Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Power of Words

Originally posted on July 6, 2015

I’m going to a conference titled “The Power of Words,” in Kansas in mid-September. I’ll be presenting on Role Theory as a User Friendly Language in Life. Words mean different things to different people

Speaking of semantics, a friend sent me this by Simone Weil, page 271 from her Simone Weil Reader, titled, “Power of Words:”
     “In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like "to the extent that" is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simul-taneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.”

My response to this is that lazy-mind wants to think in simple all-or-nothing terms, and shades of grey seems wishy-washy. Things are either right or wrong in their minds, and there are many, often with the power of religion on their side, that reinforce simplistic thinking—the sheep from the goats.

This kind of thinking is okay for 19th century communities trying to get together, but it’s really rather savage: The enemy, minorities, natives, are demonized and this makes it easy to not only build togetherness, but to use this to unite against “them” and be quite blind to our own savagery. An era of peacemaking is due, but it’s hard in coming because those who think of themselves as firm in their convictions are convinced that peacemaking is what’s the word giving it away.

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