Why We Need to Watch Our Words

arrows-w-words.pngWords have consequences.  Words are important because they influence beliefs.  Beliefs are a primary force in political economics.  Beliefs influence action.  People act according to their understanding of what has been; what should have been; what is; what can be; and what should be; and why in each instance.

People act according to their interests; not in the narrow sense of economic interest and certainly not in the even narrower sense of rationally determined economic interest but in the broad sense of what they are interested in, consciously and unconsciously.

Talk is cheap.  That is what makes words attractive as a means of political-economic influence.  If you say the right things, you can talk your way into power without fighting for it or buying it.  You can gain coercive or political power and productive or economic power with words. 

The written word is cheap too.  Once the laborious product of writers and scribes using primitive hand tools, written words now are easily produced electronically in forms that can be disseminated and reproduced at extremely low cost.

There is lots of competition in words.  Everybody has opinions and most people are willing to put their opinions in words.  “Content” is in oversupply.

There is a word lottery. An expression of ideas can “go viral” and have influence almost magically beyond the investment it took to originate and distribute the words.

But words that are spread far and wide by media enterprises are still especially important.  The people who generate the words of TV, radio, print and popular internet sites, as subjects or reporters and editors are responsible for the word choices that shape belief on a mass scale and create political-economic power.

Who wins depends on the rules.  The best words do not always win.  Words that influence people to injurious actions can be successful in gaining power.  And words are seldom deployed alone without coercive or productive resources to suppress or amplify beliefs and thus cannot be evaluated in isolation.

The rules of science and reason; with reliance on evidence and deference to negation or negative proof, provide valuable guidance for the use of words.

The golden rule of words, “say on to others as you would have them say on to you” is perhaps our best guide and hardest to follow.

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  • Roger Wilson
    commented 2016-07-27 09:27:27 -0400
    The Boston Globe published a letter on this subject by yours truly http://bit.ly/wilywords