Words matter. Connotations matter too.
Here’s the problem. Truth matters, but it isn’t as easy to determine as we would like. In my lifetime, philosophers began to explore the ways in which the gradations of a concept manifest themselves, creating paradoxes and contradictions which can only be resolved when we step back from one widely accepted (and most likely correct) paradigm and embrace another, possibly revolutionary one.
Many readers know Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which people who live in darkness don’t understand how much the light reveals. Fewer know Heidegger’s allegory of the clearing, where the light is so bright it masks the truth as well. Classical and quantum mechanics can’t work together, but both work when applied on different scales.
The Postmodernist movement began with the desire to make truth more accessible by exposing its plasticity. Instead the message was co-opted by marketing and corporate politicians to move from post-modernism to post truth.
Progressive thinkers shy away from the concept of faith because suggests blind loyalty to a distant God who may or may not be real. This is a shame because we lose sight of how faith operates. People place their faith in ideas. God is just one of them. The current regime exploits that by bundling faith in God with faith in a capitalist system and faith in conservative idealogy.
Faith, we are told, means not to question.
We forgot that Jesus questioned everything. He challenged the ruling religious establishment so well and so often that they had to conspire with the Roman Empire to kill him in order to silence him.
What Trump pedals is faith. Believe in me and don’t question me, and I will give you heaven on earth. And should you find your faith shaken by facts, just plug your ears and repeat “fake news” over and over until you forget what you heard.
How do words play into the confusion? Words carry not only meaning, but connotation. No one understands that more than Republican strategists. When I write the word taxation, progressives and liberals think responsibility and supporting infrastructure. Taxation means supporting police on the streets, putting better teachers into improved schools, better streets, roads and neighborhoods.
Conservatives and the religious right think stealing our hard-earned money. Government seizes their property and channels their wealth to the undeserving and undesireable. They think a better life for immigrants, loafers and criminals and a lower standard of living for the person who produced the wealth.
For the truly wealthy this connotation might be understandable. Their lifestyle will suffer, although it might be hard for us to imagine the suffering involved in owning a four million dollar estate instead of a five million dollar one.
Poor and working class white Americans who elect Republicans to cut their taxes are robbing from themselves. They benefit from those tax dollars through a stimulated economy, and access to care and resources they wouldn’t otherwise have. But they’ve been convinced the government is selling them a bill of goods. No education is better than a public school. No police in your neighborhood is better than police to patrol black ones too. Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals puts your own life in jeopardy by keeping guns out of your hands too.
Progressive thinkers resort to nuance to counter unintended connotations, but nuance is lost on thinkers who are best served by bullet points. As a former teacher, however, I learned long ago that the only way we learn and remember anything is through bullet points. The fewer the better.
I understand personally that those bullet points merely serve as markers to organize memory. That once you find one and examine it, page after of page of nuance is required to grasp the subtleties involved. When you work sixty hours a week to feed three kids, and think ten dollars an hour is a good wage, you don’t have time for subtlety or nuance.