The Silence of Words

In his paper The Silence of Words. On Terror and War, the German sociologist Ulrich Beck writes: "We live, think and act in concepts that are historically outdated but still governing our thoughts and actions."[1] The paper is the text of a speech delivered to the Russian parliament delivered in November 2001.  

As hardly could have been otherwise at that time, Beck's worries concerning the historical lag of words we are using is above all inspired by security issues. The silence - or inadequacy - of the words we are using, therefore, is more than  merely an academic problem.

The way we are describing a situation determines the ways we are responding to it. Descriptions determine policies, as they are being made and implemented. Policies shaped by words that have become silent in Beck’s sense create problems instead of solving them. The silence of words is dangerous.

[1] Ulrich Beck, Das Schweigen der Woerter. Ueber Terror und Krieg, Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2002, p.10


Last updated: 2004/10/25 00:30