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Power: Usage and Misusage

May 4, 2010

Ok, I know Joel Stein meant the article to be funny and tongue-in-cheek, but after perusing Time’s list of 100 Least Influential People of 2010 without laughing, I am not sure that Time’s editors know the meaning of the words “Least” (given that just about every list item is someone or something you’ve at least heard of, meaning its influence is greater than 0 and, say, 99% of Alaskans or anyone from South Dakota), “Influential” (given that it includes dozens of front page-grabbing world-historical figures such as Demitri Medvev, Bernie Madoff and Clarence Thomas that have at a minimum influenced the course of human events even if they weren’t in the drivers’ seats), “People” (given that the list is like half non-humans, technology, muppets, and consumer products like H1N1, Bo Obama, Google Buzz, Elmo, and TomTom) or “2010” (given that it’s only May and most of its disparaging date back to 2009 or earlier). That’s some fine yellow journalism there, Joel. At least they got the 100 part right.

As you probably know by now, I am quite often and quite vocally annoyed by misnomers and conflated terms, but I am most especially livid when we collectively fail to precisely or accurately define the concepts we subject to philosophical or political examination. The end result is necessarily a mile off the mark when one, for example, calls the Soviet/Stalinist regime in the U.S.S.R. an example of “communism” rather than totalitarianism, when one calls Republicans like Sarah Palin “conservative” rather than reactionary, or when one calls the political-economic system that led to the banking collapse and subsequent bailouts “capitalism” or a “free market.” Simon Johnson, chief economist for the IMF, described the United States in 2007 with a much more accurate and horrifying term: oligarchy. It’s not a “kleptocracy” like we’re used to seeing in South America, wherein those in power simply take whatever they want. It’s much more subtle and elusive than that. What we have on our hands is a system wherein economic power can be translated into political power and vice versa. Both forms of power are symbiotic, and the “rescue plans” that we form have the effect of reinforcing the position of each side of the equation. Capitalism? Democracy? Do we have private ownership of the means of production? Do we have power dispersed in the hands of the many? Moreover, a republic? Do we have equal treatment of people before the rule of law? And yet, when these issues actually come to a political fore in the form of an election, sloganeering will have people identifying with interests that are systematically and diametrically opposed to their own actual preferences. Mostly because bigots are just plain stupid, susceptible to unremitting manipulation and demagoguery (demagoguery, n.: a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears and expectations of the public—typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes).

On the topic of proper usage and the vernacular, it looks like one’s lexicological skills are strongly correlative with one’s probability of partaking in potent potables persistently.

Why yes, I do need help. How did you guess?

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