"The most common characteristic of all police states is intimidation by surveillance. Citizens know they are being watched and overheard. Their mail is being examined. Their homes can be invaded." ~ Vance Packard
The Corruption of Language and the Abolition of Anarchy
Exclusive to STR
December 20, 2006
This column was written in response to 'Call Me an Abolitionist, Please.'
While it would be rather amusing to watch the National Review and New York Times attempt to change the meaning of abolitionist into 'violent racists who hate freedom and want to kill you,' they would ultimately be successful in stigmatizing the word for a significant portion of the population. Opportunists will also appropriate it once it amasses some credibility and exposure. There will be thousands of blogs with straight ticket voters calling themselves 'Abolitionists' and rendering the word laughable, or meaningless, to anyone who discovers it through them. No word, symbol, or phrase we use will ever be spared this fate. If you want an ongoing example, think of what 'freedom' may now mean to someone who has been tortured, maimed, widowed, or orphaned by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan .
The article does make an excellent point about not using words that give people a reason to ignore us. We should remember that concepts such as Capitalism, Communism, Environmentalism, Atheism, Islam, et cetera are heavily stigmatized for certain people, so it is a good idea to rephrase your arguments when trying to explain things to different people. The Counterpunch reader probably doesn't want to hear anything positive about laissez faire, and the American Conservative subscriber may not be particularly receptive to empathy for Muslims.
The goal of the modern Anarchist is to put things on peoples' plates that they're willing to eat. 'Each and every traffic sign is the ultimate manifestation of tyranny, and no man shall ever be free until they are struck down!' is not likely to have many people asking for more. Thankfully many, if not all, of the evils of the state can be explained and debunked without having to use words that immediately cause our audience to stop listening. Try explaining inflation to someone. Tell them that the source of the mysteriously rising prices is the government counterfeiting billions of dollars. It will boggle their mind to learn that a $10 book today is actually cheaper than a $5 book 25 years ago when adjusted for inflation. They will have learned a valuable economic lesson and their faith in the state will be shaken.
Expose the economic fallacy of war prosperity (war being good for the economy). It would damage the state immensely, and it's easy to do since there's a wonderful example taking place right now. A certain government is spending billions of dollars a month to greatly increase the price their citizens pay for gasoline. Remind them that the billions of dollars per month come out of their paychecks, if they've forgotten, and then ask: 'How could this possibly make you rich?' Assuming you're not talking to Dick Cheney, they're likely to be more opposed to war than they used to be.
Explain how torture doesn't provide useful information. The torture continues until the torturer has been told something they, or their superiors, wish to hear. You can see evidence of this in the continued insistence that the guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the result of foreign intervention, which would actually be correct if the Americans meant their own intervention. When you have a population whose lack of consistent access to water and electricity are being compensated with a robust national prison system and free torture for the needy, then you have a population that is angry enough to pick up a gun. All the guerrillas aren't swimming over from Cuba .
And once they've mentally chopped some of the largest branches off the tree of despotism, then you can show them the roots and tell them they've earned a new name. Anarchist.