A childhood friend on Facebook recently called me a Republican. On our playground sixty years ago, I would have pushed her into a snow bank. I was a ‘bully’ (as the girls daily named me). But Republican? She lives a thousand miles away. The grade school option was out. And sometimes I am old enough that when insulted, I think rather than fight. A nose bent out of shape attests that it was not always so.
Were she near and snow bank unavailable, I would ask who might this definitive Republican be: Cruz, Trump, Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln? Or the definitive Democrat: Obama, Clinton (either), Roosevelt, Wilson, Jefferson Davis? Truth be told, I have never registered as either Democrat or Republican, have never voted in a primary election, and, for better or worse, have been satisfied with those the Parties offered.
Still, why discomfited when called a name? As said friend often sing-songed, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” I was not so much insulted as I became again aware, as when one hears the crack of a stick in the silence of a forest, of the power of naming. What emotional freight does a name carry?
Facebook discourages nuance, like mid-twentieth century propaganda—Nazi, Soviet, American and British— posters. Activist friends now post-contemporary propaganda posters on one’s Facebook daily feed as if it were a blank wall in 1930s Wilmersdorf, Germany (a Berlin working class district where Communists and Nazis fought daily street battles).
I am not the first to note the power in the naming of things:
And whatsoever Adam called every living creature; that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; (Gen: 2:18-19 KJV)
Naming gives power:
In the schoolyard…
I have two nieces, Janis and Bonnie, beautiful, intelligent, worldly and accomplished women. The family gathered at a rural Wisconsin tavern. From the crowd, a stranger called out “Barnyard Bonnie!” I slid from the barstool to confront the lout. We were farm kids born and raised. The farm defined us and its words had positive and negative meaning. “Barnyard” is not affirming among us country folk.
‘Junk-yard Janis’ and ‘Barnyard Bonnie’ however went goo-goo eyed. The ‘lout’ had been a grade-school friend with a similar rhyming moniker (I forget which) and the nicknames were freighted with warm memories. They yakked and recollected the rest of the evening.
At another grade school in another time in another county, another child suffered the sobriquet ‘Barnyard Bertie.’ Her memories are bitter, and she does not attend high school reunions. Though ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” few forget the shame of slander or, I would hope, of slandering.
And in the larger world
The word chills my blood. Socialism’s 20th-century history is bloodied beyond bloody, in its name tens of innocent millions were starved to death, murdered, executed. One walks through the fields and forests where once the Soviet GULAGS stood, In springtime, the ground extrudes bodies from mass grades. I read the documentation, The Black Book of Communist, Bloodlands, Harvest of Sorrow, or any of ten-thousand holocaust eye-witness accounts of mass murder. The bibliography of Socialist failure is vast, graphic, and wearies the soul. Can it ever be forgotten? Well, yes, it can and yes, it is. The term, Socialism, has become again popular among the ignorant, ill-read or Machiavellian.
I have some interest in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Warming (CAGW), a hypothesis that posits human-produced CO2 represents an existential threat to humanity; too much, and we all die.
The CAGW theory is based on the papers published by Manabe & Wetherald (1967) and Hansen et al., (1981)3 The hypothesis roughly mean that a) The Earth’s climate is warming, b) The warming is substantially a result of human emissions of CO2 and, c) The magnitude of the warming will be enough to have significant effects, and d) The net effects of the warming will be harmful, and e) The harm caused by the warming will be great enough to be worth the net costs of politically-coerced mitigation.4
I command a reasonable layman’s knowledge of the CAGW literature. At best, I am skeptical, meaning I neither believe nor disbelieve, but find the evidence unconvincing. At worst, I disbelieve, i.e., consider the CAGW theory is a pile of crap and assert the opposite; though there is warming, it is not manmade. I am named a ‘denier’ thus to associate me with ‘Holocaust denier.’5
And thus named––’Kulak’, ‘Jew’, ‘Menshevik’, ‘witch’, ‘Tutsi’, ‘Chink’, ‘Jap’, the list is long––one is identified, differentiated, isolated, and persecuted. The name ‘socialist’ sickens me, but my reaction pauses me.
An anecdote: My wife and I a half-decade back are in Moscow having coffee with a young (nineteen-years-old) Englishman and his Cambodian (twenty-one?) wife. They are both dear people. She speaks of her anxiety––a dark inchoate presence is there, unfocused, just beyond the edge of her peripheral vision.Most of her family had disappeared in the Cambodian Holocaust. He rolls his eyes. He then confesses with a nineteen-year-old’s aplomb that he is a Communist. They are young.
I understand they divorced a few years later.
1 Whence the term CAGW [https://14terstock.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/who-linked-climate-change-and-catastrophe-first/ ] 2 https://14terstock.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/who-linked-climate-change-and-catastrophe-first/ 3 http://notrickszone.com/2016/01/13/japanese-modeling-expert-slams-james-hansen-climate-scientists-calling-them-lawbreakers-in-the-court-of-science/#sthash.fwr5UxSl.dpuf 4 http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2012/05/why-belief-in-cagw-catastrophic.html 5 The Holocaust Museum is uncomfortable with this sort of misuse, to wit: Distinct from denial and distortion is misuse of the Holocaust. Misuse occurs when aspects of the Holocaust are compared to events, situations, or people where there is no genocide or genocidal intent. Examples of Holocaust misuse include: claiming that Israeli-government actions are equivalent to those of the Nazis; equating the treatment of animals with the treatment of Jews and other victims during the Holocaust; labeling political opponents as Nazis; or misusing the terminology of the Holocaust to assert that particular actions are the same as actions undertaken by the Nazis. http://www.ushmm.org/confront-antisemitism/holocaust-denial-and-distortion  Bernie Sanders suggests he is a socialist 'like in the Scandinavian countries." This is political sleigh of hand. He proposes capital gains tax rates on industry in excess of 70%. All Scandinavian countries tax capital gains at less that 30%, much the same as the United States; personal income and Value Added Tax on the 'people,' whom the Scandinavian countries tax enthusiastically. Bernie Sanders's position is contemporary Venezuela. Read more at: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/bernie-sanders-2016-socialism-213667#ixzz4BZ0ITley