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New Achenblog Comment Policy

  Talked to the Schemer yesterday about our comments policy. As you know, we abjure vulgarity (or what the Schemer calls "excessive profanity") and hateful speech. Some whiners and conspiracy theorists may see this as censorship, but frankly I think we should go even further, and crack down on tediousness. Also illogic. Also on comments that fail to praise our journalistic efforts. Criticism, in a word. It really must stop.

    But as we refine the policy, this blog takes a giant leap and hereby announces a new and incontrovertible rule. We will not permit comments that employ the following words: is, are, am, was, were, be, have been, being, and any and all permutations, conjugations and excitations of the verb "to be."

    Intellectual laziness has incited the rather indiscriminate use of the aforesaid verbs, which imply the existence of absolute truths. Careful speech and careful writing serve as defenses against sloppy thought and the dire political consequences thereof.

    When we say, for example, that George Bush "is" the president, we open an enormous can of philosophical worms. [The very worst kind of worms.] The presidency transcends a single individual. A person may temporarily serve in a capacity that could be defined as "the president," but the job lacks the permanence, immutability and unimpeachability that the i-word clearly implies. You should ask yourself: Bush "is" the president according to what authority? A majority of the electorate? Don't get us started. By taking the presidential oath of office? The same can be said of four other people still living. Indeed those other people by common protocol retain the honorific title "Mr. President." No one says "Mr. Former President."

    Does all this sound too much like the esoteric linguistic theories of Alfred Korzybski? Perhaps. But there comes a point in life when one must surrender to the wisdom of General Semantics.

    From The Times obit of Korzybski:

   "He explained that life was composed of non-verbal facts, each differing from another and each forever changing. Too often, he contended, men got the steps of their thought-speech processes confused, so that they spoke before observing and then reacted to their own remarks as if they were fact itself.

    "In explaining simply what he meant by misleading words, Mr. Korzybski said that to say a rose 'is' red is a delusion because the red color was only the vibration of light waves." 

    With words, according to General Semantics theory, we can express ourselves, analyze problems, create rules, reach compromises, and so on, but we can also do the following: misinform, lie, deny, suppress, inhibit, dictate, indoctrinate, stereotype, pigeonhole, slander and quibble. And so on down the line. There exists a real world for which words represent only a loose and, in some cases, extremely misleading approximation. Dangerous stuff indeed.

    The new rule now serves as law on this blog, and will remain our anchor in the maelstrom of modern communication.   

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 18, 2006; 8:40 AM ET
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