[permaculture] Untellable Truths
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
* /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!
"Be fruitful and mulch apply."
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