Thursday, December 13, 2007

What is Civil Society? Just a Nice Phrase?

"Civil Society" has become the new touch phrase in Pakistani politics. And it's gotten to the point where people express the same kind of cynicism about it that is usually reserved for words like "Islamist", and "War on Terror", and, well, "Progressive Islam". A friend on one of our alumni mailing lists was getting pretty disgusted by Nawaz Sharif's piling on to the Civil Society bandwagon.

But words have meanings, and undue cynicism can be self-defeating. In fact, we need to fight the battle of perception and how things are framed. That's been quite a discussion in US politics and thought, particularly kicked off by the book by George Lakoff titled Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

And in our own situation in Pakistan, it is important to keep people honest in their language.I think it would go go a long way towards a better society.

And honestly, I have the same attitude towards "terrorism", "moderate", "Islamist", etc. See, for example, my post on the concept of one man's terrrorist being another man's freedom fighter or other posts on being flip with language, such as this one about terrorists that are "Hindu" or "Islamic".

And to further that cause, here's my definition of "Civil Society":
Anyone who's not affiliated with a political party or a government servant (including military).
What's yours? What's your pet peeve in terms of language?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think it's really important to reflect on things like that. language is not only a tool but also a force that strongly influences our thinking.

my latest pet peeve in terms of language is how the word "ethical" is being used.

e.g. in the blogging world, many people say that pay-per-post is unethical.

unethical? maybe to some people it's distasteful, or it's too commercial - but calling something like that unethical is diluting the important concept of ethics.

i've also always been concerned how "code of ethics" and "professional conduct" get conflated when often the two are diametrically opposed. e.g. not dealing with a medical error can be very unethical - but if one doctor pointed out in public the errors of another doctor, that can also be considered "unprofessional".