In “Countering Sound Bite Morality,” I discussed sound bite morality, bumper sticker morality, and code-words. In and of itself, a code-word has to do with loading the language. We load the language because it is often, but not always, easier to use an already-existing word and twist its connotations than to make up new words.
A code-word is a linguistic symbol, a flag that we raise in order to signal our allegiance and our beliefs. When someone claims to adhere to the “ideals of democracy,” or to pursue “equality,” we can interpret what they really mean by such code-words, and deduce their real allegiance.
But what is a symbol and what is it good for? To find the answer, we must look to memetics. Our attention and mindspace are both limited, and belief systems compete for this scarce resource. In order to do so efficiently, one needs shorthand, in the same way that people who use SMS need to shorten words (however annoying that can be for the rest of us). Code-words provide a shorthand, in that they provide a great deal of emotional loading in one potent form, just like a “national” flag does.
Imagine how a political believer feels when he hears the following words: America, freedom, equality, democracy, order. In reality, no two people understand the same thing by these words, just as for “God” or “holy.” These words are really interpreted in accordance with the own person’s beliefs. This is how code-words derive most of their power; as empty vessels filled by the brew of one’s worldview. Proverbs work pretty much the same way:
Aphorisms and vague platitudes seduce people because you can hear in them almost any meaning you want. They have something even for persons of conflicting beliefs and of opposed and inimical viewpoints because they remains so vague and ambiguous, most often what is publicised widely is at the level of the ‘penny proverb’.
In reality, any sober definition of “freedom” or “equality” must necessary entail the end of the State. As observers, we can define these words and show why they represent a bankrupt ideology. But if every believer knew what those words meant to their speakers, we would immediately have civil war.