“Man’s deadliest weapon is language. He is as susceptible to being hypnotized by slogans as he is to infectious diseases. And when there is an epidemic, the group mind takes over.” Arthur Koestler, Janus
It is impossible to overestimate the damage that is done when what is said is not what is meant –– and when the ‘Power to Name’ is used to create confusion and sow dissention. Here’s a statement attributed to Vladimir Lenin, the early 20th C Russian revolutionary. It sounds like a page from the playbook of today’s political influencers:
‘We can and must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn toward those who disagree with us.’
Then, as now, people are blinded by nothing more than meaningless sound bites. A few triggering words and they’re off and running toward each other with righteous rage and hate-filled behavior.
Take this ill-conceived slogan –– Defund the Police. Who was the architect of that incendiary yet completely misleading phrase? Certainly not someone who was actually working on behalf of that idea. For it conjures up visions of a totally brutal and lawless society in which no one is safe from marauding bands of vigilantes, rapists and pillagers. But is this really what those who use this phrase had in mind?
According to Google, Defund the Police was popularized by the Black Lives Matter movement and does not mean what it actually states. It’s real aim is to pressure municipal governments to reallocate resources so that the bloat in budgets previously earmarked for the police can go, instead, to well-trained professionals in the fields of mental health, housing, education, mediation, community relations, and the like.
Imagine the people who would still be alive today if those who are skilled in psychology, diplomacy, and compassion were the first responders called in to handle controversies between people of various racial and socio-economic backgrounds. More often than not, those involved would feel safer, more fully heard and more fairly served. Why, then, wasn’t a catch phrase created that more directly speaks to these potential outcomes? For instance, ReFund Social Services to Relieve the People and Police. Or, simply ReFund Social Services instead of Defund the Police. The details can be worked out in negotiations.
Using the phrase, Defund the Police, which is clearly an incomplete sentence, reminds me of this statement attributed to George W. Bush: ‘I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.’ This is a perfect example of doublespeak, a concept identified by George Orwell in his classic book, 1984, in which No means Yes, and Yes means No and words are used to intentionally obscure the truth.
How can we effectively accomplish anything when we don’t say what we mean, mean what we say, ask and answer questions directly, and stand by our words when held up to public scrutiny? When this doesn’t occur, it reduces our words to meaningless jibber-jabber used to cast spells and promote deception rather than communicate clearly.
Time to change the language as well as the conversation. For as Socrates stated (via Plato in Phaedo, 11e): “You may be sure, dear Crito, that inaccurate language is not only in itself a mistake. It implants evil in men’s souls.”