Somewhere along my travels, I found an old Chinese proverb that says this:
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.
I’ve found a great deal of value in that little saying. It is, in fact, a fundamental building block of human development. So long as we call things by false names, we maintain our own confusion and contribute to our own abuse.
So, today I want to examine several instances of calling things by false names and to define true names for them.
True Name #1: “Because violent people say so.”
We’ve all heard young people ask why certain things must be done. And we are all familiar with responses like “because it’s the law” or “because that’s how society works.”
Those phrases, however, are untrue. The honest answer to such questions is “because violent people demand it.” Almost no one pays taxes willingly; they pay because they’ll be punished if they do not comply, ultimately including armed men and jail cells. The same goes for every state order, from building permits to stop signs: Comply or face punishments, ending in violence.
The truth is not that we do things because of laws or even because of convention; we do them because the users of violence order them and stand ready to hurt us if we don’t comply.
For actions we take voluntarily, difficult and misleading answers are not required. We usually answer questions about those things easily and honestly.
True Name #2: “Thank you for killing people and breaking things.”
How many times have we heard, “Thank you for your service,” solemnly intoned to a military employee? The truth, however, is that militaries accomplish very specific things, which are – if we are to be honest and direct – to kill people and break things. Phrases like “protecting our freedoms” and “safeguarding our civilization” are judgments – approving summaries with the purpose of making you feel good. They are not direct facts.
Thus, the true name of “thank you for your service” is “thank you for killing people and breaking things.” Whether or not we think the killing and breaking are appropriate, this is an honest description of what weapons do.
(Hat tip to Rush Limbaugh, who was, so far as I know, the first person to use this phrase.)
True Name #3: “Paying my extortion.”
Extortion is “obtaining money, property, or services through coercion.” The classic example of extortion is a protection racket, with the racketeers calling their demand a “payment for protection.”
As we mentioned under #1, almost no one pays taxes willingly. Taxes are taken via coercion and justified by promises of protection. And so it could hardly be any clearer that the true name for taxes is extortion.
Some people will claim that this involuntary transaction is somehow justified, but that does nothing to change its true name: Taking money by coercion is extortion, and always will be.