Thursday, December 03, 2015

Tipping Point for Poison Rhetoric?

"You take that back!" says a red-faced boy, as he pushes up his sleeves. His command is directed at a smirking kid, who just lobbed an insulting remark his way. They're facing one another on an asphalt basketball court, surrounded by a forming circle of witnesses. "Take it back!"

Trouble is, nothing we say can ever be taken back. As much as we might want to unsay words, adults know it can't really be done. We can be truly sorry we said those damn words. We can apologize until we're blue in the face. We can claim our words were misunderstood. So what?

Words can't be unsaid. Moreover, adults also know the reckless use of words, whether it's a blunder or it's designed to inflame a situation, can get people killed. So, regardless of our beliefs and philosophies, there's really no point in pretending we don't all know that.

Thus, when unscrupulous right-wing politicians on-the-make inflamed their most unstable followers – by demonizing Planned Parenthood, using bogus videos and rhetoric like, “baby parts” – they knew it amounted to throwing lit matches at an open box of cherry bombs.

Of course, beyond words used recklessly, manipulative language and is nothing new. French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord’s (1754-1838) words on the topic of language remain crisp today. Talleyrand offered: “Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”

Talleyrand's wisdom recognized the artful use of language. Using words to throw gasoline on a fire is different. In the new millennium the raw meanness of words we routinely see/hear strung together, to express political and religious ideas, seems to be escalating. Civility is becoming a quaint notion.

The outrageously insulting comments that regularly appear under any editorial or article published about politics have been accepted as a sign of the times. Then throw in all the insults that flash before our eyes on social media. It's hard to see much good in the role those modern ways of venting anger play in our lives. 

When it comes to flinging poison rhetoric to and fro into public discourse, as a society, are we getting close to reaching a tipping point? Since we know words can't be taken back, can the poisonous rhetoric keep getting more potent without it delivering us to a day of reckoning? With mass murders becoming daily occurrences, can it get any worse?

Of course it can. Stay tuned...

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