What Does “Agree” Mean?


Anthony J. Marsella – TRANSCEND Media Service

A Study of Semantic Satiation and Knots

The United States of America and Russia agree to agree to an agreement that Syria will agree to the disposal of its poison gas, especially if the United States agrees to stop providing military arms and training to different insurgent groups in Syria.  The USA agrees to consider this latter option, but agrees to disagree should elements of the initial agreement are not found to be agreeable to them for any reason of their choice, including the opinion of lobbyist for arms dealers. The different insurgent groups fighting in Syria agree Bashar al-Assad must be overthrown — regime change. However, they disagree who should replace him, and what kind of government should be installed. Some agree it should be a democracy, but there are disagreements on what that means, and they point to events in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the United States as examples of failed democracies. Different insurgent groups also disagree with any agreement regarding the division of Syria according to tribal lines or any other defining boundaries. France finds this agreeable, because it has a history of agreeing to disagree whenever agreement is possible. Au contraire mon ami!

The United States of America must also agree to reach an agreement with the United Nations before it agrees to use continued military intervention in Syria, especially the use of bombs to destroy Syria’s poison gas stores.  The UN points out that any unilateral invasion without UN approval is an act against its Charter, and could result in prosecution of war crimes. But the UN agrees that this is not likely to occur, except for those accused of crimes of war by the G-8, G-20, NATO, IMF, World Bank, or USA political candidates.  The USA also agrees “no boots on the ground” will be used should they agree to intervene, although most people do not agree on what “boots on the ground” means, especially those fashion designers interested in designing new shoes for combat in different colors, and those USA troops in Syria wearing the latest jogging or basketball shoes. Everyone agrees the bombing of poison gas stores constitutes a danger and a risk since this may result in dispersion of the gas over wide areas. But different insurgent groups disagree with this agreement, because it was reached by those who only partially agree to support them. However, they have asked for gas masks and protective skin creams.

The President of the United States of America agrees he does not need the approval of Congress to engage in any actions of war, especially if he agrees efforts after agreement result in his disagreement.  In any case, the President agrees that Congress never agrees on anything other than an agreement to disagree for the sheer delight of disagreement. All Congressmen agree, however, that lobbyist donations for elections are an agreeable act, except for donations from Bashar al-Assad, at least for the moment.

Through all the agreements and disagreements, no agreement has been reached on sanctuary for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Neither the USA, Russia, UK, France, nor any other nation, has said: “We welcome you to our country as victims of our international game of thrones; we apologize to you for our role in bring death and destruction to you and your land.”  No nation has said we will support you, as specified in international refugee law, except for those examples of bordering nations (i.e., Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon) who are compelled to accept the masses of refugees, because to disagree would result in accusations of failed international duties and responsibilities. Few nations agree to welcome Syrians and help them find place and purpose in a new land, except for Sweden, who announced on September 3, 2013, it would grant permanent residency to any Syrian refugees seeking asylum that has already fled to Sweden. At this point the number is 8000. But for other nations, there is widespread agreement to disagree for agreeable reasons relating to national security dangers and risks, whatever they be. See: http://www.policymic.com/articles/63489/in-surprisingly-bold-move-sweden-offers-a-home-to-all-syrian-refugees

Sometimes words lose their meaning and purpose because we abuse them.  I suppose the same can be said for refugees and internally displaced people trying to survive.


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a  member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Sep 2013.

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