The Creative Power of Truth

In the Beginning: Spelling! Part 2
September 24, 2020 Updated: September 24, 2020

In Part 1, we investigated how progress is a false ideology intimately connected to a misuse of language that has dire consequences. We pointed out that the ancients in civilizations and religions across the world had all believed that human beings had degenerated in many ways, and that the use of language had become part of the problem: lying, as opposed to being truthful. And we asked the question: Can we say more about the original language(s) of humanity in terms of its superiority?

Of course, from what we have said before, such a language was true and righteous; I also conclude that it was magical. This is a much-derided term from the scientific point of view, which is itself bedazzled by the idea of “progress”; for when we say magical thinking, we usually mean wishful thinking, unreal thinking, or fantasy.

But we recognize the magic in language whenever we start using words like “spell.” Nina Simone, for example, sang, “I Put a Spell on You,” and we know what that means. Hypnotists put us under a spell, oftentimes to help overcome fears and phobias or to heal real illnesses. And we are all aware that an evil such as voodoo is based on spells and that people die as a result. We talk of autosuggestion as a powerful way in which language seems to work magic on our very selves.

If these examples all seem extreme, consider politicians who, when they speak, entrance us—that is, “en-trance” us—put a spell on us and seem to have some kind of magical hold on our very powers of reason. John F. Kennedy had that magical power for good, as did Martin Luther King; so did Adolf Hitler, for evil.

Pointing at the Object

But I mean more than simply language is entrancing when I say it is magical. The word “spell” here is especially interesting, for language is a spell in another sense. It’s a spell because it is made up of letters that we designate to represent sounds in an alphabet. In other words, spelling is a structure and through it meaning comes into being.

The jumble of reality—of seemingly random sounds—starts taking shape, and with taking shape starts pointing to something beyond itself. When somebody points at something, we humans don’t look at the finger pointing, but at the object toward which the pointing is done. In other words, we look at an object or reality “out there” that our awareness is being drawn to by the pointing.

This happens, of course, with language, which is like pointing; it is a similar representational act. So what we have to consider is how much more it happened in that aboriginal past or past golden age. In a play like “Macbeth,” we see magic being used—through a language of spells that three witches invoke through incantation—to create the future; it’s a future, in particular, that the character Macbeth wants to believe. But this usage is a simulacrum of the potency of that earlier language whereby the language not only points toward but also summons into existence that which was not.

The witches in “Macbeth” cast an evil spell to foretell the future; or do they shape it? “Macbeth and the witches,” circa 1830, by Thomas Barker of Bath. Oil on canvas. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

We see this again and again in myths and fairy stories; language brings into existence that which was not. For example, Pygmalion, through the words of prayer to the goddess, brings his beloved statue to life. In the modern retelling by George Bernard Shaw (on which the “My Fair Lady” musical was based), it is by language again that a working-class cockney girl can pass herself off as—indeed, become to all intents and purposes—a duchess or princess; she has been transformed into a new life through the creativity of language.

Pygmalion priant Vénus d'animer sa statue, Jean-Baptiste Regnault
“Pygmalion Praying Venus to Animate His Statue,” 1786, by Jean-Baptiste Regnault. Palace of Versailles. (Public Domain)

The Supreme Power of Language

Perhaps the greatest example of the power of language to call into existence is given in John’s Gospel. Here we learn that the cosmos itself is “spelled” into existence. The “Word” was in the beginning and through Him all things, it says, were made. Consider too that Adam, in the beginning, was called to name (that is, to spell) the animals and in this way to exercise power over them, for words of power produce real effects.

creations-first-day-ivory panel cathedral of salerno c. 1084
The first day of creation depicted in an ivory panel, circa 1084. The Cathedral of Salerno. (CC SA-BY 4.0)

That original language, then, was true, righteous, creative, and efficacious in effecting what the mind summoned. Today, languages are debased because we are enfeebled; we prefer the lie to the truth. Yet there are still glimmers of its former glory. By repeating certain words, phrases, and sentences to ourselves—which we might call affirmations, mantras, chants, or hymns even—about our beliefs, we either “spell” ourselves for success or ensure our failure.

Our Regression

But what of our initial topic, Progress? If we are progressing, it is hard to see evidence of it. Economist Alan Reynolds, as reported in MoneyWeek, said: “We believe problems that are identified can be solved. This is our modern faith.” Here is a further instance of the myth of progress. Reynolds continues: “The truth, however, is more bleak.  … our art and music are getting progressively more stupid and our environment is on the brink of collapse.”

The anti-progress that is occurring in arts and music—artistic languages that can profoundly put a spell on us—reflect our cultural decline. “While scientific and technical advances over the last two centuries have greatly improved the comfort and length of our lives, they have facilitated no comparable moral progress,” says psychoanalyst James Hollis.

The reality is that there is no progress; we are in fact regressing. Progressive philosophies debase language, and the net result of this is to enable politicians to persistently say things “that are not” and remain unchallenged, or unembarrassed even, because there is no language or discourse that has sufficient power anymore to expose what is happening and re-spell us into truth and righteousness.

We have to, therefore, actively renounce progress and abandon it as a concept if we wish to begin to reverse this appalling situation that our culture has found itself in.

Where Regression Leads

In order to regain some form and power in our language and “spelling,” we need, instead of talking about progress, to talk about what is right, absolutely right. That would be a start. Should we do this, however, we will certainly meet massive opposition, for the progressive movement has its own progress moguls whose livelihoods depend on their lying fictions.

Referring to Dante’s poem “The Divine Comedy,” Timothy Radcliffe (in his book “What Is the Point of Being a Christian?”) observed that “the icy heart of hell is kept for those who undermined the human community of truth: the liars, the fraudulent, the flatterers, the forgers, and worst of all the traitors.” This judgment is as true now as it was in Dante’s poem and day.

Wisely, John F. Kennedy advised: ‘Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democrat answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

Kennedy Addressing
President John F. Kennedy urged citizens to find the right, rather than partisan, answers to America’s problems. (Central Press/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, John F. Kennedy was part of the progressive faction, but the progress brigade of today, much farther along on the road of regression, doesn’t like this wisdom now. Heck—actually look for the right answer? Stop blaming others for what happened in the past? Take responsibility for one’s own contribution to the future? Why, that’s all so unfashionable, regressive, and passé!

Instead, the progress brigade will attempt to obscure all that is right by all that is wrong, and language will be its primary means. They will say things like, “What do you mean by right?” or “Who says what is right?” or “Right is just a value judgment” or “It all depends” or “Right is what is right for you.” And so it goes on. They are killing society as they undermine that “human community of truth.” As they scramble for anarchism and evermore equality, all that this leads to, ultimately, is totalitarianism.

For that is where it finally ends. The spelling doesn’t go away because it has been debased and corrupted. Unless we actively resist this contamination of language, these ideological un-truths of progress and the like, we become prey to the liars.

As I quoted Leszek Kolakowski in Part 1, “Mendacity is the soul of Bolshevism.” This regression has to be resisted by the “spells” of truth. The spells of truth are harder now to forge than the easy lies, but we take comfort in the knowledge that once forged, they are far more powerful since they echo the original magic of language at the beginning. For lies are by their nature entirely destructive, whereas truth is purely creative.

James Sale is an English businessman whose company, Motivational Maps Ltd., operates in 14 countries. He is the author of over 40 books on management and education from major international publishers including Macmillan, Pearson, and Routledge. As a poet, he won the first prize in The Society of Classical Poets’ 2017 competition and spoke in June 2019 at the group’s first symposium held at New York’s Princeton Club.