Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sticks and Stones and Printing Presses and Microphones

"I know you are, but what am I?" Pee Wee

I oppose using ad hominem, or personal attacks, in human to human exchanges.  Personal attacks lower the IQ of everyone listening, because that's what stress does to the brain.  The ad hominem attack is the last resort for sloppy thinkers when they can't stand on their crumbling arguments.

To challenge someone on a point, to tell them about your anger or your sadness or to seek the truth of an issue through argument also stresses people's nervous systems, but it doesn't lower the timbre of the discussion or switch off creativity and intelligence; there is never a need to debase anyone.  It's possible to debate or even to tackle difficult topics without tearing anybody down.

As any mass-murdering dictator could tell you, the first step toward genocide is to devalue and demoralize a population in the minds of the dominant masses, starting with verbal insults. Words can hurt, and words can kill by greasing the way to atrocity. Start calling people names, and keep calling them names so it catches on. When the majority of a population is using insults as casual greetings on a minority, then you've just brought an entire group of people down a peg.  Then you can start taking everything else much more easily: their legal rights, their culture and religion, their humanity, and finally their lives. But it all starts with the words.  Words create beliefs.

Landmark advances in mass media have always been accompanied by atrocities.  The printing press was exploited by Heinrich Kramer, an "eccentric" priest who, after attempts to establish himself as an "inquisitor" without much luck, released The Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Witches"), a handbook for spreading fear and hatred of grandmas. Previous to the "hammer" the church denied the existence of witchcraft, but after 1400 the panic and suspicion spread by the Malleus caught on with the broader public. Then the church merely made the most of an opportunity to grab some lands, but for around 9 million people over  4 centuries who were tortured and murdered, the "hammer" brought forth hell on earth-yet, it was just a book written by a weirdo.

The reign of the Nazi party would have stalled and perhaps even died without radio. ”What the press has been in the Nineteenth Century, radio will be for the Twentieth Century,” Joseph Goebbels said, and he was right in more ways than one.  Radio broadcasts had been controlled by The Postmaster General’s office in Germany until March 1933, when Goebbels himself transferred this power to the "Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda"- in effect, to his control, and he kept that control until the end of the war.  Hitler's hatred and megalomania tore his vocal chords on their way to the airwaves, and in the climate of economic despair at the time they took root-yet these were just bloody words spewed by a radical weirdo.

When you talk for a living you learn just how powerful words are and that you will be held responsible not only for what you say, but for how it's heard.  Someone can always misinterpret you and attack you for their own reasons (though you'll find most intelligent people don't attack before at least asking for more information) but even if it's not your fault, it's still your responsibility to make the communication the best you can. 

The printing press changed the world, as the man who started the witch burning craze could tell you, and the microphone is mighty, as Hitler could tell you.

Names do hurt.  The sword follows the pen.

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