Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A story of words - 3

It is not only that the powers that be so completely dominate the narratives of our time that any dissent seems irrational or illegitimate.

The words of the dominant powers are losing their potency as well!

The primary method by which governments increase their control is by creating fear.

In this atmosphere, it is easy to declare new wars, impose new restrictions on freedom, make people accept new sacrifices, etc.

With this in mind, I was gratified to see the utter failure of the "terrorism threat level" color-coding system to instill panic.

You may have heard the message in airports: "the Department of Homeland Security has raised the terror alert threat level to orange..." Does anyone say, "Oh my God, it is orange!

That's just one step short of a red alert!"?


The words impact us as the buzzing of a fly.

Another example is the recent failure of government scaremongering about the swine flu, a fine opportunity to implement mandatory vaccination programs, build mass quarantine facilities, etc.

Perhaps the most significant failure of the language of the rulers is the futility of their rosy economic pronouncements to reverse the progressive unwinding of the global financial system. (For money, too, is a story, a system of meanings and symbols that assigns roles, focuses collective intentions, and coordinates human activity.)

When governments fail, such as in the breakup of the Soviet Union, a terminal symptom is the failure of the credibility of their leaders' words.

When reality conflicts more and more obviously with the pronouncements of leaders, then when they say, "This shall be," no one believes that either.

Laws, authority, currencies, and so on are all systems of symbols.

When they break down, what remains is as Chairman Mao described: "Power comes from the barrel of a gun."

That is why I think the finale of the de-potentiation of public speech will be an interlude of rule by naked force.

I note as an aside that it is not only public language that is losing its power and suffering a crisis of meaning.

The same is happening to all symbolic communication.

To quote from The Ascent of Humanity, "Another symptom of the breakdown of semantic meaning is the routine use of words like 'awesome,' 'amazing,' and 'incredible' to describe what is actually trivial, boring, and mundane.

We are running out of words, or words are running out of meaning, forcing us into increasingly exaggerated elocutions to communicate at all."

We might say that the crisis of our civilization comes down to a crisis of language, in which words have seemingly lost their ability to create.

We have all the technology and all the knowledge we need to live in beautiful harmony with each other and the planet.

What we need is different collective choices.

Choices arise from perceptions, perceptions arise from interpretations or stories, and stories are built of words, of symbols.

Today, words have lost their power and our society's stories have seemingly taken on a life of their own, propelling us toward an end that no sane person would choose and that we seem helpless to resist.

And helpless we are, when all we have are impotent words

Charles Eisenstein

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