Sunday, September 24, 2006

What does that mean, "human dignity"?

Since I read the news less than I should (but more than I like) I was unaware until recently that George Bush actually said, in defending his torture proposals, that the concept of human dignity is too vague, and must be discarded. "What does that mean," he said, "outrages upon human dignity?"

When you learn a language, the way you acquire the meaning of words is not by reading a dictionary, but by listening to actual usage.

Thus Mr. Bush could perhaps begin to apprehend the meaning of "human dignity" by referring to the words of his speech writers, which, of course, by convention are considered Mr. Bush's own words, since Mr. Bush actually read them aloud in various venues not so long ago, most notably in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2004, when he used the phrase no less than ten times. Here are some of Mr. Bush's own words (emphasis supplied.)

"Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have established a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria."

"Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have joined together to confront the evil of trafficking in human beings."

"Because we believe in human dignity, we should take seriously the protection of life from exploitation under any pretext."

"Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have changed the way we fight poverty, curb corruption, and provide aid..."

"Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have acted to lift the crushing burden of debt that limits the growth of developing economies, and holds millions of people in poverty."

"Because we believe in human dignity, the world must have more effective means to stabilize regions in turmoil, and to halt religious violence and ethnic cleansing."

On April 2, 2005, Mr. Bush spoke of Pope John Paul as follows: "Pope John Paul II was "a faithful servant of God and a champion of human dignity and freedom."

And in June of this year he said, “We’re after the terrorists not only by staying on the hunt, but we’re after them with an ideology of hope, an ideology of life, an ideology that recognizes human rights and human dignity.”

I have also seen a theory--propounded by crackpots on the Internet--that Mr. Bush is suffering from some kind of progressive cognitive disorder, to explain an alleged deterioration in his fluency in public speaking between 1991, when he was pretty sharp in some gubernatorial debates, and now, when...well, he isn't.

So maybe he is simply forgetting his native language. That would be sad, if the problem is neurological, but--and this, I am afraid, is far more likely--it would be chilling, if it is the inevitable consequence of six years of total immersion in doubletalk. Chilling, because it implies he had no more idea what the words meant when he read them 2 years ago, or last year, or in June of this year, than he does today.

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