As educators, we know the power of language to encourage or obstruct rational thinking. George Orwell, in his novel “1984,” dramatized the use of language as a weapon of control. Phrases such as “big brother is watching” short cut real thought and revealed the dark side of public rhetoric.
What kind of thinking do the short-cut messages of bumper stickers send?
In my younger, activist days I put an American flag decal and a peace sign decal beneath it on my car publicly expressing my sentiment that peace was also patriotic. These days I’d rather tend my garden and not engage in the public forum that way,
Today there are terms floating around to which we should pay some attention.
- Greenwashing can be applied to TV ads that show a beautiful meadowland with a voice-over by oil or gas company spokespeople who tell us how much they care about the environment, lulling our concerns about the catastrophic Exxon Valdez or BP Gulf oil spills.
- Fair Share is a phrase that stands for the 40-year-old labor law that requires nonunion members of a collective-bargaining unit to pay their dues, their fair share of their union’s operating costs. A negative ruling in the Friedrichs case, an attempt to overturn that four-decade precedent that is now before the Supreme Court, would cause disastrous problems for the labor movement. We must really understand what that phrase means in these days of rampant anti-unionism.
- Inversion refers to a corporate trick of the trade. When a large American corporation buys out a smaller foreign company in, say Ireland, where corporate taxes are miniscule, current corporate law allows the larger American company to claim foreign residence in that country in order to avoid its tax responsibilities to the American economy.
- Merger is another innocent-sounding term for the act of making two or more companies one — sometimes between giant companies that create monopolies. For consumers, it frequently means a lack of price competition and for workers, it often means job loss, dislocation and/or lower pay.
- Cadillac tax is a term that describes putting a higher excise tax on high-end health policies, which supporters say will drive down costs by forcing providers to consolidate and economize benefits, But what really will happen is that providers will pass along the cost to subscribers. We are currently fighting to eliminate or modify that potential future burden on our health coverage scheduled to go into effect in 2018.
- Hysteresis refers to governmental economic policies that depress the economy in the short run and cause lasting damage in the long run. Look at it as governments choosing austerity during an economic slump instead of priming the pump as FDR did to stimulate the economy to get us out of the Great Depression. In such times, austerity further depresses growth while a stimulus such as the amazingly successful Chrysler auto bailout helped restore it. As householders, we often see such spending as counterproductive but in the national economy it has a positive effect.
As we get deeper into Campaign 2016, we are going to see a lot of short-cut phrases that consciously undermine deliberative thinking or that demand fuller explanations. Remember: “It’s the economy, stupid,” or even, “Yes, we can!”
Let’s not be taken in by misleading language and propaganda. Let’s look beyond the Orwellian phrase or term to find the deeper meaning.