Wednesday, March 16, 2005

War on words

Language is power, we know, and the pen is mightier than the sword. The regressives know it anyway but the rest of us have been slow to cotton on. They wrap their awesome negativity in positive terms, and worse, they have been allowed, by compliant, supine media, to make those terms neutral.

It's much discussed that they have largely won the abortion debate, for instance, by calling themselves "pro-life". Who would be against life? We're all for that, right? We are compelled to ignore that they are antiwoman, antichoice, inhuman and antiscience by the very pro-ness of their name. We conveniently ignore that they are often pro-death, when it comes to executing criminals or bombing the shit out of Arabs and other unfortunates. But simply pointing the finger at their hypocrisy does not work. As Lakoff explains, they are not working on at the thinking level. They go for the gut.

They are smart guys. Some of them. They know that they have the advantage that most people do not realise what their agenda is, or agendas, I should say: it's a monstrous simplification to suggest that it is only about oil. No, it's about a great deal more than that, although if we framed it rather more broadly as about wealth and the fear of losing it, that would be more to the point.

They were smart to call their offensive against the Third World the "war on terror". Terror is, erm, terrifying. It's not nice. Most of us don't understand it; don't understand why people would do it. It's easy to paint "terrorists" as "evil" because most of us don't care enough about politics, or how society is, or even how the world is ordered, to understand that others might be willing to kill for it. (We are not even aware that our leaders will kill for just the same reasons as the terrorists, although more effectively.) "War to control resources" just doesn't have the same ring. It's not us against the bad guys. It actually makes us, if not the bad guys, then just part of the scrum. If we were part of the scrum, that would mean we'd have to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

It's smart to call their bigotry "family values". If we called it what it is: "antitolerance"... well, that's not nice. But families? Who doesn't love their family or if not, feel sad that they do not have a family they could love? Isn't the family the core of our life? Surely its values are worth having? Yes, but if my family were to adopt the values that there's something wrong with gays, swearing is bad and all that horrible, intrusive, offensive shit, then I'd be fucked and so would the queer rellies.

It's smart to call our government "democracy". Where that connotes "liberal", well, yes, we are fairly free and I'm thankful for it. Of course, we are not entirely free because freedom is all too often a function of money, and the richer are on the whole freer than the poor, who, let's face it, are all too often debt servants with miserable fucking lives, let down by underfunded education systems that have not opened their minds so much as turn them forever against any notion of learning. But we can read whatever newspapers we like (although they are free only to print what rich men believe they should... well, the cavils are easy but it is, I agree, the best there is available -- a more active civil society, less weighed down by commerce and its control of the agenda and our thoughts about it, would be good but this is something we are not yet actively prevented from making if we want it).

But where it connotes "you have power", of course, I laugh. It does exactly the opposite to what it says on the tin. We do not exercise any power. We get to choose which faction runs the place. It's more like sport than part of our lives. One is reminded of Byzantium and the contest between the factions there. They had the advantage over ours of not actually pretending to be about anything.

Am I saying that we should eschew these words, abandon them to the regressive right and forge our own language? Yes, I suppose I am. I think we should use them only when we mean them, and otherwise, use words that say what we mean for the things they stand for: they are antichoice, not prolife; they are for bigoted values, not family values; a war on the world, not on terror; and what they want for the Arab world are subservient plutocracies at best, or well, fuck it, any government you like so long as it lets Exxon drill where it will.


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