Label Me Pissed; Mainstream Media Manipulation Mania
Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began--and since the mainstream media [MSM] actually began to cover it--one thing that really stands out to me is the effect mainstream media labels have on the perspective of the population. Labels are words that, when used, evoke some type of instant reaction; they’re used to best advantage by those on each side of an issue to support their own position. Labels alone usually won’t turn an OWS supporter into the OWS opposition, or vice versa, but they do tend to shove those who are on the fence off it, to one side or the other. Labels also tend to support the decision of those who have made one, one way or the other, because from the time of the decision, they will interpret every label they read as best benefits their own position.
The label of "violence" has been applied by the mainstream media to the act of property destruction, while OWS uses the same label of “violence” when referring to the actions of law enforcement against the OWS protesters. In effect, the mainstream media uses this label in such a way as to equate the destruction of some windows with the bludgeoning, shooting, tear-gassing and stunning via grenade by some members of law enforcement agencies against peacefully protesting people--and since they're using it against OWS, the anti-OWS crowd assumes that everyone in the movement is violent. Since they’re using the same word, someone must be wrong, right? That’s the thing--not really.
Technically, the anti-OWSers are correct. "Violence" can mean "swift and intense force", which could apply to a hammer striking a window, or the force exerted when the police use batons to beat protesters, or the force exerted by the stun grenades law enforcement uses, also known as flash-bangs, which blind, deafen, dizzy and disorient. It certainly applies to a projectile fired from a weapon [as occured in Oakland when law enforcement fired rubber bullets, "bean bag" rounds, wooden dowels and tear gas canisters]. But "violence" also means "rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment" and "an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws". This portion of the definition applies to the actions of the police against the protesters, who were peaceably exercising their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, again making the OWS usage correct. "Violence" can also mean "rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language". We all speak vehemently at times; I doubt that we would label our own speech as “violent”.
So, while the label of "violence" appears to have been correctly applied in all cases, we also see that there are degrees of violence. Speaking emphatically is not equal to window-breaking, which is not equal to hitting people, which is not equal to shooting people or using grenades/chemicals/other weapons that carry the risk of permanent damage or death. The mere labeling of actions as "violent" cannot accurately convey the story; details are necessary to develop an informed opinion.
"Anarchy" is another label that is used frequently when referring to OWS. This is a label which many find extremely negative, and frightening. I used to be one of them. For me, and for many, "anarchy" instantly evokes "confusion; chaos; disorder; a state of society without government or law; political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control". But this definition did not appear to match the message of the OWS movement, nor the tone; I sought an explanation. "Anarchy" also means "a theory that regards the direct absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society." Rather than “anarchy” being a scary, out-of-control situation, it's the political ideal that we don't need government to tell us what we can and can't do; instead, we would each simply choose to cooperate with each other to accomplish the goals we personally believe in. For example, if you want a library, other people who want a library would assist you in building, stocking and running it. If you see a need for food and shelter, those who also see that need would help you build, stock and run a shelter/soup kitchen. Much less frightening, no?
Words are wonderful. They allow us to communicate our thoughts, feelings and positions to one another, and to the world. But words can also be terrible, used to evoke a negative reaction to positive events, and a positive reaction to negative events. They can be used to label people, to identify them as different, separate them from the population and harm them; they can be used to label events, to instantly gain support for or against an action, to divide us from each other.
In our world, the mainstream media currently possesses the loudest voice. They present us with the news and current events they want us to know, in the manner they wish to present it, and with the spin that best benefits their corporate owners. They use words and labels to manipulate the public into taking the position that they present; we generally support that which they present as positive, and oppose that which they present as negative. This is known as bias. It’s often subtle, and it’s unexpected by much of the public. Many of the People believe that the press must tell the whole truth because they believe our Constitution guarantees us a free press. But the press doesn’t tell the whole truth. Facts and details that are extremely relevant to news stories are omitted, or are spun to produce biased results. Under our Constitution, this still constitutes a free press, because our press is only guaranteed freedom from the threat of restrictive laws passed by Congress, not from the pressure of restrictive rules imposed by corporate owners in seeking to create a more malleable, corporate-directed public opinion.
We can avoid this despicable abuse of words and manipulation of the People, using a couple of strategies. The meanings and common usage of words changes over time, and over time, new words, with new meanings and common usages are added to our language. This process does take time, but it's a worthy goal. Smashing a window should not carry the same weight as unjustly shooting, beating or otherwise attacking peaceful people in clear violation of some of the Constitutional rights we hold most dear. We can implement this process right away. We can seek out reliable, independent, alternative sources of news and information, avoiding the mainstream media entirely; we can use the mainstream media solely to learn when something happens, and the particular spin the media places on the event, then seek out our alternative sources to get the specific, unbiased details. We can promote this concept, that our press is not free, that we need to fact-check what they try to sell us, that we need to find and use unbiased, independent, reliable sources. And we can each play our part to immediately end the ongoing attempted manipulation of public opinion, by applying on a personal basis words that constitute labels much more carefully, and by simply seeking out and paying attention to all the relevant facts rather than just reacting emotionally to the label someone with their own agenda has chosen to apply.