When Power Speaks

Photograph Source: VOA – CC BY 2.0

The language of power reassures and obfuscates.  Rather than communicate ideas, it’s a tool that enables the overclass to impart self-serving platitudes that intentionally trigger associations with things generally considered ‘nice’.  Take for example, “wellness”, – an industry that seeks to replace universal healthcare with New Age quackery.  The word itself conveys yoga pants, sunrises and smoothies.  It’s one of those expressions imbued with filtered and carefully posed beneficence, repelling any critical inquiry into its implied definition.  Instead of considering a multibillion-dollar industry dependent on the average person unable to afford medicine, we are left to contemplate a host of products unfairly and often violently extracted from an impoverished country.  We call this process of being unmindful of planet-devouring, neoliberal economic practices “mindfulness”.

Against our better judgment, we believe a re-purposed office broom closet we can “meditate” represents corporate America’s commitment to our “wellness” rather than a means of discouraging the realization that we are merely biding our times as obsolete automatons until AI makes us altogether redundant.  There’s a reason that tech and banking bros often cite ‘Zen’ as their guiding principle since the word (in English, at least) redefines a moral vacuum as a sea of white stones in a private temple garden somewhere in wine country.

The same goes for “connectivity” – as if being stalked, monitored, wiretapped and harvested for residual data by powerful microwaves puts us in the same league as Bill Gates.  Misidentification with the ruling class becomes “aspiration”, yet another misnomer re-labeled as a scented candle.  The language of power, collated from our involuntarily surrendered medical records, and carefully implanted inner thoughts, is then focus-group-tested on lobotomized lab marmosets and Joe Biden supporters.  Eventually, all this manipulated data is willfully disseminated in the media and echoed on social media platforms until we are all mindlessly disconnected from reality and plugged into a labyrinthine, neuron-imitating grid on a Pentagon computer screen connected to Amazon’s cloud server.  This digitized dragnet that installs in humans what Marx termed “false consciousness” has become the final frontier of capitalism.

By now, you are imagining something called a “paradigm shift”, and are now able to readjust your worldview so that digitized tyranny is just more “empowerment”.  You remember that girls like that word, so you wonder how you can insert it into the conversation to impress your date, who is at this moment, undergoing a juice “cleanse” and shitting her yoga pants under the hashtag #lifegoals.

The language of power is the subterfuge means of diverting consciousness away from actual awareness, and directing it towards products (like  political candidates) and services that install more spyware into our phones and devices to better monitor our behaviors and manipulate our ‘choices’.  The terminology it applies to these processes is technocratic and most often upbeat.  It labels us “team players” to reward our willingness to cede our autonomy to an organization’s group-think imperatives.  It calls the laws employers are forced to uphold that prevent them from tethering us 24/7 in a retail behemoth’s warehouse “Work-Life Balance”.

Increasingly, the de-humanizing jargon of the manager class has become inclusive, “diverse” and above all, sensitive to the roiling tensions beneath the surface of the selectively deputized class of social justice warriors it “empowers” to ensure that actual social justice remains an opportunity for a few to bloviate to the many about the kind of identity that serves a corporation’s PR-led hiring quotas.  Absent in identitarian discourse is the underlying economics responsible for balkanizing marginalized groups into brands all competing for coveted “space” at the proverbial table.

Even if you don’t come from a marginalized community or have ever fled a war zone, oppression and trauma are yours to claim so that another multi-billion industry can flourish by committing you to a rehab facility.  Here you are given a ‘time out’ to contemplate everything except capitalism to explain the terrible life choices you made while under attack by forces all hostile to your continuing existence.  Let’s call these repeated blows to your brain “distrupters” so that you consider direct assaults on your ability to survive all part and parcel of this wondrous ‘paradigm shift’.  Notice how these disruptive maverick slayers of the status quo are never the people or organizations who actually threaten power, but the technology that prevents real resistance from ever taking root.  Protest against the theft of your pension, and you are a public menace.  Wield financial weapons against the public interest and be heralded as “a game-changer” – which is elite-speak for rigging the system so that money just prints itself in your wine cave.

Enter Donald Trump, disrupter-in-chief, deliberately unleashed as malware designed to wreak havoc on the political machine, identifying its vulnerabilities and fortifying them against the sort of populist revolts that can unseat an establishment candidate in rigged primaries.  In reality, this “black swan”, is a tunnel canary for the totalitarian, bipartisan regime that spawned him in a swamp.  Unlike his predecessors, Trump speaks only the brute words of force; the impotent bluster underlying the language of power.  A formally worded eviction notice won’t necessarily give unwanted tenants the message to “Vacate planet earth immediately!”, but a hired goon might deliver it more effectively.

Power speaks in two dialects, one detached, void of clarity, and delivered in a voice that imitates Mr. Rogers, and the other brutish, aggrieved and deeply personal.  One orders drone strikes and beverages labeled ‘venti’, while the other tweets about nuclear holocaust between cheeseburger bites.  In every election cycle, we choose our poison, depending on our identification with the single class that unites the hydra-headed beast.  When power speaks, we need to respond with a raised middle finger, and carry on dismantling the structures that uphold it.

Jennifer Matsui is a writer living in Tokyo and a columnist for the print edition of CounterPunch magazine.