A year ago I bought a “contractor grade” hose at one of those despotic home stores with the big boxes and bigger parking lots, and paid almost $100 for it. Today it leaks at both ends from its cheap mystery-metal fittings. That’s fine if you like to shower while you’re washing the truck, but I prefer to do that on my own schedule.
“Contractor grade” once meant “not retail.” It meant something you were willing to pay more to have because you needed it to work right every day, day after day. Today, contractor grade simply means “costs more.” It’s a label that marketers know will convince the weekend warrior to pay more because he thinks he’s getting a better quality tool.
Meaning changes because language is dynamic. It responds to new discoveries, political and social changes. Just after the Civil War, democrat meant “opposed to political and civil rights for African Americans,” while republicans were still the party of Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the union and freed the slaves.
Today the words, “democrat” and “republican” have several meanings and, depending on your intention and affiliation, can be either badges of honor or pejoratives. Those of us who value actions over words might suggest that for elected officials, republican and democrat might as well mean “contractor grade.”
Sometimes meaning changes in response to a social or political agenda, and when incompatible agendas become conflict, to the victor go the spoils. For this writer, the spoilage of the language, abused by marketing and cheapened by pixel pushers and politicians, has been a source of perennial discontent. (How many times have you seen or heard the word “crisis” in the last week?)
For much of our history, education did an admirable job of preparing citizens for public discourse. We learned a common language that served as a forge for our melting pot of cultures and races of people. There were regional and cultural differences, but we aspired to a public discourse that was more formal and precise than what we have today. We can read letters from the most humble of private soldiers during the Civil War, and they are far superior in style and substance to the vast majority of what we see in print today.
It has been a long journey from the epic poems of Homer to the tweet, and from the language of Shakespeare to gangster rap. Along that journey, words lost their precision as our values and our concept of good and evil became relative as well. While the quality and influence of education diminished, the impact of information technology increased to the detriment of understanding and public discourse, and this has become a direct threat to our free society.
An additional hazard is inherent in the increasing control of information by a decreasing number of entities. We flip through countless channels and click on myriad websites under the illusion of infinite variety, but most of us are unaware that 90% of what we see and hear is controlled by half a dozen giant corporations that not only inform our vision of reality, but have an almost seamless interface with government.
Thus we are subject, not only to the efforts of a small group of people to monetize as many aspects of human behavior as possible, but to their political preferences as well. Today, the majority of corporate media leans decidedly to the left, and while you might celebrate this bias today if it’s consistent with your own views, you might not be so agreeable should these dominant entities decide to support a dictator or a demagogue tomorrow.
Meanwhile, whether by the diminishing quality of education or the increasingly populist posturing of the political-media class to maintain power, the vernacular has ascended and public discourse has devolved to a lower grade-school level of comprehension.
From the ubiquitous smart phone to the White House to the headlines served up by the behemoths of mass media, we talk at, not to each other with language that has become puerile, inflammatory and replicated endlessly like so many dollars that have lost their value. The appeal to populism, not only in language but in most realms of human endeavor, has lowered our standards more than it has lifted people to a higher state of being.
“That’s elitist!” shouts the angry voice of protest from his mother’s basement, certain that he has been victimized by someone. “Absolutely,” we answer quite calmly. In a republic, democracy is an engine, not a rudder. We own the ship but we want elite, not popular helmsmen. We vote them into position, and when they fail, it is our responsibility to replace them.
But we never really replace them. The ship’s crew has mutinied. We choose from a pre-selected menu of career politicians and celebrities. The ones who win are the ones who best appeal to our fears and prejudices, and we are becoming powerless to avoid that because everything we know about the world is served up by various outlets all belonging to the same small group of interests.
We know something is wrong, but we keep making the same choices over and over again because we don’t know how to do anything else. Millions of people now get most of their information from social media or allow themselves to be guided by “influencers,” celebrities that are judged worthy of allegiance not by ability, education, training or accomplishment, but merely by popularity: actors, ball players, Youtube stars – reality show hosts.
Every candidate is now required to weigh in on the struggle between victims and their persecutors, because we are all, we are told, one or the other. Somewhere between the extremes, the vast middle ground of reasonable people don’t have a lot of time to think about what’s ailing the country. They’re too busy earning a living or trying to get enough sleep to continue that pursuit. When they do have time, even their entertainments are corrupted with the constant noise of breaking news and unending and “unprecedented” dramas.
Weary of the pursuit of the ever shrinking dollar and distracted by the drama, we remain blind to the unobserved movements of the humorless, cashless, cancel-cultured social credit serpents attempting to establish themselves at the root of our consciousness, punishing thought crime and shaming into submission any who would dissent.
Whichever side prevails in the staged drama of the current election cycle, the corporate behemoths will remain, and we’ll get hosed again, enduring another four years of contractor grade government, poorer, dumber and more frustrated than we were the previous four years, and with a diminishing capacity to change that. It’s tragic, and it’s comic, because both sides recognize the same problems, but blame the wrong parties. If only they could listen to each other long enough to recognize that they have similar goals.