Two phrases stick out to me in the Tower of Babel story. In 11:1, the people use the "same language, and same words". And in verse 4, the answer to why are they building this tower? "To make a name for themselves."
Some scholars interpret "same language, same words" to mean they were of one mind, as well. To me, that couldn’t possibly be true for all thoughts. But it might have looked that way from the words they spoke.
When I hear "same language, same words" I think about the way a phrase’s meaning gets flattened and shifted over time. I think about framing, about controlling that shift: words and phrases created with underhanded intentions.
I think about the erosion of modern discourse due to the actions of right wing conservative groups, and their expertise in framing.
- Family means a straight white couple and their children.
- Religious freedom means Christianity, or anti-gay sentiment, or a crusade against birth control.
- And of course, they’re not anti-abortion, they’re pro-life.
It makes me think about the carceral state. And internationally, to, about about the war on terror and the US’s long legacy of "making the world safe for democracy".
In Haamek Davar on Genesis 11:4:2, Netziv interprets "And we will make a name for ourselves" to mean: "people were set up to watch and be in charge of the thing, and they were army chiefs in charge of punishing those who would cross, […] And all that was due to fear/suspicion."
There is a direct relationship between violence and suppression of speech. Propaganda reinforces the message that we are one people, using the same words and having the same thoughts about the same shared experiences.
Terrible people exist, now, as they did before the flood. They do the sins they have always done: ruining the environment. Being corrupt, avoiding justice at all costs.
But we are past the time of Noach, now. Gd’s gonna keep his bargain and not exterminate all life on earth, which, thanks, probably! But he will not topple the tower of neofascism for us.
It’s our turn, and our responsibility to do Gd’s work against evil in the world, whether that means surviving as marginalized individuals, crawling out of bed on day five of a hideous depression slump, or figuring out ways to unbuild the tower our forefathers built, brick by brick.