Our language practices in this culture are unsustainable

So what are the alternatives? Market language and war language are the dominant idioms of the culture and the currency of much public conversation. By way of an answer, let me return to the ecological analogy. Like food, language has been “industrialized.” Words come to us processed like cheese, depleted of nutrients, flattened and packaged, artificially colored and mass marketed. And just as it takes a little extra effort and intention to find, buy, eat, and support the production of organic foods, it is a strenuous business to insist on usable, flexible, precise, enlivening language.

That is to say, in the same way that we have commodified and privatized the earth’s resources – land, water, air (and, more pertinently, airwaves) – we have come to accept words as a commercial product. Just as we have become accustomed to the strip-mining done on hillsides just slightly away from public thoroughfares, so we have become accustomed to practices of light camouflage that allow us to forget how the rich soil of lively discourse is being depleted.

The ecological crisis we are facing might briefly be described in terms of three general problems. First, the ways we provide food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves in the industrialized world – methods of agricultural production, water management, fuel extraction, and resource use – have become unsustainable. Second, terms like productivity, growth, and healthy economy have obscured the idea of stewardship in ways that dull the conscience and blind the eye to practices that are fundamentally destructive of the common good. Third, the radical imbalance in resource distribution and ownership worldwide is unprecedented. “Multinational” corporations largely under US management control a widely disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and labor. Those of us in the North American church are, as Ron Sider so eloquently put it, “rich Christians in an age of hunger.” Practices that benefit us directly harm and deprive others.

So consider the analogies. Our language practices in this culture are unsustainable. We are depleting a precious resource that can only partially and slowly be renewed by active resistance to the forces at work to erode it. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre – Eerdmans Publishing