The Power and Consequences of Language and Names: Insights from Plato and the Dzungar Genocide


Hatched by CH

May 16, 2024

3 min read


The Power and Consequences of Language and Names: Insights from Plato and the Dzungar Genocide

Language and names hold immense power in shaping our understanding of the world and the actions we take. In two seemingly unrelated contexts, we can find common points that shed light on the significance of language and the consequences it can have on individuals and entire populations.

In Plato's "Cratylus," the exploration of names and their conventionality becomes a window into the nature of truth and falsehood. Hermogenes argues that names are merely conventional, like the names of slaves, and can be given and altered at will. While there is an element of convention in all things, Socrates challenges Hermogenes by pointing out that this view of language ultimately blurs the line between truth and falsehood. The rational basis for convention in human nature remains elusive, and Cratylus adds to the discussion by asserting that a name is either a true name or not a name at all. This fallacy of perceiving language as an all-or-nothing expression of truth is still prevalent in contemporary theories about the origin of language.

On the other hand, the Dzungar genocide sheds light on the real-world consequences of language and names. The Qianlong Emperor's orders during the genocide reveal the power language holds in dehumanizing and justifying atrocities. The orders explicitly state that rebels should be shown no mercy, and only the old and weak should be spared. This language of devaluation and extermination led to the complete destruction of the Dzungar state and people, with estimates suggesting a death toll of 70 to 80 percent of their population. The importance of language is further emphasized when the orders emphasize that surrendering must be done in person, highlighting the distrust and manipulation associated with indirect communication.

From these seemingly disparate narratives, we can draw actionable advice for our own lives and societies.

  • 1. Recognize the power of language: Language shapes our perceptions, beliefs, and actions. We must be mindful of the words we use and the narratives we perpetuate, as they can have profound effects on individuals and communities. By using language responsibly, we can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.
  • 2. Question conventional wisdom: Just because something is conventional doesn't mean it is inherently right or true. As Socrates challenges Hermogenes' view on language, we should critically examine societal norms and beliefs. By doing so, we can uncover the deeper rational grounds that underpin conventions and make more informed decisions.
  • 3. Value human life and dignity: The devastating consequences of the Dzungar genocide highlight the importance of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every individual. We must reject language and ideologies that dehumanize others and fuel hatred or violence. By promoting empathy, compassion, and understanding, we can work towards a world where such atrocities are never repeated.

In conclusion, the exploration of language and names in Plato's "Cratylus" and the tragic events of the Dzungar genocide offer valuable insights into the power and consequences of language. By recognizing this power, questioning conventions, and valuing human life and dignity, we can actively shape a more just and inclusive society. Let us remember that our words have the power to unite or divide, to empower or oppress, and to build or destroy.

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