Isn’t language interesting? It can be used for peaceful purposes, taking heat out of a situation; whilst at other times to ramp up anger, vituperation and, most regrettable of all, hatred. Hatred of different ethnic groups, sexual orientation, political beliefs – I could go on. Currently, (remember, this is being written in January 2018), we have the 45th President of the United States, talking / ranting / tweeting about using the ‘nuclear option’ to address the current shutdown of Government. His language is that of hate and contempt.
Nowadays we have social media, online news media and television, radio, cable news, in fact a multiplicity of sources for the information we take into our daily lives. We no longer have the press barons of yore controlling what we see and supporting those whose interests align with their own but not necessarily the majority of us. I think it good that we have begun to take away this power. Note the word, begun. We are not there yet.
We can now learn of events anywhere in the world within minutes, sometimes as they are happening. For example, the obscene and cowardly bombing in Manchester in 2017, and the dreadful images of the multiple murders in Florida by a lone gunman with an automatic rifle. This access has its benefits. It also has its responsibilities. It can be used to promote hate, can be kept deliberately ambiguous, and is sometimes used to tell outright lies in support of a particular point of view. Where is the balance? Where is the fairness? There isn’t any at the moment.
In the United States, until it was repealed by the FCC in August 1987, there used to be the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ which had supporters and detractors from across the political spectrum. Look it up in Wikipedia and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Since then there have been a number of attempts to reintroduce some elements of it. The main reason for this, I believe, is that there were two corollary rules of the doctrine, the ‘personal attack’ rule and the ‘political editorial’ rule. Both required those impacted by reports to be notified. In sum, it was about balance, it was about fairness. This no longer applies.
Those who try to look at both sides of an argument, or who disagree, are considered weak or called the enemy. Interesting word, enemy. Having been in the military, the word invariably means someone we have to dehumanise since we may have to kill them. Those who disagree with me are not my enemy, they are my opponent, a different thing entirely. I don’t want to kill my opponents. I don’t want to disrespect my opponents. Unfortunately, we are now in a world where balance is no longer respected, vituperation rules and reasoned debate mocked. Until we are able to differentiate between an enemy and opponent, this vicious circle will continue and demean us as human beings. It needs to be broken – and it can be. It ‘simply’ requires us to use language to communicate and involve not exclude. Go high when the response goes low. In sum, to confirm and reinforce our common humanity.
Which returns me to my first comment.
Isn’t language interesting? And a powerful tool for good. So let’s use it that way.
J J Mitchell
‘Never leave anyone behind’