By: Gustavo Esteva
In the midst of war, as part of the general campaign of dispossession, they have also taken the word away from us, words. And that’s how they want to bury Tlataya or Ayotzinapa or make the No win in Colombia.
Words are doors and windows of our perception; the words that we use depend on our experience in the world. And it’s that which is immediately threatened and it affects our ability to speak… and to know what happens. Instead of being an autonomous form of relationship, language is being converted into a dispositive of isolation and an instrument of manipulation and control.
The field of language is as rich and varied as nature… but the war that is unleashed against it makes linguistic diversity decline. Government and the market completely destroy languages, eliminate them and annul the vernacular and creativity of language; they are the promoters of the global unification projected by capital, which organizes the current war and can condemn us to blindness and silence. Some 5,000 languages still exist in the world. One hundred of them are distributed in 95 percent of the global population, the rest, la immense majority, in the other 5 percent. Of the living languages, 30 percent are spoken in Asia and Africa, 20 percent in the Pacific Region, 16 percent on the American continent; only one percent is spoken in Europe, 67 languages. One of those living languages dies every week; a civilization dies with it, a way of being and thinking.
Amoeba-words have invaded us. But maybe we shouldn’t associate this innocent transparent little animal with fuzzy contours, with the verbal monstrosities that we suffer. The term “plastic words” is preferable, as the German linguist Uwe Porksen proposes. He has listed and characterized them with rigor. According to him, they are “the master key of daily life;” easily accessible, “ they infiltrate entire fields of reality and reorder their own likeness.” They are words like identity, development, communication, information, solution, energy, or resource. They have an aura. Their definition has been lost or is entirely imprecise, but they are full connotations, generally positive. They are often born in the common language, emigrate to scientific dominion and are returned to their place of origin with enormous colonizing … and destructive force.
“Development” is one of those words. It means almost anything, from building skyscrapers to installing latrines, the same as drilling oil wells that look for water. It’s a concept with monumental emptiness… that has dominated public discussion for more than half a century. In these years it has been used systematically for packing all the works and actions that dispossess the peoples of their lands, their waters, their territories, and for disqualifying those who resist them: they are retrogrades, opponents of development and progress.
“Energy” is the same. It’s seldom used with its vernacular meaning, which still appears in dictionaries, when one says that someone is very energetic for alluding to a vigorous and active person. The word is used daily for referring to themes like the cost of gasoline or renewable energy. If anyone asks us what energy is we’ll vacillate a little and confess technical ignorance, confident that the specialists will be able to give a good definition. When they inform us that it’s the mass by the square of speed we are perplexed; we’re not talking about that. Helmholtz and others used its vernacular meaning for their investigations and when the word returned to daily language it produced a vacuum. We tell each other nothing by using them, but operate as signs of a sect.
This is not an academic issue. We habitually suffer the consequences of this destruction of language that makes political discourse an faithful expression Orwell’s neo-language. In his dystopia, peace is war, as Big Brother incessantly repeated. Like Goebbels did for Hitler. Procedure is an indispensable ingredient of the authoritarian exercise: it is its condition of existence. One cannot govern with bayonets; one can govern with words.
In recent days, the promoters of the No in Colombia revealed in the refined propaganda techniques that they used to get their proposition. In certain zones they encouraged indignation; in others, the need for subsidies. In each one they were seeking to induce abstention or rejection. And they attained it.
Procedure has ruled among us for a long time. Tomorrow the Senate is voting on an initiative that destroys the right to strike, but it is called labor justice. An authoritarian dispositive that has nothing to do with education is even named an education reform. Or an enormous lie is presented as “historic truth,” with which they attempt to cover up the Ayotzinapa crimes.
The uses of neo-language in Colombia, for influencing the plebiscite, or what surrounds what’s relative to Ayotzinapa, for uncovering the guilty and those responsible in the government and in the Army illustrate well what this operation is about. Against what and who we are fighting… and how language is also territory that we must defend faced with fulfilled threats of dispossession.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Monday, October 10, 20126
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee