Our Heads Cut Offrnby Harold O.J. Brownrn”Language is the armory of the human mind; and at once contains the trophiesrnof its past, and the weapons of its future conquests.”rn— Samuel Taylor ColeridgernLa I’ete coupee: Le Secret du pouvoirrnby Amaud-Aaron Vpinsk)’rnParis: l£ Bee; 522 pp., 149 francsrnThis remarkable F’rench mathematicianrnhas written extensively on whatrnhe considers the fundamental spiritualrnproblem of our day, the perversion of language,rnwhich he believes is related to thernperversion of mathematics, a topic thatrnhe explored in an earlier book. In thernpresent work, Upinsky’s thesis is simple:rnSince the days of the Greek philosophers.rnWestern intellectual history has beenrnmarked by a clash of two different languages,rn”true language” and “strong language.”rnTrue language is the language ofrndie real or—in Upinsky’s terminolog} —rnof realism, the goal of which is to impartrna truthfid view of reality. Strong languagernis the language of nominalism, arnlanguage in which words are merelyrnnomina — names or svmbols designed torninfluence belief and behavior.rnWhile the conflict between true andrnstrong language is age-old, in oiu’ erarnstrong language is being effectivelyrnhoned so that its dominance becomes cv-rnHarold O.j. Brown is religion editor forrnChronicles, a professor of theology andrnphilosophy at Reformed TheologicalrnSeminary in Charlotte, North Carolina,rnand the editor of the Religion & Societ’rnReport.rner more complete. The result is that wernwho listen have “our heads cut off: Thatrnis, we arc unable to use them for the purposernto which they were designed —rnnamely, to think. Upinsky’s insight is kinrnto that expressed by George Orwell in thernimagined totalitarian societ)’ of J984, inrnwhich die official language, Newspeak, isrnmade mandatory in order to prevent peoplernfrom resorhng to Oldthink.rnSomething similar has alrcadv beenrnaccomplished in Sweden and Norway,rnwhere old language forms have beenrnchanged, as it were, by government decreernin order to simplify die language, orrn(in the latter case) to dishngiush it for nationalisticrnpurposes from the heavilyrnDanish-tinged Norwegian of the old literaryrnclasses. In Hie Scandinavian countries,rnit is not apparent that anv goal otherrnthan “modernization” is in view.rnThe largest Germanic country has givenrnus a prime example of the use ofrnstrong language to manipulate publicrnopinion and make people willing to endurernthe otherwise unendurable. InrnVAchmann in ferusalem, Hannah Arendtrndescribed die imposition of Newspeak, orrnNeudeutsch, as we ntight call it, underrnthe Nazis. She called it “language rules.”rnShipment to an extermination camp, forrnexample, was called “resettlement in diernEast,” while die buses diat transportedrnthe sick and handicapped to the institutionrnwhere dicy would be euthanizedrnbore the identilying inscriptions, “CharitablernAssociation for die Transport of thernSick.”rnA wonderful example of die impositionrnof strong language in our own time isrnthe mental climate that legalized abortionrnhas created, in which the realih ofrnthe act has faded from ‘icw behind thernword “choice.” It is not inipo,ssiblc to userntrue language to speak of abortion: ThernGermans, following their experiencernwith Neudeutsch under Hitler, haverndared to do it. In a 1975 decision, diernGerman Federal Constitutional Courtrnwrote, “The usual language, terminationrnof pregnancy, cannot conceal the factrnthat abortion is a homicidal act.” That isrndie undeniable trutii, but such real languagernis hardl}’ acceptable today in diernUnited States, where “homicide” hasrnbeen re])laeed by “choice,” a neutralrnterm with great popular appeal, (f’.venrnFEBRUARY 2000/27rnrnrn