Thursday, September 8, 2011

Language and Politics: TeaParty calls Dems Nazi's in Wisconsin

“Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells.”

“It is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, provided that we respect language’s own nature….

Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.

… Among all the appeals that we human beings, on our part, can help to be voiced, language is the highest and everywhere the first.”
Martin Heidegger.

I want to stop the misuse and abuse of language. Especially the “words that work” of the Tea Party and Republicans who are trying only to throw out our President. They still are just a “party of no”: and lest you hate me and send me nasty notes: I am a life-long Republican. Now, recovering, I am a proud Obama republican.

Let me digress and offer a brief explanation, if I might. My love is and has been Literature, philosophy, the classics and structural analysis &criticism (my Comparative Literature background) and teaching. With only a few regrets, I spent 30 some years in “Business” & Consulting. While in my business career I both had a modicum of success in marketing, sales, and consulting, I was also afforded quite a bit of time delivering training or other seminars. In doing so, I confess that I was not always careful with language. I want to write about language and its use, and maybe whatever else strikes my fancy.

But again: Why the insistence that we attend to language? I can only reply with a question, or two, and a suggestion. Have you turned on the news? Have you heard the lies, the distortion of facts, coming out of Fox News? Whom can you trust? Haven’t we reached a time when it now is vital for us to silence the furor and to listen with authenticity?

If you read Thomas Pynchon, you might simply remind individuals that a cure is available: they merely need to enroll themselves in a Tubal-detox program: cure themselves of “Tubeitis” that illness that permeates American life. It isn’t just on TV and Cable; it’s everywhere They can buy the placement of Their fear-mongering, society-splintering, destructive messages: all “no!. You have Rush L., Glenn Beck, and of course, WTMJ’s very own Charlie Sykes, who believe that if they use “words that work” often enough you will gladly, lemming-like allow yourselves to become victims of a Plutocratic Oligarchy. But hey! Who cares? Right? If the talking heads create enough noise pollution backed by the Koch brothers and other fear-mongerers such as the current lot of TeaParty-ites and Republicans pool of candidates, it will be perfectly alright with you?

And, let me add that yesterday I noticed someone say that Democrats are the same as Nazi’s to be defeated by the Tea Party. OMG! (As my 15, 13, and 10 year might say, but probably not). I felt compelled to add some “local color” if I might and stir the pot, but without language that is so blatantly outrageous and maybe even add a few words, as an Obama Republican, for our current Commander in Chief.
As my continuation I want to add, and expand upon, a blog I wrote in part nearly 2 years ago concerning how language was destroying our ability to talk about food. The problems, as it relates to language tearing apart the fabric of our national tapestry, has become worse.

Language, that which has the power to “create worlds”, apparently has been purchased, by what now is called the Tea Party and the Republicans. A paid “pundit” for the past few years has been publicly creating verbal playbooks for politicians to manipulate, to distort, to instill fear and mistrust, and to conceal. A lifelong Republican I confess to cringing at the lies. I also quickly found myself a proud Obama Republican. I want to use this blog to talk about language and to examine with others this current phenomenon of media: noise pollution designed only to un-elect a sitting president.

Language is the most powerful and under utilized tool at our disposal, individually, severally, and collectively. Sadly, in business, politics, and virtually all walks of life, certain powers with greater reach are broadcasting rancor during a time when this nation needs healing, a coming together, and the stimulus of growth.

Originally what got me riled up was the realization that we need more conscious use of language. At the time Food and Agribusiness were in the news. in business was the finger-pointing and railing against the machine concerning food: genetics, modified seeds, chemicals, food production, food safety, food labeling, etc.

Nearly two years ago, I found myself becoming increasingly angry over the public debate, the “national palaver” to quote Carlyle. I was heavily involved with agribusiness. I had been blessed , or cursed – if you must – to have been able to work with the leaders of that field: Dow AgroSciences, Bayer, Monsanto, Case/IH, AGCO – and so on. The industry was under attack. The “blogosphere” was filled with anger, misinformation, and a lot of noise. The anger was over mistakes made by certain executives in the past; and, as so often happens in the world, one person’s errors become to some the entirety of the company.

Like many of us, I am deeply bothered by the current public debate about food, food production and safety. The traditional, and newer "social" medias have taken this very, very complex issue and lumped together factoids about "feeding the world", "clean air", "global warming", "genetically modified crops", and the very sustainability of our planet.

Doing so only made things worse and certainly more confusing for most listeners. A great deal of positioning; a good deal of shouting; not much listening and working together going on there, so far, in this public debate. Agribusiness cannot allow itself to be dragged into a public brawl such as the one we've recently watched - and still are watching - about Health Care Reform and The Public Option.

Now, 18 months later, we have suffered through months of partisan paralysis. "Debt ceiling" debates became fodder for TeaParty radicals to stop progress and civility. The issues surrounding agribusiness and farmers, are among the most important topics of today because we all are involved in food and clothing and environmental issues. Yet, journalists such as Michael Pollan, Paul Roberts, and notable world citizens, such as Vandana Shiva, are inciting their audiences and special interest groups, mostly through fear and "adjustment" of the facts.

In contrast to these divisive voices, Peter Senge, of Fifth Discipline fame, offers a much more tempered approach, deeper and more thoughtful and quite a bit more challenging to each of us in his newest book, The Necessary Revolution. Today, however, the debate about Food seems not to be among the top 10 topics on the World News Tonight (whichever of the networks you follow). Instead, that same rancorous discord, those same outrageous, divisive language has been turned to again divide our nation. Radical claims concerning the future of our nation are fueling fear; causing the paralysis of recovery; the death of job creation; and, shutting down much of our hope for recovery in the near term.

The United States has become a country of Haves and Have-not's. Jobs have been taken away, sent overseas, leaving Americans unable to be fully engaged – all for the sake of the Plutocrats now hoarding their cash and chanting “No!”. The problem is how quickly the widening of the gap is becoming; and, that widening is not slowing down. Instead of using language, political power, and spending power to recreate a stronger America, distinguished by its equality and sense of inclusion for all, our media and those political talking heads, paid for by the ultra-wealthy, the Plutocrats, is fracturing the nation even further. We need that to stop.

We need authentic listening. We need to silence the lies, distortion of facts, and to begin using Language in order to create the sustainable future world we all desire. Not a world that excludes those the TeaParty doesn’t understand and are being taught to fear. Certainly the majority of us do not want an America for just the few who have control of all the wealth. 1/2 of 1% controls 80% of the wealth.

They cannot control the Language and ideas, however, or our nation will suffer tragic consequences. The issues we face in government are more complex, more divisive, and at a quantum level greater than the battle over food. Crafting a sustainable solution - just to guide the public debate - can, and will, not result from singularly slanted, or otherwise distorted preaching. These interrelated problems can only be corrected through a creative learning process. Rather than creating an atmosphere in which a true long-lasting solution can be crafted, these activists see only one-way: their own.

Instead we need to work together. Education and communications will play a huge role in shaping the outcome for many of us. It will take hard work. We lose all chance to shape the future, however, if we allow ourselves to be controlled by the puppeteers speaking into the ear-pieces of the TeaParty backed candidates and their media talking heads (or in the case of agribusiness: those outside agribusiness) to shape the public debate. Certainly we do not want to engage them at their level and try to yell over them: god help us if we try to do that – it’s just a waste of more money that could have been put into the economy to add value and thus would have been relevant to all citizens.

We need to listen. We need to look for the clearing. We need to listen for what has been concealed to become un-concealed. We need to practice what Stephen Covey suggests: "seek first to understand, then to be understood". We also need to build a dictionary that guides this conversation and mutual learning. All of us need to shape the language and use words that work and metaphors that reach across the gap between sides, pulling them into our conversation.

Keep this truism on a Post-It: "...those who define the debate will determine the outcome" (c.f., Frank Luntz, What Americans really want ... really). It's time to re-tell, or to tell anew, the story of farming, of how the world is fed and clothed - and what it will require when there are 9 Billion people on earth. It is time for us to educate the rest of the world about farming, agriculture, tillage practices, land and water conservation, seeds and chemicals. If we shape the conversation, without rancor and with a complete and easy-to-comprehend story, which helps reveal the truth in its complexity, everyone will come out ahead. Then we can move ahead proud of our stewardship and assured of a sustainable future.

But remember, "It's not what you say; it's what they hear" that matters We need business leaders and politicians to stop paying for words that work, words that distort and hide the truth. Our agribusiness leaders have worked exceedingly hard to being to address these same sometimes-difficult-and-admittedly- complex subjects through education and communication - the ones the extremists have distortedly made visible - so that our fellow citizens of the planet can help better understand the reality, the rancorous, drama can subside; constructive conversation, dialogue and trust can be built; and, we can craft a sustainable future together. We need that self-same commitment to renewal of our nation, as one of inclusion. We need to stop the fear mongering. We need to use language to un-conceal and to make the world we all want. The few that want to be the few can afford to go buy their own island: I suggest that they do just that. For the rest of us, let us co-create a sustainable future for America. That future will renew the social contract. Then we can walk our talk proudly. - old consultant adage, however: easy to say, harder to accomplish.