Showing posts with label Words. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Words. Show all posts

29 October, 2013

Gator People Live In the River, Interlude: Words, Work, Wobs, and The Root of Misunderstanding.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. - Wittgenstein 

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." --  Robert McCloskey

I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it. - Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup

The more I write the more I run into the same  problems. I see it when I teach, too. There's a limit to language.

As a writer and sometimes teacher of the craft, I find this disconcerting. I remind students there are currently over one million words in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and so there are certainly enough words to convey whatever it is we need to convey at any given time.

And then I find myself talking politics with friends.

If there is any topic that will completely unspool the language, it is politics.
  
If there's another, it would be religion, but there's not enough room on this blog to cover that one, and only one picture of monkeys that I liked.

The problem with politics is that by its very nature it ends up covering everything that happens when two or more people get together and do more than sit in guarded silence. (This trick has saved more than one family get together and has curtailed more wars than are recorded in the history of the world.) When two or more people get together and agree on everything by saying nothing it's called tolerance. When two or more people get together and actually speak honestly, it's called "getting political."

It won't surprise anyone who knows me or who has stumbled on my scribbles from time to time that I am something of a political critter. That is to say, I distrust politicians and the entire system for which they stand, but I am motivated to at least discuss my views and to live in accordance with my high falutin ideals as best I can. Recently, after being more or less a Wob without a chapter, I found some people in Louisville who are trying to get a Kentucky Chapter of the IWW up and going.  And since I have been trying to place my actions and my words in the same time zone, I decided it was worth checking out.

That I self-identify as a Wob is nothing new. I long ago discovered, over the course of 10,000 meaningless jobs, that the employing class and the working class have nothing in common. I figured out growing up in the 1980's that it is never prosperity that trickles down. Until moving to Louisville, though, it has been impossible for me to find a group of Fellow Wobs. So I'm pretty excited about the prospect of helping get the chapter up and going and finding useful trouble to get into. Or at least find some way to be useful.

I posted as such on my Facebook page -- that's what we do now instead of yelling in the streets -- which led to an interesting, albeit short discussion with a good friend on what it is means to be a Wob.

When he asked me what the IWW was, I told him it was a union dedicated to the proposition that workers are entitled to the rewards of their labor and that people are more able to control their destinies than politicians and authoritarian assholes.

He asked for a bit more information, so I sent him the Preamble to the IWW Constitution. The Preamble is the pill people on the fence have the most trouble with. For those of you who don't understand the fence metaphor, insert the never ending meme from The Matrix:

Nope. I'm not this bad ass. It's a metaphor, kids.
He responded that it sounded too much like Marxism and Socialism to him. This response didn't surprise me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because terms like "Marxism" and "Socialism" are fundamentally misunderstood and generally used out of context. But then, so is "Democracy" and "Capitalism."

So, a bit of definition and clarification is in order:

  • Marxism boiled down: the people who do the work are entitled to reap rewards, and should own the means of production in a stateless society. (Note: Marx was referring to an agrarian economy.)
  • Socialism boiled down: people should not be exploited by those who control  the necessary utilities of every day life and should, therefore own and control those utilities.
  • Democracy boiled down: One PERSON, One Vote. Not to be confused with a plutocracy masking itself as democracy.
  • Capitalism boiled down: the accrual of capital (i.e. wealth, i.e., the means of creating wealth, i.e, the product of labor sold for the purposes of creating wealth) by any means necessary. Not to be confused with democracy, which posits that all people are equal. Capitalism (as described by Adam Smith) means there is always a boss and that boss will always profit more off the collective labor than the individual laborers will.
  • Anarchism boiled down: As U. Utah Phillips said, it is an adjective describing the tension between personal autonomy and political authority. Specifically, it means "No Ruler." It only works when people get together and make things happen without the state or the boss.

My understanding of these terms is the result of reading Marx, Smith, Friedman, Zinn, and Chomsky. Also Emma Goldman. Also Albert Parsons. Also Walt Whitman, who explained the high hopes of Democracy in his poetry better than any politician or historian ever could. Also numerous other writers whose names escape me. Also listening to the the music of Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, Utah Phillips, Hazel Dickens, Woodie Guthrie, Jack Elliot, and Rosalie Sorrels. Also listening to the stories of people I have run across and whose stories filter through my bones daily: Roger from Grand Rapids, Cletus the Dog Man, Joe from Kansas City, and T.J. down in New Orleans.

The issue, though, is not that people don't understand these terms. The problem is that we have ceded control over the language we think in over to those whose self-interest is more important than the goodwill of all. A hand full of multi-national corporations own 99% of the media in this country. Their first goal is not to create an informed public, but to make a profit. Sometimes they act liberal. Sometimes they act conservative. But in the end, it is all about profit and until we decide we own our words like we ought to own the means of production, then all of our conversations will fall mute and we will continue to tolerate the despots and dictators ... those appointed as well as those who are supposedly elected.