Language is power

Two otherwise-unconnected stories tell us a lot about how our perceptions and attitudes can be deliberately manipulated with the use of language:

At The Intercept, The Orwellian re-branding of “mass surveillance” as merely “bulk collection”:

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal).

At Ars Technica, NYPD caught red-handed sanitizing police brutality Wikipedia entries:

IP addresses linked to the New York Police Department’s computer network have been used to sanitize Wikipedia entries about cases of police brutality.

One of the edits changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.” Another line that said “push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” The word “chokehold,” Capital New York discovered, was twice replaced to “chokehold or headlock” and to “respiratory distress.”

In both cases, you’ve got clear-cut examples of the people at the top of the heap using their influence to rewrite history and law – at least, in the minds of enough people that it suppresses criticism and resistance.

There are many other examples of the power of language in NZ politics, like the “Taxpayer’s Union” co-opting the democratic, mass-member language of the labour movement to sell a few extreme rightwingers’ free market/small government ideology or “Mum and Dad investors” co-opting the idea of hardworking families getting their fair share to sell, well, sales of strategic state assets into private, mostly overseas, hands.

The challenge is to keep saying it like it is and refusing to buy into their framing.

What do you reckon?

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