So what’s the most dangerous word of all time? The. That’s right. The. It looks like an innocent enough word–on the surface. It’s short. It’s sweet. We seem to need it to make sense. After all, we couldn’t go around saying “I’m going out to wash car now.”
See, the is no fool, so don’t be taken in by its seeming innocence. The, posing next to harmless nouns, is the equivalent of John Wayne Gacy having his picture taken shaking hands with President Kennedy. Like Gacy, the appears to be an upstanding citizen, when in reality, it’s a megalomaniacal menace, a power-seeker whose ultimate goal is nothing less than total world domination.
The’s genius lies partly in its ability to make itself look small, a clever disguise which enables it to hide in plain sight, to move about freely and almost undetected as it makes ever more powerful connections in its quest for unbridled power. The’s power lies in its ability to transform the abstract into the concrete, thus satisfying our need for simplification in a world of seemingly overwhelming complexity.
Consider, if you will, the simple phrase “that rich person”. What does it mean? Clearly, it refers to a specific individual who, all definitions being relative according to which culture one finds oneself in, is in possession of a either a great deal of money or a great number of goats and blankets. The phrase “that rich person” makes no other assumptions about the individual being referred to, nor does it draw any conclusions about that person’s character, beliefs, or behavior.
Enter the insidious the. Now we have the phrase “the rich”. Consider the vast, yet subtle difference in meaning. When the is combined with “rich” to form “the rich”, we then form a mental picture of a group set apart not only by material wealth, but by shared characteristics such as greed, ambition, corruption, and a lack of compassion for others less fortunate.
Among its many evil powers, the also has the uncanny ability to transform the temporary into the permanent. “That poor person” may be a temporary victim of misfortune, of downsizing, or even an act of nature. His or her financial circumstances might improve for the better next year.
However, “the poor”, we may assume, share not only a lack of wealth, but certain common characteristics attributed to that subset, such as laziness, mental instability, drug addiction and poor impulse control, characteristics which guarantee that one will always remain poor.
Oh, wait, this just in –70% of people born poor will die poor, while only 26% will successfully make it to the middle class . Only a paltry 4% of people born poor become wealthy, and that 4% stay wealthy by being rewarded for propagating the myth that anyone can do it if they work hard enough. Clearly, those who inherit land can exploit, and maintain, the poverty of those who don’t. Okay, bad example, so let’s try another.
I often hear people say “Ain’t that the truth?”. The phrase “the truth” implies that no further thinking on the subject will ever be required, thus effectively substituting belief for thought. It also implies that there is only one truth, rather than each of us possessing a portion of it through our individual perspectives. Genocide and mass murder often result when groups of people with differing versions of “the truth” collide. These “truths” are usually nothing more than collective agreement.
Politicians are well aware of the power of the, and use it often in their routine bait and switch, divide and conquer strategies. We, the people, must arm ourselves with awareness if we are to defeat this evil menace.