Creating people's geographies
A Brief Meditation On Words
Language is redolent with power relations. Yet people are also everyday wordsmiths who can construct frames and memes. Sometimes the power of a discursive frame is indicated not just by what words are used, but by what words are not used.
It is reflective of our state of affairs, for example, that there is currently no word for ‘non-violence’ in English, aside from the cover-all term ‘peace’, that is not defined as a negation i.e. with ‘non’.
As activists and scholars and participants in linguistic frames, we often have to come up with our own vocabulary rather than imbibe words and their attendant meanings derived from the prevalent militarist power structure.
Even simple idioms we use everyday can be illuminating and illustrate how we deploy rather violent images to ascribe metaphoric meaning to even innocuous activity. There are a plethora of common sayings:
Whilst they may seem to be small matters in apparently singular examples, I think there is ample evidence that our language does implicitly privilege and elevate the vocabulary of war and violence.
How can we evolve past reflexively using violence to best convey action, gravity, desire or resolve?
While we all know the more overt instances of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ as a news “value” in the mainstream media, our movies too reveal and reflect these values. Though I can not remember who said it, it is a trenchant observation that a movie may be in line for receiving an “X” rating for a character erotically kissing a breast, yet only an “R” for chopping one off. Gratuitous violence all too easily gets a pass but erotic tenderness is apparently too subversive.
There are a few glimmerings of promise, however, and I came across an enchanting word recently from Buckminster Fuller, the ‘Dymaxion American’, he who coined the term ‘spaceship earth’.
The word that caught my attention is LIVINGRY.
For Fuller, livingry is juxtaposed to weaponry and killingry and means that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life.
“The architectural profession–civil, naval, aeronautical, and astronautical–has always been the place where the most competent thinking is conducted regarding livingry, as opposed to weaponry.” — Critical Path, page xxv
It is apt that Fuller mentions the architectural profession, for in a sense we are all architects, and it is within our grasp to build up a vocabulary of sustainability, pluralism, miribilia and enchantment.
As language both informs as well as reflects social behaviour, our wor(l)ds contribute to a currency of better relations surely yet imperceptibly. Far from being wishy-washy, words have power and thoughts have wings.
We recall from the Upanishads:
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Like Fuller, we can each be wordsmiths in creative and innovative ways. A friend has long liked describing himself as gruntled, for example, but my favourite has to be one describing the horizontal tango. Offended by the contrived conjoining of sex and violence, it is of course far better to light a candle (in this case, coin a phrase) than to curse the darkness.
Next time your lover asks, tell them it was Earth-unifying.