Saturday, 26 September 2015

Terminological Inexactitude

I'm sitting in Taichung HSR station for the next hour or so while I wait for my black motorbike to get new tyres fitted to it; preventative maintenance not emergency repair. In the meantime I can write a quick blog post on a thought that occurred to me this morning whilst reading an editorial at "Thinking Taiwan" on the KMT presidential candidate.

It is the old problem of naming political creeds; identifying and articulating what is wrong with the old name and finding an adequate replacement. In the particular case, I think the word "authoritarian" is not fit for purpose and that it should be replaced by something like "cryptocrat". Let's see if I can adequately explain this suggestion...

The first problem with "authoritarian" is that the current concept it refers to is at odds with the root concept of "author", one who authors or creates something which did not previously exist. An authoritarian does not author or create society. Society is an emergent phenomenon that arises from the iterative transactions of large numbers of people. In that sense the term "authoritarian" is a kind of oxymoron.

The second problem is that the intermediate concept of a public "authority" which is "authorized" to spend certain funds and to perform certain functions does not by itself encompass the concept of "bully", which is the essential connotation of the term "authoritarian".

So there is basically nothing in the antecedent concepts of "author", "authority" and "to authorize" which allow for the concept "authoritarian". It is derivative in linguistic form only and not in content. Why does it matter? It bothers me to use words that are badly contrived for a given purpose. They are in a certain sense false.

My proposed substitute is "cryptocrat". An individual who regards opaqueness as the essential principle of government. A government that both fears the society from which it is drawn and holds that society in a certain kind of contempt, will be tempted toward secrecy of information and decision making, "black-box" agreements and clandestine operations. Although it has a "techie" feel at odds with the obvious lack of tech-savvy in people like president Ma or candidate Hung, it does integrate the concept of a government run on secrecy and this is the basic objection to the current KMT government that groups like the Black Island Alliance have expressed in the last few years.

Ok, so the bad guys are "cryptocrats". What about the likes of Tsai Ing-wen? The obvious counterpoint is "democrat", but this too is a term not entirely fit for purpose. There is more than one way of governing "by the people" and the term democrat allows no conceptual distinctions. Of course there are terms like "populist", "socialist", "democratic socialist" and so on, but these are all imprecise and in any case faded from overuse, like old tyres. I need to give some thought into how Tsai and her government-in-waiting would be best characterized and how best to express this. Anyway, my motorbike should be ready now so I'd better get moving.

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