Strange Loops Journal Archive: May 2003

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May 31, 2003 top

Just a note to point out that I've added a comment function to all the blog entries. Clicking on an individual "Comments" link will lead to a page to leave comments about that entry for me and for other browsers to see and discuss. I welcome any and all feedback and opinion.

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May 27, 2003 top
Power over language is power over thought, and the government has a certain power over all our thoughts in the way it wields its power over our language, via the mainstream media. The war on terror and its subsequent fear-stoking (e.g. the useless alert levels; an event like "nine-eleven", even of smaller scale, may be worthy of a red-alert status in the region it happened in, but should the equivalent of martial law be invoked nation-wide, as surely it will be in such an event?) have brought with them a number of bothersome euphemisms concocted by the government to blur legal boundaries.

We find indefinite and secret detention offshore (another example of rule-bending and boundary-blurring) and call the detainees "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war or criminals (titles which bring rules governing humane treatment). We detain people secretly and indefinitely (see a pattern?) here in the states and call them "material witnesses" so that they don't have to be charged with a crime or receive the protection that we grant those charged with a crime. Local police and federal law enforcement now use the term "person of interest" to call someone a suspect without affording those people the rights (including the chance to hold the government liable for mistakes) granted to actual suspects. Suicide bombers become homicide bombers, hiding what should be an obvious human fact that something is causing these people to sacrifice their own lives to commit their atrocities. The word terrorism, or allusions to terrorism, are deftly maneuvered into everything from political speeches defending wars (which are to all appearances unrelated to terrorism) to abridgements of civil rights in the name of "safety" (as with the recent renaming of the Orwelling "Total Information Awareness" to "Terrorism Information Awareness" - a name most Americans will respond more kindly to when they hear a short soundbite about it on the evening news...if they hear a short soundbite about it on the evening news). Even our very laws are taken over by euphemisms intending to play off of peoples' blind fear of terrorism: witness the naming of the recent USA-PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), which was passed almost immediately with no real debate, despite the fact that it dealt a devastating blow to civil liberties while granting the government huge powers and minimizing any chance of oversight.

Am I the only one getting worried by this? I mean, sure, one expects the government to twist words to their purpose and make their actions seem reasonable when they might otherwise be questioned. Lawmakers have always tried naming their bills in ways that appeal to emotion (witness the attempts to "improve education" of children by censoring half the world wide web in an attempt to stop porno - in actuality leaving most all porno sites easy to access while blocking all sorts of legitimate information, including material of political dissent). Military has always tried to gain support for its actions by characterizing the enemy with vague, emotive, even blatantly inaccurate words. One hopes that people see through the rhetoric, but obviously they don't. The fact is, the corporate media just latches right on to the euphemisms of the White House, the DOJ, the military...and soon the words have become common speech and fastened themselves permanently into peoples' heads. We begin to think in their terms, and so we begin to think what they want us to think.

Something needs to be done to break the spell that the government holds over people through the media. People need to realize that the morning paper and the evening news may not be accurate sources of information - may in fact just be mouthpieces for deliberate coercion by those in power. Language is power, and until we take back our language, we lose the power to think for ourselves.

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