The Collective “We”

Collectivism is an insidious ideology, for it hides foremost in our very language, and in the way some of us think.

Take for example the familiar phrase “we won”, or “we lost”, when fans of a sport refer to the actions of the team they support. Clearly, the team won – the fans merely observed.

It would be more accurate to say “team A won”, but instead, by saying “we”, the sports fan presumably manages to psychologically partake in the athletic achievement of someone else.

Though in this particular case the fault is quite harmless – the ubiquity of its presence is telling.

The problem begins to show itself when this collective “we” is applied in politics. As if the person were part of the process.

“We” need to balance the budget.

“We” need to withdraw the troops from Iraq.

“We” need to help the poor.

How often have you heard these phrases, and others like them, define political discourse? And yet the people using them are overwhelmingly neither in government, nor do they or would they undertake any of these actions.

This language of “we” confuses who does what, and attempts to create a non-existent bond between a citizen-subject and his political masters.

Ultimately, such a confusion is used to conflate Society and State, leading to a plethora of logical errors. Here are just a few:

  1. If one says that government should not do x, it is assumed that x should not be done at all.
  2. When a government takes on debt, it is said that “we owe it to ourselves”.
  3. When a government declares war, it is said that “we’re going to war”, as if the entire nation has a will of its own.
  4. When foreign policy results in poor relations between governments, it is declared that “the people of Country Y hate us”.
  5. When a bailed out corporation returns money to the government, it is said that “the taxpayers were paid back” – as if any taxpayer will actually see his taxes returned to him.

You know what this language really betrays?

Stockholm syndrome.

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