Recently I had a virtual conversation with someone whose views I generally respect - who, in order to describe the effects of a protest strike over the traitorous regime of Donald Trump, used the words, "collateral damage." Although I often agree with the person in question, I find the use of this term "collateral damage," especially in such a context, disturbing. The use of such language undermines the efforts of reformers to usher in a more sane and just world, even as they are struggling to do just that. Citizens who perform the essential function of being agitators in a democracy use language as their primary tool, so they must wield it as effectively as possible, and so (with all due respect for the person unnamed), I'd like to elaborate, using the phrase in question as an example.
In the first place, the term "collateral damage" is vague, especially in such a context. We can infer that it regards the potential negative effects of such a strike - but what negative effects, exactly? It's not specific. So we can't really be certain of its validity. Secondly, and at least equally important, it's aggressive. It conjures up warfare in a discussion of non-military issues, so it's connotations are threatening. Such language seems aimed at silencing opposition with a subliminal threat. Thirdly, such terminology, used outside of a military context, serves to foster a widespread military outlook that is inherently contrary to civil society.
The phrase in question is derived from military jargon, but it's just one of a teeming number of words, and phrases, that have entered the common English vernacular from corporations, think tanks, the media, and government - the combined effect of which is to confuse, and to immerse us in ways of thinking that carry an agenda that is authoritarian and militaristic - as opposed to humane, philosophical, or spiritual.
Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell's famous, and frightening, novel, 1984, would have recognized such a phrase at once, and would have known the name for it. Newspeak. The term "collateral damage" is a euphemism for killing noncombatants, which is a euphemism for civilian casualties, which is itself a euphemism for the killing, and maiming of innocents.
With each step we take from honest communication about questions of life and death, the less we care about those who live or die.
In the novel, one of the monumental institutions of oppression Smith has to contend with is The Ministry Of Truth. Its primary function is the fabrication of lies, propaganda, and cognitive disruption. The Department of War is known as The Ministry of Peace.
In the United States, since the Vietnam War, what was known as The War Department, has been called the Department of Defense. (A person can legitimately be opposed to war, but how can anyone possibly be against defense?) This is a classic example of using language to create cognitive disruption, to induce an inability to reason clearly. I am very happy to say that I recently read that 1984 was at the top of the New York Times bestseller list! That tells me I'm not the only one alarmed by such cognitive disruption in the ostensibly democratic United States.
With independent journalism all but dead, and with the publishing industry, and virtually all other sources of media in America now owned by a handful of oligarchs - with censorship and propaganda justified everywhere by the profit motive, there could be no better time to read George Orwell! There are forces working double-time to make his horrible conception of life under Big Brother a reality in America, and the world, today. In America though, as long as we still have a democracy, government isn't the enemy. The enemy are those who seek to subvert government - namely the multi-national corporations and American oligarchs. It is their influence on government that is the culprit in this lean towards despotism.
Just look at a few examples of how language is used to confuse and re-shape our view of the world:
1. Natural resources. (Since when did nature, the sacred community of living things, become natural resources, merely something for corporations to exploit and profit by?)
2. Entrepreneur. (Business man / or woman). Merely a word to class-up a banal occupation.
4. Transparency. (Truth, honesty, clarity)
5. Going forward. (A phrase that has no meaning) There are many such phrases. They arise because liars and prevaricators need jargon.
5. Team player. (Yes man)
7. Down market.
10. Plausible deniability.
15. Challenge. (We no longer have problems, just a lot of terrible challenges)
The above are a tiny smattering of the words and phrases injected into our language like poison over the last half century or more, to confuse us and guide our thinking down certain predetermined paths. With a dozen conservative think tanks operating alongside the dominant media, all in the interests of an international financial elite, we are well on the way to a system reminiscent of Orwell's dystopia, with its Ministry of Truth. In the novel, one significant method used by the totalitarian state is the perpetual fabrication of lies (alongside the omission of truthful news and views contrary to the interests of the elite). This involved changing the language itself, in the understanding that clarity of language is what enables people to reason, and thus assert their freedom and independence.
The constant use of such words and phrases doesn't just sell us on a certain view of the issue at hand, but on an entire way of viewing the world, one that is cold, profit driven, aggressive, militaristic, bloodless, and competitive to the bone. The notion that, for example, we should use our national wealth to create a society with great architecture, great art, great education, a love and appreciation of nature, or even of our children, and a million other sane and civilized notions is constantly ground down by all this corporate and military jargon, like collateral damage.
The danger in the use of such language, on the part of would-be social reformers, is that we run the risk of inculcating an essential worldview in the process that is, in substance, little different from the one we seek to supplant, without our even being aware of it. That is the evil genius of psychological / linguistic manipulation. It inculcates us with a whole way of seeing the world without our even being aware that we are so influenced.
Those of us who still bother to seek social reform can, in the end, achieve nothing if In our hearts we accept those cynical notions underpinning the culture we wish to reform. Too many would-be reformers are just such secret carriers of the values they themselves are convinced they have rejected, and those in the establishment seize on this as a justification for business as usual. When such would-be reformers come to power it's not long before they are indistinguishable from those they set out to replace, with the best intentions. What is required is a new outlook on life itself - on what it is that we truly value. To do that we must be able to think independently, and for that we need to cull all this vague and misleading language from our thoughts and speech.
Copyright 2108 Brent Hightower