There is a war for your brain in today’s politics, and the weapon of that war is language manipulation. George Lakoff has spent his career demonstrating the power of language and neural nets to trap us into thinking thoughts we do not necessarily want to think, to believe things that we would question if we were not being manipulated. In a wonderful interview , Lakoff describes a series of words that have changed us. For example, people were convinced at a certain point that taxes were not an investment in our future, in our society, but a burden to be relieved. Everyone repeated the phrase “tax relief” that we all forgot that taxes are essential to everything in our lives, our roads, our police, our hospitals, our schools, our safety in every respect. This is the exact neural path through which taxes became an enemy rather than a democratic consensus for investment in all of us.
Now we have a new and more dangerous set of words that must be confronted.
Please folks, do not let your mind be manipulated by fascism in its many guises. Do not change your vocabulary and your brain, do not become manipulated through words.
1. There is no such thing as alternative facts, so do not use the phrase. There are lies and there are truths, and then there are complex realities where the true and the false are difficult to discern. But that is our job as responsible adults, to discern fact from fiction, to seek truth, no matter how complex it may be.
2. There is no such thing as an “alt-right”, like some button on your car. There are fascists, there are Nazis. There is an explosion of white supremacy thinking and behavior in the United States, as numerous scholars have articulated. Then call it what it is. There are democratic and anti-democratic ideas and practices. Call them what they actually are. There are conservative opinions on a range of issues, there are more liberal opinions on a range of issues. Call it what it is, in your best assessment.
3. There is no such thing as “fake news”. There is news that is true and there are falsehoods presented as truth pretending to be news, and responsible adults are supposed to work at discerning the difference. This phrase confuses the mind and is meant to. So do not use it.
4. As my colleague Will Urquhart has pointed, out there is no such thing as “pre-existing conditions”. There is the normal human body in sickness and health, and conditions come and go based on how much society is prepared to accept that health is a human right. So do not use the expression pre-existing condition, because it is a manipulation of the mind. Proof? There are conditions on the list so benign, such as reflux, that it becomes clear that the entire list is there to raise everyone’s premiums astronomically. Call such conditional healthcare what it is, murder of the sick or abandonment of the sick.
Please feel free to suggest additions to this list.
We have a lot of work to do to protect American civilization, to protect the innocent, to bring average people back to their senses. For that we need to refine our language, to frame our criticism and our vision in the positive, but also to expose loaded words designed to manipulate.
Words matter especially in the signs we make to essentialize our message, as so many brilliant people have done in the countless demonstrations across the country. Let’s gather and proliferate the bits of wisdom that so many are creating, let’s repeat them again and again, because the brain needs simplicity and repetition to shift its worldview. Above all, let us be kind to each other as we struggle, each with our own words and messages, to move our precious civilization in the direction of greater and greater humanity.