Thursday, 24 December 2009

The power of discourse and the language of intent

You might say this work was pioneered by a little social experiment I decided to run recently- Those of you who know me well will know that I almost never watch TV. For about the last 5 years I find it nearly impossible to sit still long enough to digest a TV programme. Recently I'd decided to revoke that policy for about 3 hours a week, by watching for one hour every other day, a news channel from a different country. It was a silly little exercise to gain a little cultural insight into other countries needs, concerns and lifestyles.

Almost immediately I began to realise linguistic disparities- at first I thought this unimportant- nothing more than a different cultural take on language, but I began to see more on this, even though what they were describing was almost always the same, I began to realise how they were saying it was making me feel a different way. It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, it felt like 'unbiased' news was still projecting an agenda onto me, but I couldn't put my finger on how- how could the same facts make me feel different things despite being presented in an objective manner?

Then I had bizarre moment, a collection of news stories in Afghanistan broke at the same time across three news channels CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera.

The first story 'Terrorists plot Afghanistan election chaos'
Second story 'Insurgents threaten to disrupt elections'
Third story 'Neo-conservative Afghan rebels seek to end elections'

Now I'm no idiot, I'm aware that much of the media carries with inherently loaded language within it- but I would ask you this when have you heard Taliban fighters described as 'neo-conservative Afghan rebels?' This bothered me so much, because this in itself seemed the most objective 'label' for those Afghans involved in the conflict, essentially those who do not embrace democracy and support the opium dealers in Afghanistan.

Certainly a long way from bringing 'terror' these people just want to feed there families. When did the 'terrorists' (I E bringers of Terror) become guerilla fighters in other lands? It seems we've branded our enemies a people with no other objective than terror. Not only is this provably false, it over simplifies conflicts, and it shifts the justification away from us. We are the invaders, but they are the bringers of Terror?

I began to feel strange like I had been lied to, but the weird thing is I hadn't been lied too... Yet I felt deceived in meaning. So once again I took to the world of philosophy to find answers and found a political fellow by the name Michel Foucault, and politely informed me that I can be given an answer correctly in factual context but deceived in the emotional response of that factuality. The striking thing is he then said this is the basis for all authoritative discourse. Weirdly he had been talking about the soviet union, and yet I felt based on my silly little social experiment designed to give me insight into cultural values, it had all become relevant again.

Then I began the horrendous path of a crazed linguist, I began to question not only language, but the nature of the discourse that language had created. It seemed that discourse, across medias, that was always geared in one direction, How long will the recession last? It seems we missed out on a public discourse on how we might choose to end the recession, were bailouts the only option? Where did we borrow from? How much should we have borrowed? I don't know because nobody discussed these issues publicly. Our foreign affairs seems to be 'what will we do next?' not a 'Should we do anything next?' I find this subtle manipulative language style so dis-empowering. It seems with a little linguistic finesse it breeds with it a public consent can be wrought through a series of very tight avenues of extremely loaded questioning.

Orwell whom I mentioned before in a similiar capacity, I feel needs a greater mention here- his essay 'Politics and the English language' is a fascinating look at how phraseology can so subtly underpin an ideology without even openly advocating it.

“Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

I felt the words 'Regime change' 'Global security' ringing so hard in my ears it was deafening. Where had war gone?

Do I think the media is controlled by networks seeking to advocate some neo-conservative agenda? No, of course I do not- but I do feel that language in the media is beginning to become not only less objective but less empathetic too. If language can corrupt thought, I would ask you to consider to what the objectives of the undemocratic (non-democratic anyone?) Illegitimate (by whose standards?) terrorists (Weren't the Taliban a theocratic governance?) might be. It seems that language may have ganged up on these fellows but would ask you not to join this club of language bullies. Nobody likes a bully...

Don't be satisfied with reassigning adjectives, but I hope you continue to de-construct language but use that skill to re-shape a discourse. It's is the nature of egotism to deceive, it grants a power we all crave- I would ask you to identify and isolate the language of intent to that end, so that we no longer become slaves to the words of others but only the discourse that we make for ourselves.

That is the very definition of a liberal media- but you probably didn't know that...

I would begin to ask yourself why that is the case...

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