Monday, 18 March 2013
The power of words
I have touched before on how powerful language is and how much it can aeffect human beings and I have been thinking about this more and more recently. It seems as we have become more (supposedly) civilised we have also become very complacent and sensitive. This has happened in a relatively short space of time and that points to how quickly humans do actually change and adapt. I am not sure how accurate estimations are and I am also not sure that anyone knows for sure exactly how long ago it was but the end of the worst of the last Ice Age is said to have been around 11 000 years ago and human beings in the Northern Hemisphere survived that. Human beings then were not much different to how we are today in terms of instinct and emotion we are exactly the same as they were, the brain cases were exactly the same size so this is a good indicator of our similarity. The amount of folds in an animals brain tells us how advanced the animal is and we have more folds than any other animals on this planet, that we know of.
It wasn’t only the Ice Age though, life was tough back then. In physical comparison to many of the animals we would have been competing with human beings were weak. We are talking big cats, bears and crazy wild dogs. Our survival was dependent upon how clever we could be and that we were, the rest is History as they say, many of the predators we were in competition with have since become extinct while we, of course, are still going. I often wonder though how many of the current population would survive in a world as harsh as the one our ancestors lived in.
Language made so much possible when it first began, we got technical, and it made it easy for ideas to spread much, much faster than previously. Language coupled with successive population explosions caused an unprecedented rise of humanity from villages, to towns, to cities in a very short space of time. The growth of what we call civilisation happened so fast and it is still happening. The rise of civilisation caused something else though, it made it possible for people to live in ways that they had never previously lived, in safety, with large numbers of us living in close proximity with no immediate danger. Obviously there is still danger in the form of natural disasters and war but I am talking collectively here. Previous to the Modern Age we were much less settled and a lot more aggressive than we are now due to our environment. While this settling down has been very beneficial for us in terms of health and safety and the growth of our personal and collective development it has also made us soft and complacent.
With aggression generally being less and less apparent and language still growing all the time human beings are getting to a point where they no longer need to use physical force, so the power of words is something which we use and something which has become very prevalent. Words have just as much power as fists have and indeed as much power as any loving gesture. Words are taken to be a form of assurance during times of uncertainty but as we all know as well as being resilient and very capable of survival human beings are also clever and capable of guile and they use words to mislead and manipulate. As well as that though when people are insecure or depressed their words often will not mean anything and they may suffer from indecisiveness to the point that they will say one thing one minute and something contradictory the next, it may appear that they are liars or that they are being purposely deceptive but sometimes social, emotional and mental conditions can be causing their untrustworthy behaviour.
I think understanding human development across the ages is vitally important to putting our current state of being into context. I know from just talking briefly to many people that few of us know about how our species developed and got to the present. There is also a lot of misunderstanding about the Neolithic period, many people have this idea of humans then as lumbering beasts who were uncivilised when in fact this was a period when we developed farming and first domesticated animals. Language was instrumental in every major revolution that took place because ideas could be interpreted and understood quicker and more easily than before.
I don’t want to go too far into the how’s and when’s of it all though I want to try and stick to our current heavy reliance on language in particular. I remember first hearing the words “Sticks and Stones may break my bones names will never hurt me” I was about six or seven living in Edenbeg, Craigavon and a girl who was about the same age as me was singing it to a couple of young lads who were winding her up, it is a very clear memory and I have thought about the meaning of that seemingly childish incident a lot ever since. The basis of it is simple and the use of this little rhyme is widespread among children especially but it also gives a deep insight into how humans often use words to deflect perceived harm from others. It is somewhat ironic as well because in reality words do a lot of damage and people use them purposely to hurt each other arbitrarily and often without needing provocation. The use of the rhyme mirrors adult behaviour, people are often quick to deflect what other people say about them by using similar talk. In the shady world of gossips if someone is talking about you then what you tend to do is then talk about them in return and thus the cycle continues but the essence of that little childish rhyme is more true than people may realise because the fact is that words are actually completely harmless, the harm they do is perceived. If someone talks about you they could damage your character and just as having protection against physical attacks was prevalent in ages gone by being able to protect your social image has become the new norm.
I do think it is going too far though and it is getting worse just as any celebrity who goes on a drunken rant and finds that all of the companies who were using them to endorse their products have cancelled their contracts! People like George Orwell really do appear to have been prophets when you actually look at how accurate his work was in terms of predicting how the world has developed. Orwell envisaged a world where ‘thought crime’ would be in effect, if you are not familiar with his work I would highly recommend it.
How much words actually mean and how much people react to them was highlighted recently. I think it was about a couple of months ago when I read about a New Yorker who was on trial for apparently plotting to eat people! I only know of this what I read about it at the time but he was a Cop and it is alleged that he used the police database to search for certain people who he had planned to murder and eat, his wife had found out about it by searching his computer and reported him to authorities. A couple of weeks later it was then in British newspapers that a man from England had been chatting with someone in an internet chat room and he had went into great detail about cooking women! He was arrested for this but he had claimed it was pure fantasy. Now whether or not these two individuals were ever going to kill anyone is not the issue the issue is that they are being arrested and in the case of the New York Cop, put on trial, for saying they were going to do something. I don’t know about you but if we start arresting and prosecuting people for saying they’re going to kill or for fantasising where is it going to end?
I have written violent poems about stabbing a person with a pen and writing my life story in their blood so I should really be arrested. And what about people who write serial killer novels or directors who make violent movies like ‘The Human Centipede’? Where does art end and intent begin I ask you? Words are not actions so how much reliance should we put on the things that people say? There are a lot of very disturbed people in the modern world and to be honest although I fully agree that we need to do all we can to protect the innocent I can also see that there are usually reasons for people becoming disturbed to the point of violence but should we start making people the subject of lengthy legal proceedings due to their thoughts and words? I can also see that other people who don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong are adding to our societies disharmony with so much meaningless and often very hurtful language. Although sticks and stones are not supposed to hurt they do and I believe that we should really be doing much more to make the next generation aware that words are the not half as much of an issue as we think they are.
In the age of the internet words can become weapons and they can hurt people greatly or in extreme cases even kill. Some people especially teenagers are bullied to the point of suicide without any physical exchanges ever taking place. You get so many sensitive people who cannot even bare to hear or say the word ‘shit’ let alone ‘fuck’! What is that? Why is that? It is only a word, why is it alright to say excreta or crap but not shit, it’s the same thing, same shit! Other words as well like Beggar or Cripple or Cunt can nearly cause convulsions sometimes! People get all uptight when you use certain words and I often think to myself that if we continue this way we are going to severely limit how much of our language we will be able to use all because some people are so sensitive that they cannot cope with mere words. It baffles me how certain sections of society will be so high and mighty about what words you can and cannot say while at the same time they can morally and financially support regimes who are in the middle east murdering people wholesale, I don’t get that at all.
I am fascinated by language, by how it is used and interpreted and it really does say a lot about human development. Ultimately though I do think we really need to stop being so stuck up about words. When you look at how people use Facebook you really get a sense that even the most well meaning among us tend to become Trolls when faced with writing things about other people or to other people. A lot of people who appear very quiet and shy on the surface can turn into literal monsters with those they know well or if they perceive that they’re being attacked. The word attack is interesting when being used in regard to language because it isn’t an attack at all, it’s just talk. The old adage about talking the talk and walking the walk is very true, most people only ever do the talking part. We all have certain people who know how to get to us through what they say and though we may know this we still react. Words are very effective in so many areas and yet they also do a large amount of damage.
Spoken word really started to get on my wick because I was listening to individuals who never actually do anything in terms of solve problems or help out in society, they do a whole lot of talking about it though. I started to take a look at myself at one point and thought “If I go and do something about society instead of slobbering about it all the time my words will have ten times the meaning that they do now.” and I have found this to be true and my writing has improved drastically due to my work, the two things compliment each other very well and I will continue on my current path with the greatest of gratitude because words mean nothing at all on heir own, you need to back them up with actions. I have only learned this recently and I wish I had discovered it earlier.
I have a feeling I may add to this post at some because there is so much more that I feel I could say but for now…