Twisting Words: Trojan Horses and Paper Money

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.

You may know the story of the Trojan horse. After ten years of warfare, the Greeks had failed to conquer Troy in open combat. So they resorted to a ruse, constructing an enormous wooden horse, hollow on the inside. They left it to the city as an offering to the goddess Athena before departing – or so it seemed. The men of Troy wheeled the horse into the city, and at night, when the festivities were over, the soldiers hidden inside the horse clambered out to open the city gates to those waiting outside. And so Troy fell.

“Why didn’t the silly Trojans check inside the horse first?” Good question. But it’s easy to think of that after the fact. The hard thing is to see and recognise a Trojan horse for what it is – before it breaks open. And the strategy of the Trojan horse is still in use today. It doesn’t have to be an enormous wooden statue – sometimes it can be an idea, or a word.

Let me tell you a story from my earliest days at university.

Every year, at the start of semester, the university holds a clubs’ fair. I, a curious first-year, was interested in everything, and that’s how I found myself talking to the Rationalists.

Their table display listed all the irrational beliefs that they stood against. They opposed climate deniers, and anti-vaxxers. Christianity got some special attention – a list of references and a handy Bible served to demonstrate that it, the cornerstone of the West, was misogynistic. See, here’s the spot where it says ‘wives submit to your husbands’. See? See?

How could anybody deny the force of their Reason?

At that stage, I was a much less developed thinker; my esprit d’escalier had a waiting period of weeks, or even months. It took a while to discover the answer to the charge of Biblical misogyny. I found it in the end, but I never signed up to that club – I could get my views challenged in the same way from the comfort of any classroom. Years later, I thought back and realised properly what was the problem with those Rationalists. Quite simply, they put the cart before the horse.

They put the product of reason – the conclusions, the beliefs – in place of the process. Instead of an inquiring and investigative mind, they were selling a certain set of beliefs (pro-vaccination! climate change! atheist/anti-theist!), and they were using Reason as a big stick to bash people who disagreed.

Ironic, wouldn’t you say, coming from people who called themselves Rationalists?

“Consider the reasons which make us certain that we are right,” wrote Ayn Rand, ”but not the fact that we are certain. If you are not convinced, ignore our certainty. Don’t be tempted to substitute our judgment for your own.”

I may be too hard on these campus Rationalists. Maybe they were just terrible at presentation that year. Regardless, I will remember that experience as an example of the Trojan horse. Reason – a word that everybody has to like – loaded up with assumptions and a worldview, and presented as if it was nothing more than it appeared at face value. How could anybody object to Reason?

I love reason. But I don’t love Reason. I don’t love being presented with a set of acceptable beliefs, sealed with the stamp of ReasonTM, for my unquestioning consumption, along with the implication that all those who disagree are closed-minded and superstitious.

ReasonTM. The trademark signifies that a certain colour, design, logo or phrase may be used only by the company that has registered it. Cadbury has a trademark on the colour purple, so it can be used only for Cadbury products. In the same way, there are those who try to stake out a claim on Reason as if it’s exclusive to them and their own particular ideology.

New Atheists, I’m looking at you.

ReasonTM is not the only Trojan-horse word in circulation today. A similar one is Science, and others include Love, Tolerance, Equality and Compassion.

Think it through, if you will. ToleranceTM? That means you’re not allowed to hold views that go against the ideas of the current year. Because it’s not okay to say No. You bigot.

EqualityTM? That means that everyone should be the same. They should have the same amount of money (because income inequality is bad). They should use the same words for their union. They shouldn’t be differentiated in any way. For any reason.

ScienceTM means that religion is outdated and materialism is in. What we see is all there is, and science has disproved God. Isn’t science wonderful? Aren’t you glad to be enlightened?

CompassionTM means having compassion on certain groups of people over others. The Greens in particular love this word – “Vote 1 Alex Bhathal, she’s very compassionate”.

Photo by seanpanderson

It’s hard to criticise Compassion in public – it sounds so unfeeling – but trust Ayn Rand to do it well:

“I regard compassion as proper only towards those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.”

If one cannot have equal compassion on all, then one is justified in asking this question: compassion on whom?

And the last of all is LoveTM. As I’m sure we all know by now, Love is Love. This mindless slogan apes the simplicity of the axiom that A is A. Reality is real, the sky is blue, and hello hello, it’s the current year. Those who use the slogan Love is Love would have you believe that its unexamined assumptions are as obvious and inescapable as the most basic rules of logic.

We know that Love is Love. But what is it, this thing called love? It’s a word over-used and under-defined. The love that is love doesn’t mean the love of a parent for a child or the love of a brother for a sister. Love is love is sexual love – it’s romantic, sexual love, between two people, any two people of any gender. (But no more than two people, because the slippery slope argument is totally invalid and not a thing that could ever happen.) This is the love that can’t be questioned any more than the axiom that A is A. It’s rife with implications and vague ideas, suggested but not stated, that may not bear the light of day.

Redefining marriage will have flow-on effects, most notably on children, whose flourishing marriage is designed to protect. But Love is Love, and it’s the current year. You’re not supposed to examine the premises, or question the assumptions. It spoils the purpose of the Trojan horse to go peeking inside it before you drag it into Troy. It must be accepted on face value. Unquestioned.

Right now we’re waiting for the outcome of the Ruddock review on religious freedom. The Equality Campaign has submitted a recommendation that parents not be notified when their child is learning about “non-traditional marriage”, that churches lose their freedom to choose employees on religious grounds, and that bakers should be forced to make the cake. Remember, this was supposed to affect nobody but the people getting married. But that was before we dragged the horse inside the city gates.

This double meaning is why I have a double reaction to some words. Love? I might think Wonderful, love, or I might think Radical social progressivism, run for your life. Reason? I might think I love reason, let’s have a good talk about what we think and why, or I might think here comes another bout of shallow religion-bashing. Tolerance? I might think of a mature attitude to disagreement, or I might think of forced agreement, because there’s nothing more equal than having the state tell you what views you are and aren’t allowed to hold.

It gets hard to deal with reality when a word has two definitions, the commonly accepted, dictionary version, and the other from the unwritten lexicon of activists and the cultural elite – unwritten and subject to redefinition if necessary. After a while you get used to the sour taste of duplicity in your mouth. You start feeling that the words belong to those who’ve redefined them. You start using them yourself – in air-quotes at first, until you get too discouraged to fight.

Orwell would be rolling in his grave.

Words have meaning, no? This is because they represent reality, in the same way that money represents real-world value. Money made of paper or base metal is accepted on the understanding that it represents the value that it would have held had it been minted in gold. Paper money holds no intrinsic value, and the value it represents can’t be manipulated by tampering with the currency. You can print off more paper money, but the value is gone.

Words represent reality in the same way that paper money represents gold. Break the link between words and reality, between paper and gold, and all meaning is lost. All you have left is empty words and paper money.

There are those who think that they can seize control of reality by hijacking words. They think that if they can add their own meanings to a word – add totalitarianism to Tolerance and radical social change to Love, then these extra concepts, these hidden passengers inside the belly of the wooden beast, will carry the same weight, the same value and respect, as the original words.

They think that if they can call two unlike things by the same word, reality will fall into line, and the unlike will become alike, or even interchangeable. They think that if they can seize the word ‘marriage’ for themselves, then the meaning of it will also be theirs – the social acceptance, and the difference in social outcomes. You may have heard it argued:

“Given that marriage is linked to improved social outcomes, why would you deny gay people and their children these better outcomes? Why not let gay people get ‘married’?”

What better outcomes there may be, rest assured that it’s not a result of using the word ‘marriage’. ‘Marriage’ is only a word used to describe a state of reality. And that reality is not a piece of paper, a wedding cake, or a word. To seize the name alone is to seize paper money, thinking it gold.

Trying to change reality by tampering with words is like trying to get out of debt by printing paper money. All it does is to break the vital link between words and reality, between printed money and gold. It devalues your currency and in the same way, it devalues words, divorcing them from the meaning that made them worthwhile.

You are the resistance. Mint your words in gold, and make them count.

Recognise a Trojan horse, and don’t take it on face value. Interestingly, the acceptance of words at face value goes one way only. Those progressives who want the Trojan horse to go unexamined – Love is love, how dare you question that? – are also likely to deconstruct every word of yours for hidden bias and unconscious sexism.

Don’t exist on their terms. Don’t exchange minted gold for printed paper, or truthful words representing reality for loaded words that look the same but mean whatever the right people want them to.

Be prepared to cop the indignation of those who feel justified by the moral weight of ReasonTM, ScienceTM, LoveTM, CompassionTM, ToleranceTM and EqualityTM behind them. If words have any meaning, you must save real reason, real tolerance, real love and real equality from their hands.

Oh, and one small trick that will make you super annoying at parties: next time someone says “because science says so”, ask for sources. Ask “Why?” and “How do you know that?” These are easy questions to ask – you don’t have to be a scientist. Just don’t let people wield the moral force of ScienceTM if they’ve got all their ‘scientific’ knowledge from FB videos and I F***ing Love ScienceTM. Check out the soldiers hiding in the belly of that wooden beast, and drag out the facts, kicking and screaming, into the cold light of day.

“Because ScienceTM… because ReasonTM.… because CompassionTM … because Love is LoveTM… because EqualityTM… because ToleranceTM…”

Alone, none of these are an argument. They’re intellectual crutches for those who’ve failed to defeat Troy in fair fight, and are now sending in the Trojan horses to conquer your mind.


It’s your XYZ.