Semiotics, Language, Meaning, & Politics

Words do have meaning.  They have value.  I do not think it is trivial that in the Judaeo-Christian tradition we have been presented with the notion of Jesus being “the Word made flesh” though this notion is much deeper and more meaningful than I understood as a child.  I have been immersed in linguistics, semiotics and philosophy for the past 20 years or so and now understand that language is much more than meets the “eye.”  Language, i.e. “the Word”, is a gut-level dimension of our experience and its value extends deeply into this “gut”, or heart, what some label the unconscious.  Words not only extend into this subterranean dimension of our lives but they arise from those depths and are essentially what makes us human.  (See Sandburg poem at conclusion)

Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst who was one of the earliest figures in my venture into this heart-realm argued that our very identity, on some level, is basically a verbal structure which I think provides further understanding of the admonishment of Jesus, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  Our words reveal who we are, or as someone said, “Our words become us” and as the Bible teaches us, “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

But the value of words is multi-dimensional.  There is the very superficial dimension which allows us to perfunctorily live in our culture and offer a “convincing performance” each day of our life.  Without this level of verbal experience, any culture would collapse because the hidden dimension of language, that of “meaning”, would be too intense for most people.  In the words of T. S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  Yet in this superficial level of experience, “common sense reality”, language even then must be offered respect.  Words do matter including the context in which they are used.  The example the contextual issue is often put on the table with is the observation that though one might have free speech, he does not have the right to cry “fire” in a crowded theater.  Words do convey “fact” in some respect even though some of us pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals admittedly like to question things like “fact!”  But the “factual” world must be respected if a social body is to cohere in a meaningful fashion.  If our political leaders start to play fast and easy with facts, i.e. with truth, then the very fabric of society is threatened.

And, you might have guessed, this brings me to Trumpism.  I will offer a link to a story in the Washington Post which addresses this verbal disintegration that threatens us.  Trump has ushered in what is being called a “fact free” world in which people can say anything without anything to back it up and will get by with it.  People will not be held accountable for their words, which was so pointedly demonstrated with Mr. Trump during the campaign when he said the most outrageous things and his followers completely overlooked them.  Even now as he is preparing for inauguration he and his transition team and continuing to demonstrate “fast and easy” use of language and now even trying to justify it.  Words do not matter to them.

This is relevant to an earlier point that words emerge from the depths of our heart.  In Trump’s heart there is grave “porosity of boundaries” so that he speaks and lives with disdain for common sensibilities and decorum, paralleling his life-style.  He was right when he declared months ago in the campaign the campaign that “I could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan” and not suffer at the polls.  He was exactly right.  He early in life discovered that no one would set limits for him and could steam-roll over any obstacle before him.  The American electorate has been steam-rolled and he is still being propped up by his supporters, many of whom continue to claim that God “has raised him up” to Make America Great Again.  And I can’t help but wonder if Trump is the mouth-piece for some heavily repressed dimension of his supporter’s heart

For perspective on this emerging fact-free zone, read the following (

A great poem by Carl Sandburg about our words rising out of our hidden depths.  (


3 thoughts on “Semiotics, Language, Meaning, & Politics

  1. Anne-Marie

    I love these words from Deuteronomy 2: 2, ” May my teaching fall like the rain, my speech descend like the dew, like showers falling on the grass.”

    Liked by 1 person


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