Words can be either powerful or controlling. When words are fear-based, generate feelings of hate, and promote separation and divisiveness, they are controlling. When words are love-based, generate feelings of empathy, and promote a sense of community and connectedness, they are powerful.
A destructive trend is arising in the United States. Words are being used by a growing number of conservatives and liberals to control by engendering fear and separation.
Kathryn Ruud has studied the manipulative language used by fascists in interwar Germany and by communists in post-World War II East Germany. She applies her understanding to the analysis of polarized political discourse today. With her permission, this series of articles will incorporate segments of a speech about polarizing talk given by Kathryn. I invite you to watch the following segment before or after reading today's article.
Stop Polarizing Talk Presentation, Part 1 of 6 (13.53 min)
A number of years ago, I took a road trip with some family members who were fans of Rush Limbaugh. As they tuned the radio dial to his daily program, I was introduced to a torrent of labels, hateful names and reasons why we should all fear the people he was attacking.
The disturbing thing was that it seemed that I was the type of person that he was attacking. I have supported women's rights for years. I don't think whipping your children builds their character. I criticize the U.S. when we do what hurts us and others, like torturing people. There is a limit on how much political and personal freedom I am willing to sacrifice to insure the status quo. And I don't think democracy in the world depends on the U.S. having a defense budget that constitutes about half of what the world spends on defense.
More recently, when I walk into a friend's home his radio is usually tuned to a conservative Christian program with a similar tone. The added ingredient in its message is that people like me should be feared, if not hated, because the Bible says so.
When he is not watching the History Channel, Eric (my husband) sometimes listens to MSNBC. This is caused me to be exposed to Ken Olbermann who, with angry words, encourages us to be suspicious of and to even hate people who are fans of Rush Limbaugh or listen to Fox News. He is a liberal who neither speaks for me or to me.
The right and the left are moving to farther extremes. As we integrate these violent words into our belief systems, the integrity of our minds is diminished. In turn, the integrity of our actions is diminished and we can be led to harm others, even those whom we love.
Kathryn Ruud is a linguist with a focus on polarizing political speech. Having studied the way words were used by past totalitarian regimes, Kathryn asserts that, with greater and greater frequency in the U.S, words are being used as they were used in Nazi Germany and in communist propaganda. It was a practice found in totalitarian states on both the right and the left.
Kathryn points out that we used to call our neighbors who disagreed with our political view Democrats and Republicans. With growing regularity, in today's popular media they are called derisive names like "Libtards" for Liberals, and "Rethugs" for Republicans. This blending of neutral terms with derogatory ones is a tactic often used in totalitarian regimes to re-categorize people who are being lumped into the category of "enemy."
This leads me to be concerned that we are heading into another era like that of McCarthyism of the 1950s, but with a new twist. With both the right and the left participating in the extremism, where will the voice of reason be found?
What this represents is duality being taken to the extreme. We know what to expect from this us-versus-them divide, the labeling of those whom we deem to be the "other" as "evil." The course it will take is predictable.
Duality is based on a dual moral code that permits us to see the harm we do to others as moral. We do this by projecting blame on those who we harm, believing that they are making us harm them. "They are evil, they make us do it," is the continuing rationale, as our acts degenerate to new depths.
This leads good, well-meaning people to engage in acts that they otherwise would not do. Being in the mindset of duality is not a rational mindset. Reality shifts and extremes can appear to be normal.
One idea of our nation is that of strong, harmonious communities in which each individual is has the opportunity to grow and flourish. The wellness of the community depends on the wellness of every individual within the community, for the whole is a reflection of its parts. Thus, to insure our safety, we know that we must insure the safety of others.