Words are important. The meaning of words are important, but equally important are the associations held in connection with words.
Take for example the current “rioting”, “looting”, “protesting” that is taking place around England at this time.
What makes something a riot?
What makes something a protest?
What makes something a criminal act of looting?
Can a riot be a legitimate form of protest?
Can looting be a legitimate form of protest?
Can a protest happen without looting?
Can public protest be justified?
Can public looting be justified?
Can public rioting be justified?
As citizens immersed in a social-media saturated culture, where news is forever updated (even if there are no updates to make), it is vital that we do not let words become unfairly associated with concepts, ideas, actions and values that are not directly part of the make-up of the word.
Whilst we may want to condemn the looting that has occurred on a grotesquely pornographic level and portrayed as such, we must make sure that we do not condemn the legitimate right to protest.
News media easily and often purposely associate words with other words. Sometimes these associations are accurate. Sometimes they are not.
Sometimes a ‘bridging’ word is used to carry a concept load – to change an agenda surreptitiously. This use of metonymy is often illicit and inaccurate. (As is my working-definition of metonymy)
Take for example, the word “riot”.
A “protest” can become a “riot”.
A “riot” can lead to “looting”.
A “protest” rarely leads to “looting”.
And never without becoming something other than a “protest”.
Why does this even matter?
It matters because we as citizens, must not let our right to protest be damaged, belittled, or denigrated because of the action of looters.
Looting is very rarely, if ever justifiable. Perhaps the only exception might be the looting of food and medical aid, or indeed, the looting of goods for sale to purchase immediate food or medical aid – but then, does the illicit taking of food or medicine on a personal scale become an act of “looting”, or “theft” – the power of meaning and the power of words – again.
A protest never immediately becomes a looting.
A protest must change from the act of protest to an act of violent conduct, perhaps, a riot, before it becomes looting.
Even if the protest is against an electrical corporation, or global brand, in a protest that is leaning towards becoming a riot, the consumer goods produced by that global brand, might be destroyed, in protest.
But never “stolen”.
A protest wouldn’t “steal” the consumer goods, it might eradicate them, destroy them, but never take them for personal gain.
Again the power of words – I’ve associated “looting” with “stealing” because that is what it is.
Stealing or looting can never be the natural end product of protest.
A protest that becomes a riot (or something other than a protest ) can lead to looting: but that is not the end-product of the protest: if anything, it is the end-product of a corruption of the protest.
Stealing and looting are not the natural end product of all riots.
The right to protest must be protected.
The right to riot – that is a much deeper question: and yet no!
As citizens, we must be wary and aware in the days to come.
We must not let “protest” and “looting” become synonymous with each other without the inclusion of the word “riot”.
Protest – looting = Not without riot.
We must hold on to our legitimate claims to protest. We must not let protest be quashed for illegitimate fear of “looting”.
Once the right to gather in groups and peacefully speak against perceived injustice is curtailed (protest) – it is at this point that people may decide to take things further (riot).
We must not let “protest” be muddied with “looting”.
PRAYER: Christ, keep us safe from the temptation to over-simplify. AMEN.