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Friday, 21 March 2014

Positively negative

From timothytaylor.co.uk/landlord

How manipulative is language? Recently I was thinking of how common it is to use positive words for social assent. On the other hand, maintaining our individuality against the social tide is often expressed in negative terms.

For example

Assent, dissent.
Agree, disagree.
Approve, disapprove
Loyal, disloyal.
Patriotic, unpatriotic.

Much revolves around the first example - assent and dissent. We give our assent to socially approved norms, but withholding it in favour of our own point of view becomes dissent. It isn’t easy to express dissent in a positive way.

We see it in catastrophic climate propaganda where certainty is good and uncertainty bad. It’s a hard grind trying to argue even the most obvious merits of uncertainty when faced with such powerful linguistic habits.

Much of it is a matter of being the first to construct a narrative which is why the political classes are so keen on promoting a narrative as opposed to arguing a point of view. With a narrative they automatically grab the positives built into our language.

Once a narrative is established in the mainstream media, dissenters are automatically saddled with negative language of dissent.

A good alternative is to laugh at the absurdities instead. A pint or two of Tim Taylor’s Landlord helps.

4 comments:

Woodsy42 said...

It's very manipulative indeed. Details like this, and the emotive baggage of some labels, are pivotal to the use of language for 'spin'. As you note, once the labels have been assigned by one side of the debate that side has an automatic advantage because all emotional meaning is defined in their terms. (all discussion becomes a home match for them).
The only counter is to argue using a totally different value set so that - for example - assent is described as a weakness, compliance, while dissent is described as valid opposition.

Woodsy42 said...

It's very manipulative indeed. Details like this, and the emotive baggage of some labels, are pivotal to the use of language for 'spin'. As you note, once the labels have been assigned by one side of the debate that side has an automatic advantage because all emotional meaning is defined in their terms. (all discussion becomes a home match for them).
The only counter is to argue using a totally different value set so that - for example - assent is described as a weakness, compliance, while dissent is described as valid opposition.

Michael said...

The awful BBC are expert at this.

The Tories have to 'defend' their policies! Why, they'v'e made them clear, so what is wrong with them, unless Labour think otherwise of course.

A K Haart said...

Woodsy - yes, you have to use similar tactics to avoid being on the back foot from the beginning.

Michael - I agree, the BBC are good at slipping in a single word loaded with baggage.