Interesting, isn’t it, that the same word we use in English to describe those mythical creatures who are said to entice and draw us inexorably to our doom with their alluring song is the name we give to the sound warning us of danger. A Siren’s song is meant to lull me into unsuspecting complacency and reckless desire, yet the alarming noise made to wake me out of complacency and make me alert, focused, and cautious is also a siren. Methinks some wordsmiths enjoy causing such bits of merry mayhem in the pursuit of misdirection and disinformation.
For behold! What’s this? I am suddenly thinking of the vast fields of fact and fancy where the same words that mean truth and beauty to one are terms of terror and falsehood to another. Much depends upon intent; much, too, upon interpretation.
The most skilled and experienced among diplomats, politicians, and philosophers, linguists and liars—not to mention among advertisers and marketing directors, who can of course be at the top of any or all of these fields—know this and use it to advantage. The rallying cry of one group of people warns off another. Invitation from one insults and assaults the next. Even the terrible sound of war’s sirens, the blaring horns shouting at me to take shelter from a bombing raid, a fusillade, or a marauding invasion, these might be a compelling or inviting Siren call to those who invade and attack, the assurance that their glorious reward lies just ahead of them, yes, right where I am hiding in fear. But is it equally true that I rejoice in others’ defeat and destruction when it makes me feel safer, or even merely richer? That I hear hymns of happiness in the dirges of others?
I hope that the island of rock toward which I paddle and swim for its sense of safety from the tormenting skies, the rough seas, and their swarming contingents of deadly monsters isn’t the very promontory on which I will meet my doom, drawn there by the false promises of Sirens. I know from experience that some of their art lies in convincing me to sing their songs in my own voice, even in my own head, making it easier for me to find the stories palatable and believable, and teaching me to hear other people’s voices automatically as contrastingly suspicious sounds. I hope that I am old and wise enough to recognize that different tunes are sometimes only music that I haven’t yet learned. I hope I’ll never willingly (or even unwittingly) sink the hopes and dreams of others simply because the song of my life, of my truth, differs from theirs.
Is that sound we hear a chorus of idyllic oracles inviting us to ultimate sanctuary, or is it only the illusory music of rolling, sounding waves meant to draw us inexorably toward hidden rocks that will shatter us, will jettison the jetsam into a bottomless vortex of ignorance and ignominy? Only those around for the grand finale will know which song comes last.