jeudi, mai 18, 2006
Is it the "death tax" or the "estate tax"? Should we talk about "immigration reform" or "amnesty?" Is that pregnant lady carrying an "unborn child" or a "fetus?" I have to admit that I jumped when I heard the tax paid on assets when someone passes on referred to as a "death tax." It sounded awfully tacky, not to say unjust. How could you possibly punish someone, or their heirs, for dying? Which, of course, is exactly what opponents of such taxes want you to think. In comparison I was raised to believe that government, by and large, was a good thing. We could trust our elected officials to spend our money on programs that benefited all of us for the sake of our common life together. Naturally, I find myself more comfortable with the more euphonious term "estate tax." Even the idea that the descendant of 1890's German immigrants would have an estate is quite wonderful. But I digress. What impressed me today, as I chatted with a friend, was how the way we frame a conversation, the code words we use, has become a symbol of our cultural divisions in a way that is both very alluring and very troubling. The use of the language of framing can be a good thing if it forces the listener to think twice about his or her assumptions. But it can also be a way of including or excluding according to a common set of values. If one is with a group and wishes to figure out who is foe and who is friend, one excellent way of doing it is to drop certain code words in the conversation and see who gets their dander up. Code words are also a good way to shut down a conversation. I know when I hear certain phrases used, I just want to escape. The Bush administration, and many cultural conservatives, have been brilliant about framing debates in ways that advantage their policies. "Terrorist surveillance" sounds so much better than" eavesdropping without a warrant" doesn't it? It is hard to act with integrity in such a heated environment. I'm honestly not sure how to avoid framing when it pervades our culture. It does help to listen to ourselves and figure out our own pet code phrases. Do we use them like guided cherry bombs? It also is useful to listen to others. What are the opinions and the feelings beneath the coded language? If we can drill down to these, we might really have something to discuss. Social transformation occurs when former opponents discover a shared purpose. One good example: when abortion opponents and "pro-choicers" get together to support adoption. Hearing ourselves and listening to others. Why is this so difficult?