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This is the first of a series of letters on semantic freedom. One of the most important factors that makes us humans unique is our ability to communicate. If we claim that we are the dominant species on earth, then our ability to communicate must play a major role in making us dominant. The ability to communicate gives us phenomenal power.
The ability to communicate also gives some of us phenomenal power to control or manipulate others. We can also unwittingly put ourselves in the power of others by accepting their symbols without examination. Maybe some of us are prisoners of semantic symbols.
Semantic Rigidity, Flexibility, and Freedom
I describe “territorial gangsters” as individuals who use fraud, force, coercion, and terrorism to claim “jurisdiction” (so-called) over a geographic territory and/or the people who happen to be in that territory; so the former can control and dominate the latter and live like parasites or cannibals off the labor and products of the latter. [The notation – “jurisdiction (so-called)” – is to indicate that the very concept of “jurisdiction” is being challenged.]
It is to the advantage of territorial gangsters to trap their victims within a system of semantic rigidity. Territorial gangsters want their victims to use rigid concepts to formulate their thoughts. Thoughts have a profound influence on actions. Territorial gangsters want their victims to behave in a manner that increases the power, influence, and wealth of territorial gangsters.
A basic control mechanism is the concept of “law.” Some of the noises and scribbles that emanate from the mouths and pens of territorial gangsters must be projected or regarded as “the law” (so-called).
To grasp this phenomenon requires a basic semantic thinking skill: distinguishing between symbol and referent. [The referent is what the symbol refers to.] “Table” (the word or symbol) is a noise coming out of your mouth. The four-legged piece of furniture with a flat, horizontal top is the referent of the symbol “table.” One of the first things you learn in semantics is that “the map is not the territory” and “the menu is not the meal.” Whatever you say something is, it’s not that!
As a child, learning to speak, we were told, “this is a chair,” “this is a table,” “this is a book,” “that’s a tree,” etc. To achieve semantic flexibility and freedom we need to unlearn the identification between word and thing, symbol and referent. The four-legged piece of furniture with a flat, horizontal top is not a “table.” To the question “what is it then?” the answer is simply to point at it and remain silent – or to say “it is what it is.”
Consider the phenomenon of saying “A is B” – the four-legged piece of furniture with a flat, horizontal top (A) “is a table” (B). We’re equating or identifying one portion of the universe with another. We’re saying that a certain object is a noise. This is absurd. It’s an outright lie. It’s also vital to thought, knowledge, and communication that we use this lying mechanism!
Isn’t it interesting that arguably our greatest power – to think, know, and communicate – depends on a fundamental lie – equating or identifying one portion of the universe with another and saying, “this is a table”?!
The obvious question is, “so what?” In much thought, knowledge, and communication this phenomenon causes us no problems – particularly when the referent is a concrete object like a table, tree, or book. But what might happen in the case of words that don’t refer to physical objects, like “happiness” and “law” – what are their referents?
As long as we remain unaware of semantic identification (the failure to distinguish between symbol and referent), territorial gangsters will continue to hypnotize us into blindly accepting their symbols like “legal” and “illegal.” For example, I’m free to use whatever name whenever I want to for myself – provided I don’t use it to defraud anyone. [Of course, I’m not “Frederick Mann.” “Frederick Mann” is a noise from my mouth or a scribble from my pen.] Most people believe they have a “real name” (given by their parents) or a “legal name” (approved by the territorial gangsters). If they use some other name, it’s a “phony name.”
As long as we remain unaware of semantic identification, we will be hypnotized by territorial gangsters into blindly accepting their symbols: “law,” “legal,” illegal,” etc.
Next we need to question the notion that “words have meanings.” If a word has a “meaning,” then where is the “meaning?” Take the word “dog.” Is its “meaning” in the ink, or in the blank spaces within the ink? If the word “dog” is spoken, then where is its “meaning?” What does the “meaning” look like? Are their “meanings” in the dictionary – or just more words? What is the referent of the word “meaning?”
If words had meanings, surely we would be able to understand the words of an unfamiliar foreign language. If we heard an unfamiliar foreign language being spoken, would we not also hear the meaning of every word? If we read an unfamiliar foreign language, would we not also see the meaning of every word? If you can’t see or hear the meaning, then where is it?
But if words have no meaning, how do we communicate? Well, as best as I can establish, we have in our heads “patterns of brain-cell connections” or “neural patterns.” Associated with the word “table” there is in my head a neural pattern I describe as “a four-legged piece of furniture with a flat, horizontal top.” When I hear or read the word “table” it triggers or activates this neural pattern or “meaning” in my head. The referent of the word “meaning” is the presumed associated neural pattern in my head.
So what I’m saying is that words don’t have meanings, but people have meanings – for words they are familiar with – in the form of neural patterns in their brains. Take the Zulu word “ixaxa” – if you don’t know the word, you have no meaning for it – it doesn’t trigger or activate any neural pattern or meaning in your head (except “unknown word”) – you don’t have a meaning for it. Because I know some Zulu, the word “ixaxa” triggers in my head the neural pattern corresponding to that you have for the English word “frog.”
When I say something to you, I observe your response. From your response I judge whether you “understood” – that is, whether my words triggered or activated the appropriate neural patterns in your head. If I think my communication was unsuccessful, I repeat or rephrase it, or I say, “What I mean is…” I have no way of telling for sure that your meaning or neural pattern for “frog” is the same as mine. In two-way communication we often discover that two people have different meanings (and often multiple meanings) for the same word.
Section 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code (tax code of the Infernal Revenue Stealers) starts with the words, “Any person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax, or required by this title or by regulations made under authority thereof to make a return, keep any records, or supply any information…” So who is a “person required?” This article appeared in the August 1991 issue of The Connector:
“Patriot, Tom Hauert – charged with five counts of 7203 willful failure to file returns in March 1990 – put the prosecuting U.S. Attorney on the spot in Federal District Court, Chicago. Ill. At a hearing before the court on October 1st, 1990, Tom stated that he did not understand the charges. Tom read from the Internal Revenue Code the first three words of Section 7203, “Any person required.” Then he asked, “How is it established in this section that I am one of those persons required?” The judge read and reread that section, and finally admitted that he understood that Tom was asking for the statute that creates the determination of who is required. The judge said, “Mr. Prosecutor, you can provide a copy of that statute, can’t you?” At that point the prosecuting attorney started stammering and stuttering, and said he wasn’t familiar with that part of the Code, and the judge told him to find someone to help find it. Well, it’s now May 1991… and the government has not provided the information. For ten years Tom wrote many letters to the IRS, asking what statute made him liable? Neither the IRS, nor the government attorney has ever told him or shown him the statute that made/makes him liable. Could it be there is none? That’s correct, there isn’t any statute that makes a citizen within the fifty states liable. That’s why Congress said, “Our tax system is based on voluntary self-assessment.” So don’t gripe about high taxes if you voluntarily assess yourself.”
Most people living in the so-called “USA” automatically take it for granted that they are referents of the term “person required.” Tom Hauert didn’t. In a criminal case the judge has to ask the accused if he or she understands the charges. Mr. Hauert effectively said, “No. I don’t understand the charges because I don’t see how they could possibly apply to me. For the charges to apply to me, the prosecution will have to show that I am a “person required.”” It so happens that there’s nothing in the tax code that establishes that Mr. Hauert is a referent of the term (symbol) “person required.” End of court case.
I don’t recommend that anyone conduct their affairs so as to end up in court. Before such a court case the Infernal Revenue Stealers usually send letters. If these letters are appropriately responded to the Infernal Revenue Stealers will soon give up. Because of the quotas their officers have to meet and because there are so many “easy marks” they soon drop their efforts against informed citizens in order to pursue the “easy pickings.”
Mr. Hauert’s defense has a drawback. The Infernal Revenue Stealers can “lean” on the judge. If the judge doesn’t toe the line he or she can easily be put away on a trumped up tax charge, as happened to a Las Vegas judge a few years ago who was “too easy” on “tax protestors.” So the crooked judge’s answer to Mr. Hauert’s defense is to commit the accused for psychiatric observation – if he can’t understand the charges he must be insane
- The way we use words has consequences.
- Taking conscious responsibility for the meanings in your head puts you in a position of power.
- Automatically accepting meanings from others – including implied meanings from dictionaries – puts you in a position of weakness.
Mr. Hauert could have said that he understood the charges and that he pleaded not guilty, in which case he would almost certainly have been a “dead duck.” But because he didn’t understand the charges the case never even got to the point where he had to plead. The words he used and how he used them had consequences. In his head Mr. Hauert had a meaning for the term “person required” that was very different from that commonly accepted. This fact put him in a position of power that rendered the prosecution and the judge helpless. Had he automatically accepted the generally held meaning of the term “person required” his position would have been much weaker and the prosecution and the judge would almost certainly have walked all over him.
Most of us have suffered from coercion meted out by territorial gangsters, including myself. What form does the coercion usually take? Has a territorial gangster ever pointed a gun at you or shot at you? Personally, the only way I’ve been coerced by territorial gangsters has been in the form of spoken or written words – and flashing lights.
What will happen if a critical percentage of people become semantically sophisticated, flexible, and free? What are the implications for freedom strategy? Should we beg the territorial gangsters to change their system? Or should we persuade people to stop believing the territorial gangsters? Should we persuade people to stop believing the territorial gangsters – examine and reject the automatic meanings people hold in their heads for the words the territorial gangsters use to control, dominate, and milk them? What power do territorial gangsters have if enough people laugh at their words?
If the system is changed, but people still believe that words are things and words have meanings – and they believe that the noises and scribbles emanating from the mouths and pens of territorial gangsters constitute “the law” (so-called) – will people still be the effect or potential effect of territorial gangsters?
Conversation in Brussels
One evening in 1985, sitting at a bar in Brussels with an alcoholic Irishman and a peaceful Anarchist after a game of squash, we got talking about “law.” The Irishman said something about the need to obey the law. I dramatically pulled my keys out of my pocket, held them up in the air above the counter, and dropped them. They fell onto the counter with a thud and a jingle.
“There’s only one kind of law, physical laws like the law of gravity,” I said.
“You’re wrong,” replied the Anarchist. Never before or since have I heard two words spoken in that manner. They were stated with total certainty, yet uttered softly and gently. They were stated in a manner that stopped the conversation. The final word on the subject had been spoken. No questions could be asked, no rejoinders offered. Part of the unspoken content of those two little words were: “Don’t say anything; go away and think.”
The Absurdity of “Human Law”
The two simple words of the Anarchist left a question in my mind that took two years to resolve. Of course, at the time of the brief conversation I had already shed the primitive superstition concerning “human law.” Several years before our brief conversation it had already become obvious to me that the notion that some of the noises and scribbles that emanate from the mouths and pens of politicians constitutes “the law” which must be obeyed, changed, or repealed, is a primitive superstition. (You may have to read the previous sentence several times.)
Sometimes we take certain things too much for granted with insufficient inspection. We utter a noise and someone thirty feet away jumps. It’s magical. A politician barks and we cower in fear – because the politician’s bark is the “law” and if we don’t obey, the politician’s policeman will come after us with a gun. There’s real primitive magic at work here: politician’s bark = policeman’s gun = the law = obedience, disobedience, punishment, begging to change the system, etc.
Words seem to have magical power. Consider the word “fuck.” Many people get emotional when they hear it. Imagine the effect of running into a church and shouting “fuck!” The neural patterns some people have for certain words include automatic emotional reactions! The power isn’t in the word, it’s in the neural pattern in your head. In the case of the words projected as “the law” (so-called), the power isn’t in the words, it’s in the neural patterns in your head.
At the time of the brief conversation with the Anarchist, realizing that “human law” is primitive superstition was kindergarten stuff to both of us. The difference between us was that the Anarchist had also relegated “physical law” (the way most people use the term) to primitive superstition while I still believed in it.
What About “Physical Law?”
Many scientists say the universe is “governed by laws.” But what kind of creatures are these supposed “laws” and how do they go about their business of “governing” the universe? Are they ghost-like critters with invisible hands that push or pull everything in the universe around. When I held my keys up in the air and let go, did the “law of gravity” grab my keys with its “invisible hand” and push them down onto the counter? I repeat, what kind of creatures are these supposed “laws” and how do they go about their business of “governing” the universe? Or, in other words, what is the referent of the symbol “law of gravity” and how does this referent act or behave? How does this referent cause or control anything?
More sophisticated scientists, when confronted with the above paragraph will say that we perceive regularities in the universe. Laws are descriptions of these regularities. Laws don’t govern or cause anything. Laws don’t even explain anything. They describe. Laws are human inventions. They appear in our heads and in our writings. There’s no such thing as the “law of gravity.” It’s a description, not a thing. It’s not a volitional entity that can “govern” anything. Maybe the whole idea that the universe is “governed” is quite absurd.
Note that I didn’t say there’s no such thing as gravity. A distinction is necessary between the phenomenon (gravity) and the description of the phenomenon (the law of gravity.) The reality of the phenomenon of gravity is beyond question. Otherwise I would always float like an astronaut in space!
Physical laws are descriptions that predict. Because we see regularities in the universe, we regard aspects of it as predictable. Laws are predictions.
The idea of “meaning” is closely related to prediction. When we say something “means” something, what we mean is that it enables us to predict something. For example, sailors say that a red sunset means good weather. These meanings are all neural patterns in our heads.
Law and Survival
The nature of law is very important to those seeking to advance civilization. If we believe that we are “governed” by all kinds of “laws” – human and physical – it renders us relatively helpless and powerless. Of course, we know that there are people who believe in “human law.” Some of these people carry guns. They may take our money or other property, and even jail or shoot us if we challenge the “authority” of their “law.” So, to survive and prosper, we must sometimes pretend to obey their “law.”
Our actions produce consequences. We are free to choose our actions. We are not nearly so free in choosing the consequences of our actions. We live in a world of people with neural patterns in their heads. The bureaucrats, police, and judges have neural patterns in their heads corresponding to words like “law.” They behave in accordance with their neural patterns, not ours. In choosing our actions we need to consider their neural patterns.
The Concept of “Country”
Now that we’ve achieved some semantic sophistication, flexibility, and freedom, we can examine the “country” concept. (Note that I mean “country” in its political sense, not when referring to rural areas or farmland.)
Most people regard a concept such as “country” as an absolute given. For them, a “country” is part of objective reality. So let’s introduce an additional semantic thinking skill: Is the referent objective or subjective? At first thought it might look as if the referents of the word “country” are objective. There is a territory – a geographical area – obviously concrete and objective. There are citizens – individual human beings – also obviously concrete and objective. Then there are borders – sometimes a river, sometimes a fence, sometimes a line on a map – partially concrete and objective, but not so concrete when it’s just a line on a map. There is also a common language (or several) – words with corresponding meanings in people’s heads – completely subjective (all meanings are subjective). Then there is a so-called “constitution” and “laws” – ink (words) on paper – completely subjective. There are buildings with bureaucrats, police with guns, courts and jails – concrete and objective. There is a flag – the cloth with a pattern on it is concrete and objective, but the meanings people have for the so-called “flag” are completely subjective. And there is usually a “military war machine” – concrete and objective, when we examine the soldiers and their armaments.
So, some of the referents are objective and some are subjective. Let me suggest that “territory” is really subjective. On what objective basis is a part of the earth’s surface regarded as a territory? (Likewise with the notion of a “border.”) What if some people (A) say there are four territories: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran – but others (B) say that there is a fifth territory: Kurdistan. (A) don’t recognize (B) as a country. But (B) – the Kurds – think of themselves as a country. They don’t recognize the maps which say that parts of their country belong to Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Different people have different opinions as to what constitutes “their countries.”
Consider the consequences of regarding the concept of (or commonly held meaning for) “country” as valid. The word “country” is part of the verbal arsenal used by territorial gangsters to control, dominate, and milk their victims.
Psychologically, the “country” concept is used extensively for brainwashing purposes. Economically, it is used for a multitude of parasitic, nefarious purposes; e.g.: the “customs” bureaucrats who extort huge sums of money in the form of “duties,” “tariffs,” “taxes,” etc. on “imports” and “exports.” (Note the subjective/false nature of the words “import” and “export.” Transporting goods from one location to another doesn’t really constitute “importing” or “exporting.”)
Then there’s the “requirement” that people have “passports” and “visas” to travel “in” and “out” of supposed “countries.” In The World Is My Country Garry Davis wrote:
“Papers give status, dignity and privilege to the issuing authority rather than to the bearer – although the opposite is generally assumed – and I believe that this is equally true in the case of passports, driver’s licenses, honorary degrees, permits to practice law, licenses for marriage… or even certificates of good health. In all such cases the individual unwittingly surrenders his right to assume command, status, or direction of himself in human terms by acknowledging and then accepting an outside authority’s right to grant these things to him.”
These things essentially attempt to make something (pretended “authorities”) out of nothing; hindering people’s rights such as the freedom to travel, and creating more opportunities for more territorial gangsters to extort more money on a regular basis.
But it doesn’t end there. In his Notes on Nationalism, written in 1945, George Orwell described another consequence:
“By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly – and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
The general acceptance of the “country” concept also results in racism, war, isolationism, retarded economies, etc. See also The Constitution of No Authority for a thorough explanation of why the “country” concept (particularly in its “legal” sense) is a hoax and a fraud.
Suppose there was no such word as “country” and no equivalent – how would that affect the power of territorial gangsters?
(A correspondent once wrote to me that he lives on Australia – by this he means that he lives on the land-mass or continent referred to as “Australia,” not “in” the pretended “country” called “(The Commonwealth of) Australia.” The names have a convenient use for distinguishing between different parts of the planet, and we might only keep them for this purpose.)
A Common Thinking Error
There is a common thinking error which takes the following form:
- Someone proposes “A.”
- A critic says, “A is B” (where there’s little or no relationship between A and B).
- Then the critic says, “B is bad” or, “I don’t understand B.”
- “Therefore,” the critic says, “A is bad” or, “I don’t understand A.”
Many politicians use this as a dirty trick to demonize their opponents. I call it the “sillygism.” Let me illustrate:
- I propose that we practice free enterprise.
- My critic says, “Free enterprise is unbridled, irresponsible, destructive competition and exploitation.”
- “Such competition and exploitation is evil.”
- “Therefore free enterprise is evil.”
Some people do this inadvertently, simply because they don’t understand “A.” They may then innocently substitute their distorted “B” as a substitute for “A.” Then they comment on or criticize “B.”
This can bring about a tremendous waste of time. The person who said “A” may have to explain that he never said “B.” It may also be necessary to explain the difference between “A” and “B.”
The solution is to never accuse anyone of having said anything. Simply quote exactly what (s)he said or wrote – and then respond to that.
If you don’t understand what someone has said or written, then ask for clarification – quoting exactly what it is you want clarified.
I don’t know how widespread this sillygism thinking error is. I suspect it’s a trap most of us fall into from time to time. It particularly occurs as a prelude to getting upset. Many upsets follow the sillygism form:
- Something happens or is said (A).
- The “victim” thinks or says, “It means she doesn’t love/respect me… he insulted me… whatever” (B) – which may have little or nothing to do with A.
- B is bad.
- Therefore I’m upset by A.
For example, some readers may decide that what’s written here about this common thinking error – particularly calling it a “sillygism” – is “patronizing” or even “insulting.” As a result they may “get upset.”
Maybe, like words, events have no meaning. Maybe people create in their heads all the meaning there is. Maybe they use their own meanings or neural patterns to upset themselves.
How to Escape the Prison of Symbols
To the extent that the meanings or neural patterns in your brain are rigid, automatic, habitual, unexamined, or unconscious, you are a prisoner of symbols. Rigid, automatic, habitual, unexamined, or unconscious neural patterns limit your freedom of choice. When the symbol is flashed you react like a puppet – if you have a neural pattern associated with the symbol, and your neural pattern is rigid, automatic, habitual, unexamined, or unconscious. Rigid, automatic, habitual, unexamined, or unconscious neural patterns are not under your control. As a result, your behavior as a reaction to the symbols for which you have rigid, automatic, habitual, unexamined, or unconscious neural patterns, may also be out of your control. And out-of-control behavior is almost certainly guaranteed to not be in your best interests.
To escape from your prison of symbols you apply the semantic thinking skills proposed in this report:
- Distinguish between symbol and referent (unlearn semantic identification);
- Question the notion that “words have meanings”;
- Question the notion of “human law”;
- Question the commonly held notion of “physical law”;
- Examine the nature of the referent to determine whether it is objective or subjective;
- Examine your meanings to determine how they affect your power.
- Beware of the sillygism.
You may also want to do some of the exercises from A Course in Miracles, published by Foundation for Inner Peace, PO Box 635, Tiburon, CA 94920. Here are some titles of exercises from Volume Two: Workbook for Students I particularly recommend:
Lesson 1 – “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.”
Lesson 2 – “I have given everything in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”
Lesson 3 – “I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
Lesson 4 – “These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
Lesson 5 – “I am never upset for the reason I think.”
Lesson 6 – “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”
Lesson 7 – “I see only the past.”
Lesson 8 – “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.”
Lesson 9 – “I see nothing as it is now.”
Lesson 10 – “My thoughts do not mean anything.”
Lesson 11 – “My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.”
Lesson 12 – “I am upset because I see a meaningless world.”
Lesson 13 – “A meaningless world engenders fear.”
Lesson 15 – “My thoughts are images that I have made.”
Lesson 16 – “I have no neutral thoughts.”
Lesson 17 – “I see no neutral things.”
Lesson 20 – “I am determined to see.”
Lesson 21 – “I am determined to see things differently.”
Lesson 24 – “I do not perceive my own best interests.”
Lesson 25 – “I do not know what anything is for.”
Lesson 31 – “I am not the victim of the world I see.”
Lesson 32 – “I have invented the world I see.”
Lesson 33 – “There is another way of looking at the world.”