Thursday, September 04, 2008

Trademarking language, Ben Elton, and hurt feelings

Todays inbox had a round up of various legal cases involving Christians - we're so blessed to live in a country under the rule of law, even if sometimes the law is wrong. One of them caught my eye, involving the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and it's attempt to trademark the phrase 'dignity in dying'.....

Case Win - Victory in Important Trademark Case
In 2006 the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) changed its name to Dignity in Dying. The group were seeking to monopolise the phrase to advance their ideology, particularly in the educational sphere. Many people felt that a monopoly of the words “dignity in dying” were misleading for an organisation which advocated euthanasia.

In August 2007, the Christian Medical Fellowship, Alert and the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council sought to stop the monopoly by challenging the phrase under the Trademarks Act 1998. We thank God that a victory has been achieved, because the VES withdrew its trademark applications for the words ‘dignity in dying’. This is a great step forward for pro-life groups, because it means that they are free to use the phrase ‘dignity in dying’ in a way that expresses the love and care people deserve at the end of life. The VES has kept its own stylised trademark - ‘dignity in dying - your life your choice’. VES had sought to set the tone of the debate surrounding end of life issues, but pro life groups have claimed back the language. We give thanks to God for this victory.

I'm reminded of Orwells argument in 1984 that control of language is the first step towards control of thought. When people try to trademark language that's used in ethical debate, I find that incredibly worrying. Just imagine if someone got the trademark on 'love'...

(In an unofficial way, there's plenty of that going on in the Anglican church at the moment, with everyone claiming that they are the 'real' Anglicans and the other lot are the separatists - whether it's the Americans who went their own way over sexuality, or the Africans who are going their own way over structures, or the rest of us who wish people would stop going on about sex and focus on something more important.)

Ben Eltons 1984 update 'Blind Faith', closes with Trafford (the Winston Smith of a post-flood, religion-dominated 22nd century) subverting the language used by the totalitarian state, using one of their own tag-lines as a secret code to identify dissidents. For Elton, freedom comes through reclaiming the ability to think, and the rebels are the 'humanists' who take Darwin as their core text. He's been reading Dawkins then. The novel (last months holiday reading) is typical overblown Elton stuff, taking various current social trends and projecting them to the extreme. It's not subtle, but still provides food for thought.

I was most struck by Elton's depiction of a society where emoting and 'sharing' has become the only mode of communication. To think, argue, reason etc. is alien; what counts is exposing yourself - emotionally, physically etc. We've already become a society which 'hears with our eyes and thinks with our feelings' (can't remember who said this), and Blind Faith, in its own way, is a warning of what could happen if this is all we do.

If language is so debased so that it's content is either purely emotional (Elton), or owned by some interest group or other (VES), then it becomes harder to think before someone comes in and accuses you of being intolerant, or sues you for violation of copyright. I wonder if some of the debates currently going on in the church would get a bit further if we had a moratorium on people declaring that they were 'hurt' or 'offended'. Sure, our feelings as just as much part of who we are as our minds, but we seem to use them more and more as a trump card.

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