Category Archives: W

A Better Way to Think of Welfare Recipients

Welfare recipients. Social Security recipients. Unemployment recipients. The word recipients inaccurately frames the people involved as passive supplicants.

The truth is that Americans participate in these and many other social insurance and assistance programs and should be acknowledged as participants. For example, the program today known as “welfare,” TANF, requires most participants to get and keep a job, go to college, or to participate in a job-training program. Far from being a handout, it’s hard work.

We pay Social Security premiums all our working lives, and when the checks start coming, that money is the benefit we have earned. And should we need unemployment insurance, we have earned that benefit by working for our employers. Furthermore, those receiving unemployment insurance checks generally are required to document applying for jobs each week.

We should recognize people’s participation and avoid calling them “recipients.” They are TANF participants, Social Security participants (or beneficiaries), and unemployment insurance participants (or beneficiaries).

For Social Security and unemployment insurance, the term beneficiaries also is appropriate because those are insurance programs.

But what do you think? Am I splitting hairs, or does the distinction matter?

Framing Workers

While extreme conservatives frame business owners and the 1% as job creators, George Lakoff makes an important point about the role of workers in business. Chapter 14 of his excellent Little Blue Book is titled “Workers Are Profit Creators.” And so we are!

Here’s what he recommends saying (emphasis in original, p. 85):

  • Workers are profit creators. Corporations can profit only if people work for them.
  • Health care benefits and pensions are part of the pay earned by workers. They are deferred payments for work done.
  • Health care benefits and pensions benefit the workers and the companies that provide them.
  • Health care benefits and pensions add to profits. They buy loyalty so that companies can avoid the costs of recruiting and training new employees as well as the costs of operating with untrained employees.
  • Corporations have an ethical responsibility to pay in full for work done. That includes benefits and pensions.
  • Corporations are ethically responsible for setting aside funds for workers’ deferred payments and not using them for anything else. Spending those funds–on capital investment, stockholder dividends, or payments and bonuses to top managers–is unethical.

I strongly recommend the book. But how do you think workers should be talked about?

Framing the War on Terror

The phrase "war on terror" is emotionally powerful.
The phrase “war on terror” is emotionally powerful.

Promoted by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, the war on terror combines two of the most emotion-laden words in the English language. The phrase is meant to frighten and to award the president permission to exercise broad wartime powers.

It’s misleading because it inaccurately defines the enemy as an emotion. Conflict with emotions can be resolved only with psychological or spiritual weapons, not with armaments.

Even correcting the phrase to “war on terrorism” would be misleading because terrorism is a tactic. Waging war on terrorism would be as much nonsense as sending the Marines to destroy kidnapping and blackmail.

Although closer to the truth, even further correcting it to “war on terrorists” would be misleading because terrorists are not soldiers (although some inaccurately fancy themselves soldiers) and terrorism is crime. Therefore, terrorism should be addressed with law enforcement, not war. The war properly should be thought of as metaphorical (e.g. the War on Poverty) rather than actual. But the inclusion of the word “war” confuses people into thinking it should be an actual war.

These corrections also would continue to evoke fear when the nation needs courage and wisdom. We must replace the phrase.

The best alternative I know I learned of from the Friends Committee on National Legislation: the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. Much more than an alternative slogan, it’s a completely different way of seeing and responding to political violence. It is the duty of every nation, and we should remind the government of this responsibility whenever possible.

The peaceful prevention of deadly conflict implies good overcoming bad.
The peaceful prevention of deadly conflict implies good overcoming bad.

Also, opponents of the war on terror should call for law enforcement to bring terrorists to justice under the slogan “Handcuffs, not bombs.” This will make it possible to return the armed forces to their proper role. Doing so also can put the peace movement and the military on the same side.

What do you think?

Framing War

Just a few associations in America with the word "war." It's powerful and should be used with care.
Just a few associations in America with the word “war.” It’s powerful and should be used with care.

“War” is a problematic word because of its many connotations. It evokes powerful positive and negative emotions and opinions that can vary widely among individuals and subcultures. For this reason, supporters of war often use euphemisms such as “action,” “conflict,” “force,” and “engagement with the enemy,” instead when they think it serves their interests to do so.

Politically, presidents have been awarded greater power and prestige during wartime. This may tempt some to engage in war unwisely, so it’s very important to try to ensure that war is entered only after the failure of extended good-faith diplomacy, the failure of good-faith efforts to address the issues with law enforcement, and the establishment that an attack by the other side is imminent or has already begun.

While the word "war" has many positive associations as well as negative ones, "deadly" connotes pain and death.
While the word “war” has many positive associations as well as negative ones, “deadly” connotes pain and death.

One way to do this is to speak of deadly conflict instead of war. This phrase emphasizes war’s deadly character. The peaceful prevention of deadly conflict should be a priority of all governments, including that of the U.S. What do you think?

I think it’s important to be careful about waging metaphorical wars on social problems such as drugs and┬ápoverty because they can’t┬ábe conquered with guns and armies. What do you think? Is there a different metaphor we could use?