Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sanitizing Language to "Eliminate" Social Ills

Syncronicity. I was recently involved in a altercation in a comment thread at Respectful Insolence. This was the same day that I narrowly managed to keep a roof over my family's heads. To say that I over-reacted, would be putting it mildly. A commenter there, made a rather innocuous reference to persons of the lower-socioeconomic-class, which is a bit of a pet-peeve of mine. I got rather angrier than was remotely warranted and lashed out with assumptions about the commenter, based only on that reference and similar language.

I am also currently watching the series Babylon 5, on DVD, in the middle of season three. At this point in the series, the earth alliance president has been assassinated by his vice president. In an effort to consolidate power, the new president has been making end runs around the constitution. One of those end runs, is the appointment of political officers to military and military run outposts, including the space station Babylon 5. In episode eight, the commander of Babylon 5, is asking the political officer about the claims she is making about the supposed utopia that earth has become. He asks about various social ills and she claims they no longer exist, by giving them new names. The homeless and impoverished, are merely the voluntarily dispossessed, who have chosen to live as they do – for of course there are plenty of jobs for all.

This is a pervasive mentality, even outside of moderately bad science fiction television. It is not a right/left dichotomy, rather, it is a social phenomena. It is a method by which we can make ourselves feel better about negative aspects of our society, that we have given up hope of solving or dealing with. It allows us feel better about very bad decisions we make. Make it sound pretty, make it sound romantic, make it go away. Allow us to sit in our comfortable little lives, blissfully unaware of the nasty bits of reality all around us, able to ignore our crimes – for a little longer. All we ever seem to look for, is a little more time for a little more ignorant bliss.

The poor, living in soul sucking poverty, become the lower-socioeconomic-class. Criminals are simply the maladjusted, misunderstood. Xenophobic prison compounds, became internment camps. Mass sterilization programs, well, we just try to avoid talking about that. Illegal spying on American citizens, becomes the terrorist surveillance program. The dismantling of our constitution and stripping away of our civil liberties, becomes a “temporary necessity” for our security. Pretty words to make the poison palatable. Unfortunately, the problems are still there when the whitewash is stripped away, festering like a septic wound.

I will continue with some of the direct results that this whitewashing can have, after I get some sleep. I will focus on the “lower-socioeconomic-class” and the “terrorist surveillance program.” The world has always been a frightening place, but today, we live in interesting times.


Icepick said...

Duwayne, I just got back to reading the comment thread in question at Respectful Insolence. I was so angry after my last comment several days ago that I just returned to it today. Not sure what you want to email me about, but I generally don't give that out. If it's something that can be handled on your blog I'll make a point of checking back here regularly. If not I'll make some sort of arrangement to contact you.

Incidentally, I (obviously) don't think your reaction was inappropriate. LCR repeatedly made assumptions about me based on my word usage, and continued to do so well after I had left the thread. So I say what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Also, the more LCR wrote, the more he (?) confirmed my suspiscions about his background. Does he really think that my language would make a sailor blush? Has he ever actually met a sailor, or does he think they're all like Gene Kelly in On the Town? Absolute cluelessness....

Beth said...

DuWayne, I know you don't like me turning discussions towards the abortion issue, but I feel similarly to your discussion here that people use terms to dehumanize the unborn, and also to focus on the mother by making it her "choice" instead of calling it what it is, pro-abortion and the taking of a life. I feel that these terms are used to mask the fact that abortion does end a human life.

Treating people as lesser people due to their age, or their socioeconomic postion, or sexual preferences is all part of the disrespect for life that is prevalent in our society today. I am not saying Roe v Wade swung the pendulum towards this disrepect for life attitude, but it's all part of the movement towards it. When we don't respect life at its earliest stages and at it most vunerable time, we open the door for justifying all sorts of disrespect, in my opinion.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Hey Icepick, glad you stopped.

I agree that it probably was warranted, it's just that I try very hard to avoid going off on tares like that one.

I started a thread at another of my blogs, Traumatized by Truth, so that I can talk to you. I understand not wanting to give out your email. I wanted to ask if you would be willing/interested in writing a post here. Pretty wide open for the most part, but noticing your profession, I would love to get something related to HR and human rights.

I liked what you had to say at RI, for the most part I agree with you, though I suspect you're far more a libertarian than I. I am all about the dissenting views around here, so I have no problems posting things that I disagree with. I do reserve the right to respond to things I disagree with, with another post or a response by someone else. Mostly, I just try to keep it civil, on the front page at least. I try to keep it civil in comments too, but there is far more leeway there.

Anyways, if you might be interested, click on my complete profile - the link to Traumatized by Truth is on the bottom. If you want to put up a post here, let me know there, we can talk about it and you can post it into comments.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Beth -

Sorry it took so long for me to reply, just read the new Harry Potter and had/have cleaning to catch up on.

I think this fits into the discussion to a certain extent, because what this all comes down to is framing. However, the fact that one believes that abortion should be legal and safe, does not imply that they are pro-abortion, any more than the fact that one is against legal and safe abortion, implies they are pro-life. You are one of the exceptions, in that you are pretty consistently pro-life.

The reason that I disagree with you on this, is that the framing I discuss in the post, is oriented towards making those issues disapear through changing the language. I just don't see that as whats happening in the abortion debate. At least not to the extent that it is happening in redefining social ills.

People redefine most social ills, so that they can either ignore them or pretend we've done all we can to fix them. With the abortion debate, people just aren't trying to do that. Most people I know aren't pro-abortion. While many don't see it as a problem, most of them would like to see it end. If not because it's a life issue, then because of the behaviors that abortion implies.

Beth said...

Wow, DuWayne, do you realize that your whole response only solidifies my notion that the pro-abortion propaganda machine has got you thinking that abortion is not a problem by framing the issue as a woman's right to chose rather than as the death of a child??

Icepick said...

Duwayne, I've been thinking about this, and I don't really believe there is much of a human rights' angle to HR work. (I admit this is quite likely a failure of imagination on my part. My experience in HR is entirely on the benefits side.)

The first angle that I see that could be an exception would be a question of hiring practices. Non-discriminatory hiring practices have become the standard by which US corporations live.

The second angle would be the issue of privacy. HR departments have access (directly and indirectly) to lots of personal information, and we have a responsibility to protect that info, both from the public at large and even (for the large companies) from individual supervisors and such.

Great care has to be taken so that the HR departments don't even get some of the employee info. For example, HR departments should not have access to individual employee medical records. Most of the large companies these days are self-insured on the medical side, and so they do have an interest in managing employee health. To that end, third party providers generally manage the healthcare delivery system, and provide the companies carefully scrubbed data about employee health - records shouldn't be connected to individual employees.

The funny thing is this: I personally believe privacy is a dead concept in any event. (Note that in practice I excercise great care to protect the confidentiality of any records I deal with. It is my job afterall.) Technology has become so advanced that the idea that information can be kept private seems ludicrous to me. If someone REALLY wants to find out the facts on somebody else, they can do so if they're willing to spend the time and money to do so. As technology progresses it will become cheaper and easier to peal back the layers of privacy. Satellites can increasingly look through walls and ceilings, and if they can the tech they use can certainly do so at closer range.

I do believe we're rapidly approaching the day when we will all effectively live in glass houses. I'm not happy about this development, but I believe that's where we're headed nonetheless.

Icepick said...

Duwayne addressed this to me: I liked what you had to say at RI, for the most part I agree with you, though I suspect you're far more a libertarian than I.

I appreciate the kind words. However, I would like to correct one perception - I'm actually a (small-government) conservative and not a libertarian. While I generally like the idea of less government, I'm not as adverse to the idea of government as libertarians are, especially at the local level. I tend to think of government as a necessary evil, but the "necessary" part is just as important as the "evil" part, and I think libertarians badly underestimate the importance of government.

However, that government which is necessary also had better be effective. That's one reason I'm usually opposed to giving the government any more tasks. Our government isn't doing such a good job at its core functions that it should be attempting anything else.

DuWayne Brayton said...

icepick -

I would really like to post your comment on privacy on the front page of my blog, if that would be acceptable to you. I would also love to see you expand upon non-discriminatory hiring sometime. I think that there are very real problems with affirmative action, that have never really been addressed. I see a need for some form of a leveled playing field, but in it's current form, it has some serious problems.

Sorry, for taking so long to respond, I have a lot of my plate - the same applies to you Beth.

Beth -

Here's the thing, I have very mixed feelings about that framing. It really boils down to when the fetus, becomes a person. Looking at it from both a secular perspective and a theological perspective, I don't believe that the fetus is a person, at the least, until the start of cognitive function, in the third trimester.

At the same time, we have personified our own fetus, from the beginning. Had we lost the fetus early on, it would still have been a traumatic experience. Indeed, we don't identify our fetus as a fetus, but rather as a baby. Admittedly, I have very strong objections to abortion, on a personal level.

What it boils down to is, I just don't believe that it is my place to infringe on anyone's right to control their own body. Pure and simple, no matter my personal feelings about abortion, pregnancy can be an infringement on a women's body. I would never believe in forcing a woman who was victimized by rape or incest, to carry the fruits of that crime. Likewise, I don't think someone who, through irresponsibility or accident, becomes pregnant, should be forced to carry the child against their wishes. Ultimately, I have the interest of the unborn as much as the women in mind in that.

Ultimately, again, it's not that I don't see this as a valid case of framing, I just don't see it as the same framing issue as the ones I am discussing in the post. It is not a case of framing the issue out of existence. Rather, it is a case of framing the issue to fit the perception of those engaged in the discussion.

Beth said...

Okay DuWayne, I see now where we differ in our discussion of semanics. I do agree that simply redefining a problem would be wrong, renaming it does not make it go away. It only makes one perceive that it is gone. I do think we need to address problems head on rather than ignore them.

Icepick said...

Don't worry about the length of time for the response. I'm in no hurry! Feel free to add my comment to your front page.

As for hiring practices, I don't really have anything to add from a professional stand-point. I don't work on that side of the business. I could blather on about some personal opinions on the matter, but they're unconsidered opinions for the most part, and therefore mostly worthless.