How To Understand Language And Ideology?

by Scott Orlovsky

March 31, 2003


"Language is magick. It creates what we think and feel. We will not survive the future unless we learn to communicate."
--Scott Orlovsky

"We are not our sadness. We are not our happiness. Language hypnotizes us and traps us in little labeled boxes."
--Grant Morrison

Semantics + Memory Ritual = Ideology

Firstly, we must discuss the utilization and comprehension of language. Each individual sees the world with their mind through photographic receptors contained in their eyes. The mind develops from birth into a particular socio-cultural model of the world as the outward extending concentric matrices of the family, school, college, and society slowly nail the local mores onto the surface of the brain to filter the complexity of the universe into a more rudimentary ideology.

Consider the differences in the construction of language that individuals and groups select to create ideas and interpret the world. Most people within a specific branch of language can agree upon the naming of nouns and pronouns such as house, book, you, and me. Communication appears mostly equal at the foundational building blocks of language composition. But when we add adjectives to describe the nouns our geometric capacity for the construction of language increases and we add a third dimension to the language architecture. Here communication begins to stumble as individuals incorporate all of their senses into their individual understanding of the world to see different shades of colors, smell contrasting odors, hear dissimilar sounds, taste diverse flavors, and touch sundry textures.

Erect verbs on top of this increasingly wobbly arrangement and communication breaks down rapidly. Verbs express action, the experience of being and doing, and add a fourth dimension of time to the complexity of language and comprehension, as they also connect ideas to others across time. Nouns and pronouns detect static objects, and adjectives illustrate their particular dimensions; but verbs explain active subjects. The verbs believe, liberate, and cleanse can describe a myriad of actions and interpretations of those actions. We have built a house of cards where communication can topple at the slightest misperception between participants.

Adverbs then decorate the ideological edifice with states of being. The words aggressively, joyfully, and regretfully highlight verbs with the added subjective panorama of mentally conjured thoughts through which people understand emotions and interpret motives. The selection and arrangement of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs navigate the individual's lifelong journey through space-time, as one can only understand the rich intricacy of the universe to the extent of the language one has to explain it.

The recital of words and phrases over years of mental development in education, and the saturation of slogans and narrow band of opinions diffused across the government/corporate managed media, hammer restrictions into the mind's understanding of the world. The educational system and corporate media utilize the propaganda of selective diction and memory ritual to manufacture ideology, a majority opinion that the elites in power both use to defend their intentions and actions, and to silence those in the minority whose interpretations dissent from the reality consensus fed to and nourished by the ignorance of millions.

People agree and our leaders express that we live in a democracy, a type of government that rules according to majority opinion. The framers of the constitution were aware of democracies and took deliberate measures to avoid its creation. They established a republic of laws founded on the protection of individual unalienable rights, and not the capricious ideologies of humans' characteristic of a democracy. James Madison expressed the salient wisdom of the signers of the federal and state constitutions by never mentioning the word democracy once in the highest law of our land, and keenly discerned that "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

Despite the warnings of Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin, Jay, and other framers of the government of the United States, democracy entered the political lexicon in the presidency of Woodrow Wilson who pledged to "make the world safe for democracy." Since that time the term has been repeated with increasing frequency, and the majority has forgotten both the fears our Founding Fathers expressed toward that excessive form of government, and the reasons they bequeathed their descendants a republican society to protect their individual liberties from the ambitions of the few.

The school system and media outlets mythologize the heroes from our history, and select words and actions about the past and the present to skillfully assemble language and arrange memory to architecture a majority opinion and keep support for the machinery of the system intact. The instruction of children in the heroes of our past through government censored textbooks, and the discriminatory reporting to the public the decisions of the heroes of the present through government censored talking heads, link the past heroes to the present ones that are continually fighting for our freedoms, protecting us from harm, and serving our best interests. Public education and media transform the skepticism of the critical, independent, and investigative mind into the ideology of the oligarchy that demands us to pledge allegiance to their decisions and stand united against other interpretations of the political and social arena.

If you want to control the people, you must control the discourse. And if you want to be able to untangle the discourse, you must understand the structure of our language.

All lessons suggest homework and research to deepen understanding of their contents, and I hope that this assignment brings you enlightenment and loads of entertainment.

Exercise -- watch a half hour of the nightly news. The network and cable stations only vary in degrees of conservatism, with Fox News distinguished as ultra-conservative and MSNBC interjecting occasional independent thinkers into a parochial narrative. Conservatism = power and control in the hands of the few -- support of big business and military might -- strong patriotic nationalism and obedience to authority -- the system works so don't change it.

Count words and phrases that repeat -- this repetition underlies the ritual of memory -- memory cultivates ideology, or one's limiting tunnel of reality. Think about the words chosen and pay attention to which speaker selects them. My current favorite example: if you consider the verb to bomb -- bombs dropped from planes and bombs strapped to people -- they both blow people up -- but ideology obscures and filters language comprehension so that the first is lauded as Operation Iraqi Freedom and the other derailed as terrorism.

As you judiciously ponder diction and semantics of what you hear, observe the semiotic meaning of the graphics selected, the arrangement of video segments, and the issue summaries that often scroll along the bottom of the screen to influence perception and artistically engineer reality.

Incorporate these techniques into conversation and help others to understand that we only exist as creations of our language. Only then will we be able to understand the multiplicity of reality and progress into the future equipped with the information to select a happier and more peaceful tomorrow.

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Main Media & Propaganda on Swans

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Scott Orlovsky is a World History & Cultures, and an American History teacher at Clifton High School in New Jersey. He has a BA in History from the Johns Hopkins University and a MA in History from the University of Colorado. Orlovsky's writing has appeared in the Greenwich Village Gazette.

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Published March 31, 2003
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