Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Words are sticks and stones

I don't like not knowing the names of flowers or the parts of a boat or what birds are called. They aren't "flowers;" they're dahlias and catmint and verbana and begonias. They aren't "birds;" they're finches and ravens and terns and wrens. Too often we think that knowing the names of things is for specialists. But really it's just an extension of literacy. If you are not trying to learn as much as you can you are choosing to be illiterate.

I can't imagine not knowing the names for important things: countries, world leaders, major waterways, historical events, the things that shape our world and our lives for better or worse. But that is how much of the world lives. Not knowing things, not being able to call something by its proper name. If you dont know the word for something, you can't possibly understand it, why it exists, how it functions, etc.

That's how propaganda can flourish. People with less than honorable intentions take advantage of your not knowing, and you don't even know that you don't know it.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was a Sarah Palin fan who infamously railed against the "bailouts." When she was told by the reporter that Palin herself had supported the bailouts, the woman refused to believe it and thought the reporter was lying.

I'd be willing to bet the woman doesnt even know what the term "bailout" means. She just repeated what she heard politicians say to fool uninformed voters. Most Republicans had spent millions of dollars trying to convince voters that Obama was "socialist." Funny how many of them supported the bailouts behind closed doors.

When you don't understand words, you don't understand concepts. I didn't know the name of the tickseed I bought for my garden, so I didn't know that when its leaves started to turn lighter that something was wrong, and I didn't check for aphids until it was too late. Now it's dead.

Words matter. They are the manifestation of our thoughts, the way we communicate with each other. They are part of why we are social creatures, and they are part of anti-social behavior like propaganda. They can break bones and mangle bodies.

Chris calls me a geography whiz for knowing the names of places, but that's just being cognizant of the world, being literate. You can't know the world if you don't know its people and places. Knowing is acknowledging the humanity there; not knowing says you believe everyone is not worth knowing, that they are somehow inferior to you, that they are terrorists and targets instead of human beings with families and friends and hopes and dreams.

I remember one incident when a guy who had never owned a passport and rarely left Indiana told me how I was wrong about what Beirut was like. That I had just finished telling him about my year in Lebanon did not matter to him; the narrative was already ingrained in him, and I was a terrorist sympathizer because I enjoyed the place, because all Arabs are terrorists.

Oh, the Narrative, that story you are told over and over again until you begin to believe it as truth. Ideologies are narratives. Religions are narratives. Patriotism and textbook histories are narratives. Now we have so many narratives no one is capable of thought. #Gamergate. #BlackLivesMatter. #loveislove. #2A #tcot #tlot #p2. Social media allows us to live in bubbles where we can block other narratives that aren't in line with our own. This only serves to reinforce our beliefs that we are right, because everyone in our bubble thinks the same way so we must be right.

But the narrative is never right. The narrative is a distortion of some truth or half-truth; the whole purpose of its existence is to tell someone else he's wrong. The narrative needs enemies to live, and if they aren't forthcoming, it creates them. The narrative manipulates the meaning of words until they are no longer used in the proper sense by those who follow the narrative. (Hence the use of the term "socialist" by conservatives to describe Obama, for example.)

The narrative instructs hatred for difference and focuses on a single event or person to paint entire groups and civilizations with the same brush.

Aren't you tired of the narrative? Aren't you tired of being afraid of things you don't understand, or words you don't know? Why not open up a dictionary and learn some words? Get a passport and see the world, because it's damn hard to cling to the narrative when you can see with your own eyes that the narrative is wrong.

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