[permaculture] Untellable Truths

Keith Johnson keithdj at mindspring.com
Sat Dec 11 12:56:01 EST 2010

*Untellable Truths* <http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/12/10-0>

The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse 
that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths 
untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major 
communication effort to change that.

Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:

* There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives 
succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our 
lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have 
government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind 
government. It will be a cruel government, a government of 
foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for 
every little thing, and pension eliminations.

* The moral missions of government include the protection and 
empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social 
security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, 
job protection, etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible 
-- roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, 
education, etc. No business can function without them. This has not 
been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is 
what makes freedom, fairness, and prosperity possible. Conservatives 
do not believe in those moral missions of government, and when in 
power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral 

* The moral missions of government impose a distinction between 
/necessities/ and /services/. Government has a moral mission to 
provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, 
education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public 
buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental 
protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. /Necessities/ should 
never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be 
put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities 
should never be diverted to private profit.

* /Services/ are very different; they start where necessities end. 
Private service industries exist to provide services -- car rentals, 
parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, 
auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking 
of government "services" and speak instead of government providing 
/necessities/. Similarly, "spending" does not suggest providing 
necessities. "Spending" suggests /services/ that could just as well be 
eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the 
term "spending" when discussing necessities.

* The market is supposed to be "efficient" at distributing goods and 
services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the 
market is most often /inefficient/ at proving necessities, because 
every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to 
necessities. Health care is a perfect example.

* Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken 
lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have 
earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. 
Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower 
salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money 
saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money 
would be there later. Those corporations and governments that took the 
money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies 
and governments) are now blaming the unions who negotiated deferred 
earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to 
pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., general motors) 
are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and 
investing them safely.

* Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of 
us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations 
to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated 
citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means 
to make money and hence as a private good. This leads them to 
eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster 
for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education 
or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.

* Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause 
for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top 
of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a 
restriction on access to necessities for many, and a grossly unfair 
distribution of power -- power over the media and political power.

* Tax "cuts," "breaks," and "loopholes" sound good (wouldn't you like 
one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they 
really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to 
richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? 
Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, 
health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets 
of super-wealthy people who don't need it.

* Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as 
economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are 
necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and 
productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of 
public, not just private concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone 
up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed 
upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.

* Carbon-based fuels -- oil, coal, natural gas -- are deadly. They 
bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are 
not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens 
of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers, hundreds of 
billions for oil leases, hundreds of billions in destruction of 
nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from 
the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas 
fracking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself -- the 
ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing 
up of hilltops. The salesmen of death -- the oil and coal companies -- 
are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high 
prices. And with the money ordinary citizens are giving to them in 
subsidies, they are corrupting the political process, influencing 
political leaders not to deal with global warming -- our greatest 
threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because 
they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

* What is called "school failure" is actually a failure of citizens to 
pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood 
education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning 
in place a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.

* Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the 
costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant 
percentage of business write-offs -- extravagant offices, business 
cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at 
expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off 
taxpayers through tax deductions.

* The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. 
It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described 
it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. 
Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. But that truth lies 
outside of public discourse.

* Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and 
upper classes possible. Those workers deserve /gratitude/ -- as well 
as health care, education for their kids, and decent housing.

Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each 
paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are 
defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in 
common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words 
to express the frames. Such words have to be invented and will only 
come into common use when these presently untellable truths become 
commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have 
to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal 
public discourse:

* /greed crisis/ in place of /economic crisis/

* /blessed immigrants/ in place of /illegal immigrants /

* /government for profit/ in place of /privatization/

* /public theft/ in place of /tax breaks/

* /failing citizens/ in place of /failing schools/

* /corporate cruelty/ in place of /profit maximization/

* /deadly coal/ in place of /clean coal /

Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use 
it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.

If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this 
is it. Bring back "empathy" -- "the most important thing my mother 
taught me." Speak of "empathy" for "people who are hurting." Say again 
how empathy is basis of democracy ("caring for your fellow citizens"), 
how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as 
personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in 
democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility 
alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally 
about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable 
truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip 
on public discourse.

For videos of the president speaking about empathy, Google: Obama 
Empathy Youtube, and Obama Empathy Speeches.

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of 
Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at 
Berkeley. He is the author of The Political Mind 
and Don't Think of an Elephant! 

Keith Johnson
"Be fruitful and mulch apply."
Permaculture Activist Magazine
PO Box 5516, Bloomington, IN 47407
(812) 335-0383
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