Dangerous Equivocation

One thing that makes me angry is when people take a positive concept or example, label it according to a word that’s associated with it via its positive traits, and then demonize the concept by virtue of negative attributes of that label. One example is the people who complain that The Smurfs was underhandedly promulgating communist ideology. The Smurfs simply portrayed an ideal life where money isn’t necessary because everyone helps out the community voluntarily, and each smurf had its own function in society. What is bad about that? Is sharing evil? Or is it only evil when adults share? Or is it only evil when we share too much, including things that are vital to our existence? If money weren’t necessary in some society, such as in The Smurfs’, then why would it be bad not to have it?

And is there something wrong with each smurf having his own function in society? I believe Henry Ford revolutionized industry with the assembly line, based on purely capitalistic principles.  And having a job itself implies person-specialization. So obviously each person having their own function or proficiency in a society makes things more efficient; the smurfs simply did the same without money, which brings us back to the first point.

And yes, the smurfs had a leader, whom everyone went to for advice. Is that so bad? In capitalistic society we all have a boss or supervisor­­—several echelons of them in fact. And instead of you going to them for advice, they tell you what to do and you do it or they can your ass, which seems less than utopic. So some sort of organization is apparently a good thing to capitalists. And not to mention that the Native Americans had chiefs too, and during the colonization of America the authorities found it a problem that anyone who had a taste of the Native American way of life found it so much better that they never wanted to come back and they often didn’t.

The negative attributes of “communism” are basically fascism and totalitarianism. Or, we could say, poverty. It’s conceivable that The Smurfs was idealized and unrealistic in that they didn’t live in poverty, but where is the totalitarianism in The Smurfs? Poverty without totalitarianism isn’t oppressive. And as for the idealization, perhaps it’s an example of the future, and it’s only idealized because we haven’t done it yet. I don’t really believe that a society sharing all their goods would necessarily leave to poverty, because if we shared everything, it’s estimated that things would be 10 times more efficient. So none of the negative attributes of communism exist in The Smurfs, yet some people feel obligated to cry foul. This kind of equivocation of the word “communism” just exemplifies one of the many, serious pitfalls of language-based thinking.

To be fair, Gargamel apparently wanted to capture the smurfs and boil them to turn them into gold. This could very well indicate some sort of symbolism or calculated proffering of an ideology.  It wouldn’t be the first time: the author of The Wizard of Oz openly admitted that the script was political, as some people had theorized. So perhaps The Smurfs was about communism, in that the influence was calculated, but it still didn’t proffer the attributes that make communism a negative thing. Maybe it deliberately vilified capitalism in its symbolism, for contrast, but if you could have the smurfs’ way of life, then would you want to have capitalism instead? Thus the juxtaposition seems fair.. capitalism is merely a Nash equilibrium over selfism–it’s only necessary when selfism is the norm.

Another example of this kind of dangerous equivocation is the vilifying of open-source software. It’s basically humans programming things for free for the good of everyone. This is analogous to someone buying you an ice cream out of the goodness of their heart. Should we slap them in the face because we should have paid for that? To think that such a selfless and humanitarian effort is somehow evil because it smacks of “communism” only shows the quasi-mythical status that the concept of communism takes in our minds, making us think about it so superstitiously. I suspect this could only have been done by years of programming by our own government. You can’t deny that when it comes to war and competition with other countries, the US government, like many other governments if not all of them, has utilized and does utilize some form of propaganda. Maybe the propaganda in The Smurfs, if it exists, just balances things out a bit. 

Here’s another example: calling someone a “hippy” because they espouse ideas or virtues you don’t like, like those of openness, freedom, or caring. The hippies may not have been perfect, but calling someone whose ideas you don’t like a hippy is either an attempt to associate them with traits that aren’t necessarily theirs (such as being high all the time on drugs or refusing to work), or a tautological reflection of what they’ve just said or what they are. Either way, it’s attempting to conveniently disparage something or someone by the use of labels, when a thing merely is what it is; it isn’t a word.

On a related but completely different topic, it’s ironic when someone calls somebody a “tree hugger” or says accusingly that they have a “bleeding heart.” I can’t even say that this is an instance of equivocation, because I can’t think of a negative attribute of being a tree hugger or having a bleeding heart. What makes it ironic is that the fact that such terms are the best derogations the antagonist can come up with only demonstrates the fundamental weakness of the antagonist’s own position.

It’s not very far off from derogatively accusing someone of having compassion, being a proponent of unity, or loving the world outside the sphere of anthropocentrism. I think the only difference, other than using shorter terms, is that saying someone has a “bleeding heart” associates their compassionate characteristic with weakness or illness (bleeding is usually indicative of a medical condition), thus simultaneously shunning weakness, exploiting any reactionism in the protagonist’s ego, and degrading compassion/glorifying selfism. It’s a pathological shame when strength is held in higher regard than compassion in a society–not that compassion and strength have to be at odds with each other.

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