Writers all know this. Words have power. A single word can bring to mind complex associations and ideas. In fact, it’s an entire mental model, complete with assumptions, rules of operation and extrapolated inferences. It’s amazing how much meaning a single word can convey. That’s a very compact way of communicating vast amounts of information in not many characters.
Because words have this power, the choice of words is crucial. Words can either be used to illuminate deep truths, or else to subtly and secretly distort what we think, how we think about and how we react to events and ideas. The mainstream media knows this and have been skilfully choosing their words carefully for most of the twentieth century, in a mostly successful attempt to divert us from inconvenient truths and to keep us on message and in line. Words can be used to distort reality and our perceptions of it.
Take, for instance, the word “defence”. What the Ministry of Defence does, in truth, is preside over the dispensation of violent death. That’s its purpose and business. If you don’t do what we say, we dispense violent death. Even our own serving personnel are subject to violent death. There is no doubt about it. Defence is all about violent death. Why, then, do we not call it the Ministry of Violent Death? Why not Violent Death Forces? There is no Violent Death Industry, with Violent Death contractors and Violent Death industry jobs. Do we make defensive weapons, or instruments of violent death? We don’t defend out national interests, we uphold corporate interests through the mechanism of violent death. We lie to ourselves because we do not wish to confront the truth. Defence is about violent death.
Another loaded word is “money”. We make all sorts of conditioned and learned moral judgements about money. The mere mention of the word brings to mind an entire belief system about it, taught methodically to us since birth. We all assume we know what money is and how it works, but so few of us really do. Money is a means of exchange. It’s a value exchange token. Baseball cards would work just as well. It’s an economic lubricant. If it isn’t spent, it doesn’t do anything. It stores value only in the sense that we believe in its ability to do so, but it doesn’t in reality. We think that the economy is funded from some giant savings account, but that fails to account for the creation of money, without which there could be no economic growth.
In fact, money is created on a whim by private banks. They then charge us all to use that money by demanding we surrender real, tangible value to them, for using that made-up currency. Is that legitimate? Yet, our ideas about another cloaking word, “debt”, carry associations of moral obligation to repay what was created out of thin air. We are literally exchanging real things for vapour and we feel compelled to do it for moral reasons. It’s even called moral hazard. To shrink an economy, conversely, all you have to do is dry up the money being spent in the economy. Paying down a budget deficit will do that.
At present, national debt is an issue and real people are losing their homes and are unable to feed their children because we are obsessed with paying this “debt” back to people whose claim upon our resources is dubious at best and wantonly criminal at worst. Who are these people we owe this money to? How did they get the money? How on earth are they getting by, having loaned all their money to national governments that cannot repay it? The answer is that the whole thing is a charade. It’s a game. We’ve all been suckered in by the power of words.
“Care” is another reality distortion word. We hear about care in the community and care of the elderly, but scratch beneath the assumptions and redolent associations traditionally tied up with the word and you discover a very different kind of human behaviour to what you would expect, in health care settings. In some cases, this “care” is so flagrantly negligent as to break the law. What we have is wanton disregard for the elderly and mentally ill. We have almost the opposite of care, yet we dare to call it care. Orwell couldn’t have created a more vivid example of doublespeak. Neglect in the community and neglect of the elderly don’t sound quite so rosy, even though more truthful.
“News” is another interesting deception word. It’s used to imply we are discussing the most important things and that they have just “happened”, without prior planning or warning. Events are supposed to simply occur, without causal agents or agendas. Yet, what is news really? It’s a corporate agenda of what to talk about, which is decided by editors. We talk about what they want to talk about. The debate’s bounds are framed by them. We ignore significant things, because they are not “newsworthy”. Deliberate scams and shocks, some planned with military and covert precision, are presented as unexpected surprises. We’re not supposed to ask questions beyond the bounds of permitted dissent. Interviewees that do will find themselves cut short. Suddenly, we are out of time. Information is so shaped and controlled by the new media that to call it “news” is to grossly misrepresent the scripted and meticulously prepared presentation served up to us. Breaking news is simply an agenda item that has been deemed fit for announcement at a particular moment, for some (often hidden) purpose. News is bought and paid for by corporations. It’s how they make us think what they need us to think. It’s how they sell ideas and things to us. What it isn’t, is truth.
Writers and journalists, as artists with literary goals, have a responsibility to not misuse words to the detriment of the rest of us. Yet, because they need money, too and are just as bamboozled by the deception and reality distortion power of words, they presstitute themselves for cash. Journalistic integrity is farcically compromised and corrupted.
If you are a writer, how will you shape your art, craft your words and present ideas? Will you care about truth, or will you simply play along?