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Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Words are Our Weapons | Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch/Nation of Change

Confucius says:
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.
Solnit's column highlights that quotation. And she notes well-known examples of "language that is not correct." She writes:
[T]he far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world -- a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.” ...
What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights. ...
 Solnit goes on to offer suggestions to counter language that is not correct:
Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth. 
Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. ...
Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. ...
[L]et’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life. ...
Solnit describes how language must be changed in how we discuss the concentration of wealth, climate change, and taxes.

And she concludes:
Names matter; language matters; truth matters. In this era when the mainstream media serve obfuscation and evasion more than anything else (except distraction), alternative media, social media, demonstrations in the streets, and conversations between friends are the refuges of truth, the places where we can begin to rectify the names. So start talking.
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