Your Words Matter

The news these days is constantly reminding me of my Capstone on totalitarian language. What does the government mean by "manufactured revolt," exactly -- do other revolts fall from the sky, fully formed? What does the RSS mean by "diseased with the secularism-complex" -- when did secular become a horrible slur, and do they know that it is (still, despite their efforts) in our Constitution's preamble? Not to mention the "diseased by" reference to the body politic -- we are used to putting our bodies through painful procedures to protect then from diseases, including removing certain parts of the body altogether for the good of the whole, and the metaphor carries over scarily. 

But scariest of all to me personally, what does it mean when someone on my Facebook Newsfeed, an ordinary person who proclaims a commitment to peacebuilding, brags "I proudly declare myself communal from this day" -- and how different is that from the way the German word for "fanatic" had become high praise in Nazi Germany?

Every totalitarian government in history has known that discourse shapes public morality and ideas of what's allowed -- "Let's change the meanings of words, make secular a bad word and communal a good one, and let's see how public morality changes in turn." Say "secular" with derision often enough, and it has an effect. We are seeing this everywhere.

You say "but, but... the 'seculars' do horrible things too." Sure. So hold them accountable. Say, in no uncertain terms, "Secularism is one of the highest ideals of our Constitution, and it implies that religious matters must be kept separate from matters of the State. I believe that ____ is not actually secular because they say/ do _____." That's all it takes to engage us in a real, rational debate while still holding high the threatened and in-desperate-need-of-protection ideal of secularism. Try that next time instead of your name-calling; hold people accountable, but do it without vilifying an important ideal. Do it without falling into the totalitarian trap.

Your words matter, people. Please use them wisely. Please take responsibility.