08 October 2016

The power of word choices

In What We Are, also published in the Guardian on 5 October 2016, George Monbiot reviews Democracy for Realists, published earlier this year by the social science professors Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels. The authors argue that the “folk theory of democracy” — the idea that citizens make coherent and intelligible policy decisions, on which governments then act – bears no relationship to how it really works. Or could ever work. Hence Monbiot's kicker: Democracy cannot work as it is meant to; human nature does not allow it.

While Monbiot's review is fascinating but depressing, the point of my post today is to draw attention to the following passage:
We are suckers for language. When surveys asked Americans whether the federal government was spending too little on “assistance to the poor”, 65% of them agreed. But only 25% agreed that it was spending too little on “welfare”. In the approach to the 1991 Gulf War, nearly two thirds of Americans said they were willing to “use military force”. Fewer than 30% were willing to “go to war”.
I have seldom read anything on the power of language and word choices that makes the point so clearly and convincingly.

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