Monday, June 05, 2006

Unspeak your lies and bypass critical thinking

I just finished reading the book Unspeak by Steven Poole, subtitled: How words become weapons, how weapons become a message, and how that message becomes reality.

Poole (pg. 3):

[Unspeak] represents an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak - in the sense of erasing, or silencing - any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem ...
The book does a great job at revealing how politicians and others attempting to sway public opinion, disguise carefully crafted PR as unquestionable truth. Unspeak is frequently used to make the unacceptable and the severe sound not only acceptable but wonderful. 'Death and mass destruction' become 'shock and awe.' It asks us to look at the pretty fireworks and to forget that innocent people are dying beyond the range of the camera because 'we live in a post-9/11 world.'

Sometimes harsh actions are needed, but they should never be accepted without question or packaged as anything less than harsh. If we are going to approve something, we need to know exactly what we are approving.

Unspeak attempts to gain consent without telling you exactly what you are consenting to and without revealing the true motives of those who want your consent. Sometimes Unspeak on a hot topic such as a national gay marriage constitutional amendment that has no current chance of passing can be used as a diversion so other legislative actions can proceed with little or no debate.

Unspeak allows someone to be pro-life while making it harder for working people to afford what might be life-saving healthcare. But not to worry, the Unspeakers have that covered: personal responsibility.

For the reason we should learn the semantics of Unspeak and listen to Unspeakers, I have to quote from the epilogue:
To resist Unspeak, after all, is not just to quibble about semantics, any more than a jury deciding whether an accused person has committed 'murder' or 'manslaughter' is engaged in an arid linguistic exercise. Words have consequences in the world.
So we should learn the semantics of Unspeak to see how and why people are attempting to pull our emotional strings like linguistic puppeteers.

After reading Unspeak, I know that every time I hear someone demanding 'sound science' I will think they are trying to elevate the science of how things sound to the public above the science of how things are in the universe.

Use of Unspeak phrases such as 'tax relief' imply that there is an unfair burden even when the tax relief under consideration makes the rich richer while straining basic government services such as road maintenance or making it harder for people to pay for the education they need to get out of poverty. Depending on who we are and what we care about, the connotation of the phrase may not match the reality being masked by Unspeak.

Unspeak attempts to pat people on the head and tell them they don't have to worry about a thing, and that they should give blind trust to those with a clear and consistent message. Often Unspeak demonizes those in opposition of the Unspeaker's plan.

Those who don't agree are asked loaded questions such as: "Why do you hate America?"

The question wants you to forget that the USA was designed with a system of checks and balances so no one person or group could keep control of the country. It attempts to align a specific person's or groups agenda with something unassailable. A verbal Trojan horse, if you will.

Unspeak can also used in selecting a name of an organization to make a corporate special interest group sound like a grassroots organization.

Unspeak turns those fighting sexual violence into feminazis, and without saying another word, that label turns all otherwise nice alleged rapists into victims of an evil regime and turns those who are quick to attack alleged rape victims into resistance fighters. Rape survivors like myself who speak out become foot soldiers in the war against men, and we use, "I've been raped" as weapons.

Rather than responding with rhetoric, I've found it can be more effective to respond with insights and examples that aren't owned by any ideology. If I can move the conversation from the vague to the descriptive, those who attack me may not be deterred in their mission, but some who accepted Unspeak as truth may realize they weren't given the whole picture.

An element I especially liked about the book was that it gets into how if you listen carefully to the range of Unspeak on a particular topic, you can gain insight into what the Unspeakers really believe and really want. Rather than seeing Unspeak as nothing more than "blah, blah, blah," it can tell you what the Unspeaker doesn't want to talk about.

And if we know what propagandists want to avoid talking about, we know what we must talk about.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:31 AM   0 comments links to this post


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