“Why Write? Power: Fact and Fiction (Part 2 of 7)”

Fact and Fiction

In the middle of
The sentence
The street

He panicked
He smiled
He asked himself

“Am
I
Writing the story or
Is the story writing
Me?”

The Word is power. It is the primary staple of official intellectual and political power on planet earth—e.g. laws, contracts, recipes! When you write, you confess who you are, and if you actually wrote those words, then they are no mistake: you premeditated them, so you must mean them. Text, these spider symbols, also provide you with the fuel for how you speak, for the more you have read and written, the more your verbal speech has been transformed. Your power is not based on the clothes you wear, the money in your pocket, or the gravity of your age; your power in this world is based on language.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Now, you do not have to believe in the power of this world’s words. You can escape these webs by escaping civilization, which is actually much more savage than any natural jungle, but I bet for most of us, we simply choose this world, as it is all we know. Therefore, isn’t it prudent for us to understand how the power of words are used for and against us?

Thousands of years ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle categorized the rhetorical triangle: logos, ethos, and pathos. He believed that in every situation where text is used, these three powers function simultaneously to convey meaning, identity, and emotion. Let’s briefly explore each one of the concepts.

Logos relates to the logic that is embedded in the words: they hold their own intelligence. The claims and reasons in the words provide validity for the argument.

Ethos relates to the ethics of the arguer. Think of ethos as the identity of the author. It does not matter whether you actually know the person or not; her words create an image of who she is. When you read her words, you imagine and judge her intelligence, will, and morality.

Pathos relates to the emotion in the argument. It is not the emotion of the author, but pathos is based on the emotional appeal to you, the audience. Words carry weight, heavy weight. They trigger in you comfort, confusion, and anger, amongst many other emotions.

Let’s see how these concepts work in the world.

Law is thought to be the most just and powerful form of official text on earth. The root of law revolves around the protection of private property. Property is actually simply dirt, rocks, trees, and ashes. By the use of the Word, we have transformed naked property into something totally make-believe that equals wealth, punishment, and power.

Here is some standard language that shows how dirt is transformed into something more valuable than gold:

“PROPERTY: That certain tract or parcel of land commonly known as DIRT, ROCKS, TREES, AND ASHES and described on Exhibit “A” attached hereto and incorporated herein for all purposes, which parcel of land is to be sold together with all buildings and other improvements situated thereon, all fixtures and other property affixed thereto, and all and singular the rights and appurtenances pertaining to the property, including any right, title and interest of Seller in and to adjacent streets, alleys or rights-of-way.”

The logos is based on the property being described and joined with the words “to be sold” so that we logically believe that this is a fair transaction. The ethos of the author is someone who is detail-oriented, so he must be smart, and because he is describing everything so well, he must care about justice for both parties. The pathos that this triggers is dependent on the audience. For most people, because the language is so formal and objective, the words trigger a certain amount of seriousness and also respect. Add to these words some type of formal stamp from the state, and we believe them to be totally true.

Sample Property Deed with Official Stamp

Magically, these words transform the dirt, rocks, trees, and ashes to monopoly money. Name your price. Fill in the blank:

$2,000,000.00.

Power in action.

Absurdity in action.

It is not either fact or fiction; it is both fact and fiction. The above example triggers more absurdity without end:

War.

Gentrification.

Mission Makeover Mural by Lucia Gonzalez Ippolito y Mas

In Pura Neta, Maricela studies the mural:

“On top of the colorful mural you got the corrupt court system using technology to brutalize and displace the people most oppressed. A white skeleton in a judge’s black robe types away the bullshit law on his laptop computer, and those fancy words trickle down to destroy La Misión. The orange and white 48 MUNI bus is running down 24th Street carrying around the brown wretched work folks, while the newbies get drunk off Starsucks lattes. The centerpiece is Alex’s torch red 72 Monte and the Homeys controlling the streets. The cops are doing their dirt and harassing two youngsters, which is like the lil Homeys’ rite of passage in the hood. Cops got to keep the streets clear of Brown and Black folks, so that the white folks feel nice and happy, safe.”

The Word is power: The Word is free and belongs to everyone.

Fact and Fiction
SFM Balmy Alley Mural Tour for Oakland Students, 2019

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