Calling Things By Their Proper Name

John Smith—01/2013
We live in an age of doublespeak and euphemisms, where we have corrupted language to hide the evils of society. Our future lies in honesty, in calling things by their proper name. For only by calling a spade a spade can we face our shadows.

WITH A NEW YEAR COMES NEW HOPE. What a ride it has been up to this point — so many issues coming to a head at this time — and yet there seems to be a new optimism in the air. Cynics might call it New Year naivety, but whether it is spawned from naivety or not, hope is an essential ingredient for a viable society. Without hope, things rapidly fall apart because nobody wants to invest their time and resources into the system with no future. Hope is an essential ingredient for any civilisation: when hope dies, civilisation follows suit.

But there is another essential ingredient to civilisation which seems to be in short supply at the moment, and that is wisdom. There is an insightful Chinese proverb which says: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” And unless we have wisdom, all the hope in the world is not going to pull us through the challenges ahead.

The problem is that ignorance is endemic to the mass media, which has long since shirked its responsibility to call a spade a spade. Information has become a commodity to be bought and sold like any other, a commodity controlled by governments and corporations. News reporting has been replaced by marketing: the marketing to the people of the agendas of governments, corporations, politicians, the military and many other special interest groups with the money and connections to influence. Journalism used to be about uncovering truth, but today it is largely about manipulation — journalists have become whores to the establishment.

When the public perception of the world is generated by relentless public marketing campaigns, we find ourselves in a world of Orwell's doublespeak — a calculated manipulation and misuse of language. And most of us do not even realize we are victims of public marketing campaigns; we are ignorant of the fact that many of our opinions are no different from those of children parroting advertising jingles.

Sounds pretty mindless, and it is. Appealing to higher level thinking is not a good propaganda technique, and only sharpens a perception that one day may be used to expose the manipulator. And anyway, too much rationalism would only expose the illogic of placing the interests of special-interest groups — corporations, governments, NGOs, etc. — above those of the general public. Far better to keep the people focused on trivialities such as television talent shows and shopping, and to appeal to the more primitive, tribal and unconscious aspects of mind. That is why marketing is about 'the look' and 'the feel'. You can take the worst policy imaginable, one that is only in the interests of an elite minority, and you can successfully market it on the back of patriotism, and the people will clamour to support it — and to make that blind support a fashion statement. That is why governments are so encouraging of patriotism: it is one of the primary means by which people are manipulated into supporting policies that are not in their interest, and laying down their lives for corporate interests.

But behind all manipulation is the control of language. Call tyranny security, for example, and people will demand oppression. Call freedom-fighters terrorists, and terrorists democratic governments, and subjugation is justified. Call war defence, and endless state-sponsored mass-murder can be justified in the name of peace. Call pharmaceutical drugs medicines, and people will be happy to be poisoned. Call jingoism patriotism, and people will support murderous foreign policies. Call vitamins dangerous medicines, and people will accept their ban. Call GMOs foods, and people will willingly eat poisons and allow corporate destruction of the gene pool. Call pharmaceutical reps doctors, and people will put the pharmaceutical profits above the interests of their own health and that of their children. Call theft taxation, and the people can systematically impoverished, whilst empowering the rich through tax loopholes. Call gangsters bankers, and people will quite willingly hand over their assets for 'safe' keeping. Call psychopaths politicians, and the people will go along with the most inane and brutal social policies. Call greed capitalism, and accumulation wealth, and people will accept extreme social inequality. Call authoritarianism legislation, and the public will give up their liberty and self-determination. Call dogma spirituality, and people will do as they are told until their dying breath.

The list of linguistic abuse seems endless — doublespeak has become so common that language itself has morphed to service a culture of duplicity, where truth is dismissed as conspiracy. In an age of lies, where the honest are rebuked for their naivety and the authentic are regarded with suspicion, it becomes a liability not to hide the truth behind a smokescreen of 'creative' and euphemistic word definitions.

But lies exact a heavy toll; inauthenticity demands its pound of flesh. We may successfully play the system in an effort to get our needs and expectations met, but in the perversion of language we corrupt our sensitivity, and without sensitivity, we have no compassion or kindness. This is why society today has become so fragmented: a loose affiliation of individuals so out of touch with themselves that they have corrupted the essence of what makes them human. For it is our honesty and authenticity that holds society together, that binds us into loving communities. And that is predicated upon the correct use of language, which allows for transparency, and unmasks the undesirable things that masquerade in plain sight.

So in this new year, let us take the opportunity to start calling things by their proper name.