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How to Re-imagine the World
by Stephen Morris
The following excerpt tells us how to reclaim the actual meanings of words, including more inclusive and edgier meanings latent in the terms we are already using. What was a "swamp" is now a wetland, and the landfill was formerly "the dump." All it takes is the change of a word.
(I've been enjoying a new little book called How to Re-imagine the World by Anthony Weston (New Society Publishers, 2007). It bills itself as "a pocket guide for practical visionaries."
Every word, with its overtones and associations, already gives the world a certain shape. Just as it highlights certain aspects it also pushes others into the shadows. These days we can’t even speak of “reality” itself without the adjective “harsh” coming up in the next breath, or maybe the bizarre phrase “reality TV,” while the actual realities of the times stay out of focus. To see our way to real change, we need to reclaim the language itself. Maybe we should all declare ourselves Conservatives and just be done with it. Then we can debate with our fellow conservatives about what to conserve first. Plenty of options: civil liberties; everywhere being strong-armed by Wal-Mart …
The Culture of Life — a truly great phrase.
Why abandon it to hardliners mostly preoccupied with the most marginal and transitional stages of life, important as those may also be? What about serving “life” as in, say, cleaning up the air and water, or decently feeding the half of the world’s children who go to bed hungry every night, or even just remembering that global climate change endangers fetuses too? We are for the culture of life —
big time. Especially for actual, live, regular people. Don’t fight the term: let’s persistently andeloquently claim it for our own. And then make it seriously radical.
When did Social Security get reduced to apension? Real security in old age has got to mean more than themoney to buy yourself some minimal health care and maybe an occasional housekeeper. It means having a family life and a ommunity in which you have a place and a contribution, and in which others take care of you in turn as a matter of course. That is, it’s social. The Amish say that their “social security” is their community. If the barn burns down, they don’t need insurance payments
to hire a contractor to rebuild it. They rebuild it themselves — friends, neighbors, families; colleagues, companions, co- religionists.
And why do we allow Homeland Security to be reduced to airport frisking and universal paranoia? What if we actually did think about how to protect and enrich our home land? Even progressives speak fearfully of “attacks on our soil,” meaning terrorism at home, forgetting how aggressively “our soil” is under intense attack already. Organic farming, watershed and wildland preservation, deautomobilizing cities — there’s Homeland Security for you! Not to mention the great philosophical secret of the martial arts: that we will only truly be secure when our erstwhile enemies no longer desire to attack us. So what if our primary interventions abroad were medical or educational, musical or ecological or even philosophical? And again: we can frame this project precisely in terms
of security as well.
We may rethink even the language of the War on Terror. If terrorism is pictured as a crime rather than a military assault, then the natural response is not war but criminal prosecution. Law enforcement, not invasions. If terror is conceived as a
Reclaim the language 111 nuisance, as John Kerry too timidly proposed in the 2004 US Presidential campaign, then the natural response is something like “management” and crime control. Immediately we are in a very different political space.
Terrorism suggests an ideology, terrorist a career. Suppose we thought of it instead as violent desperation — call it “Desperationism,” perhaps. By looking more toward the condition of the perpetrator and less toward the intended effect on the victims, we begin to glimpse some possibilities previously obscured: in particular, that the condition of the would-be desperationist might also be addressed — not merely suppressed. Wild questions, then. What even more amazing but also perhaps more compelling acts might be undertaken by people who are currently willing to blow themselves up or fly airliners into skyscrapers for their cause? What if — just for one example — the absolute asceticism born of desperation took the form of unheard-of public acts of devotion, intended to shame us and also just as crucially to inspire?
Today’s desperationists aim for a kind of shattering — of actual lives, places, symbols, and beyond these of our sense of predictability and reliability. It’s not really “terror” strictly speaking. But again, “shattering” is not something one
answers with a declaration of war. The response it invites is more like an attempt to build in resiliency …to weave systems together more flexibly…making our lives more “shatter-proof.” Let us seek ways to build cohesive and semi-self-sufficient neighborhoods in place of the diffuse collections of near-strangers so many of us now inhabit, with deeper bonds of co-reliance and mutual loyalty.
That’s real “security”!
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