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The Power of the Word

"The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?...[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed." - Thomas Szasz

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
inibo
Jul. 21st, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
Though I take exception with this particular quote--it strikes me a bit as "magical thinking," as though people are not autonomous, but subject to outside control by whoever ever pronounces the proper formula--I want to thank you for posting this. I have heard the name Thomas Szasz before, but really didn't know anything about him. My curiosity drove me to a google search and I'm now reading about him on Wikipedia. He looks like an interesting fellow and I shall have to look into him a bit more. Even if he is wrong on this count.

I love serendipity.
rinku
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)
I don't think you're interpreting the quote correctly -- it has nothing to do with magic or the supernatural, really, it's more an epistemological statement.
liveonearth
Jul. 22nd, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
Language is powerful without the need for magic. By applying words to a situation, and "defining" it , one changes the dynamics of the situation, giving more power to the definer . Of course the word-applying person will not label themselves as crazy or inferior given the choice....
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