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When words become meaningless

August 28, 2009

This is old, but worth watching if somehow you haven’t seen it already.

The far right has been extremely effective since late 2008 in making various previously meaningful terms completely meaningless. “Socialism” no longer has any meaning in our national discourse. It was a loaded word before, of course, but now it’s completely unusable. “Nazism” has now suffered a similar fate. (Hint to these folks who seem to think Obama is both socialist and a Nazi: “national socialism” ≠ “socialism”.)

This reminds me of a tactic that an instructor I worked with years ago used, when teaching development and globalization theory to high schoolers who had thus far been completely unexposed to these heady topics. Among the ideas covered were certain neo-Marxist ones like dependency theory. But he was very careful never to use the words “Marxism” or “Communism,” knowing they would result in a knee-jerk reaction and an automatic closing of the mind.

We should strive to respond not to words but to the ideas underpinning them; this whole trend of right-wingers calling anyone supporting health care reform “socialist” or “Nazi” has the effect of obscuring real ideas under an onslaught of increasingly meaningless and inflammatory empty words. Barney Frank isn’t playing their game. Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed here before, journalists are.

Flying Whale

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