Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Words CAN hurt them 

The Poor Man writes about the basic brilliance of Amnesty International calling the American ghost prison system a gulag:

. . . a lot of techniques have been tried to make Republicans care that they, and their party, are supporting torture. Reporting facts has been tried, unsuccessfully. Releasing graphic photographs was also tried, to no avail. Asking nicely didn't work, begging didn't work, and guilt-tripping didn't work either. But there was one thing that hadn't been tried yet, not really, not until Amnesty tried it the other day: name-calling.

Childish? Can be. But effective. Report, photograph, explain, analyze, moralize - all useless. But it the post-modern world of the modern right wing, where objective facts are social constructs and the endlessly mutable text is all that really is, there is still one thing that has the power to inspire a reaction: words. Pick your word carefully, like, say, the word “gulag”, and watch the fun begin .

. . the moral degenerates who are the postmodern Republican party [are] fundamentally only concerned with words, appearances, and the power both can wield . . . Amnesty’s use of the word “gulag” in reference to Republican policies weakens the Republican party, a group that cares nothing for human rights, only power, and has substantially strengthened Amnesty, a group that cares only about exposing powerful violators of human rights, and has no fear of making enemies, with a decades-long record to back it up.

This is a very significant post -- the realization that words can actually hurt the American right wing is an insight I have not seen before.
On the whole, progressives try to deal with "reality". We pride ourselves on making a conscious effort not to be tricked by orwellian language. As a result, perhaps, we have not understood the crucial importance of this same orwellian language to the right wing. We attack what we think is their "reality" problem, but the right wing isn't listening because we're not dealing directly with the pseudonyms and talking points through which they can quell any vestige of uneasiness about what they are actually doing.
Offensive, unjustified and unprovoked war becomes "the Bush doctrine".
Protests against American agression becomes "they hate our freedom"
Bugging the security council becomes "reforming the UN"
Intolerant creationist bible worship becomes "intelligent design"
Threatening judges and picketing hospitals becomes "culture of life".
Demonizing gay people becomes "protecting the sancity of marriage"
The wrongfully imprisoned and possibly innocent people in Gitmo are "enemy combatants"
Locking people up without charge or trial or legal process becomes "protecting the American people"
As long as they continue to frame the world with poorly-defined but comforting pseudonyms, the right wing (and I include the Canadian right wing too) can continue to think of themsevles as morally upright, Christian people.
One thing I remember reading about Watergate was this -- that the worst thing about it was realizing "the nut at the end of the bar was right" -- you know, that blowhard guy who was ranting about conspiracies and bribery and crooks and liars and cover-ups.
Well, now we progressives may well be the 2005 version of the "nut at the end of the bar" -- and maybe people will listen if we use the language they understand.

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