effort, so will SAFS.