That Lethal 'We'

Editorial: That Lethal 'We'

reprinted from 'Industrial Worker', issue of August-September 1982, page 2

Newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Many factors threaten our survival: nuclear weapons that may be triggered by egomania, computer failure, or itchy fingers; nerve gas; militarized bacteria; and the ordinary industrial processes of daily life. But perhaps most dangerous of all is one that is seldom mentioned -- the lethal misuse of the first person plural -"we", "nous", "wir", "nosotros", and the like.

It makes sense to say "we bald-headed men" or "we blonds" or "we blacksmiths". But what sense does it make to use "we" to mean the folks who happen to be within the same boundary lines? That is the lethal misuse of the first person plural. It is only in a humorous way that we talk of "us Californians" or "us New Yorkers", and we seldom use such expressions as these; for no one has come up with a way to make millions by getting New Yorkers and Californians primed to kill each other. Yet people in all lands have been encouraged to use "we" regularly to mean all those whose lives and labor support the same military-industrial complex -- and thus to use "we" to include those within the pertinent boundaries and exclude others.

Our languages go back to times when folks speaking the same language, observing the same religious practices, or possessing strong kinship ties daily shared work for the common good and inhabited a common area. The use of the word "we" transplanted from that kind of situation to the kind we face today is very misleading, and gets us to thinking in crooked ways.

Today the pursuit of jobs has made a "melting pot" of all countries. We work for international corporations that are ready to starve us to make an extra buck. They set us to making arms to kill each other, then peddle them abroad so they can have an excuse to make still more arms, which they say are necessary to defend "us" against "them". If ever we get to thinking of ourselves as the human species, goodbye parasites!

The technology of these times requires the human species to think of itself as such, collectively, and of its planet as something to be used for the common and long-lasting good of the species. That perspective cannot be expected from the generals, the politicians, the billionaires, or the managerial elite. It is a perspective to be cultivated by us working people, especially us organized working people.

Instead of asking how we can reinforce the bosses' ploy of pitting us against each other in war or peace, we need to ask how we workers in all lands can back each other up to resist the disaster-oriented systems of exploitation that oppress us, and make this planet the true home of homo sapiens, the human species. If we don't, if s going to be tough on the other critters too.