I think the time has come to rewrite the dictionary. It’s not the words so much I have a problem with, as much as it’s the way we use or misuse them – some words as dictated by our standard dictionaries and so-called reference material, other words as dictated by the mainstream media (MSM). In both cases, we have established a penchant to parrot ad nauseam that which we hear or have been taught, very rarely taking liberty or poetic license with the same words, as I often do on this blog, more often than not in a wholly and ‘pseudolly suitable un-surreptitious’ manner.
Take for example the words ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. There are succinct published definitions to be certain, even in 10 words or less. Nevertheless, the ultimate application of their definitions is best defined by the actions of government officials, intelligence gathering agencies, the military, law enforcement personnel, and an entire legal profession of dark suited pontificators. Of course, Big Business interests figure into this conspiracy of terms, as well, but let’s not get paranoid!
So, it seems to me that no one really know what democracy means anymore. Countless definitions exist, but in reality the term has come to mean different things to different people. Perhaps it no longer matters, since the concept has very little ‘personally redeeming value’. In most cases, what you can count on, but can’t look up in your ‘Funk & Wagnalls’, is that both ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are defined at the street level … when they are lost.
Our very concept of many words, or strings of words, have become distorted and perverted by the politics or economics of our time. Society, loosely defined, plays a role in crafting our misperception of what would normally be pretty basic concepts. For example, it should be a ‘no-brainer’ that access to adequate food, clothing, education and adequate medical care for all is a fundamental human right not a commodity. Moreover, it’s not rocket science (as Judd Jugmonger would say) that elected government officials should be accountable to their constituents, not Big Business lobbyists … or that competition breeds a lot more losers than winners. [For more ‘duh’ ideas see this post and the Second Bill of Rights]
Still, these arguments are lost on many. Go ahead and ask any humanist or liberal about the blank stares they have received from ardent conservative automatons who just stand there dumbfounded as if they have been listening to someone speak a foreign language. Incredulous confused looks abound … sort of like the quizzical expression worn by turkeys and sheep when it begins to rain … or when Sarah Palin or other National Rifle Association (NRA) members are asked about gun control (cue the ‘lock and load’ sound).
Seriously, what would you expect from a culture that considers ketchup a vegetable (not joking) and where “Criss Cross Apple Sauce” represents the ‘politically correct’ term for the ‘Lotus Position’ in yoga practice. Welcome to the USNSA (United States of the National Security Agency) where ‘freedom of speech’ is assured … especially in ‘Free Speech Zones’ that make it much more convenient for the NSA and Homeland Security to enjoy your thoughts.
One hat I wear is English teacher. At lower levels of proficiency, in regards to grammar, I teach the ‘rules’ of the language. At higher levels, however, I teach students how to ‘break’ the rules. Yes, I’m a subversive in this fashion, but my motive is methodologically sound in terms of what we call ‘use of English’. For example, it’s important we teach non-native speakers to recognize ‘connected speech’ in the spoken discourse of native speakers. It’s important they understand that “whatcha gonna do” and “whaddya gonna do” mean “what are you going to do”.
As a teacher trainer, another hat I wear, I’m more psychologist than linguist. In fact, I’m outraged that an entire profession of anally retentive authoritarian lexicographers cum grammarians have acquired gainful employment simply by ‘anal’yzing and mapping the way we communicate, and then trumping up prescriptive grammar reference material to regulate it. Yes, yes, I prefer Captain Kirk ‘to boldly go’ rather than ‘to go boldly’ where no man has before. Go ahead, split THIS infinitive, why don’tcha!
The artist in me is drawn to abstract notions, sometimes even silly and senseless sensitivities. The non-conformist is me is an endearing rabble rouser. The humanistically inclined bleeding heart liberal in me makes me care about all things to some extremes. Together they create one anti-establishment oriented ‘Outraged Bohemian’ to whom mere words just don’t do justice to. Similarly, go ahead and try to define objectively a ‘flake’. How about a wallflower or free-spirit?
There are some for whom words come easy … or even easily. For others, they cheap. Me? Well, I tend to fumble for words that eventually flow like black strap molasses on a cold southern day. The intent is there, as well as the passion, but eloquence is not one of my virtues. I’m more of a sandwich chef at work on a ‘word salad’.
Therefore, for this lyrical clown, it would be all too easy to feign apathy and stick my head in the ground, rather than to get up on my soapbox. Yet, the pursuit of ‘life, liberty and happiness’ is certainly something to sniff at, so up I go!
We all relish ‘freedom’ but none of us are truly free. There are socially significant expectations of us all to conform to and become assimilated into a culture of submission and passivity. The ‘powers that be’ would be tickled pink if we were prone to not question its motives (or surveillance programs) and to just comply with its laws designed to protect and serve the interests of the elite and Big Business stakeholders. As I’ve written before, we are all admonished to go about our business, pay our taxes, and keep a low profile. Oh yeah, and don’t forget your patriotic duty to consume, consume and then consume some more.
But to me, freedom, you see, has less to do with sustaining an establishment, and more to do with fostering creativity. Freedom of expression should be a basic right. We shouldn’t need a bank of supreme court of justices or a committee of censors to define it for us … and certainly not law enforcement officials to stifle it. The same goes with expression in all art forms, even those which may be political (nudge nudge: think Pussy Riot).
Ultimately, it’s about freedom. The freedom to choose to make sense or wax nonsensical – and to still be understood, per chance even to be respected … or at least to be looked upon without suspicion. Six of one half a dozen of the other.
Hugo Ball, one of the leading artists in the Dada anti-art movement once spoke of the advent of Dadaism in the Dada Manifesto, “One shouldn’t let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers’ hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.”
The Dadaists envisioned a rebirth of thought that “would wash away the tears and the disillusions of millions of lost souls and provide ground for humans to move forward, to forget the past and re-envision society.”
It’s a lovely sentiment – and exactly what we are conditioned not to do. The older I get, however, the less enamored and enthralled I become with ‘how things are’ and the ‘order’ of all things. Call it the establishment, the system, the matrix or just reality. We are all rats in a maze and the war of words is ongoing. Maybe in time the masters of war will label it simply a ‘police action’, who knows?