What Happens to Human Communication When Words Lose Their Meaning?

Mythology got real because algorithms shut messengers out of the conversation

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Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Hyperboles don’t work anymore because language is malfunctioning.

We have, it seems, been using words wrong for a while but heaven forbid truculent dictionary thumpers should get in the way of the self-made hero narrative being rammed down our throats by Trump, tech, and terror. American exceptionalism is a blood-thirsty legend that doesn’t just fail to deliver but also kills.

The numbers don’t lie.

For many of us, the numbers have names, they’re a loved one, a friend, or an acquaintance summarily dismissed from life by the incompetence of the current administration.

And yet, denial endures. Words that dare document the downfall of everything and connect dots that were never meant to be connected and much less exploited paint a picture no one wants to see.

As a result, transcribing the visceral fear of erasure within into text that might come to prevent or deflect it is a challenge few are willing to take on.

How can we when words like honesty have been so crassly appropriated by the zeitgeist and turned into their antonym?

How can we when algorithms elevate sensationalism and schadenfreude over warnings of imminent danger?

How can we when we have lost the ability to relate to one another?

“Don’t worry about Trump,” my friend tells me as I stare at them, aghast.

How can anyone not worry about Trump, much less an American?

I left the US so I wouldn’t have to, or rather, I left the US so I would have a shot at, oddly, life. This was before the pandemic too, back when universal health care already sounded like my one chance at getting back to functional after chronic depression destroyed everything. In the process, I made two discoveries:

  • a dying parent can save your life
  • immigrant privilege, i.e. a former safe home you can go back to

Mine is the European Union and a culture where dignity is guaranteed, even when you’re broke. After six years in the US, it feels unfamiliar.

This new normal is so exceedingly strange I have kept it at arm’s length so far. Instead, I’m still embroiled in the same fight as everyone else until the election is over, albeit from a safe distance, teleporting back into a reality I deliberately left behind with the kind of message no one wants to hear, as unpalatable now as it was three years ago, or two years ago, or one year ago.

If not by showing up and writing words that point toward possible, how can we oppose those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo?

Words that speak truth to power aren’t born from a desire for fame or fortune, ask someone less privileged than you. Words that speak truth to power are born from a visceral fear of erasure.

Because words are power.

Sooner or later, bullshit disguised as honesty fails, revealing that the scammer has no clothes. Trump bailing out of the virtual debates after he bypassed words altogether to better allow Riefenstahl-esque cinematography and the internet to meta-meme the moment should give us all pause for thought.

We’re already used to being blocked whenever we try to hold anyone accountable for their words.

But when POTUS does it to a nation?

Many are those who now fear being held accountable for the zeitgeist they helped create. But how many more aren’t even aware of their participation because profiteering is so deeply ingrained into digital culture it’s a standard business model?

The race to the bottom is on, with many sitting on the fence between conflicting echo chambers, edging their bets. If fascism then this, if no fascism then that. Hopefully the “that” will include free speech, something we should invest in while we still can.

However, if you’re asking yourself how you can turn someone else’s misfortune to your advantage then you are very much part of the problem. And it likely isn’t your fault.

Can you afford to go against the zeitgeist when your livelihood depends on it?

This is how predatory capitalism works, it leaves us no choice but to fall in line if we don’t want to starve. Heaven forbid truculent dictionary thumpers should get in the way of the hero narrative being rammed down our throats by Trump, tech, and terror.

But can you afford not to go against the zeitgeist?

Intellectual honesty is counterculture now, so much so that it needs an adjective to differentiate it from the dominant form of Trump-inspired honesty, i.e. branding, bluster, and bragging for a fraudulent product only ever vaguely referred to as “great”. The jukebox in my head auto-completes this with “balls of fire” and then it gets extra creepy, as it would for anyone who has ever called the West coast home.

Paranoia is a risk I’m still willing to take. It has so far kept me safe. When it comes to fascism, an abundance of caution is better than denial. I’m only relaying a message from a past still way, way, way too close for comfort, a past Europeans are trying hard not to forget or replicate (and still we fail, how we fail!), a past America doesn’t have any firsthand experience of.

Much as I’d like to believe the tide is changing, the American internet still sounds a lot like Donald Trump, still behaves a lot like Donald Trump, and still showcases, elevates, and lionizes those who communicate like him. How long, exactly, will it take for decency to surge and is there any guarantee that it ever will?

Former French ambassador to the US — and noted Trump criticGérard Araud offered those chilling words: “We are living in a world of carnivores and the Europeans are the last herbivores. The Europeans have to change their diet and that for them is very difficult to face.”

What if the greed, grift, and graft of the last four years are but a preview of the future we’re all headed toward?

Please worry about Trump.

We all need to, regardless of geography.

💛 If you enjoyed these words, please consider supporting my work with a modest cup of coffee. It’s cheaper than 🍽 and it keeps me warm. Merci! 🐱

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The human condition is not a pathology・👋ASingularStory[at]gmail・ ☕️ https://ko-fi.com/ASingularStory

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