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March 14, 1970 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-03-14

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Yiiin+o r '.. '

se Mirigan 4ailg
Seventy-nine years of editorial freedom
Edited and managed by students ofthe University of Michigan

On cleaning up the semantic smog

420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, Mich.

News Phone: 764-0552

Editorials printed in The Michigan Doily express the individual opinions of staff writers
or the editors. This must be noted in all reprints.



(EDITOR'S NOTE: Anatol Rapo-
port is Professor of Mathematical
Biology and Social Research.)
EVERY LIVING system absorbs
matter, extracts from it energy
and tissue-building substances,
and excretes the residue. Excretion
is as vital to the survival of a
living system as nutrition. Some
substances, if not excreted, would
poison the system. Others, though
not poisonous, would clutter it 'up,
choking off access to nutrients.
An ecological system is a com-
munity of organisms and can itself
be viewed as a super-organism.
An ecological system is so con-
stituted that many waste products
of some organisms are utilized by
others. Animals inhale oxygen and
exhale carbon dioxide; plants do
the reverse. Excreta and corpses
of animals provide nutrients for
the soil and so for plants. An eco-
logical system, like an organism,
depends for "survival" on a bal-
ance of metabolism.


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LIVE pOwftwll

is the excess of waste products
spewed out by man's technology,
products that cannot be utilized
by other organisms to restore a
balance. They remain suspended
in the air or dissolved in water, orj
strewn along the surface of the
earth. A disturbance in an eco-
logical system presents a danger
to all its denizens, and we are no
ry9 exception.
So much is generally recognized.
and discussions of the evils of
pollution, of environment manage-
ment, of ecological balance, and
so forth have become common-
place. Discussions of these topics
are notable morale boosters, be-
cause the evils of pollution is
something every one can agree on.
Smog is bad for every one's lungs.
No one is happy when a lake be-
comes a sewer.
Getting together and talking
about these matters gives us a
feeling of belonging once again to
the human race together with the
Russians and the Chinese, with
ooth Dave Dellinger and with
Mayor Daley of Chicago. I sus-
pect this is one reason why pol-
lution has become such a popular
topic of discussion in the mass
media. People are starved for
something substantial to talk
about that does not send them at
each others' throats.
Perhaps there is still another
reason why the environment has
become a dominant theme of pub-
lic discussion in the last couple of
years, especially in the United
States. It helps keep people's at-
ho served tention rivited on our govern-
howitrin- ment's sins of omission instead of
with its sins of commission. Sins of
ator of a omission are more redeemable
larked to than sins of commission. Negli-
thics is a gence is less a crime than murder.
end busi- THE DAMAGE resulting from a
the cor- sin of ommission is more fre-
t single- quently reparable than that re-
placed by sulting from a sin of commission.
.re in ac- Moreover it is- easier to acknowl-
ntrolling edge a sin of omission than a sin
restric- of commission. The compulsion to
justify one's inaction is usually
not as strong as the compulsion
to justify's one's actions.

Our government, in particular,
lends a more sympathetic ear to
an appeal to do something than to
an appeal to stop doing something,
especially since talking a b o u t
doing something already gives the
impression that something is being
done-though I admit that Nixon's
administration has developed a
technique of talking about stop-
ping doing something to give the
impression that it is getting ready
to get ready to stop. I am referring
to all the talk about "Vietnam-
izing" the Vietnam War.
At any rate, the ENACT Teach-
in is not likely to draw flak from
the powers that be, as did similar
convocations that originated at
this University and were original-
ly called teach-ins-the protests
against United States aggression
in Southeast Asia.
NEVERTHELESS it would be
a mistake, I think, to welcome dis-
cussions like this one for pro-
viding a common ground between
those who categorically reject the
present United States war policy,
in particular aggressions against
poor people, and those who justify
it in varying degrees. It is not
simply a matter of opportunism,
seizing the occasion for addressing
a large audience in order to beat
one's own drums. Were this the
motive for dragging in the war
in Vietnam, I would be opposed
to doing it.
No, I think the war in Vietnam
is entirely relevant to the subject
of our discussions, and not only
because the environment in Viet-
nam is being ruined, perhaps ir-
reparably, by our bombs and
chemicals. The war in Vietnam,
and more generally the United
States war policy of the past quar-
ter century, is a relevant topic
in a teach-in on environment, be-
cause environment, as it pertains
specifically to human beings, in-
cludes more than the physical and
the biological environment.
There is also a semantic en-
vironment, an ocean of words in
which we are submerged from in-
fancy to.death. The human nerv-
ous system is continually subject-
ed to a barrage of words. They
come to us from other people,
from boxes installed in our living
rooms, and from sheets of paper
that many of us hold before our
eyes for several hours a day. This
barrage is as much a part of oui
environment as the air we
THE SEMANTIC environment
shapes our thoughts and directs
our actions. Almost everything we
do, we do because we have been
told at one time or another that
we 'must or should do it, or that
we will derive profit or pleasure
from doing it. We do what we
do because we are bound by con-
tracts, promises, and obligations,
all enforced predominantly by the
power of the word. We behave to-
ward others because of the way
our and their social roles have
been defined by words.
Ordinarily this is as it should
be, for social life would be im-
possible if our actions were not
channeled, coordinated, and re-
stricted by words. However, as is


the case with every human inven-
tion, symbolic language is a mixed
blessing. We commit crimes and
atrocities because criminal and
atrocious acts are called duties
and manifestations of virtue. As
technology progressively separates
the killers from the victims, the
killers' expertise can be described
as scientific research, or states-
manship, or mastery over a mir-
acle or cybernetics, instead of as
virtuosity in planning, facilitating,
committing, and getting away with
mass murder.
SEMANTIC pollution convinces
people that participating in de-
vastating other peoples' lands is
discharging a duty to one's own
country; that killing hundreds of
thousands of human beings of
both sexes and all ages, and mak-
ing paupers of millions of others,
constitutes a defense of freedom..
Over twenty years ago George
Orwell prophesied that ! by 1984
people of the Atlantic Community
(what we now regard as the hub
of the Free World) would solemn-
ly believe that war is peace, that
freedom is slavery, that truth is
falsehood, and that love is hate.
There are still 14 years to go, but
it is several years since the United
States Air Force has adopted its
slogan "Peace is our profession."
Or, if you will, take the definition
of military target in an Air Force
"Any person, thing, idea (sic),.
entity or location selected for
destruction; inactivation, or
rendering non-usable with wea-
pons which will reduce or de-
stroy the will or ability of the
enemy to resist." (from the
USAF ROTC manual entitled
Fundamentals of Aerospace
Weapons Systems)

ine samples of Spiro Agnew's
"swinging style," as a well known
West Coast semanticist admiring-
ly describes the Vice President's
".. . Disruptive demonstrations
aimed at bludgeoning the uncon-
vinced into action . . "; "The
Vietnam Moratorium . . . is not
only negative but brutally coun-
ter-productive . . . ."; "It appears
that by slaughtering a sacred cow,
I triggered a holy war . ."
In commenting on these pic-
turesque metaphors, M u r r a y
Kempton writes:
"A 'slaughter' is what one does
to a sacred cow; a 'trigger' is what
sets off a public discussion. The
only bludgeon is in the larynx. To
be brutal is to be Dr. Benjamin
Spock speaking to a lunchtime
crowd in the Federal Triangle.
The epithets we wope out in real
horrors are confined now to mere
annoyances." (New York Review
of Books, March 12, 1970.)
While we are mobilizing against
the pollution of our air, our water,
and our soul, we ought to take a
long hard look at our semantic en-
vironment, at the poisons secreted
into our language, at the way the
arteries and veins of human com-
munication become clogged with
the excretions of conventional wis-
dom. We ought to look around for
suitable means of getting rid of
an awful.lot of verbal garbage.
Cleaning up. the semantic en-
vironment is not the sort of task
that we Americans undertake with
gusto and confidence. We prefer
technological tasks where the
goals are clearly specified and for
which implementing institutions
already exist.
MUCH OF THE enthusiasm for
proposed measures of environ-
mental control reflects the rela-
tive ease with which the problems

can be stated in technological
terms. To be sure, we do not have
adequate implementing institu-
tions; but these could conceivably
be established within the existing
institutional framework.
The task of cleaning up the
semantic environment is of a dif-
ferent order, especially as it per-
tains, to the semantic pollution
that legitimizes war as an instru-
ment of foreign policy and makes
war machines appear as bulwarks
of national security. Neither tech-
niques nor implementing institu-
tions are available for removing
wastes and poisons from our se-
mantic environment.
On the contrary, some of our
most revered and cherished in-
stitutions could not exist without
this waste; and these poisons. In
particular, the war-making insti-
tutions and their vast industrial' -
and academic auxiliaries wax fat
and powerful on their own seman-
tic excreta.

To save the environmen
Soak the rich!.

EVERYONE WHO IS anyone is in town
this week to celebrate the ENACT
Corporate officials - decked out in the
garb of "socially conscious businessmen"
-bemoan the worsening condition of our
air, land and water, and in the s a m e
breath nominate themselves as repair-
men-in-chief. Politicians proudly intone
that to save our 'environment, they are
prepared to spend more than ever before.
And both businessmen and politicos bring
us a single message: Trust us to do the
BUT DEPENDING on the m o r a 1 con-
science of private business is sport for
lotus-eaters. The corporations' main con-
cerns are profit, accumulation, and pow-
er. They will entertain other fancies only
so long as they don't detract from those
main concerns.
Automobile manufacturers r e c e n t 1 y
swore up and down that they'd gladly
hire black "hard core" unemployed and
give them decent jobs. Came the business
squeeze and the scramble f o r markets,
and all "unnecessary" costs were cut -
including t h e promised jobs. Business-
men's promises about working conditions,
price stability, and general ethics have
met similar fates - not just because in-
dividual corporate heads a r e "evil" or
'dishonest, but because they have no
choice. Their world determines their de-

The late Walton Hamilton (wr
long years as government liaison
dustrialists) related: "An opera
bituminous coal mine once rem
a government official, 'Them et
luxury we just can't afford.' A
ness executives who fail to serve
porate interest w i t h a devou
mindedness are prone to be rep
others whose consciences are mo
cord with the interests of the c
group." Self-enforcing business
tions are daydreams.
AND WHAT of the governmen
ised spend-spree? Question:
foot the bill? The general p ul
course. But the destruction of
vironment engineered by private
is w h o 11 y the result of mana
self-interested priorities. Why o
general public to foot the bill to
after the corporations?
Understanding the futility o
ing" corporate goodwill and de
to place the burden of envir
clean-up where it belongs, theI
people have a way out: tax the
tions the cost of restoring the
AND THEN, once we've learned
efits of soaking the rich, we
to the list of tasks for them to fi
Editorial Pag

NEVERTHELESS, ,the task of
cleaning up the semantic environ-
ment is as vital for the preserva-
tion of human life as that of puri-
fying the Air, Water, and Earth.
We must keep in mind that in ad-
dition to these three "elements"
of the Ancients, there is also a
Fire cannot be purified, as some
imagine who talk about '"clean"
hyldrogen bombs. Fire must be
controlled. And it is the only one
of the Four Elements that was
not given to us by God. We make
it ourselves. Our semantic environ-
ment directs the use to which we
shall put this "element" whose
modern name is Energy. If we do
not clean up our semantic environ-
ment, we shall certainly destroy
ourselves with Fire. Then clean
air, clean water, and clean earth
will be of no use to us.


t's prom-
who will
blic, of
the en-
)ught the
clean up
f "trust
the ben-
can add
e Editor

Environment and power

Letters to the Editor

For a volunteer army

SINCE 1948 THIS COUNTRY has labored
under the burden of a conscript army.
Despised by the young, the left, and the
right, the draft is now under close official
scrutiny which may well produce a volun-
teer army by 1971.t
And yet, faced with this happy pros-
pect, some are having second 'thoughts.
These critics fear that a volunteer army
would become a mercenary army, com-
posed of poor whites a n d blacks, and
which would pose a standing threat to
American democratic government.
This "threat" critics document w i t h
specious analogies to the Greek, Spanish
and South American experiences w i t h
power-hungry heads of professional ar-
mies. Such analogies ignore the funda-
mental differences ' between the condi-
tions in those societies and conditions in
the United:'States.
Much m o r e fruitful lessons can be,

veloped the kind of dangerous, personal-
istic loyalties to individual commanders
which American critics foresee.
AS FOR FEARS that American blacks
and poor whites would constitute a
high proportion of a volunteer force,
there is only one answer:, if this is true,
it reflects upon the inequities of the so-
ciety itself rather than the volunteer ar-
my concept per se. The solution lies not
in scrapping the concept but in reform-
ing the society.
When confronted with arguments such
as these, defenders of the conscript army
usually play their last ace. They claim
that the cost of recruiting and maintain-
ing volunteers would prove too great a
financial burden for the taxpayer.
In fact, a recent study of the volun-
teer army proposal indicated that such a
program would likely s a v e the public

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Larry Kahn is
a member of ENACT and the Ann
Arbor International Socialists.)
HE MAMMOTH dimensions of
the attack on our environ-
ment are just now beginning to
be understood. The role of the
oil-transportation complex in this
attack is one of the most glaring.
The oil spills in Santa Barbara and
from the Torrey Canyon are le-
gendary for their damage to the
surrounding waters. And of course,
automobiles make an equally no-
torious contribution.
The only solution to these prob-
lems which government officials
have proposed is the institution of
minimal statutory "pollution lev-
els" on industry. Even if passed,
the significance of such measures
would be limited at best. In the
past, government bodies created
ostensibly to curb industry's
abuses have evolved in fact into
handmaidens for those same in-
In the meantime, the govern-
ment plans to continue purchasing
millions of dollars' worth of in-
secticide-poisons, helping to sub-
sidize that industry's booming 10-
20 per cent annual growth rate. It
will continue to shield the oil in-
dustry's destruction of the Alaskan
environment with the Oil Import
Quota, the Oil Depletion Allow-
ance, and the "relocation" of na-
tive Alaskan populations from po-.
tential oil-yielding lands. Busi-
ness, though hampered by some
restrictions, will continue largely
as usual.
THE ROOT problem involved in
pollution - as in most o t h e r
critical issues today - is the con-
trol of industry by a relative hand-
ful of men who are responsible
only to themselves. These men
have been able to control the na-
tural resources of this nation and

much of the rest of the world, and
to employ them in ways yielding
not the greatest good for the
greatest number but for the great-
est profit in the shortest time. Our
environmental crisis is the social
consequence of their private pow-
It is painfully (literally) clear
that the nature and effects of pro-
duction and its ownership must be
viewed today as a social (not a
private) concern. Production must
be madectonserve social not nar-
row class needs.
How can this change be ac-
complished? While some short-
term improvements are possible,
the only guarantee of industrial
responsibility is the democratic
control of industry by the people.
Such control will be wrested from
the present class of owners only
through massive political and eco-
nomic struggle. Serious devolution
of power from the few to the
many never takes place in the
absence of such compulsion.
TO ACHIEVE the democratic
ownership of industry by t h e
people will require a long, hard,
and determined struggle =-and

one based on the majority of
the population and those with the
social force necessary to win the
battle: i.e., the American work-
ing class.
Nor is this pie-in-the-sky. Con-
cern with environment is a n y-
thing but unimportant for work-
ers. And in their case, concern
is matched with social power. Last
month in Chicago, for example,
workers went on strike against an
employer, demanding an end to
the plant's pollution of a nearby
river. The strike was a success.
Such actions are worth bushels
full of Arthur Godfrey speeches,
SO WHEN Nixon grandly 'an-
nounces 'that it is the American
people who are to blame for the
pollution problem, he is correct
in one sense: by allowing an ir-
responsible minority to control na-
tional production, we are to blame.
When we relieve these gentlemen
of this control and democratize
American industry, we will h a v e
solved our problem.

'To the Editor:
SACUA has expressed fears that
the recent political actions of SDS
have endangered the University as
a "free market place of ideas.".
About the only correct analysis
SACUA made was that Michigan
is a market. The University
charged the Tenants Union thou-
sands of dollars for the Events
Bldg. last summer. The Teach-In
On Repression was charged for
workshop classrooms. Yet Dean
Hayes has offered free use of all
LSA facilities to ENACT.
particular University action are
small, but the policy behind it is
not. The University is far from a
haven of free thought. The Uni-
versity will support groups (un-
fortunately like ENACT) that do
not endanger the status quo. It
will directly repress groups like
SDS to the limits its "free
thought" advertising image will
let it; the rest is done through the
"law and the courts."
ENACT's fear that the teach-in
"is one of the best kept secrets on
campus" is well founded. ENACT
has, surprisingly enough, further
entrenched the "Myth of Super-
technology." People really believe
that all one has to do is toss some
money into the technology box
and everything will be cleaned
ENACT, as well as anyone,
should know that radical social
changes are necessary. As long as
the US gobbles up world resources
and exploits its racial and eco-
nomic colonies, both home and
abroad, there is no hope. ENACT
has allowed itself to be seriously'
ENACT has become the van-
guard of the Nixon policy. Pol-
lution is now a safe and clean
issue. The subversive science has
been subverted. Wake up.

drains away money otherwise
available for fighting bollution,
about saving our environment, and
,then to hear students booed off
the stage whenever they dared
to be specific and relevant, to call
for actidn against the University
which both contributes to the
operation of the Vietnam war and
allows recruiting by the very cor-
porations most responsible for
ecological destruction. And then
how hypocritical to hear the ma-
jority of the people attending the
rally cheer when speakers con-
gratulated them on their dieep
commitment to saving the Earth's
environment. Commitment means
much more than attending a mass,
"groovy" rally ....
-etty Gittelman '69
March 12
To the Editor:
This week's teach-in on the en-
vironment has ignored one im-
portant question: what is the
ecology of mankind? The old idea
of a man-dominated environment
has been discredited. Where, then,
does man fit in?
-John J. Sterbenz, "70
Mar. 13
Right point
wrong reason
To the Editor:
BILL LAVELY has a point in
opposing an all-volunteer army-
but for the wrong reasons. The
danger is not that a volunteer
army may revolt against a
"genuinely liberal" government in
1984-for this society with its
present political system cannot
produce a government that would
be hostile to the army, and cut it
back. The danger is that a volun-
teer army will not revolt against


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