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The Language Question

To Begin

We tell the truth only by telling the truth, not by being in a position where we tell the fewest lies. Our basic concern is creating a way of living where the mediation and coercion of this society are absent. If we talk about things more abstractly than this, it is because of the falsification that surrounds this project.

We say the obvious and the difficult in ways that are both obvious and difficult. We use normal language to describe the possibility of revolution literally while remembering that each word also has a secret meaning, given to it by different rackets. The distorted "life styles" everyone leads today can make simple things hard to see. But the banal talk-show hosts who take advantage of this by flooding us with syrupy common decency can only be countered by looking at the complicated path of our present history.

The tendencies we are considering are nothing more than results of the alienation of wage labour. The superstructure we are describing rests on the base of capitalist relations, on the general passivity and silence of millions of factory and office workers. The ruling ideas we debate with are prefaced by silence. Their motion is the stillness of millions (here is the place "unbiased research" falls down hardest; yes you may be unbiased but you are the calculated result of a system using millions of "person-years" of labour. Are these calculations unbiased?)


Most of the ideas we will be talking about justify the existing order literally; Coca Cola advertising is as good as religion at creating an image of happy acceptance. But its acceptance of the system is not even the main reason we care about current propaganda. Today, double speak is the rule. We cannot enter a dialogue with the present regime, since standard language only symbolizes a balance of power and powerlessness - meaning is incidental. The illogical quality of religious or self-help theories quite possibly add to their appeal. Trying to refute either extreme or average arguments only puts you on the lowest of rung of TV's theater of humiliation. In modern propaganda, from the Honeymooners onward, the main question is who gets the fart and who gets "the girl."

"Stop War In El Salvador" Means "Wear Birkenstocks"

Almost everyone recognizes that they are using rhetoric only for its effect. No judgement about truth needs to be made. Bart Simpson has no opinions but only a "bad attitude." Micheal Dukakis looked funny and so he had to lose the election. Baby harp seals are cute and so they should be protected. Rather than being descriptive statements, most of today's arguments are a code; signs telling where the balance of power and contempt has shifted. Words are used first for creating an image, and only later for communication. The radicalism of the leftist college student is a statement of their position in society than a conscious decision - even more than the conservatism of the average stockbroker.

We do not aim to demystify propaganda but to decode it. It is old news that things are messed up. We don't propose to remove people's illusions. It is more of an illusion to even say people have illusions. What they have is resignation. Opinions are mouthed from the expectation that this society will continue indefinitely.

We do not argue but make clear the present balance of resignation and so make an imbalance possible. An important example is those who join leftist groups. They get a chummy milieu at the same time they get their ideas; the red ribbons and birkenstocks they wear define them as much as their political theories, so that "stop the war in El Salvador" has the meaning, hidden to the leftists but open to most people, of "wear birkenstocks." The terrain shifts noticeably when this meaning is made clear.

This pattern can be found everywhere. Gangs of blacks or latinos express an elemental rebellion against this system. But since it instantly becomes based on controlling a territory, it gains the same reactionary qualities as the leftist specialists. Their only activity becomes fighting over commodities. A certain dress, a way of consuming to prove you have money, this is the virus that connects them with the white world. Rebellious style remains the enemy of revolution. It only paints our prison's wall with heroic murals.


The isolation that we have, even among those who are ostensibly committed to change, is an obvious weakness. But it is the same weakness that the mass of workers face when they rebel in their daily lives. For each of us, a feeling of anger is offset by isolation and the lack of a language to express that anger.

We want to go beyond this resignation, to harness the very force that holds us down; the unity of this society. If we can escape the forces that keep us isolated, we will be attacking the same forces that keep the vast majority of people trapped. Our understanding of life under capitalism can then become a point of leverage that will move the world. Critical theory becomes so many bricks thrown through society's hall of mirrors.

Our attack begins with the reversal of social perspectives (obvious in the slang black term "bad"). In modern society, their atomization gives proletarians the impression that they are on the edge of life. The ghettos, the suburbs, the factories and the shopping malls all have written on them "this is not life," "nothing has happened here and nothing ever will."

One reversal of perspective is showing that the marginalization each person feels is exactly the central feature of this society. Using this reversal, a revolutionary movement will unite all the society's "bad" people; women, blacks and minorities, factory workers and suburban hoodlums.

Another reversal of perspective is to show that each of the gangs that fight for survival in society (the police and drug dealers, corporations and government social services, liberals and conservatives etc.) are united behind keeping this society together.

The reversal of perspective will also involve an attack on exactly those features of this society that are most taken for granted; mini-malls, cars, Christmas "presents" (commodities exchanged to show mutual devotion to the commodity society) etc.. As an extreme minority, our efforts can only be effective if we go straight up against the collective unconsciousness of this society. If we refuse to tolerate the given goods and bads.