I was struggling to come up with a headline that adequately captures all I’ve been thinking about lately. I spend a lot of time–too much, I freely admit–thinking about communication and its limits. What is it that we say? What is it that we mean? Who’s doing the communicating? What’s the medium? That’s my short list, but I could go on. Even within that short list, however, there’s an awful lot to mine. In America, a lot of what we say, what we mean, and which media we use to communicate what we claim to mean, is rooted in lies. And that failure to communicate truthfully is intentional. Because in America, it’s not only guns that are weapons; it’s words. And words in America might be the most dangerous weapons of all.
The irony of word choice in America is that it is also the shield of choice for cowards, for people who proclaim themselves defenders and upholders, but manipulate language to create a smokescreen behind which true meaning hides. Perhaps the most glaring and obvious linguistic obfuscation lies in the term pro-life. The plain meaning of the term, you would think, is that those who declare themselves pro-life are the people who cherish living beings above all else.
The problem in America, of course, is that those who wrap themselves gleefully in the banner of pro-life-ism are the very same people who applaud and defend the unfettered access to and use of weapons of war. By civilians against civilians. And in America, by children against children. There is no limit on access to guns–including the kind most likely to inflict the most killing–that pro-life crusaders will accept. But we continue to allow them to defile the term pro-life by attaching it to the cult of death that is gun owners and their unceasing demand for the right to own, carry, and use guns in America.
So let’s at least be honest about language. Pro-life in America when it comes to guns really means: I care about my ability to live my life however I want, even if that means leaving open the possibility of gruesome violence committed by me or by others I’ve enabled by providing them with access to guns. Because your right to live free from the threat of violence attached to my unfettered access to guns carries no weight when it intersects with my life, which just matters more. And I will NEVER apologize for that. Ever.
But my favorite version of what it means to be pro-life in America attaches to abortion. Now I’ve never had an abortion, or needed one, thankfully. And I am not pro-abortion; I don’t think any sane person is. But I am pro-choice. The problem in America is that there’s a veritable army of vagina-defenders out there–largely the New Testament bible-thumping kind–who see it as their life’s mission to police my vagina. But mostly the vaginas of poor women.
The real issue with all this pro-life hoo ha is that it’s never been pro-life. It might be pro-birth, but even then, these vagina-defenders are fine leaving the baby just outside the uterine door, with no care for whether the baby born lives a healthy, secure life, or a painful, deprived, appalling one. And count that double if the baby is one of color.
But funny things happen on the way to giving birth. Mothers lives can be at risk–ectopic pregnancy, anyone? Or even worse things–like rape and incest. Most folks I know think the violent act of rape and the perhaps even more depraved act of incest is not something that the victim of the those horrors should have to live with, should that victim become pregnant. But the mostly white, male, Christian vagina-defenders in America have no problem with that. So they call their war on women–and their rhetorical assaults on our vaginas–being pro-life. In some states, they’re so committed to life that they’ll let a pregnant woman die in order to make sure a baby is carried to term. Here’s looking at you, Arkansas.
So getting back to that language thing, I’d suggest an honest reframing of how Americans talk about these issues. So for the gun enthusiasts out there, let me suggest that you proudly own Pro-Gun, Pro-Death. And for the vagina-defenders, eager to crawl inside the uterus of every pregnant woman in America who might be considering an abortion, let me suggest Pro-Rape, Pro-Incest. If you think a violent assault on a woman or a child that leads to pregnancy should require the victim to carry that child to term, just own it. Tell that 12-year old girl that daddy was just doing his thing, with his thing, and it’s all gonna be just fine. And remind that rape victim that punishing an unborn child seems kind of mean, and maybe she can just tap into that well of forgiveness and generosity that ought to bubble up inside a woman following a violent assault. How bad, after all, could raising a child who day in day out reminds you of that trauma be?
Language matters. The vagina-warriors and recreational gun terrorists in America figured that out long ago. So they twist, manipulate, and abuse language until it becomes nearly unrecognizable. But in the end, it is exactly what they want it to be: a righteous weapon, dipped in blood, hypocrisy, and the tears and pain those weaponized words inflict when they collide with the real-world violence that too many Americans eagerly embrace.