Creating The Other – Why The Language Of Politics Matters

Life and Loss: Reflections on Chester Bennington

I’ve always believed words have power, and that’s why I’ve been drawn to writing from a young age. I’ve always been admonished by my parents to choose my words carefully because of the power they can hold which is also why, even though I’ve always loved observing a great debate, I’m rarely the one in the ring swinging. It’s not that I don’t have very specific opinions on certain issues, it’s just that I’ve always wanted to gather as much information as possible before throwing down.

In our culture today there’s a high premium placed on “creating” the news. Being the first person to throw your hat in the ring and dogmatically cling to it is pretty much the rule rather than the exception when you’re in the media business. Most days I wish we’d all just slow down a bit.

It seems to be an prominent trait ingrained within the deepest recesses of human DNA to hurl ourselves toward the precipice of madness, all the while loudly, adamantly maintaining that we are doing the exact opposite. That we are doing what is necessary to survive, and to preserve the good things we’ve created.

This article was indirectly inspired by a dialogue between my good friend, Stef, and myself which prompted a thoughtful, well-written rebuttal, and while this article isn’t a direct response it does address some of the things we had covered in our banter. So, thank you for that Stef!

Every day I’m inundated on my social media feeds with cats, food videos by people who’re far more capable than I could ever hope to be in the kitchen, and gross oversimplification of current events by both the Left and the Right. Every hot-button political issue brings with it a sort of “sleight of hand” when it comes to the language used to rally a particular base to action on a particular cause. An example of this is how the pro-Abortion lobby has managed to keep the killing of children acceptable in the eyes of at least half the American population, despite astounding medical advances in technologies pertaining to pregnancy and birth. How do they do this? They manipulate the language surrounding the debate to steer the question away from human life.

It’s not a human being, it’s a fetus or a zygote.

It isn’t a developing life, it’s just a tiny clump of cells.

It isn’t human until it’s reached the “point of viability”.

The language used is intended to direct the conversation in a direction that’s favorable to the manipulator.

This happens on the Right when it comes to pursuing imperialist agenda’s in foreign countries. The architects of war know that we aren’t going to go to war if there’s no direct threat to ourselves, families, or nation since, after all, it’s people like us who will be paying the cost in blood, and lost family members or friends. So how do the warmongers do it successfully time and time again?

Simple. They change the language surrounding the issue.

Creating The Other - Why The Language Of Politics Matters

They talk about “terrorists”.

They talk about “existential threats” to Western civilization as we know it.

They talk about how service is an act of “patriotism”.

How we’re “bringing foreign countries freedom” or “democracy”.

Then the truth comes out decades later that the wars were really about oil, or deposing people who chose to defy our economic domination. Or we find out that we’ve actually been arming and training the people in those regions with our tax dollars, and now they’ve finally turned on us, so damage control is the name of the game.

My point is this: Language is the gateway to action (or inaction) on many political issues, and we should be careful and discerning how we wield it.

The greatest evils in human history have been achieved by abusing language. They have been achieved by distorting the way human beings regard each other. The saying “Divide and Conquer” or “Divide and Rule” has been widely attributed to Philip II of Macedon, and has been used by political operatives ever since. Divided people are weak. Divided people require a strongman to protect them.

You cannot divide people if they are attuned to their common humanity.

That is why the outcome to Vietnam was so vastly different than the outcome of World War II. In the second World War governments controlled what their people could see. We’ve all seen the cheesy propaganda films from the 1940’s. We’ve seen how they rely on Nationalist sentiments, and the dehumanization of those in rival nations to rally support for the “just American cause”.

In World War I, Germans were portrayed as beasts in propaganda posters, or grey, inhuman “Huns” with soulless eyes and blood dripping off their bayonets.

These images were created to instill fear in the people of America and to direct their focus toward the war effort in order to emerge victorious.

Vietnam changed that. Journalists went overseas. Americans got to see, secondhand, images of children being burned with napalm. The horror of war was personalized. People put their children’s faces on those images. All the propaganda in the world couldn’t desensitize people to the true, hellish nature of war. That’s why America lost.

Think of the way language was weaponized against Jews in Nazi Germany, or the bourgeoisie by Communist revolutionaries. Think of the way language was manipulated in Communist societies allowing the leaders to remain in power while the masses starved, all for a glorious utopian ideal that was never realized.

Yet, despite the remonstrative echoes of history, we find ourselves on this path yet again. Our political culture in America fosters an environment of creating “others”. Whether it’s the Leftists calling anyone remotely right of them politically “fascists” (or any of the other popular buzzwords that come standard in their arsenal), or whether its the Right wingers who unleash their vitriol against muslims, we live in a society that’s readily creating “others” rather than focusing on uniting aspects of our humanity.

To be clear, I firmly believe that no ideology is immune to criticism whether it be religious, political or any other ideology, but there’s a difference between authentic critique of a set of beliefs and demonizing an entire collectivity of people.

Thinking of people as groups, not as individuals, is a dangerous mindset to have. Especially if that mindset is adopted in an era in which the predominant political weapon is populist sentiment. As American culture slips further from its Constitutional moorings and framework which was designed to protect minorities from mob rule, and as factional violence becomes the norm, our culture is dry kindling just waiting for the spark to ignite it into an inferno.

It’s easy to be fearful. Hell, the world is a scary place, and I worry about my children, my wife, my longevity every single day. I worry about what the future holds, but giving into fear, and allowing that fear to be projected onto others without rationally examining the issue at hand will only lead to further injustice and evil perpetrated against our neighbors. That is why principles on processes matter. That’s why the foundational elements of American civilization (and many Western democracies) initially hinged on the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

We have processes for pursuing, and executing the law. What we lack is a government that acts in accordance with those laws. So what is the answer to that problem in an ever-increasing climate of fear? Do we surrender more of our principles and trust that the State will keep us safe? The same State that has a vested interest in us hating and fearing Middle Easterners because that, in turn, allows them to continue to wage war and profiteer off it? The same State that has given weapons and training to proxies in the Middle East, while stripping their own citizens of their liberties domestically in the name of safety?

Who is truly the existential threat here?

Is it the Muslim who runs a shop down the street? Or is it the political class who has promised everything, and yet continues to take from us?

Mark my words, radical Islam may be an external danger to the United States, but placing your trust in the State, waiting for rulers or saviors from the political class and turning on your fellow countrymen because they’ve become an “other” to you…that is how a nation truly commits suicide.

No great nation has ever fallen which hasn’t first begun to eat itself from the inside.


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About the Author

Josh Carter
Josh Carter is the host of The Resistance Podcast, an independent, Wisconsin-based media project. He is a working class husband, father of two and a student of history and political and revolutionary theory.