Pick a Side, Any Side

At the heart of Pyrrhonism is suspension of judgment. Refusing to take a side on issues that you do not benefit from taking a side on is the key to avoiding vexatious people and situations, the consequent wailing and abuse, and a humiliating loss of integrity. However, it's easy to frame a debate in such a way that it's impossible to not at least appear as if one is taking a side, and the best way to do this is with language.

Right now there appears to be a very real possibility of civil war in a part of Europe between Russia and the EU. Depending on who you ask, the area in question is referred to either as 'The Ukraine' or simply as 'Ukraine', the former being common up until very recently. What many people are only just now discovering (or just now being told) is that 'The Ukraine' refers to the Soviet of the Ukraine, and now that it is (sort of (in theory)) a free and independent country, the correct term is 'Ukraine'.

This isn't the only issue, of course - the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are another example of this phenomenon in the zeitgeist, as is cannabis/marijuana, black/negro, pro-life/anti-abortion etc. Readers of 1984 will, of course, recognise this as an example of Newspeak: control the language, control the thoughts. In theory, it goes back to the divine right of kings to give names to whatever they wanted, or perhaps even further back: The Koran cites Iblis/Lucifer's refusal to acknowledge the names Adam had given things as a reason for him being slung out of Heaven.

What this implies is that using the 'incorrect' term is literally a challenge to the authority of the supreme power (whoever that might be), and anyone doing so is on the side of the devil. This makes the choice of term something of a shibboleth: because the good guys are using 'Ukraine', anyone using 'The Ukraine' must be a supporter of the Russian invasion and therefore a subversive or traitor.

This reason might make sense but that the change reflects the country's freedom from the USSR isn't the full story: it isn't clear when, for example, the Waikato is expected to liberate itself from Soviet domination.

As a way of setting people against each other, however, it's a work of genius. If two people from either side of the argument asked you, as a neutral third party observer, to give an opinion, it wouldn't be possible to even name the place without choosing the preferred nomenclature of one side or the other, thereby exalting it to the humiliation of the other side. Even this column can't avoid it - the image file at the top left is titled 'ukrainemap.gif', naturally reflecting our loyalty to the capitalist hate machine and our love of subjugation and imperialism. No doubt there are bar fights happening all around the world sparked off by offence caused from using one of the two options.

This also has the effect of making people reluctant to talk about the issue. Ironically, not talking about events on the other side of the world in places you have never been and which no-one knows the truth about anyway is one way to find ataraxia, and is therefore be useful practice for a Pyrrhonist.

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