What Is an Ideolexicon?

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¿Qué es un ideoléxico? (Spanish)

What Is an Ideolexicon?

Jorge Majfud

I have been asked several times to define what I mean by ideolexicon. I have never given the same response, but that is not due to the idea being ambiguous or undefined but quite the contrary.

Although this term is a neologism, I do not believe that at root the idea is original: everything that occurs to us others have already intuited before. It is sufficient to read those ancient Greeks in order to discover there the first indications of Darwin’s theory of evolution (Empedocles), Dalton or Bohr’s atoms (Leucippius or Democritus), Einstein’s mass-energy equivalency (Heraclitus), modern epistemology (idem), Freud’s bicephalic psyche (Plato), Derrida or Lyotard’s poststructuralism (the Sophists), etc.

I suspect that the Italian Antonio Gramsci could have broadened the ideolexicon concept in the 1930s (perhaps he had already done so in his Quaderni del carcere, although I have not been able to find that precise moment among the more than two thousand pages of this disarticulated work). One of Gramsci’s observations with regard to Marxism was the warning of a certain autonomy of the superstructure. That is, if previously it was understood that the infrastructure (the productive, economic order) determined superstructural reality (culture in general), later it was seen that the process could not only be the inverse (Max Weber) but simultaneous or dialectical (Althusser). For me, examples of the first are slavery, modern education, feminism, etc. Humanist ideals that condemned slavery existed centuries before they would be transformed into a social precept. A Marxist explanation is immediate: only when the industry of the developed countries (England and the northern United States) found an economic problem with the slavery system was the new morality (and practice) imposed. The same with universal education: the uniformity of the children’s tunics, the rigorous compliance with schedules do nothing more than to adapt the future worker to the discipline of industry (or the army), the culture of standardization. For which reason today the universities and education in general have begun a reverse process of de-uniformization. Feminist demands are also ancient (and part of humanism), but they do not become a moral exigency until capitalist society and the industrialized communist societies needed new workers and, above all, new female wage workers.

Anyway, we can understand that, although these advances have not been obtained by an ethical conscience but by initial interests of the oppressors (like the universal vote for a people easily manipulable by the caudillo and propaganda), at any rate the road travelled “forward” is not walked backward so easily, even if those interests that made it possible were to change. Power is never absolute; it always must make concessions in order to maintain itself.

In our time, even though the use of brute force like in the times of Attila is not entirely looked down upon, it is no longer possible to lay waste to peoples and oppress other men and women without a legitimation. Much less in a global society that, though still submersed in the traditional networks of information, progressively tends to snatch from sectarian powers the narration of its own history. These legitimations of power may be farcical (they still trust in the fragile memory of obedient nations, or nations terrified by physical and moral violence), but their strength is the power of semantic manipulation to produce a determined reality: when a bomb is dropped from a plane and tens of innocents die, terms are used like “defense,” “liberation,” “collateral effects,” etc. If the same bomb is placed by an individual in a market and it kills the same quantity of innocents, that act is defined as “terrorist,” “barbaric,” “murderous,” etc. From the other side, the ideolexicons will be different: some are imperialists, other rebels or patriots.

In the 19th century, the Argentine D.F. Sarmiento defined José Artigas as “terrorist” (for others he was liberator, rebel), while the general Julio Argentino Roca became a military hero, in multiple bronze statues, because of the ethnic cleansing that his army carried out against the original owners of Patagonia (“There was no battle, it was a parade beneath the Patagonian sun and we achieved 1600 dead and another 10,000 of the rabble. It was the fate of a savage race that was already defeated,” informed the venerated general Roca).

Which is to say, an ideolexicon is a word or a combination of terms (extremist, radical, patriot, normal, democrat, good manners) that has been colonized in its semantics with a politico-ideological purpose. This colonization generally is carried out by a hegemonic culture, but its greatest particularity is rooted in the discursive manipulation of a hegemonic political power that is disputed by resistant ideologies. The qualification of “radical” or “extremist,” by possessing a negative valorization, will be an instrument of struggle: each adversary – the dominant and the marginal – will seek to associate this ideolexicon (whose valorization is not found to be in dispute) with those other ideolexicons whose valorization is unstable, like progressive, feminist, homosexual, liberal, globalization, civilization, etc.

In summary, an ideolexicon is a semantic weapon with a political (or socio-political) usage and at the same time it is the object of dispute of different groups in a society. When one of them is consolidated as a negative or positive value (ex., communism), it comes to be an instrument of colonization of other ideolexicons that are in social and historical dispute.

In its turn, each ideolexicon is composed of a positive semantic field and a negative one whose limits are defined according to the advance and retreat of the social groups in dispute (for example, justice, freedom, equality, etc.). That is, each group will seek to define what is meant and what is not meant by “justice,” “freedom,” at times using classical instruments like deduction and induction, but generally operating a kind of ontological declaration (A is B, B is not C) by way of association or interception of the semantic fields of two or more ideolexicons (racial integration=communism; equality+freedom=justice, etc.). When in the 1950s in the United States racial integration was in dispute, those who opposed this change demonstrated in the streets with placards: “race mixing is communism.” The word “communism” – like “Marxism” in Latin America – had been consolidated in its negative, demonized, values. Its meaning and valorization were not in dispute. When the soldiers of the Latin American oligarchies would murder a priest or a journalist or a unionist, whatever the case they justified themselves by adducing that the victims were Marxists, without having ever read a book by Marx and without having any more idea of what Marxism was than what they had received through strategic daily repetition.

Translated by Bruce Campbell


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