Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Class Warfare" and the Rectification of Names

To an electrical engineer, a rectifier is a device that permits current to flow in only one direction; a.k.a., a big diode.  It's used to convert AC to DC in what (even more inexplicably) is called an "inverter."  The dictionary defines "rectify" as to put or set right.  It was because of my familiarity with the electrical definition and my recent visit to Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, that I was drawn to the Wikipedia entry on "The Rectification of Names."

Wikipedia quotes a translation of the Analects:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

Now as Buddhists we might be able to  take issue with the details of the philosophy behind the rectification of names,  but in both traditions right speech is important.

So it is with some interest - and the fact that I like reading about history - that I have seen that any proposal for getting the wealthier to actually contribute a fair share to the cultivation of American society is described as "class war" or "class warfare."

Look, if the revolutions in Russia or China are the basis for rhetoric, we should at least know what the rhetoric actually means.  In this case, "class war" waged from the left is where the workers seize the means of production, and tell the indolent wealthy they have a choice of working for a wage more representative of what the rest of society is making or consider being treated as enemies of the people.

Now I'm not suggesting such things, really, though where I live over a quarter of the children in my county are deemed food insecure. But I would encourage the right wing to be more careful in their speech; some of these hungry people might actually think - and be encouraged to engage in - the kind of class warfare that hurts those who are waging such quiet violence upon the poor.  And make no mistake, under such class war jobs would be created.  Somebody would have to oversee Rush Limbaugh & David Koch's work in the rice fields.  But it'd be a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot more harmonious to get them simply to pay their fair share to contribute to society.  As Thers over at Eschaton quotes Elizabeth Warren, whose words need no rectification:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.
You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.
You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.
You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.
You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
 Seems pretty sensible to me.

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