Redefining freedom.

 

orwell_words

Despots and dictators throughout history know how powerful language can be, and they know that by changing the definitions of words, without people realizing it, they can change the way people think and what they believe.   Without language and the words that comprise it, propaganda and revisionist history (changing commonly held historical beliefs in order to fit a desired political or religious narrative) would become impossible, or at least a lot more difficult.

George Orwell described the insidious process of changing the meanings of words in order to change public attitudes in his classic dystopian novel, “1984.”    He called this process “Newspeak.”   It is a form of mind control commonly used by cult leaders and dictators to get people to abandon their previous ways of thinking and accept a lie as the truth (repetition of the lie is another way they get people to accept it).    Sometimes the lie they push may be an actual reversal of a previously held truth.   We can see this phenomenon today in many of extremist evangelical and fundamentalist churches, who now say that ripping migrant children away from their parents or taking away people’s healthcare is “Christian” even though Jesus would be appalled by these things.

“Freedom” (and its synonym “liberty”) is probably the word that comes to my mind first when I think about the ways language is used as propaganda.    It appears in both religious and political rhetoric.  In right wing extremism, the definition of “freedom” or “liberty” has become almost the reverse of what its commonly-held definition is.  Here is the complete dictionary definition:

the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
“we do have some freedom of choice”
  • absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.
    “he was a champion of Irish freedom”
    synonyms: independenceself-governmentself-determinationself-rulehome rulesovereignty, nonalignment, autonomy;

    democracy
    “revolution was the only path to freedom”
    antonyms: dependence
  • the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
    “the shark thrashed its way to freedom”
    synonyms: libertyliberationreleasedeliverancedeliverydischargeMore

    antonyms: captivity
  • the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.
    “the shorts have a side split for freedom of movement”
  • the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing).
    noun: freedom from; plural noun: freedom froms
    “government policies to achieve freedom from want”
    synonyms: exemptionimmunitydispensation;

    impunity
    “freedom from local political accountability”
    antonyms: liability
  • the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.
    synonyms: rightentitlementprivilegeprerogativeMore

    antonyms: restriction
  • unrestricted use of something.
    “the dog is happy having the freedom of the house when we are out”
  • archaic
    familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.

 

Most of us agree with this definition.  We think of freedom as a concept that allows all Americans individual liberty and the ability to make their own life choices.   It is the absence of oppression.   When we think of freedom, we aren’t worrying things that benefit everyone, such as healthcare or public education, might be potentially oppressive (because of higher taxes necessary to have those things).  I think most of us would say that a person who doesn’t need to worry about going bankrupt or dying should he become sick or injured is more free than someone who can’t afford necessary surgery and loses his home trying to pay for it, or even his life.  A person who can take time off from their job to recover from their illness is more free than someone who is forced to work even when they are ill because their wages are too low to allow them to take time off.

Back during the time of Lyndon Johnson and his “War on Poverty,” this was generally understood.  Empathy still existed within high levels of government and in both parties.  Measures were taken to alleviate poverty, one of the most oppressive and limiting things a human being can experience.   An impoverished person is not a free person. Poor people spend so much time just trying to survive they cannot reach their full potential.   Rich people and corporations paying more in taxes was seen as the right thing to do for society at large and for the greater good, not as a form of robbery or wealth redistribution (this phrase is a common dog whistle used by the right to manipulate attitudes to get people believing the wealthy are the real victims).   Eventually, the commonly perceived causes of poverty shifted from the society to the individual.  Personal responsibility became another dog whistle used by conservatives to influence public attitudes and make people begin to perceive poverty as a personal weakness rather than an affliction.

“I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.” — Paul Ryan

 

Over the past few decades, especially since Reagan’s election in 1980, the definition of freedom has been co-opted by the right.  They whine that environmental regulations and higher taxes are a form of tyranny by the majority that limits the freedom of the wealthy and corporate elite to do exactly what they want and suffer no consequences.   To suggest they should contribute to the common good through a higher tax rate or not gut laws that protect human health and wellbeing is to restrict their freedom — which is really the freedom to exploit their workers, not pay them a fair wage, deny them a safety net, and destroy the planet.    In Trump’s America, freedom is no longer freedom of the people, it is freedom of the minority (the wealthy elite) to oppress the majority.

In redefining freedom, the word democracy itself underwent a transformation from government by the people for the people, to tyranny of the majority (where the wealthy and powerful are perceived as superior and therefore naturally entitled to take whatever they want with no accountability).  The term democracy, at least in the circles of greatest power and influence right now, has become a pejorative — something bad worthy of destruction.

Religious freedom.

Similarly, religious freedom or religious liberty has also been redefined.    Most people would agree that religious freedom in America means the right to worship the way you choose — or to not worship at all.  The separation of church and state was one of the key elements the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution, knowing that mixing religion and government not only doesn’t work, it’s extremely dangerous and has always led to wars, oppression, and violence.    We can see this today in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is the state religion and is written into their laws.  These countries are constantly at war, including civil war.   Violence and terrorism is rampant and women, children and minority groups are victimized every day by the harshness of Sharia law.

In the early days of America, before the Constitution was written,  there were pockets of religious intolerance, most infamously seen in the Salem Witch Trials.   Other groups of colonists came here as a way to escape religious persecution in their home countries.  They came here to be free to worship the way they chose.

The Founding Fathers, while they might have been religious personally, were influenced by the Enlightenment and the primacy of reason and openmindedness over medieval superstition and intolerance.  America was founded as a secular, not as a “Christian nation” or saddled by any other “state religion.”  While Christianity is the most common religion found in America, to declare it as a state religion would automatically make anyone who wasn’t Christian — or even not the right kind of Christian — a second class citizen.  The Founding Fathers knew this, and that’s why they rejected the idea of a state religion.

Far right extremist evangelicals have been busy writing revisionist history,  insisting that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that the Constitution was divinely  inspired and never meant to be secular.   Some go even further than that.  Dominionists and reconstructionists actually want the Constitution rewritten and replaced with Old Testament Law.   If that were to actually happen, living in America — especially for vulnerable groups such as women and gays — would be no different than living in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

Yet Christian extremists say that imposing biblical law on everyone through the government is actually religious freedom!   By their logic,  if Christianity were enforced, you would become free of the temptation to sin.   Knowing that sinning might result in draconian punishment or even execution, you would not sin — and therefore be more pleasing to God.   Extremist Christians whine that they are persecuted not because they actually are, but because they are not allowed to discriminate (or oppress!) based on sexual orientation, gender, or religion.  In Trump’s America, the definition of religious freedom has transformed  from the right to worship as you choose to the right to inflict my religious beliefs on you.

I can’t think of anything more un-Christian or unloving.   If you believe in God, why wouldn’t he want you to have free will and choose to worship him?   Forced religion isn’t a sincere declaration of faith, it’s spiritual terrorism.   It’s a way to control and oppress people.  It uses fear of punishment rather than the promise of love as a motivator.   I doubt God wants his people to worship him or behave a certain way only because they’re afraid of the consequences if they don’t.    I believe we were given free will and that it ought to be respected.  That means leaving religion out of government and its laws.    Nothing good has ever or will ever come of it.   It is religious fascism.

There are other words and phrases that have been redefined by the far right, but freedom is one of the most pervasive and common.   We need to become aware of this and other words that are being redefined by extremists as a means of mind control and propaganda to change our thinking patterns.  Critical thinking is necessary to make the distinction, and this is why education (and science) is so maligned by political extremists and fascist groups (including extremist religious groups).

Advertisements

Word of the week: Deckle.

Image

decklepic

deckle

Deckle is also a word for the actual ridges or edges on the sides of the paper, according to a paper and plastics Twitter account.

Who am I…where am I going?

keats

This afternoon I laid down and meditated for awhile on God’s purpose for my life, and where he is leading me.

God has a purpose for everyone.  We’re at our happiest when we submit to his will and not to our own.   I’ve learned this truth the hard way, after many years of insisting on having my own way and always failing miserably, or finding out that what I thought I wanted  wasn’t what I wanted at all.

I’m still not living the life I want to live, because I’m still grappling with the bad choices I made (and the bad choices that were made for me).  I also never took risks before.  I lived inside my comfort zone, which wasn’t very comfortable, but it was all I knew.

Last week, I did a few things that were outside my comfort zone.    I took a week off of work for something I really wanted and needed to do, in spite of not having any vacation time or money to pay for it.   I asked for financial help online and got it.   I submitted myself to an emotional and spiritual process that was painful for me at least once.  I spend almost a week sharing a room with someone who I would normally regard as much too “good” for me and avoid that person out of envy or feelings of not being able to measure up (those are just the “tapes” that were installed in my mind by my judgmental, snobbish, “keeping up with the Joneses” narc parents).  But as it turned out, once we got to know each other, I realized this woman wasn’t judging me on those terms and even seemed to genuinely like me, which I was sure she would not.  So I could let down that particular guard.    In fact, under normal circumstances, I would have felt inferior or “less than” everyone else on this retreat too.  And yet I did not.   Other than a little social discomfort and shyness at first, assuming I’d be negatively judged, soon I felt welcomed.

You can tell you’re not living as God meant for you to live if you’re unhappy with what you’re doing or your circumstances.    I’m still not fulfilled or happy, but I’m getting closer, and God is showing me the way.   He was always there though, always trying to show me something better, but I wasn’t ready.    That wasn’t my fault; it just was.  Now it’s changing.

The first step of this journey was that I had to leave my abuser(s).   As long as I remained, I would stay stuck, and worse than that, eventually die both emotionally and spiritually.  Possibly physically too.

But even after freeing myself, I still wasn’t able to start looking inside myself and realize that I not only needed God but also needed to submit my will to his, until after I was able to forgive my abusers.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning the awful things they did to us, nor does it mean apologizing or submitting to them.   Not even one little bit!   They were wrong in what they did, horribly wrong…but that shouldn’t become a life sentence for us.  We need to move on with ourselves in order to find peace and happiness.   But moving on isn’t possible until we can forgive the people who tried to trip us up at every turn.   It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s necessary.

I reached a point where I was tired of hating them.   The hatred had served its purpose–I got away!  What now?  All that hatred was just turning me bitter and angry, and making me feel helpless and living in fear that abuse would just keep happening again…and again….and again.

Forgiving them wasn’t for their benefit; it was for mine!   After letting go of my hatred and rage, I was finally able to look inside myself and see what I could do differently to avoid being a victim again in the future.   In doing so, I found that I had quite a few unpleasant, even narcissistic, traits of my own.    Not that I’d ever asked for the abuse, or been horrible enough to deserve it, no way!  It just meant I’d probably picked up quite a few negative traits and defense mechanisms from my abusers, in order to survive.

I no longer needed those traits now that I was free.   In fact, I had no choice but to send them packing if I wanted to move forward.

Letting that anger go and forgiving the people who abused me made me able to look at their brokenness.  By seeing them as victims too (albeit victims so broken they had lost any ability to have insight into themselves or be able to change on their own), that gave them a whole lot less power over me.   If I had never been able to forgive them, I would never have been able to let go of feeling like a powerless victim instead of a survivor with the hope of an actual future.

That doesn’t mean the victimization wasn’t real.   It was.  But at some point you will want to say, “I overcame this!  I’m a survivor!”   A victim is someone who is still in danger, who is unable to get past that danger.

God doesn’t let bad things happen to us (such as having narcissistic parents) to “teach us things” or because he wants us to suffer.  The bad things that happen to us are never his will for us.  He allows them to happen because he has given us all free will.

However, what God can do is take those bad things and turn them into something beautiful and good, IF we keep our hearts and minds open to what his true purpose for us is. God  can use these things as tools that bring us closer to him and at the same time bring us closer to fulfilling what his purpose for our lives is (and that purpose always coincides with what will make us the happiest too). We should never fight his plan for us, but we can ask for guidance.

God can and will find the beauty in our brokenness.

While I was lying on my back meditating, I kept my mind and heart open, just listening.    Since returning from my retreat last week, I feel like my heart is much more open to God and his plans for my life and however he wants to use me.

I asked him to show me a picture of who I could have been if I hadn’t been so broken…and who I still can be when I’m less broken.

At first nothing came to me, but after awhile I realized my mind kept circling back to 3 words:

Words

Truth

Beauty.

 

God wasn’t showing me a picture of the Me he intended for me to be; he was showing me through the modality I understand and resonate with best: words.

Words are the tools God gave me to write about what happened to me.  Words made it possible for me to start this blog and share my story.

Words are the tool by which I’ll fulfill my destiny.

My destiny is to disseminate beauty and truth.

I was the truth teller in my family.

I can’t stand fakeness, phoniness, insincerity.   I’m allergic to those things.  (Not that I’ve always been honest myself or have never told a lie–that would be far from the truth!).

I’ve always sought the truth — whether through a hunger for knowledge, reading science or psychology articles and books, spirituality, religion, nature, art, music, or literature — all right-brained things by which the truth can be discovered.

Truth, as John Keats famously stated, is beauty.

And beauty is truth.

My purpose in this life–God’s purpose for me–is to disseminate truth and beauty, which are the same.

Through truth and beauty may come healing.   Healing for me, and healing for others.

No one who makes an effort to listen to their heart cannot be healed, because it’s through our heart that God speaks to us and can rewire our broken connections.

 

Shimmer.

shimmer

Someone on another site I’ve recently become active on commented about the word “limerence,” explaining that it’s a better word than “infatuation” (which means the same thing) because “limerence” shimmers while “infatuation” sounds more like a disease involving the fat cells.

I agree wholeheartedly, and started thinking about the word shimmer. I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful words in the English language, or maybe any language. It evokes something ethereal, intangible, and almost dreamlike, but also of a delicate and fleeting nature, giving way to wistful nostalgia. In simpler terms, shimmer…shimmers. It sparkles and fades.

shimmer

*****

One of my favorite songs of is Fuel’s post-grunge hit Shimmer. This song may never make anyone’s “Best Music of the Late Twentieth Century” list, but it’s always haunted me and been one of my favorites, and I think the title has something to do with that.

Word of the week: Callipygian

I challenge you to try to use this one in conversation!  😉

callipygean1

callipygean2

Word of the week: Frowsy.

This is a new feature I’m starting.  Every Saturday, I will post an unusual or archaic word along with its definition and what I think of it.

FROWSY is a word I remember hearing a lot more when I was a child.   It’s a real word, not a slang word, but I think it’s fallen out of fashion because I really never hear it any more.  It’s a fantastic word though, and sounds exactly like what it describes, so it needs to come back.

The chart of its popularity over time does show that “frowsy” is a lot less used than it used to be, but even in the ’60s it wasn’t much used.   It seems to have been at its most popular early in the 20th century–the 1920s an 1930s.    Lately it’s shown a slight uptick.   Maybe other people are discovering what a great word it is.

frowsy1

frowsy2