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How do we overcome the stigma of loaded terms?

+1 vote
I don't think its particularly controversial to say that propaganda and lies has clouded and misinformed people and society at larges' understanding and beliefs about terms like Anarchy, Anarchism and communism. But I'm left wondering how do we overcome these misconceptions?

edited to remove anarchy from tags
asked Mar 24, 2015 by Anarcho-Goth (830 points)
edited Mar 27, 2015 by dot
i hear ya, and i wonder as well.

just yesterday, my wife and i told her brother that we planned to stop by an anarchist infoshop not far from where he lives. we'd never mentioned anarchy to him previously (although he knows our views radically differ from anyone else in his life), and he said to us: "anarchist? you mean like Hitler?". it completely floored me. he has a pretty extensive vocabulary and i had no reason to think he didn't at least have some understanding of the word.

anyway, we told him that anarchy means nothing remotely similar to hitler. despite our close relationship with him, he didn't ask any follow up questions and didn't seem to want to discuss it any further. perhaps we should have pressed the situation a little more to explain how we see anarchy and why we desire it. afterwards, i felt sort of hollow and frustrated that nothing else came of the conversation, and like i missed an opportunity to overcome the misconception you spoke of...at least with someone in my life, at that moment.

great question...definite upvote from me...

i hope to hear more replies, especially those who have more experience than me at this...perhaps some stories where conversations opened and possibilities expanded when confronted with a similar situation.
baa, if @goth's question is the one you are talking about, then i don't think it's framed correctly.
by which i mean, from what i understand, people in the u.s. are extremely politically/historically ignorant. we are taught badly (the teaching is not good, in general), inaccurate information (so even if the teaching is good, the information is not), and then not encouraged to/actively discouraged from interacting with the ideas and concepts in the rest of our lives (sometimes unless we get jobs as teachers, but even then... but that's a different thread).
to me this is the issue demonstrated by your example - a general lack of understanding/interest/capacity for thinking about things in political terms. but of course you know your wife's brother better than i do...

and re: the way i read the question raises two responses. a) what loaded terms? are you, @goth, talking about people thinking that all anarchists are bomb-throwers? or something else?
b) why would we want to change people's perceptions of that? do we want to have better conversations with people who disagree with us? do we think that if people just knew more they'd all become anarchists? do we want people to know who we are so that we are Known?
each of those possible motives for this question would have different emphases, and would take different tactics...
dot, i don't think i understand your response to me. do you mean you interpreted A-G's question differently than i did?
I don't think that overcoming the stigma is that important. If we are aiming at any type of victory that has an observable result in the world around us, then the goal isn't to make anarchism a more attractive idea, but rather to disrupt what's protecting/producing the status quo. Ideology or economy, attack where you can!

Though I do admit that it would be nicer if there were more anarchists (at least in my locale) for there to be more potential to do this...
[edit:  copy-pasted content to the answer below.]
Not sure i actually answered the question, in practical terms.  (@goth ??)

(and seriously, expand/collapse buttons would be so useful... if you ever happen to be talking with the developers...)

1 Answer

0 votes
[sorry for the wall-of-text, my posts need an expand/collapse button.  :(]

Basics of effective communications - know your audience, tailor your message to that audience...
Doesn't mean lie to them, or pander to their sacred cows;   just use language, and concepts, and metaphors, that they are familiar with.  We accept new ideas relatively quickly when we can position them in relation to something else we think we already know (aggregation); when we have to get our heads around a completely new concept, then we have to build temporary bridges out from what is already in our head - this takes time and considerable mental effort; if the idea isn't something that person _really_ cares about, then they just won't bother to try.

Avoiding Jargon - like the fucking-plague that it is.
No one has read exactly what you have, or experienced what you have; unless and until i have worked out that someone else is using a special term in more-or-less the same way i am, then that is just another opportunity for them to mis-understand me (intentionally or otherwise).  (Which kinda sucks, since i like to use terms in ways they weren't intended for.)

I recently listened to audio of a panel discussion (* don't ask me where or what, my short-term memory burned out years ago - aragorn was on it, and some guy called Doug (or dave?), and some other guy from a university that confirmed every prejudice i had about academia,)
The academic droned on in a ten minute jargon-laiden monograph, the civ(ilian) tended more to anecdotes of his lived experiences;  i can't say one had better information than the other, but once my eyes rolled back into my head then that speaker was wasting his wind (on me) - an ineffective attempt at communication.  (To be fair-ish, when speaking to a broad and varied audience, it's nearly impossible to have a message received by _everyone_, especially on a podcast - which by its nature deprives the speaker of body-language feedback from her audience.  To be blunt-ish, this is exactly the time you should be avoiding jargon like the fucking-plague that it is - assuming everyone has read your book, and all the books that you have read, and already knows what you're talking about anyway - because everyone else simply loses interest and wanders off to watch cat videos, or whatever.)

But the anecdotes in that discussion lead me to the flipside of the stigma - that people who are defiant to some authority in specific, will often view anarchists as some mythological beings defiant of _all_ authority (especially the one they don't like).  One story was of an anarchist (young white kid, hooded and masked) who travelled to Ferguson and was on the streets in solidarity with the local kids; so he's talking to a local black kid, and when the anarchist word comes up the local kid goes - "Anarchist!  You're that black bloc shit!  Yeah, yeah we're down with that."  (for all we know, the kid in the mask was an @-pacifist, but it doesn't matter to the myth.)  
The other story was about another kid arrested in one of the oakland riots, since he was white the guards tossed him in with the supremicists; again, when the A-word came out, they just assumed he was a hardcore OklahomaCity-type skinhead.  (Which is both hilarious and sad, but at least the kid got out in one piece.)
And, something another person posted here, about their friend introducing their boyfriend-de-jour - who was enlisted military;  again, the A-word comes out, and the squarehead goes into 'roid-gasm, assuming our compas was some guerrilla-warfare-ninja straight outta 'FightClub' brewing plastic explosives in the kitchen sink and ready to blow.

It's funny;  if a couple thousand drunken upper-middle class kids from the suburbs trash the entertainment district because their sporting team lost (or won, doesn't seem to matter) some playoff game - then there will be much hand-wringing and tears shed and op-ed pieces written - then the glass gets swept up and a month later everyone has forgotten about it.
But a dozen kids in hoodies break a couple of windows - and there's a dozen news helicopters in the air, and every cop eligible for overtime is strapping on the riot gear, and the governor's calling out the national guard.  Now consider what this looks like to the preconditioned-civilian:  that is a large response to a few people, but the state's response to threats is always proportionate, so those few people must be _Really_Dangerous_!;  in effect, the efforts of the corporate/state to demonise us, by the same action mythologises each and every one of us within the mind of anyone who has ever opposed or resented authority.  It's gotten to the point where they probably expect us to sprout wings of fury and pull a flaming sword of vengeance out of our ass.

'Hi.  We're your friendly neighborhood anarchists!  We'd like to build garden beds on your front lawn for you, and talk about Gifting, and show you all this neat diy stuff!  but if you piss us off - we just might Burn This Fucking City To A Cinder, And Grind The Bones Of Our Enemies Unto Dust!  ...  Would you like a brownie?'

(*  Audio of the above-mentioned panel:  https://archive.org/details/NAASN  )
answered Mar 26, 2015 by clodbuster (2,270 points)