Sunday, August 25, 2002

The pacifist is paranoid. Perhaps with good reason. Especially in light of all this "Axis of Evil" name-calling.

Gandhi once wrote, "Be most careful about accusing the opponent of wickedness. ... Those whom we regard as wicked as a rule return the compliment. ... Madness answered with madness simply deepens, it never dispels."

If we call the one who disagrees with what we say "mad," where will we find ourselves? Living in fear. Afraid to say, act, let alone think/believe of our own volition. What is perhaps a more frightening possibility is not our impending fear of non-conformity, but our impending ineptitude as non-conformists.

In light of the dread September 11th, 2001, written or verbalized dissent has become--how shall I put this?--not only unfashionable, but unacceptable. The husband of Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, John Ralston Saul, came under fire for his latest novel, which critiqued U.S. policy among other things. Saul is hardly a potential terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer, but in this climate of "If you're not for us, you're against us" his ability to think for himself (an act of self-preservation) takes on shades of condemnation. Politicos outline what is and what is not acceptable dialogue and, regrettably, we follow with fear-forced acquiescence.

The real problem, though, is that once we lose the words (the agency) to express ourselves we lose the very ability to do so. It's like De Saussure said. Language is a social construct. If you agree that the idea of a bird is to be called "tree," then what we presently call "bird" is no longer a bird. It is "tree." Similarly, if we agree to call what is wrong/evil (ie. war) "right/good/just," it can no longer be wrong/evil. A thing is not called what it is called because of some innate "birdness" or "evil" (scary once you think about it, isn't it?) It is so-called because we agree that it is so.

The bottom line, then, is this: if you can control what a person can say, you will control what he or she thinks.

Nineteen Eighty-Four anyone?

No comments: