Sunday, 9 January 2011

@howespaul Language: how it hurts democracy, encourages the bigotted & discourages compassion. #words #indigenous #democracy #bigotry #racism


Picture from here

Language is an important gift - a gift of expression, communication.  Do we value it or do we abuse it?  In some places wars, rebellion, strife are about language. Language is used to convince, convert and persuade. It is used to give pleasure. It also stirs up hatred, jealousy, enmity. It is also used to lie, distract and divert.

To-day, there has been a grave and serious shooting in Arizona involving a member of the US Congress who worked hard for health reform and mental health provision.  You can see my previous posts to-day on this subject in which I have also highlighted the role of language both in the United States and in Australia.  

Paul Howes (@howespaul) writes regularly for The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney.  To-day it is as if he is Paul the Prophet because he has chosen to write about language in his article titled Tsunami of words that hurt democracy.  

Paul writes about language in relation to human rights violations, refugees, and racism.  He takes to task specific Australian politicians and their use/abuse of language to implant images and do a rhetorical whip-up of the body politic.

Sarah Palin and her Tea Party cronies stand accused of this in the USA.  To-day, may on the Twitterverse, hint, suggest, or just plain come out and blame her language, advertisements, debate and that of her like-minded colleagues (or people she is 'in league' with if I want to use language in a highly negative way) for providing the setting for to-day's shooting and the deaths of five people so far.  

Not only have Sarah and Co been guilty of using destructive language.  They have given it an image as well.  Here is the most clear and controversial example:

This is known as the 'cross-hair' advertisement because proponents of health reform were listed and their geographic locations marked with graphic gun-sight style cross-hairs.  True, the ad said "Let's take back the 20." It could so easily have said "Let's take out the 20" in classic gunslinger parlance.  But perhaps she didn't need too. We are familiar in this country, as the Americans are in theirs, with the term dog-whistling.   So it is likely that when Palin supporters read "take back", the message that entered their 'brains' was "take out". And someone tried to take out Representative Giffords to-day and succeeded in taking out a few others besides including a tiny child.

In Western countries, there are still many, many prosperous people.  They are not always the rich and powerful.  There are significant, enriched middle classes in western countries. But, in this time of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), many people are suffering.  The rising tide which has benefitted many has NOT lifted all boats. 

This is particularly the case for many countries which, like Australia, have significant indigenous populations.  Large segments of the population in the USA, for instance, are jobless, debt-ridden, without health benefits, receiving poor educational opportunities, and moving closer and closer to the outer limits of society.  

The situation is not so extreme in Australia but the stories coming from our helping agencies are not good. Things are gloomy for a lot of people.  Where once the welfare agencies helped people who, for one reason or another, were not in employment. To-day they are helping significant numbers of people who are in employment.  Australia is arguably the country to come out best from the GFC - and yet this is the best we can do?  Turn workers into the working poor and ensure they visit Vinnies or the Salvos at the tail end of every pay period?

Racism has come to the fore in Germany and France in the wake of the GFC.  Our politicians in Australia seem bent on turning a minor refugee molehill into a Mount Everest of isolationist and insular rhetoric which tugs at the hidden heartstrings of racism and ethnic bigotry while providing a paucity of progressive process and an excess of inflammatory language.  

My advice to Palin & Co who profess to follow Christ is to take a good look at themselves and really ask what Jesus would do.  In fact, they might actually like to think about what Jesus actually did and demonstrated - and he didn't do it within a military lexicon.

Here in Australia we have governments acquiescing to corporations and the minority-supported Australian Christian Lobby.  Politicians of both sides play nicely with the bigotted hosts of talk-back radio in Sydney and Melbourne - instead of challenging them and calling them to order - and the politicians run to please and pacify any outpouring of bigotry and Alf Garnett-isms even if it comes from only a minority of people. 

Australia has always had, until recently, a secular Public Square.  Until about 40 to 50 years ago, there was still religious bigotry and the White Australia policy.  These unedifying features of Australian life can be found only in isolated pockets to-day.  No one believes that these attitudes have the support of the bulk of the Australian population.  Yet we have people in our midst from various points on the political spectrum who would drag us back into bigotry, who would cast our governments headlong into the support of policies which are not supported by the majority of Australians.  And while these negative actions are going on we are distracted - distracted from doing the real, clever, compassionate and useful things that would serve our nation and its people well.

So let's mind our language shall we?  Let's put the emphasis on think.  Let's think, and speak, and act with compassion and inclusivity.  Let's try to do the best - not for just some for us - for all of us.  

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