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laceblade ([personal profile] laceblade) wrote2007-06-01 09:21

Wiscon 31 Panel Report: Making War on War

Firstly, a news flash. [livejournal.com profile] yhlee's LiveJournal has apparently been deleted (presumably as part of this massive journal deletion crap), but I definitely know that I was looking at her journal on the 30th, and possibly early morning on the 31st? I thought LiveJournal was done deleting journals, and trying to rectify the situation? Does anyone know what happened to Yoon?

Making War on "War"

Politics, Race, Class, and Religion•Conference Room 4• Saturday, 9:00-10:15 p.m.

Every time we are faced with a serious situation, we Americans have to make a War of it: (i.e., the Wars on Poverty, Drugs, Obesity, and Terror) despite the fact that "victory" continues to elude us. We even have to "battle" disease with "magic bullets". Why are we so taken with war as our default metaphor for action? How does that limit our problem solving approach? What might we replace it with? What metaphors have other cultures turned to? And how might we popularize a change?

M: Jean Mornard, Paul Kincaid, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Wendy Alison Walker, Laurel Winter

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Before I say anything else, I will note that the panel description defines 'we' as Americans, and thus the focus was on the English language and metaphors. It was defined as such in the panel description, so I didn't feel too weird about it. Also, I feel like I remember panels differently than others. Mostly, all I write down are things that I found interesting. So, if you don't agree....too bad!

As both an English major and a Political Science major, this panel was like my dream come true. Nerdglee.


It was noted that in the English language, when attempting to define something, we will use violence-related languages. We struggle to understand, fight to understand, defeat difficult problems. From a government standpoint, declaring "war" on an idea or problem makes it seem like you're doing something. It generally also gives you a blank check.

I think it was Laurel Winter who focused on the idea that war-related language is generally from a very dualistic family. So, instead of calling it a "War on Poverty," why didn't Lyndon Johnson call the program "Heal Poverty?" We should change the focus to what it is that we want to achieve, rather than the struggle itself, especially in such catastrophic terms.

It was likewise noted that it's most helpful to ask, "What are the solutions to problem posed by _______?" It was pointed out (I think by Nakashima-Brown) that "problem-solving" isn't a sexy term in political rhetoric. I think it was Winter who pointed out that no, but puzzles are something people enjoy, especially in the rampant popularity of Sudoku puzzles and The DaVinci Code.

I think it was Kincaid who noted that "war" has two outcomes: victory, or defeat. Political administrations set themselves up for defeat by declaring war because they never define victory. Obviously, poverty itself will never be eradicated, nor will terrorism, nor drugs. Thus, every time war has been declare on an idea, the war has been lost.

It was noted that the public needs charismatic, complex thinking people in leadership positions - ie, as the politicians. It was noted that then, such people would have to be convinced to participate. Someone noted that they would never win an election but the panelist (forget who, sorry, I think it was the mod?) herself would vote for them, and at this point I raised my hand (OMG, for really the only time at Wiscon!) and said something like, people always bring up the fact that 'good' people (this was more clearly defined at the panel but I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth) who think outside the box would never get elected, but almost every time, end the statement with the words 'but I would vote for them.'" I think it could happen.

***An Aside: I really do believe that it could, and it's probably my farthest-flung political dream - that I will somehow become a fabulous speech-writer/policy-developer/chief of staff (yes, all in one, because I would be the coolest person ever) and find a candidate who I could groom. This candidate would speak candidly with audiences. No soundbyte answers, no stump speech that is forever recycled. No rhetoric based on what party analysts think is "proven by tests to be true." Someone who told it like it was. People would eat that crap up. AND I WOULD CONTROL THEM FROM BEHIND THE CURTAIN. *cackle*
***

It was also noted that with the technology of the Internet, the "middleman" of the politician can be bypassed in solving big social problems. With a hacker mentality, people will learn how to solve intense problems and if everyone contributes a little bit, huge problems can be solved. I think that this is where Kiva loans were mentioned, and if you haven't checked that website out, you really should.

Back to the puzzle idea (at least I write up my panel reports in chronological order?), it was also noted that nobody gets a puzzle right the first time. You lose less face at not getting your first attempt at puzzle than you do in 'losing a war.'

One person noted that a focus should be put on processes and prevention. You can never end cancer, poverty, or terror, and thus finding the appropriate metaphor is important. Terror can be controlled with police. Death can be prevented (for a while) by health care and safety, both of which are great campaign issues that help politicians get elected.

One successful (sort of?) campaign is the one waged by environmentalists is one that focuses on words like "preserve," "conserve," and "protect." You can argue whether or not the campaign itself has been successful, but there's no doubt that people are least familiar with the terms and their relationship to environmental protection. It sticks.

It was also noted that satire is a very powerful weapon to undermine the current political mentality of how problems are approached. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart were the obvious examples.

Another person noted that it's important to focus the title figure of the program on what the focus of the problem is. Take the War on Drugs. Drugs themselves are not a problem. The problem is people abusing drugs. Adequately defining what, exactly, it is that you're fighting is exceedingly important.

It was noted that the ones who wage war are the ones who benefit from it. The reason that war is declared on drugs, instead of drug runners; on terror instead of terrorists, is because then there can be no victory condition (as mentioned previously). This is not an accident.

M.J. Hardman was in the audience, and noted how many metaphors in the English language are derived from violence. Examples: dress to kill, smash hit, prices slashed. Anything that is good, or important, is paired with a violent metaphor. This is especially true with sex. To get someone to fall in love with you, you try to "win them over." When you first meet a girl you think is cute, you "hit on them" (I feel ashamed, but I never really noticed the horrific-ness of that phrase until Hardman brought it up). Hardman said that a few years ago, she decided to remove all violent metaphors and phrases from her vocabulary, and found it extremely difficult.

I can't remember if it was Hardman or Winter who recommended that people should always act out of love, rather than fear. It changes the way people act toward you.

People are overly afraid, and fear is an engine for control because it is easily manipulated.

In the end, the panel decided that the hacker paradigm was the most attractive alternative.



All in all, it was a good panel. The only thing that bothered me was that there was a lot of anti-Republican sentiment, or at least I got the sense that many panelists and people in the room blamed conservatives for the "war" metaphors being so prevalent to begin with, which I don't think is a fair statement. Hello, Lyndon Johnson? I actually feel like this is something I could have argued about with some competence, but after thinking about it for 3 seconds, I figured that if there's one thing a person doesn't do at a feminist sci-fi convention, it's try to defend Republicans, ;) (And no, I don't consider myself Republican.) Also, it wasn't really relevant to the focus of the panel, and I dislike it very much when the conversation topic shifts away from a panel's focus.

Recommended Media:
The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear - BBC documentary
littlebutfierce: (Default)

[personal profile] littlebutfierce 2007-06-01 14:34 (UTC)(link)
Apparently there are some Republicans who go to WisCon--I've never met one, but I've heard tell of them...

BTW, I love Kiva, & am so glad it was mentioned! I'm kind of addicted to loaning to them, & I volunteer to do editing/proofing of the business descriptions before they go up. Yay! Microfinance in general is fab, & when it's paired w/Paypal & you can pick out specific businesses to loan to--yay again!
ext_7025: (Default)

[identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com 2007-06-01 15:20 (UTC)(link)
The major kerfluffle before the cultural appropriation one was, indeed, about Republicans (and other conservatives) who had felt...unwanted? at the previous Wiscon.
littlebutfierce: (Default)

[personal profile] littlebutfierce 2007-06-01 15:57 (UTC)(link)
Oh, that's right--I dimly remember hearing about that.
ext_14096: (Pooh - Wol)

[identity profile] agentxpndble.livejournal.com 2007-06-01 15:16 (UTC)(link)
Thank you for the great review! My notes were not anywhere near as complete. :-)

If anyone is interested in pursuing the line of thought introduced by M.J. Hardman, they should read Suzette Haden Elgin's works (http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/)- Specifically, the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series. Ms. Elgin is a linguist and has spent many years teaching and writing on this topic.
ext_6446: (Internets!)

[identity profile] mystickeeper.livejournal.com 2007-06-01 15:50 (UTC)(link)
Ooooh, thanks for the link!

[identity profile] sasha-feather.livejournal.com 2007-06-01 17:08 (UTC)(link)
There is an article in the latest Smithsonian magazine about approaching problems as mysteries vs. puzzles. Puzzles are defined by not enough information, while in a mystery there is too much information (noise) and you need to pick out the important bits from all the distractions. For example, the author of the article writes about the Soviets being a puzzle (how many weapons do they have?), and terrorists being a mystery (what are they thinking anyway?). I think you might enjoy this article.

Thanks for the nice write-up!