When the Romans encountered the Gallic tribes, they called them barbarians and savages. Julius Caesar wrote elaborate letters and battle reports, detailing the danger of these foreigners, not because they challenge the great Roman empire, but because he wanted to make himself and his men look heroic. He wanted to ensure his supply of troops and support wasn’t reduced.
Since that time these words have been used to demonize groups by those who either want to exploit or eliminate. They were used to describe people living in the Middle East when the Crusades began, for the Native Americans before the genocide took place. They were used to justify the enslavement of the African people. And they are still used today.
Consider this: what does savagery look like, what is its action? What does barbarism look like, can you draw it? I imagine that you can’t. These are not words that depict human condition or action, they are political words used to persuade others. They are not the only ones, but they are iconic of the way propaganda uses words for a single purpose, emotional manipulation.
Notes on the Heading:
I suppose this heading falls along the same lines as chapter 20, that discussed semantics and how the word “healthy” has been used to promote various products.
Every part of the world develops their own vocabulary for demonization. In America words such as “communist”, “fascist,” and “socialist,” are the words flung to demonize. While in other parts of the world “Americanist” is the demonizing phrase. All these words discourage investigation and thrive on provoking the emotions of those that hear them.
I wonder how such words first gain their emotional connotation. When I look at history it seems that on each point a person or group has always done this intentionally. Caesar did it with the Gallic tribes, yet nearly 2,000 years later the words are still used that way. It was the business tycoons and robber barons that turned “communist” into a filthy word in America as they fought against unions.
But why do they persist? For that, I don’t have an answer.