PR Cannot Change Reality

Okay, I am not making this up. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has started an online petition to somehow change the name of  “fish” to “Sea Kitten”. 

This is their reasoning:

People don’t seem to like fish. They’re slithery and slimy, and they have eyes on either side of their pointy little heads—which is weird, to say the least. Plus, the small ones nibble at your feet when you’re swimming, and the big ones—well, the big ones will bite your face off if Jaws is anything to go by.
Of course, if you look at it another way, what all this really means is that fish need to fire their PR guy—stat. Whoever was in charge of creating a positive image for fish needs to go right back to working on the Britney Spears account and leave our scaly little friends alone. You’ve done enough damage, buddy. We’ve got it from here. And we’re going to start by retiring the old name for good. When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it’s time for a serious image makeover. And who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?

The fatal flaw in PETA’s reasoning is that even if you call it a “Sea Kitten” the creature will still be slithery, slimy, cold, have eyes on the side of its head and in general have no mammalian empathic features. Humans won’t have positive feelings about the creatures no matter what you call them. 

This little stunt exemplifies a concept common to the Left. Leftists nearly universally believe that you can change the reality of a situation by changing the words associated with that situation. Now, anyone who has done or seen marketing knows that you can slightly alter people’s perceptions of a situation (or product) by altering people’s associations with the situation. This is especially true in the case of non-functional products such as fashion items.  However, the tactic has very sharp limitations. You can sell perfume by associating it with a glamorous actress but you can’t sell antibiotics or machine tools that way. 

Words do not control our thoughts. Indeed, words are little more than labels we attach to boxes in our mind that hold collections of pieces of information that together create a concept. The labels on the boxes change from language to language and with the same language over time but the central concepts remain the same. Changing the label on a negative concept does not alter how people feel about the concept. Instead, one must alter the concept itself. 

My favorite example of this comes from scientific history of the study of the mind. Prior to the mid-1800s people that we would today call “mentally challenged” were termed “touched” as in “touched by God”. Scientists and doctors decided that such language was unscientific, disrespectful to the afflicted and prevented people from seeing the afflicted as having a disease. To remedy this situation, they changed the labels to “idiot” for adults having mental capacity of a three-year old and used “moron” to describe an adult with the mental capacity of a child aged 6-12.

“Moron” and “idiot” were strictly technical terms, so much so that they showed up in the laws of the time. 

Of course, it did not take long for the words “idiot” and “moron” to become insults as people associated the words with the negative state of having a reduced intellect. People would exclaim, “What are you, a moron?” when someone did something stupid.

In the 1930s, doctors decided that calling people idiots and morons was demeaning so they changed the label to “retarded” which simply means “held back”. By the 1960s “retarded” had become a demeaning insult so they changed the label to “handicapped”. By the 1990s “handicapped” had become an insult so they changed the label to “mentally challenged”.

Now children on the playground mock each other as “challenged”. 

Over a very short time, the reality of the condition described overwhelms any attempt to create a positive association by slapping a label with different associations on the box that holds the concept. Having an abnormally low intellect is undesirable and no amount of wordsmithing will change that fact. 

Likewise, fish are not huggable.

Slapping the name of something that is huggable on them will not change that fact. All it will do is change the connotations of the name. Should PETA succeed, decades down the road “kitten” will mean something cold and slimy. 

PR cannot change reality.

One has a certain sympathy for those trying to make the world a better place for the “mentally challenged” but leftists choose to believe that changing labels changes the world because such a belief empowers articulate intellectuals. In a world in which words shape reality, those who control words control reality. Such a world view has a deep emotional appeal to the egocentric articulate intellectual. 

So PETA’s effort is doomed. They can no more make people stop eating fish by calling them “kittens” than they could get people to eat kittens by calling them “land fish”*. Of course, helping fish isn’t their true goal. The well paid officers of the revenue-seeking corporation called PETA simply need something to attract attention and donations. 

* As was suggested by the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim bump where I found about this bit of silliness. 



35 thoughts on “PR Cannot Change Reality”

  1. Ah, that was indeed a great day Jonathan, that thing was GIGANTIC, and you did a great job reeling him in…I look forward to April when I plan on slaying as many sea kittens as I can get my hands on in the Tampa area.

  2. Leftists nearly universally believe that you can change the reality of a situation by changing the words associated with that situation.

    The classic example of this is the expropriation of the warm, cuddly word “liberal” to describe a cold, slimy collectivist ideology with eyes on the sides of its head.

  3. eisenhower changed the department of war to the department of defense. reagan changed massive debts into fiscal responsibility. bush i changed mutilated children into collateral damage. bush jr changed body bags into transfer tubes, propaganda into video news releases, constitutional treason into homeland security. why the fk dont you people realize you have been duped and simply spout the same sht you allegedly oppose? both parties are for suckers.

  4. “The well paid officers of the revenue-seeking corporation called PETA simply need something to attract attention and donations.”

    sounds like you have a problem with high paid execs working for profit driven corps. hysterical. your hypocrisy knows no end.

  5. Lee,

    in case you think propaganda is the sole domain of “liberals”

    This is not about propaganda. Rather, my argument is about the relative belief in the power of words. Leftist have written entire books about how to alter peoples political behavior by renaming something. I have read one book (whose name I cannot recall because it is ridiculously long) by a well regarded professor at Berkley which held forth the idea that conservatives dominated politics from 1980-2008 merely because they had come up with clever marketing phrases.

    The leftist belief in the power of words borders on the magical. They believe that almost anything can be accomplished if one just finds the magical combination of words and if the words themselves won’t do the job, well, then make up new ones.

    This belief springs from leftism’s intellectual roots as a vehicle for advancing the status and power of articulate intellectuals at the expense of the productive. They believe in the magic of words because such a world flatters and elevates them more than a world that requires concrete action.

    I have absolutely no doubt that that people at PETA actually believe that calling fish “sea kittens” will make people want to hug them. Such a world view is inculcated into almost anyone with a liberal arts degree.

    sounds like you have a problem with high paid execs working for profit driven corps

    No, I have a problem with hypocrites who claim to be so noble as to be above the desire for money even as they rake it in by calling everyone else greedy. PETA and similar organizations do not make profits i.e. they return nothing to those who invest but they do seek revenue just like any other corporation. Their corporate officers make the same decisions for the same reasons as do for-profit companies.

  6. Words do have power – but they derive their power from meaning. The disconnect between meaning and word is the problem here. It is irritating but it also leads to foggy thinking. It is because we recognize the power of words that we recognize those who divorce meaning from words are taking away the very power words have.

    Eventually, of course, this leads to a Potemkin language where nothing stands behind the word. And it leads to our isolation from others because we have lost a skill that thousands of years of human interactivity has honed – a skill that makes us feel less alone in the world and that makes us more productive and happier. When words mean whatever in the hell we want them to mean, that “we want” means we are speaking an idiolect. And frankly there isn’t much point to learning such a language.

  7. wake up neocons. you live in a thoroughly debunked fantasy world. since the inevitable crash of hyper-corporatism is now proceeding with all due velocity (yea! perhaps a few species will survive you parasites), you might want to pick up some real skills that don’t revolve around the idiotic finance economy that your crypto-fascist machiavellian chicago boyz dreamed up as the latest/greatest tool of world domination by the parasite class.

    oh my “mr. manifold”, you’re as intrepid as your neocon hero, draft-dodging dick. i’m not interested in exposing myself to you fucking bizarre pseudo-religious, corpo-cult worshiping tools. you clearly see violence as the only soln to your self-constructed problems… no doubt you’d “hire” someone for the job though as you don’t take any real risks.

    Kissinger: “Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy.” 30% of homeless people are veterans of US wars. BushCorp failed to provide armored humvees, flak jackets, and actually CUT VA benefits amidst his war of choice. you and your ilk give not one shit about the troops — it is your sick policies you want supported, and you hide behind the troops. only you are fooled by your rhetoric.

    so long, planet killers. i shall leave you to your pointless psychobabble and deluded “analyses”.

  8. Jonathan,
    Given the comments on some other blogs, it is sometimes hard to tell when something is pushed so far it is parody. Is it signalled by some ratio of 4-letter words? Some quantity of “chickenhawk” references? Some number of clearly fictitious facts culled from advocacy literature?

    I’d sure like to see Lee as a satirist. It isn’t like there aren’t problems out there that it would be nice to solve by joining with divergent political perspectives. Some, however, seem to have diverged enough to be close to falling off the map.

  9. If I may be permitted to go on a tangent (way, way out there tangent), may I respectfully object to the use of “Potemkin language”.
    There is a solid, stable idiom, “Potyomkin village”, that refers to a specific matter, ‘false villages made up only of front walls to form a backdrop for a make-belief show’ that Ct. Potyomkin supposedly ordered to construct to impress the Empress.
    Which is proven, in historic literature, to have no precedent in reality: His Illuminance Count G.A. Potyomkin-Tavrichesky did built those villages, little towns, various manufactures and even the Black Sea Fleet for Ekaterina to see on her voyage to the Southern Lands in 1787. He was also a genius in self-PR, courtier who reveled in intrigue, a womanizer and a braggadocio who managed to get himself awarded all medals and orden signs of his time. No wonder he had lots of enemies, including French ambassador and Saxon consul, who were responsible for the manufacturing of this myth and sending the news in their reports to Europe.

    Potyomkin language, then, makes no sense whatsoever. There is no reason to believe Count’s Russian (or even his French and German) were worse than the rest of the court or were in any sense false, flawed or deliberately adjusted for miscommunication. And even if you want to mix idioms into one unclear aggregate, there is no need to darken poor Grigory Aleksandrovich’ reputation further; he’d (undeservedly) suffered enough already!

    /tangent off

  10. Tatanya,

    Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the truth behind the origins of phrase have little to do with its contemporary or future use. Words and phrases mutate and evolve over time just as biological forms do. Saying someone “gyped” you doesn’t mean your biases against Romani and singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” doesn’t mean you think Americans are unsophisticated hicks.

  11. Shannon,
    yes, language mutates – but there is no need to invent misleading idioms where there was none before and multiply the confusion artificially.

    And please. PLEASE. call me correctly. “Tatanya” is such an ugly invention.

  12. Heh, that last comment by Lee was an alltimer. I think he might have been having a “Scanners” moment while writing it.

    Either that or “Lee” is actually Iowahawk having some fun.

  13. Worrying about crap like this can only happen in a country too wealthy to worry about where its next meal is coming from. Peta and its ilk would like to kill that engine of wealth creation. Great.

    I’m having sea kitten for both lunch and dinner. I don’t care what Peta calls anything. I’m still calling it tasty. While language has power, it’s pretty difficult to dictate language. For example, does anybody NOT still call the INS the “INS” just because they changed the name to Department of Homeland Security. Does anybody NOT call Newark Airport by its original name just because the name was originally changed to “Liberty Airport”? Whatev.

  14. The left has had considerable success with this strategy, but done more subtly. For example, survey women if they have ever in their lives had to deal with an unwanted sexual advance by someone they knew, including where they did not indicate they didn’t want it at the time, and then reporting all the “Yesses” as date rape: so you get headlines like “Half of all women are victims of date rape!!”

    I can’t think of an example, but I’m sure some on teh right also play this game, but the left, abetted by the lapdog media and having fewer scruples about means vs. ends issues, does it much more effectively.

  15. Marty,

    Any one who does marketing, including political marketing, does this to some extent. However, most people realize when they do so that they are just trying to alter associations. Leftist seem to believe that they actually alter human behavior on a fundamental level such as making people want to hug a fish.

  16. Shannon,

    Obviously, I agree with you. That doesn’t mean that, as Tatyana demonstrates, that these can’t prove awkward.

    When one of my husband’s dearest (if most eccentric) friends was visiting and I said we’d been gypped when we bought a record (yes, the old days) with only 4 songs on it (“Don’t Mess With my Toot Toot), his friend was not completely laughing when he stood up and said maybe it was time for him and his family to leave. (He is active in Gypsy power organizations, sat on the Holocaust Commission representing his people, etc.) He did sit back down and stayed the weekend. In a collegial discussion on political correctness, I pointed out to a British woman (who often implies we are racist in ways her native land is not) that the variety of phrases having to do with “welshing” imply that that ethnic group is neither honest nor industrious; she looked at me blankly and then said, ah, yes, of course that is the derivation. It was probably small of me to make that remark.

    I think (as Bradford said in Plymouth) it’s best not to take offense nor give it. Oversensitivity either way makes conversation a test and an attempt to exert power. These are not conducive to dialogue and can get in the way of arguments the same way puns do. (I really hate puns when I am earnestly stating my opinion & some jerk starts wanting to discuss things on an entirely different – and clearly more superficial – level. Such punning pretty much ruined one of my old relationships and I am forever thankful I didn’t have to put up with that shit the rest of my life. But then, that, too, may be my insensitivity – it probably happens when someone doesn’t want to deal with the conversation I want to have. Of course, that doesn’t mean I should have to have a stupid conversation in its place.)

    But then, Hitler didn’t kill my people, even if they were only 1/16th whatever in the hell I am – they did Ian’s.

    (Shannon: This is pretty much all off on a tangent – things aren’t particularly good here tonight and it’s fun to throw together pointless discussion. Isn’t that what friends are for – to listen to bullshit when we are under stress? And aren’t Chicagoboyz in some kind of weird way friends?)

  17. “Leftists nearly universally believe that you can change the reality of a situation by changing the words associated with that situation.”

    This explains why leftists generally favor ending free speech. The left believes you can change thoughts and behavior by making words illegal. The right believes you can change behavior by calling it a “sin.” Both segments of each side are highly religious. The left, who worships the religion of Political Correctness believes we’re born as racists, who can only be cleansed of our “original sin of racism” by accepting Obama into our hearts as our lord and savor. Christians believe we’re born with “original sin” and can only be saved by accepting Jesus Christ.

    The religion of Political Correctness is an outgrowth of Christianity. There are Saints (MLK), Saviours (Obama), and Demons (people of European decent who don’t accept Political Correctness). Its main places of worship are liberal arts departments, and the high Priests are college professors. Some don’t become priests and becomes deacons instead. These folks run the “Office of Multiculturalism” on Campus. Sometimes they’re the resident hall director and create programs to encourage college aged kids to “accept diversity.”

    Diversity and/or Multiculturalism is the highest sacrament in this faith. Nothing is more Holy than this sacrament. If Muslim men rape Dutch women in the Netherlands, then these women were at fault. They should of have been more sensitive to Muslim culture. If Mexican “workers” lower the wages of American workers, America workers are at fault for being “xenophobic.” No other sacrament can be higher than diversity.

    A final lord and savor (or Messiah) will come when the conditions on earth are right. In this way, PC is like Judaism. This conditions include the formation of a “new post-racial man” (NPRM). This NPRM will be realized when humans have become one great brown monstrosity, with one culture, and one way of thought. Outcomes will be totally equal, and the social construct known as “gender” will be done away with. All people will be part women, part man, part red,black,brown,yellow,white and 100% committed to “tolerance.”

  18. Ginny, I like in your comment the part about not taking offense nor giving it. I made a few “mistakes” last year in using words that I thought to be completely harmless, but were taken as insults – people were supremely mad at me for saying those things. I would rather not repeat what the things were, but suffice it to say they are things I have said since I was a child. More than likely taught to me by my father.

    But I was also called a “kraut”, “cracker” and a few other things last year. Yea, I am of German heritage and I am as white as the next cornfed Midwesterner. But I just smile, or laugh. I am not sure, but I think it may be a Midwest thing. I am not easily offended and most of my associates are not easily offended either.

  19. I really hate puns when I am earnestly stating my opinion & some jerk starts wanting to discuss things on an entirely different – and clearly more superficial – level
    If I did that, with my branching out into an neologism/idiom discussion, I’m sorry, Ginny. I did apologized beforehand, though.

    Dan, may I suggest one of the reasons you don’t feel that offended because nobody in your family (even of older generations) had been persecuted, in memorable and life-threatening form, by people who did it while calling your folks “krauts”. Somehow I think Germans in Germany wouldn’t take the word in equal good humor…I know my German classmate Laurhen (whose family was deported to Kazakhstan during the War) wouldn’t.

  20. Tatyana – it isn’t just calling me a kraut, cracker, or roast beef, as one of my French friends is fond of calling me from my English/Irish heritage (yep, I’m a mutt). But I call him froggie and he doesn’t care (he is from the Midwest too). Calling me names or slurs never really affected me, even when I was a little kid.

    I can’t say for sure or not if it would affect me if I knew that my family was persecuted – my granparents fled Germany from Hitler and I have heard them called kraut before – they didn’t seem to affected or seem to care. Tough to put generalizations on this type of thing I think.

  21. I love to eat tuna kittens, swordfish kittens, and salmon kittens. After I remove the fur, of course. Mmmmm.

    I live just across the Hudson from Fishkill, NY. It’s been a few years but I think it was PETA or some group equally intellectually challenged (ok, moronic) that wanted Fishkill to rename itself. Of course non-moronic folks at least around here know “Fishkill” derives from the Dutch: fish and “kill” for stream. At the time, I think it was the “kill” they objected to. I guess now they would demand Fishkill rename itself to Kittenstream.

    The endless ludicracies of the left…

  22. I was so excited to learn of PETA’s efforts for sea kittens I went to their website for the first time. I found that they have a great on-line “design your own sea kitten” feature, where you can also name him or her. I named mine “Lunch”. What did you name yours?

  23. There is already someone who comments over at Harry’s Place under the name of “Sea Kitten,”–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jerry Seinfeld-style irony is not dead yet.

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