"In ancient China, a new dynasty was accompanied by "the rectification of names", a ceremony in which the erosion of meaning under the previous dynasty was cleared up and language and its subjects correlated again. It was like a debt jubilee, only for meaning.

This made Barack Obama's first presidential campaign electrifying: he seemed like a man who called many things by their true names. Once elected, he sank into the stale, muffled, parallel-universe language of most politicians, and has remained there ever since. The far right has got as far as it has by mislabelling just about everything, while their fantasy version of economics keeps getting more fantastic. (Maybe there should be a rectification of numbers, too.)

Let's rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.

Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence", loudly, clearly and consistently, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage. What protects an outrage are circumlocutions, and euphemisms. Change the language and you've begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. Here is Confucius on the rectification of names: "If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion."

to read Rebecca Solnit's article "Call it as it is" published in the English edition of Le Monde diplomatique November 2012, click on


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