Posts Tagged ‘language’

Chosen people, chosen land

September 21, 2012

If we examine history’s rogue’s gallery, we see some differences between the leaders. Unlike Napoleon Bonaparte, Hitler and Mussolini weren’t military heroes, for example. However, they did have common ground. Today they make many of us cringe in repulsion, but in their heydays they offered something hopeful, something virtually all political ideologues offer: The promise of being a chosen people in a chosen land.

Now, what does the term “chosen people” mean? It is, quite simply, the striving to be a select people with a coherent political and social existence. This ideal is very pervasive, and very convenient for the powers that be. When we don’t like what a politician says, we may still cater to what a religious authority preaches, what the Bible commands, or what some other distinguished, authoritative guide instructs. And, of course, the same is true vice versa. For these guides, gurus, politicians and the divine documents they wave around, many borders are constructed and wars launched (including so-called “preemptive” wars and “terror attacks”) – supposedly for the benefit of the people. Those who object to this state of affairs may be shunned, penned off into “free speech zones” outside of party conventions, faced with police violence, officially excluded from discussion, or simply persecuted. Such exclusion is an important issue in its own right, but it’s largely omitted from the “national dialogue” in authoritarian cultures, for mainstream media tends to the demands of the bully. Instead, we’ll hear vague rhetoric about our being a free and open country, even when saddled with a ruling class of some kind. When the excluded are noted, it tends to be in a purely derogatory manner; maybe the excluded are traitors, sinners, rioters, or absolutely nothing but human filth. In the process, many legitimate demands for change, for justice and equality are omitted, or at least simplified to the point of ridiculous caricatures and mindless labels. Xenophobia and racism are grown.

Now, what do I mean by “xenophobia?” Contrary to what some say, “xenophobia” is more than just a petty, singular insult or “emotional appeal” to throw around in an argument. It’s a regretfully common phenomenon with deep implications. The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners, or people different from one’s self. The stronger this fear, the greater the xenophobia is.

It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “foreigner,” “stranger,” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.” Many fit this description well, and plainly so. Why else would we have the term “illegal aliens,” which brings to mind not images of human beings, but of hordes of extraterrestrial “things,” or mere legal “entities”? Such phrases are used to depersonalize people, to carefully abstract them. And it works extremely well.

Another phrase, “anti-American,” serves to divert attention from serious issues. Among America’s political right, the term is employed to make critics of the US government sound like sympathizers for the Taliban, “Commies,” “Saddam loyalists,” or some other traitorous boogeyman to the American race. To some, even mild-tempered critics must have sold us down the river to some GI killer. However, none of this is a purely American phenomenon. The term “xenophobic” serves well to describe vast portions of the human world, both expansionist and isolationist. In fact, some say it describes every country. Xenophobia and authoritarianism constitute virtually the same thing, and share on obvious characteristic: The “chosen people” attitude, which is often considered an innate, almost biological imperative that must be fulfilled. In order to fulfill this elitist vision, it’s only natural to have elitists at the helm.

Certainly, people are territorial beings in one sense or another. To an extent then, some degree of territoriality is how the world works. However, I’d add a simple admonition: Where elitism and authoritarianism strive, people have the most problems. Some will attack this general statement as being far “too simple,” but go ahead and pick up a history book. If history is any kind of guide, and if territoriality is innate or genetically determined, then we may indeed be programmed for self-extermination. It sounds dramatic, but predictability needn’t be easy on the eyes. It bears repeating that this is not a loose and fantastic opinion, but something revealed by a cursory glimpse into history. Most of us are raised on authoritarian logic, to want to be American citizens, to want a great God presiding over us (and often a certain God that only a select group will see). And just as there is a special authority to help us untangle the “mystery of God,” so too are there specialists regarding statecraft or economic privilege.

Not everyone came freely to believe in God or State. “Civilization” often means conquering foreigners and stealing their resources, and this is increasingly admitted with candor, at least by some. In fact, it was through conquest that the system called “America” was established. The conquest against and subjugation of “weaker races” is why people today argue English should be America’s “national language.” Control (and sometimes the elimination) of communication is an important thing to authoritarians, for language is a crucial aspect of human freedom. They will seek to regulate language as much as possible, such as declaring English (or what other language) to be the “official” language. Implied in such a declaration is linguistic and cultural supremacy. Anti-authoritarians, on the other hand, feel that only natural circumstances should dictate how we speak, and that officiating language is not only unnecessary, but rude. We don’t need the state pressuring us into speaking any language, or determining our culture for us in any other way. Some say imposing English upon others is necessary, because it’s the most common language in America. But do people need to be compelled “to make communication easier?” Don’t we make communication easier by applying reason, by learning more about language in general, and not by shaming people or regulating how they speak? If I feel learning another language makes communication easier, I can just exercise my own free initiative and try to learn that language.

When you’re under the boot of cultural elitists, communication is not truly easier. It’s just forfeited, and that’s what “chosen people” tend to do. They forfeit individuality for “the nation.” If they’ve already forfeited it for themselves, they’re more than willing to do it for others. It’s the stuff of “re-education camps,” like those instituted to brainwash “Indians,” or -to use a well-known example – like those which indoctrinated Germans into so-called “National Socialism”. If people woke up to what free speech actually entails, they’d recognize language and cultural expression as a key component of it. They would scoff at all attempts to regulate language in any significant way. They would not fear or distrust foreign tongues, but just admit their own ignorance of that language and go about their business. We should not only seek to rid others of centrist ideologies, but abolish that childish, selfish mania which lies in ourselves. We can use perfectly reasonable means to do this, I believe. It can be done primarily through example, by discussion and yes, by formal education. Free societies don’t mean we absolutely have to speak this or participate in that. It’s about choice. And a free and open system is more reliable, if reliability is directly proportional to ease of accessibility (meaning, in social systems, egalitarianism and accountability). In this case, we mean language accessibility, or multilingualism. The animating ideology I advocate here is egalitarianism, fairness. It has nothing to do with imposing anything on anyone.

Prevailing ideologies lead to social divisions and war. In Iraq, many have died due to US foreign policy. Many thousands have simply been slaughtered or imprisoned by the US government (with plenty of them not guilty of anything other than living in Iraq). It is, yet again, largely a matter of ideology and conquering (or eliminating) “foreign” attitudes and practices. Though no one is supposed to notice, the same ignorance and xenophobia launched this war that launches all wars, and it stands behind all of the conflicts in the broader Middle East. And many Americans now fear people who “look Muslim,” “look Arabic,” or what have you. In turn, Americans will likely pay for this fear, in manifold ways. This doesn’t mean the cycles will be broken, of course. The political “life” of the state seems to hinge upon these fears, these methods. If we do not fear a foreign language, we fear something else we don’t understand. In the process, we cling to convention. Do taxation, currency and war (the main methods by which governments “communicate” their rule over us) give us “order”? Not real order, for these things too involve social division, and therefore chaos. However, these methods, which are against reason and sound communication, are basically anti-human, so we ultimately are debating the indefensible: Force. Force cannot be debated with intelligence. It can only be halted.

The state, with its attack on reason, seems designed to take human contact out of life, so we feel less emotionally and intellectually associated with others in our dealings. In trade with money, people become abstracted, just as they do whenever we discuss them as “the nation” or as “foreigners” and “heathens.” The money is their master status. It is to communicate all their worth. It is this false sense of worth that binds us to this system. We can — and many of us do — convince ourselves that this is a genuinely decent way of doing things, that the social bonds under authoritarianism remain solid. But it is not genuine unity. Strict capitalism does stifle intelligence, for we cannot know anything without spending. We can only know, do, or eat what we can afford. This framework fosters a great deal of chaos and hardship in the world. However, because a ruling class holds so much sway over communication (which is increasingly true even for the internet), nobody is supposed to talk about this as fact.

Elementary truths are relegated into “views” of reality, as “Leftist rhetoric.” In other words, the communication is dismissed entirely. However, no amount of denial can hide how, in state-capitalist society, the poor are just more of the excluded, the alienated, the conquered and the re-educated. This may be according to law, but it is not order.

Personally, I think more order could be found in getting rid of such oppressive features, not by adding more to them. In fact, with government we’re seeing the growth of private tyrannies across the world. “Foreign people” are rebelling against this, and real libertarians would be proud of those who show a rebellious hint of life against a spirit-sapping, sweatshop infested global economy. An obvious example is when Bolivians kicked Bechtel corporation (a US company) out of their country for privatizing their water supplies. Yet again, it was a case of people organizing — communicating — where they were not supposed to, and reaching a conclusion they were not supposed to reach: That not everyone is willing to let some ruling class control everyone’s lives, resources, and minds. Governments often take (steal) our money via taxes and, to create a benefit handout, and transform the money into subsidies for giant global corporations and their subsidiaries. It’s a lousy situation, and we can get rid of taxes, state oppression, and the corporate tyrannies that foster poverty – but only if we stop fearing foreigners so much, put our flags down, and begin thinking some “unconventional” thoughts.