Archive for August 2017

When a Word Goes to War

by Jean Waight

Remember the so-called War on Christmas—just another snit by Fox News, right?

In the wake of last year’s presidential election results, we—secular and religious progressives, liberals, centrists, and presumably, a good many conservatives—have looked far and wide, and at ourselves, to explain the election. But I think we would do well to take a closer look at this old skirmish, and consider how a word can be used to steer debate and also have non-rational effects—in a long game. The so-called War on Christmas was not a controversy so much as a step in a call to arms, and it looks to me like the rest of us unwittingly aided their cause.

How? We took the bait. We took up what we thought was the issue—religious freedom—thinking we could argue it civilly. Our mistake. It was not really about whether it was better to use the greeting “Happy Holidays” rather than reflexively saying “Merry Christmas,” which actually was, as an issue, pretty easy to resolve. Our other mistake was thinking: This, Too, Shall Pass. But this was not an isolated squabble. And it only seemed to pass.

Strategic use of the word “war”

If the stated issue wasn’t the real issue, and we made a mistake discussing it, (or ignoring it) then what else could we have done?

Our big mistake was in accepting Neo-conservative terms for the discussion—accepting that this disagreement could properly be called WAR. You don’t remember accepting those terms? Me neither. But by not calling a halt to the discussion until we could clear up this meta issue, we gave them the win in that skirmish, with lasting damage.

I checked definitions. After finding in my old 1941 Webster’s a heavy emphasis on massive armed conflicts, I turned to my newer dictionary, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate, tenth edition, 1993. Almost sixty years later, usage has relaxed a bit.

1.  a. A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations

b. A period of such armed conflict

2. a. A state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism

b. A struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end (such as a class war or war against disease.)

Although the dictionaries allow the use of the word “war” for major struggles that are below the level of armed conflict between nations, the use of the word in a simple debate or disagreement is definitely pushing the envelope. What else does it do besides push boundaries on meaning? Unacknowledged are the word’s unspoken connotations and its conjuring of awful history. In wars between nations, what comes with the territory? Jettisoned quickly are truth, ethics, honesty, fair dealings, even listening. Emotions rise to a pitch. Horror, cruelty, and an all-in mentality result. Is that basket of sadness what we want brought to a mere disagreement?

The Neocon long game

The strategy and fruits of the Neocons’ long game are clear now. First, they accused the left of waging war. Not of insensitivity or other wrong, but war. In this age of trash talk and hyperbole, we rolled our eyes and let it pass. Now look what that did for the Neocons. With our acceptance of this hyperbole, they could avoid any clear light shining on that deeply anti-democratic piece of fire-bombing. “Anti-democratic” because it paints simple disagreement as the mark of a war enemy.

To use such a loaded word in political discourse, without objection from us, allowed the war idea with all its emotions to seep into the minds of the ever-hardening supporters of the Neocons, who could conclude that they were the innocent victims of almost deadly hostility. Thereafter, the Neocons didn’t need to continue to use the word “war.” They could instead go on to dog-whistle politics on issue after issue.

Of course there was always more to this strategy than choice of a word. Anger had already been stoked and steered in other ways. But now they had a growing army and it was underground. Carefully insulated from any voices but their own. Brilliant, I have to admit. In the worst way.

My gratitude to Marian Exall for her insightful comments on an earlier draft.

Author Bio:   Jean Waight is a Bellingham memoir and essay writer. Her work has appeared in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers anthology “Memory into Memoir,” in Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim, and in Whatcom Watch. She blogs on GreenTeaSympathy.blogspot.com.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

by Sara Stamey

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” Mitch McConnell said after invoking an obscure, antiquated rule to silence Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor.

“Bullshit!” I responded when I heard what he’d done. I was angry, and taking it personally. Then I asked myself why, and realized that it WAS personal—to all women and girls. This is what I grew up hearing:

“Be nice, be ladylike. Don’t talk back.”

“You’re being impudent.”

If I spoke up against unfairness, I was punished, and I learned to silence myself, like so many women around the world. It was a long road for me before I realized that the persistence of the old “power-over” models, perpetuated by patriarchy (our dysfunctional U.S. Congress, anyone?), depends on silencing powerful and thus threatening-to-the-old-order women. Why has my right-wing father hated and excoriated Hillary Clinton since her First Lady days?

My Resistance to tyrannical authority began with the stories and novels I write, in which plucky women freely speak their minds despite the dangers of doing so. In my early science fiction novel Wild Card Run, a young woman escapes her abusive stepfather and repressive homeworld in which women are required to stay in the home and denied the freedoms given to men. She lands on an anything-goes asteroid called Casino, only to discover that even there her outspokenness may result in punishment with the “Steps of Healing,” which would erase her memories and rebellious personality. She would literally be silenced.

I considered the novel allegorical, not literal, in regard to women’s rights. During my youth, the feminist movement had made great strides in gaining rights for women, and I had worked among men in industry. Of course, I had to go through hazing and working harder than the men to “earn” my right to be accepted on the work crews, but I prided myself on being tough and able to take it.

Then I moved to fairly remote Southern Chile, where my former husband and I had bought land to start a farm. I was startled to realize that in this rural area, women stayed in the home while men had the freedom to go out partying and do what they wished. I was never addressed by my name, but was merely “la senora,” an attachment of my husband. A Chilean woman needed her husband’s permission to open a bank account or do many of the things I had taken for granted in the States.

We started building a house, hiring local workers to help with various tasks. When my husband fell ill with a lingering malady, I had to take up the reins to finish the house, and I discovered that the workmen would not take instructions from me, a mere woman. I had to get my husband out of bed and prop him up in the doorway, where he could repeat my instructions. When the house was finished, we planned a traditional “roof raising” celebration with the local families and issued invitations. Only the men attended, as the women were not allowed to come.

In Santiago and other South American cities, where the culture is more progressive, women engage in business and enjoy much more freedom, though still limited by restrictive laws. Even they must watch their step in the more “traditional” communities, as a Chilean friend told me. She and her husband had a summer cottage near our land, and she reported that when she had asserted her authority to instruct a male worker on their boat, he had deliberately tried to injure her with a dangerous “accident.”

In my travels around the world, I have seen that the ancient angers and fears of women still prevail in many cultures, where horrors such as stoning and mutilation persist. But I had thought we were moving past those in the U.S., especially during the Obama administration, with its embracing of women, minorities, all genders and lifestyles. The harsh reality of the oppressive new administration has been a slap in the face to so many of us, including the strong women in Congress.

When I learned of the silencing of Elizabeth Warren—temporary, thanks to her power and persistence—I realized that Resistance must move beyond storytelling, as vital as it is to our culture and community soul. I am making the effort to speak out personally and confront the outmoded, oppressive social model that the current regime is seeking to reinstate. I’m arming myself with facts to counter people who spout “alternative facts” that support the new tyranny in our country. I hope I will have the courage to take physical action if necessary to hold the line and protect our civil rights.

I recommend a short, pithy book, On Tyranny, by Dr. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University. An expert on the Holocaust and recent European history, Snyder lays out clear parallels between the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Putin, and others, and the tactics of so-called president as orchestrated by neo-Nazi advisor Steve Bannon. Snyder suggests ways to recognize and oppose efforts to erode our rights, especially vital to women and minorities.

So I join the groundswell and raise my voice against the many forms of tyranny, overt and insidious: “Resist!”

Author’s Bio: 

Award-winning novelist Sara Stamey’s journeys include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean, backpacking worldwide, operating a nuclear reactor, and owning a farm in Southern Chile. She taught creative writing at Western Washington University and shares her creekside land with wild creatures and her cats, dog, and paleontologist husband Thor Hansen.

Sara’s science fiction novels with Berkley/Ace received praise from Publishers Weekly and made the Locus Best New Novelists list. Her Caribbean psychic suspense novel ISLANDS—“A stomping, vivid ride” (Statesman Review)—won the Chanticleer Paranormal Suspense Award and Hollywood Book Festival Genre Award. Her near-future Greek islands thriller THE ARIADNE CONNECTION won the Cygnus Award for speculative fiction. “A rocket-paced thrill ride that delivers complex, engaging characters in a laser-sharp plot.”   (Chanticleer Reviews) www.sarastamey.com

Sara’s story “Reset” is included in the multi-genre collection Nevertheless, She Persisted, to be released August 8 by Book View Café publishing.

Here is the Amazon pre-order link for Nevertheless She Persisted

Sara’s Amazon author page