The great semanticist and one-time Republican senator from California, Samuel I. Hayakawa once remarked that language is thought in action. In fact, he authored a book about it called Language in Thought and Action.
Hayakawa knew that words aren’t magical – but understood that others might. As the ninth president of San Francisco State University, he pulled the plug – literally – on a PA system during a left-wing rally during the Student Strike of 1968-69.
Though as much as we’d love to, we can’t yank the wires out of a similar San Franciscan soapbox, the toxic tendrils of Tweets pumping poison into the public sphere. However, one tweet that chanced across my timeline struck me as odd:
If you’re looking to clean up your socials and want to cull some people… just look for usage of these words…
Pretty easy unfollow when you see this.
Then more and more tweets with similar sentiments. Those protesting are selfish. If you’re worried about your freedoms, have a look at Afghanistan, the de jour thing to compare first-world suffering with (The Uighurs? Never heard of them. Are they on TikTok?)
According to the UberEating, Netflix scrolling, wear your masking, follow the sciencing, we’re all in this together, never missed a paycheque laptop class, freedom and liberty have become a slur.
You’re not one of those freedom people, are you? Ugh, it’s a pandemic, no one cares about your liberties. COVID-19 doesn’t care about your freedom if you’re dead. Freedom? More like freedumb. And such other nonsense.
If language is thought in action, as Hayakawa says, then there are a lot of people online who actively want to dismantle freedom as an abstract noun and a verb. The verb is lying prone in the gutter, having its head beaten in by a zealous police officer simply “enforcing public health orders.”
After 18 months of spitting on the thought and action of freedom, is there any chance of restoring its former revered place in our lexicon? Not when we’re already at the point where anyone disagreeing with public health orders are labelled “traitors” and “public enemies” by the moronic PR guys. If you can think your enemies into existence, you can action them out of existence – any justification will do.
Aneurin Bevan, deputy leader of the British Labour Party and minister for health in the Attlee Government, once remarked “the student of politics must also be on his guard against the old words, for the words persist when the reality that lay behind them has changed. It is inherent in our intellectual activity that we seek to imprison reality in our description of it. Soon, long before we realise it, it is we who become the prisoners of the description. From that point on, our ideas degenerate into a kind of folklore which we pass to each other, fondly thinking of the reality around us.”
We are already prisoners of the description; power-mad premiers speaking restrictions into existence. Uttering enemies into the air. Dividing communities with a few tortured sentences. If the idea was to consign freedom into folklore, it’s the only job they’re doing with any competence.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning told his Coalition colleagues that there will be no special “Freedom Day” when our chains are loosened, yet at the same time said the country will soon have to confront its Covid reality.
Unless we have a “Freedom Day,” like the one the Liberal Democrats are proposing, like Britain had, the bruised Australian thought and action of freedom could be lost forever – and we already know a significant minority is prepared to settle for less.
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