July 09, 2003

The King's English
So, please, indulge my stream of consciousness rif for a moment.....

I'm a writer. I love words.

I make it a habit of immediately looking up any and all unfamiliar words that I encounter. I dream about, one day, being able to afford to buy my very own, hardbound copies of the Oxford English Dictionary. When I hear Liev Schreiber say that Shakespeare had around a 20,000-word vocabulary, while the average speaker of modern English uses only about 8,000 words, I get jealous.

So, you may begin to grasp one of the many reasons why I loathe George W. Bush.

His "Clear Skies" initiative actually pollutes the air more. The "No Child Left Behind" Act creates an enormous unfunded mandate for state governments that are already suffering through budget crises that will, inevitably, lead to cuts in education programs for children. The "USA Patriot Act" presupposes the treachery of all American citizens by giving the Justice Department dramatically invasive powers that far exceed habeas corpus. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" has, thus far, plunged that country into widescale looting, lawlessness, and chaos. Claiming to be "a uniter, not a divider", Bush has not only escalated the partisan conflicts in the Federal government, but he's also driven away millions of people around the world who had nothing but grace for us after September 11, 2001. And he spouts out words like "freedom", "liberty", and "evil" so liberally and robotically, does anyone in this country still know what they mean?

I think about the lyrics to Lee Greenwood's popular soft rock anthem, "God Bless The USA":
If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife.
I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American where as least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.

People love this song. But are they actually paying attention to what he's saying? Let me paraphrase:

If I lost my entire nest egg, and my entire family were destitute and homeless, I'd still gladly enlist in the military to go shoot our enemies, because, if nothing else, I've still got my freedom.

But what is "freedom"?

Wasn't "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" intended to have an economic root at it's core? "Taxation without representation" and all that jazz. Are you really free when the Green Berets can beat the crap out of any other military on earth, but you can't, as the President has said, "put food on your family"? Or when you get mercury poisioning from the local power plant, or your children can't read because there aren't enough textbooks or qualified teachers because the states are out of money?

Freedom is not just a pretty flag we wave under expensive pyrotechnics in the middle of summer. Freedom is not the glory of the United States Marine Corps Marching Band. And freedom is certainly not being branded a traitor when you question the actions of a public servant with a dubious electoral mandate.

I love words, and I fear that, among his many transgressions, our President has accelerated the pace by which the language loses it's meaning. When words are meaningless, the keys that allow ideas to unlock the doors to our brains are lost.

Think of all the young black men, filled with anger & frustration over the hand dealt to them, who struggle to say what's on their mind, but who's vocabulary is limited to "bitch", "motherfucker", and "nigga". They writhe and flex and screech on stage because they know something in their hearts, and it's literally pounding on the walls of their bodies, desperately looking for a way out.

Knowledge isn't just power. People suffer in silence. Words can save your life.

This is just the simplest, most basic reason why our nation suffers when the people are uneducated. Let alone being able to understand what your government is doing in your name, or what laws are passed that tell you what you can or cannot do.

This is the price of having a culture that scorns knowledge.

Yesterday, I realized that I could never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, and it made me sad. But it also made me want to squeeze as many as possible into the time that I have.

I just wish there was a way I could infect more people with my bibliophilism. I think they'd be less tolerant of the madness.

OK. Enough rambling....
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