Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hard vs. soft language of empire, and leadership and relationships

By Chris Hedges,, February 6, 2011
Empires communicate in two languages. One language is expressed in imperatives. It is the language of command and force. This militarized language disdains human life and celebrates hypermasculinity. It demands. It makes no attempt to justify the flagrant theft of natural resources and wealth or the use of indiscriminate violence. When families are gunned down at a checkpoint in Iraq they are referred to as having been “lit up.” So it goes. The other language of empire is softer. It employs the vocabulary of ideals and lofty goals and insists that the power of empire is noble and benevolent. The language of beneficence is used to speak to those outside the centers of death and pillage, those who have not yet been totally broken, those who still must be seduced to hand over power to predators. The road traveled to total disempowerment, however, ends at the same place. It is the language used to get there that is different.
This language of blind obedience and retribution is used by authority in our inner cities, from Detroit to Oakland, as well as our prison systems. It is a language Iraqis and Afghans know intimately. But to the members of our dwindling middle class—as well as those in the working class who have yet to confront our new political and economic configuration—the powerful use phrases like the consent of the governed and democracy that help lull us into complacency. The longer we believe in the fiction that we are included in the corporate power structure, the more easily corporations pillage the country without the threat of rebellion. Those who know the truth are crushed. Those who do not are lied to. Those who consume and perpetuate the lies—including the liberal institutions of the press, the church, education, culture, labor and the Democratic Party—abet our disempowerment. No system of total control, including corporate control, exhibits its extreme forms at the beginning. These forms expand as they fail to encounter resistance.
The tactic of speaking in two languages is as old as empire itself. The ancient Greeks and the Romans did it. So did the Spanish conquistadors, the Ottomans, the French and later the British. Those who inhabit exploited zones on the peripheries of empire see and hear the truth. But the cries of those who are exploited are ignored or demonized. The rage they express does not resonate with those trapped in self-delusion, those who continue to trust in the ultimate goodness of empire. This is the truth articulated in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India.” These writers understood that empire is about violence and theft. And the longer the theft continues, the more brutal empire becomes. The tyranny empire imposes on others it finally imposes on itself. The predatory forces unleashed by empire consume the host. Look around you.
I am familiar with both the language of command and the language of benevolence. Only, in my case, they were introduced by the opposite parent, from the usual source. My mother was the voice of command, of disempowerment, of power over, the language of authority similar to that used by the authorities in the inner cities. Only, I was not doing anything 'wrong' that merited the kind of language befitting the street gangs.
And the language of benevolence, from my father, seduced me into thinking that all men shared his idealism and his supportive nature and his leadership skills. Reality has proved that thought a very tragic irony.
Whenever I attempt to discuss this dichotomy, as I did in an addresss to a service club, a couple of decades ago, especially among business leaders, I commented on the "bully" that was a CEO in whose company I was then conducting a consultation to help build an effective leadership team. This CEO knew only the language of command, of disempowerment, of abuse, of force and power. He had been well and duly trained; he had served as an officer in the Hitler SS. And yet, immediately after my little address to the local service club, I was approached by one of its members, who corrected me, "You meant to say, 'the driver' and not the 'bully' didn't you?"
In the language and literature of organizational leadership, people represent various leadership styles. Their language could be used as metaphor for their style....and those who command represent "hard" power while those who inspire represent "soft" power....and it says here that those who use 'hard' power will be overtaken and replaced by those who 'inspire' as soon as the male myth is laid waste on the battlefield that we know as the  coronary units of our hospitals, and the cancer wards of our hospitals are so full that we cannot accommodate another single victim of his own "attitude".
We can only hope that a similar fate awaits those who "command" and "brutalize" in military and geo-political, and corporate bullying...including those governments who seek and exercise power in secret, and in language that demeans those they govern.
It's not rocket science. And it is time for the male gender, and those females who have adopted 'hard' power in their mistaken belief that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, to drop their mask of hard power, for their sake, and for our's.

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