Friday, December 3, 2010

The Use of Language to Manipulate for the Better Good

"The learned fool writes his nonsense in better language than the unlearned, but it is still nonsense." - Benjamin Franklin
The neoconservative movement has achieved most of it's success through the clever manipulation of language.

"Calculated ambiguity", "hidden dialogue" and "words that work", are all part of their arsenal.

Linguist George Lakoff believes that progressives can win if they start tapping into this skill (video below). We can't assume that everyone automatically can see the good in social programs, that not only strive to alleviate hunger and despair, but also help to eliminate social unrest.

The Neocons promote war based on the need to keep us safe. We have to frame our message in a similar fashion. Hunger is a great motivator and can lead the desperate to commit desperate acts. It is as fundamental as self preservation. How many revolutions took place for something as simple as the lack of bread? The French and Russian certainly come to mind.

We need to keep everyone fed to keep everyone safe.

It's clear to anyone paying attention that the increase in prisons by the Harperites, is not for "unreported crime", but for future crime, if they are allowed to succeed in their agenda to dismantle Canada's welfare state.

The elite need to have their "stuff" protected when a large sector of our population find themselves without the ability to buy "stuff" for themselves. The ability to buy bread. The police brutality at the G-20 was a test for martial law. I'm convinced of that.

And having so many of their MPs who are ex-cops, including the latest Julian Fantino, The Harper government will continue to have the police on their side. They will no longer be protecting the public, but their mandate will be protecting the government and the wealthy from the public.

Stephen Harper knew as early as 2005, that he would need a military presence in the streets of our major cities. He has since then created urban camouflage uniforms for our soldiers. According to the Ottawa Citizen:
Those designs are to be based on the "unique requirements" of the urban settings of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, according to an outline of the project co-ordinated by scientists at Defence Research and Development Canada in Suffield, Alta.
So social programs not only help to prevent social unrest, but also protect us from the necessity of having soldiers in the streets, unless there's been a natural disaster. I can't imagine too many Canadians who would want to live in that kind of country.

It is too reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Carl Schmitt in his Concept of the Political, the only modern doctrine that Leo Strauss followed, says that "strife itself is humanizing". A necessary element if we are to understand inhumanity, I suppose. But I think that attempting to end strife is a far greater test of humanity. Witnessing that is more humanizing.

So instead of using the term "welfare state", we stick to "social safety net", with an emphasis on "safety". We can even throw in "freedom" now and then. A powerful word. But we do need "freedom" from this authoritarian style of governance.

The "freedom" to live without fear of our government and it's agencies.

On Religion

Another area of daily life hijacked by the neoconservative movement is religion. They have laid claim to our mortal soul. But their faith is based on the religion of corporatism, and it has become a religion of hatred and greed.

More churches need to speak out publicly, and not just privately as they do now.

Religion should inspire not incite.

On Symbols

Another area that George Lakoff reminds us that the Neocons have hijacked, are national symbols. The Republican pollster Frank Lutz told Harper to tap into symbols like hockey, and now our prime minister is it's number one fan.

I can assure you that had Lutz suggested ballet, Harper would be wearing a tutu in the House. Whatever it takes.

But they also claim the flag, the national anthem and the notion of "democracy", despite the fact that the movement denounces all three. Many Reformers hated the new flag, calling it too "Liberal" and saw no need for a new anthem, when the Maple Leaf Forever served us so well. And neoconservatism itself is closer to fascism. They fight against too much democracy.

We need to have our flag representing not a symbol we fight under, but a symbol we live under. Make Canadian sovereignty the Holy Grail, not Canadian combat.

Framing and Unifying

Lakoff rightfully says that part of the problem progressives have is that they are divided. The NDP, Liberals and Bloc are constantly at each other's throats, which only helps to support the neoconservative movement.

They need to rally around the issues they have in common.

And in framing messages, words like "community", "prosperity" and "empathy" work best.

He also uses George Bush's "tax relief" as an example of helpful framing. The "relief" suggests that taxes are something we need to be relieved of. We have to make taxes a positive thing, since they buy us civilization.

So instead we speak of the need for "poverty relief", a "break from corporatism" or "freedom from war". Giving negative connotation to negative things.

Because if we don't start speaking up and speaking clearly, we may soon find ourselves unable to speak at all.


  1. Thank you for all your blog posts. You are on my iGoogle page!

    What I find massively discouraging is that the leadership of the Liberals, NDP, Greens, etc. seem to be on a road of ignoring all excellent strategies like the one in the video, which has been widely available in the U.S. since the second "election" of George Bush, Jr. What are they thinking? are they thinking?

    I am 62 years old. I am stunned by the speed at which Canada is "disintegrating" in terms of ignoring climate change, supporting horrors like the G20 and other police brutality supported by our politicians, taxes which allow our rich to get richer while the poor get poorer, etc. etc.

    And I don't know how to fight back anymore!!! I honestly don't. Is it going to take an in the street revolution? If Canadians haven't revolted in the past few years despite revolting changes in our country, will we ever?

    How can I make a difference for this country I love? what can I do to lessen the damage for my grandchildren and everyone's grandchildren?

    How can we get all of us with similar values united in a way that can stand up to the political "leadership"/corporate share-holder power/media who seem mostly inclined to repeat Harper and company's distortions of the truth with little or no challenge?

    letters to the editor, contacting MP's, donations to good causes - they all seem to have become useless.

    I haven't given up, but I sure as 'ell don't know where to put my energies anymore. What can we all do? how can we get the power back? How can we reverse the trend in Canada when it seems like the Conservatives use all the best and most effective strategies and are accomplishing what I see as all the worst outcomes? Why do ALL the MP's follow their leaders so docilely?

  2. Thank you Heather. It is discouraging but I haven't given up either.

    So many people I speak with now use the word "frightened". I don't remember a time when we were frigthened to be Canadian.

    The most "frightening" thing for me is how complacent people are.

  3. Many of Emily's posts are printed and left on the tables in my local mall food court - Heather, yours will join this weeks batch. . . fun to watch them getting read.

  4. About tax reduction: it is a technique called "starve the beast". It is a tool to starve the social programs and dismantle the State. See