Should to Shall

pal·in·drome (p?l?n-dr?m) n.

  1. A word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. For example: A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!
  2. A segment of double-stranded DNA in which the nucleotide sequence of one strand reads in reverse order to that of the complementary strand.

The dictionary definition aligning  language with DNA makes for a convenient metaphor. Words are after all much like the building blocks of our whole whatchamacallit matrix.

In the video below, the words make the opposite of a palindrome. Instead of reading the same  both forwards and backwards, the message is the exact opposite when read in reverse, reclaiming the pessimistic view that there’s just no hope in our generation. It’s likely to warm the cockles of your heart.

The video has been youtube’s version of an Avatar blockbuster. It was made for a competition with AARP – American Association of Retired Persons – that strange “NGO”/insurance provider for people over 50. Even stranger, it was inspired by this political advertisement from Argentina.

All this word magic makes me think of policies, constitutions, law, all those language based institutions we’ve built to create order in our world. And since I did just watch Avatar (and officially want to move to Pandora), and have spent the past couple of months keeping up with the politics of a carbon credit initiative known as REDD – reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (in developing countries) –  I can’t help but think back to this comment from reddmonitor.org that served as my own little reminder about the big black hole between language and reality.

Chris Lang, who runs the site, wrote an article titled “US Sabotages Draft REDD Text” with a link to the draft about REDD from COP15. A reader left a comment calling him a “negative nelly” and pointing out that the draft is full of references to the “inclusion of indigenous people” in the REDD schemes. But once you start dissecting the word “inclusion” you quickly find little more than letters. And what does indigenous mean anymore anyway? Hm hm hmmm. Apparently it’s all a matter of tense. And check out how “respect” is distanced by “[promote][and][support],” those convenient champion words:

“Yes, Indigenous Peoples are mentioned in the REDD text. But Indigenous People are asking for a lot more than their “inclusion”. There is nothing in the text guaranteeing that their rights will not be abused. Instead, the text states that governments “should” [promote] [and] [support] “Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities”. The Indigenous Environmental Network described the REDD text as “a slap in the face of indigenous peoples”.

True, the text about conversion of natural forests is in the text. But, like the text on Indigenous Peoples it is safely behind the word “should”, thus providing a certain amount of wiggle room that would not be there if the word “should” was replaced by the word “shall.”

*See the draft here for an example of language and grammar stretched beyond their limits.