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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Reading about the EU's proposed "non-emotive lexicon for discussing radicalisation"—that is, "list of weasel words for avoiding offense to terrorist vermin"—I couldn't help thinking of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I saw for the first time (please, no snickers from … Read More

By / April 6, 2007

Reading about the EU's proposed "non-emotive lexicon for discussing radicalisation"—that is, "list of weasel words for avoiding offense to terrorist vermin"—I couldn't help thinking of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I saw for the first time (please, no snickers from the hipster gallery) several days ago. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the "non-emotive lexicon." Here's a peek, courtesy of the Telegraph: "European governments should shun the phrase 'Islamic terrorism' in favour of 'terrorists who abusively invoke Islam', say guidelines from EU officials."

What's 2001 got to do with it? You probably remember HAL 9000, the onboard AI who speaks in the self-possessed, patient (thus utterly debasing) voice of a schoolteacher or hospice nurse: "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave." Governments of the future will sound an awful lot like HAL, as the EU already does, gently "enlightening" us even as they undertake our infantilization—our destruction by other means.

There is no need for a "non-emotive lexicon." According to the Telegraph, "The basic idea behind it is to avoid the use of improper words that would cause frustration among Muslims and increase the risk of radicalisation." But if you can be "radicalized" by an errant phrase, were you ever "mainstream" to begin with? (Interesting, too, that "radicalized," like "weaponized," suggests a process completely divorced from personal choice.)

"Non-emotive" cuts right to the heart of the matter. Who could avoid emoting about a subject like terrorism? Only a computer, of course. Strategies like the EU's don't placate violent fanatics, but, insofar as they're adopted by ordinary people, they do widen the moral and behavioral gulf between the West and the Rest, the Elois and the Morlocks, the soft machines and the barbarians at the gate. What such a schism is meant to prove, or to solve, is anybody's guess.

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