A professor of Political Science at my school described the modern left-right paradigm for the class today — to paraphrase, he summed up the political landscape of the US with the all-too familiar perspective: ‘conservatives want less government, and liberals want more government’.
I opined, silently, in my seat. Sensing my disapproval, the professor asked if anyone had a differing perspective on the country’s political spectrum. I raised my hand and pointed out the perspective of this oft-regurgitated axiom of political theory. rephrased the point: Conservatives want liberty, and Liberals want safety. When it was suggested by a classmate that I was coloring the axiom to suit my political bent, I defended my choice of language. This phrasing, I argued, is the happy middle ground between the original, popular formulation that the professor used, and a statement that more closely aligns with my actual opinion: Conservatives want freedom, and Liberals want slavery.
When placed together, these three phrasings of the same observation illustrate the powerful effect nomenclature can have on a statement — and sheds a pinhole of light onto the vastness of the power of language analysis with respect to ideology:
Conservatives want less government, and Liberals want more government.
Conservatives want liberty, and Liberals want safety.
Conservatives want you to be free, and Liberals want you to be a slave.
The words we chose to use when we frame our thoughts betray our underlying perspective. Language is the seat of understanding, and can be deconstructed to suggest motivation and perspective. Analyzing the language used by self-styled ‘progressive liberals’ (forgive the quotes — the term itself is completely removed from cogency as a representation of meaning, as is ‘conservative’. These two terms as used in modern US politics do not come anywhere near connoting accurate definitions) yields a lexicon that I dub the language of Co-option. This liberal dictionary is used by a vast majority of the public out of rote; most people do not consider deeply the meaning of the language they use. Those that speak this dialect knowingly craft the language, and therefore, the thinking, of the larger public who adopts the dialect and spreads the meme and built-in collectivist programming therein.
This Language of Co-option is the language of our classrooms. It is the language of our politicians. It is Hegel. It is Sociology.
Let’s vivisect the following liberal sociological speech pattern:
“X is bad for society. We should do y so that z happens instead.”
To make the point that much clearer, let’s translate the above formulation into political rhetoric:
“For American families, x is a real problem, so our administration is committed to y policy so that z will result.”
To define our terms: the value x in this construction represents a ‘problem’ — to be specific, some suggested verifiable disadvantageous phenomena, that would be mitigated by taking y action. These instances exist; we can plug in some terms for our variables to create cogent statements: Suffocating is problematic for humans, therefore humans should breathe. This construction is cogent because human beings need to breathe in order to avoid suffocation, which is indeed, harmful to humans. However, such statements rarely provide people with new insights, because cause and effect tend to be plainly apparent; most everyone knows that they need to breathe to live. It seems tedious to think such obvious statements would warrant comment, let alone, say, a State of the Union address.
The power of this statement only manifests when coupled with action — the y variable. The point of x, of stating an obvious ‘problem’, is merely to gain the agreement of the audience to the y that will follow. In fact, in political speech, x and y need not have any real connection at all. This effect has been pointed out by others, including the research of behaviorist Ellen Langer, who’s research suggests merely by adding any explanation to a request one can improve the chance of a ‘yes’ in response.
For example, take this phrase from the State of the Union Address last night:
“There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
to simplify: “Poverty (x) is a problem for people, and we can fix inequality (z) with the EITC (y).”
Let’s break it down critically. Poverty is always a problem for a family, as it is averse to survival. If you don’t eat, you starve — as obvious as the sun shining in the sky. This statement alone is almost as bereft of importance as ‘nice day, huh?’ or ‘how about those (insert local sports team name)!’ The President must have had a reason to make the comment. The statement made in this way implies poverty is a fixable problem in society, rather than a product of the human condition or the laws of our natural world. The first law of the human condition is scarcity; there is never enough of any resource to satisfy demand in any economy. When coupled with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, any natural system in the universe behaves the same way. POTUS makes the statement about poverty implying a collective problem that can be solved by some action.
The showstopper for libertarians is usually y. The solution to the problem offered by the state is ALWAYS aggressive force. In the above example, that aggression is in the form of extortion — specifically, theft of property through threat of violent action via taxation. This is stated in a positive light as phrased; the Earned Income Tax Credit is sold to the public as a tax break for some people, but comes at the expense of everyone else. The fact that your government is extorting less money from some than from others is aptly defined as ‘inequality’, but this obvious truth is distorted and reversed completely with Co-optive language to masquerade as benevolence, yielding the aberration cited.
This construct is the essence of the Hegelian ‘crisis, reaction, solution’, and is a hallmark of Co-optive speech and thought, and permeates our zeitgeist. Freedom-minded individuals hear this language and know just how ubiquitous it is in society — keep it in mind the next time you hear someone spray about what ‘We’ must ‘do’. Co-option is built in to the culture and mindset of authoritarianism, and in fact, the democratic process itself as naked tyranny of the supposed majority.
Please, feel free to post your co-optive, authoritarian quotes in response below!
Narrating the Decline from a Classroom Desk,