A Sneaky Word

Opinion logoThe voice on the radio sounded earnest, compassionate and sincere: “It is our responsibility to ensure that we operate any pipeline in the best interests of the consumer.”

That is really all I heard. I was passing through the kitchen, where the radio was on. As I walked away, I thought about those words. My first thought was that the speaker was concerned about ethics and protecting the environment. But then it occurred to me that “the consumer” could be a manufacturer or a truck driver or a commuter or an oil refinery.

My benign assumption made me realize that I automatically interpreted the word “consumer” as if it meant people in general, and I think that is the way the speaker intended listeners to take it.

Perhaps we have become somewhat sloppy, inclined to interpret loaded words based more on the tone of the speaker than on the true meaning of the words in their context. The speaker may even have intended that the word “consumer” would refer to all human beings; but the philosophy of someone who calls a human being a consumer is neither philanthropic nor ecological, but economic.

It has been economic concerns that have caused the current government of Canada to gut “pure” scientific research so that financing goes towards practical research with economic benefits rather than towards theoretical research with long-term results that may never directly produce measurable economic benefits.

The whole idea of direct economic benefits makes the word “Philistine” worth considering in this context, as well as the words “conservative” and “cynic”.

In my dictionary, a Philistine is someone for whom ideals are impractical, a conservative is someone who believes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, and a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Next time you hear “for the best interests of the consumer,” think about what those words really mean, and let us be careful how we interpret what we hear or read: words, like many people, are sneaky.

About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordcurrents/ Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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