Laugh all you want at George Lakoff‘s advice for the Democrats to win by framing the debate and altering the vocabulary. Language is a key battleground in culture wars, and as soon as you step into your opponent’s frame of reference and start identifying bad weather as climate change, illiteracy as public education, and freedom as desperate need of care and supervision, you may lose not just the debate but the war, the culture, and your very way of life.
A recent humorous discussion about PeopleSpeak‚Ñ¢ at the People’s Cube prompted me to take a more serious look (to the extent that I can be serious) at today’s culture war, its origins, goals, and legality. Was the culture war based on lies? Is it about oil? Is the surge working? What is the human and material cost of this war? Is it subject to the Geneva Conventions? Is Rosie O’Donnell a war criminal? Is Al Gore an illegal combatant and was his Live Earth concert a dirty bomb? Many would characterize CNN broadcasts and Oscar Awards as torture, while the other side claims those are perfectly legal techniques devised by strategists to paralyze the enemy’s will and weaken their defenses. And finally, why is nobody protesting outside, screaming “Stop the Culture War” and “Bring the Troops Home”?
To find out more I asked my alter ego Comrade Red Square to do an interview for PJM. The celebrated author of PeopleSpeak‚Ñ¢ graciously accepted.
OA: When did culture war begin, who started it, and why?
Red Square: According to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it started as soon as humanity abandoned its blissful ways of communal living, became greedy, and stopped sharing property, spouses, and children. With historical inevitability, the stronger humans became rich by robbing the weaker humans who later became known as the poor. Eventually the rich set up governments so they could continue to rob the poor and protect themselves against the people’s wrath. This lead to the creation of nation states that began to attack each other. The poor were hardest hit – they fought wars based on lies, making the rich even richer, oblivious to the fact that the real enemy had always been their own governments.
OA: But how could so many people be so unaware? Was there mass hypnotism involved?
Red Square: You said it, comrade. The oppressed masses suffered from a glaring lack of awareness due to compulsory injections of the opiate for the masses, which is how Marx described religion. God has always been a hand puppet of the ruling classes. But God alone would be powerless if the rich weren’t also imposing their cultural hegemony on the unwashed, to keep them at bay by creating the illusion of a homogenous culture. Brainwashed with the false notion of patriotism, the toiling masses continued to fight illegal wars of aggression.
OA: Did you just say that a national culture is an illusion?
Red Square: Illusion doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s a massive sham perpetrated on the people by an international conspiracy of the rich. Every true internationalist knows that the so-called cultures are bogus constructs. The supposedly advanced European cultures of France, England, or Germany are historical falsehoods invented by the rich to obscure the division between the nationalist culture of the upper classes and the internationalist culture of the unwashed.
OA: Did the unwashed resist the imposition of the upper class culture?
Red Square: All the time. Why do you think we call them “the unwashed?” But without the organizing power of the Marxist doctrine, all that resistance was little more than tantrums of a child protesting against wearing an expensive woolen sweater. Karl Marx opened the people’s eyes to the criminal conspiracy of the rich who subdued the poor by imposing the so-called “culture” on them. This is what cultural hegemony means. In America, it is known as the oppression of the Dead White European Males – or DWEM.
OA: So the culture war can be described as a struggle of the masses to take off an expensive woolen sweater made for them by the Dead White Males, with the ruling classes scolding them and pulling the sweater back on?
Red Square: That visual is disturbing. I prefer the traditional image of the struggling unwashed masses at the bottom with the Dead White Males on top, being shaken off.
OA: What happens after the masses shake off the Dead White Males, or pull off that expensive sweater? What is your ultimate goal?
Red Square: Our goal is progress, which is the return to blissful communal living and sharing of all property, spouses, and children, without greed, weapons, or polluting tools – the way we were before the rich ruined it for us when they decided to stop sharing.
OA: That sounds like communism. Is progress another word for communism?
Red Square: It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Call it what you want, I’d still love it. But calling it “communism” will help the rich to frame the debate in their favor. We can reframe the debate by using the word “progress.” Everybody likes progress. This word opens up people’s minds and activates the models of hope, prosperity, and adventure. Then, while this model is active for them, we link it to our own goals and methods. We might as well call it chocolate, except Mayor Nagin already framed that one. See, our enemies are no longer in control of the language. They used to control it, but now it’s our turn. To win, we must frame the debate with word proxies that best reflect the current truth situation.
OA: What else must you do to win?
Red Square: We must replace the culture of oppression with the culture of being oppressed. But some masses are more unwashed than others. Some are so unwashed, they can’t even tell when they are being Dead-White-Maled. This is where the progressive community comes in, armed with the Marxist doctrine of culture war – only we don’t call it “Marxist,” we call it “empowering.” We are the people’s vanguard in charge of organizing, representing, raising awareness, and shifting the paradigm.
OA: If communism is progress and Marxism is empowering, why haven’t you won already? What’s holding you back?
Red Square: Rich capitalist oppressors. They are disciplined, proactive, and organized around their struggle to protect the reactionary legacy of the Dead White Males. Despite our best efforts to raise awareness, the capitalists keep lowering it down. Every time we shift the paradigm they put it back where it was. They never miss a chance to impose more of their hegemony on the unwashed. To keep up with the resistance, we must be twice as vigilant, disciplined, and proactive.
OA: What inspires you in this struggle?
Red Square: The children. We do it all for them. They must be spared the unfiltered legacy of the Dead White Males. Corrected remakes and adaptations by progressive Hollywood filmmakers have been helpful. I’d say we’re half way there.
OA: What makes you so sure you will win?
Red Square: Karl Marx said it is historically inevitable. Who are we to argue?
OA: When do you expect it to happen?
Red Square: We always hope it will happen next Tuesday. But it may last until the next presidency. In classical terms, class struggle will not end until the progressive international movement results in placing the oppressed at the top and the oppressors at the bottom.
OA: That doesn’t sound like a recipe for peace. What if the former oppressors are unhappy and decide to fight?
Red Square: When guns are outlawed, that’ll be irrelevant. The progressive community has no use for their carbon-based lives.
OA: Are you going to kill all those people?
Red Square: I would reframe that. Words like “killing, repressions, deportations, and death camps” have a negative ring in the current oppressive DWEM culture. It is advisable that for the time being we use kinder, gentler terms like “tax, redistribute, subsidize, and raise awareness.” Framing the debate with word proxies is a way to win this war for the unwashed masses.
OA: I trust you keep your proletarian shovel in good repair, displayed prominently on the wall of your hovel right next to your hammer and sickle.
Red Square: Oh yes. We must keep our shovels sharp for the Party if we are to bring about the The Progressive World of Next Tuesday‚Ñ¢. In fact, a well-versed comrade like you should write for the People’s Cube. Why don’t you join our Groupthink and participate in highly re-educational discussions with Commissars and Politburo Members? They will tell you what to think.
OA: Thank you, Comrade Red Square. And thank you very much for the interview.
Red Square: It was my pleasure to raise awareness among the confused PJM readers. Here, I brought you a list of Party-approved word proxies widely used by the progressive news media to frame the debate and foster a shift in public perception for the next election. Put it to good use; I have more at the headquarters.
Comrade Red Square’s list of Party-approved word proxies to frame the debate and foster a shift in public perception.
economic boom -> recession (when a Republican is President)
economic bubble -> golden age (when a Democrat is President)
free country -> oppressive regime
oppressive regime -> workers’ paradise
electoral process -> failing democracy
socialist dictatorship -> will of the people
export of capitalist democracy -> imperialist war for oil
export of communist revolution -> true democracy
terrorists -> freedom fighters
freedom fighters -> imperialist occupiers, rapists and murderers
rambling communist thug -> idealistic romantic dreamer
hard-working productive individual -> corporate fascist
lowering standards -> raising awareness
degeneracy -> striving urban culture
human excrement -> thought-provoking art
destruction of the family -> social progress
clinical paranoia -> outstanding filmmaking
failing government program -> need to increase funding
destroying a perfectly good economy -> care for the downtrodden
improving the lives of the downtrodden through innovation -> selfish greed
truth telling -> hate speech
hate speech -> sensitivity training
targeting terrorists -> indiscriminate murder of civilians
indiscriminate murder of civilians -> resistance to imperialism
protecting the innocent -> racial profiling
racial profiling -> affirmative action
partisan lies -> unbiased news reporting
unbiased news reporting -> fascist corporate media
fascist stormtrooper tactics -> proactive approach to progress
proactive approach to progress -> destruction of the planet with industries
living human being -> carbon polluter
dead human being -> Democrat voter
Oleg Atbashian – writer and graphic artist from Ukraine, currently lives in New York. Creator of ThePeoplesCube.com, a satirical website where he writes under the name of Red Square.