Politics and The Cliched Language

This article with an intentionally awfully-punned title is about The Adolf Hitler of Language: Cliches

George Orwell

George Orwell

In 1946, George Orwell wrote his most well-known essay “Politics and the English Language” in which he describes how euphemism is used to conceal dangerous policies and acts committed by politicians and how clichéd phrases used in political discourse are lowering the room-temperature of debate to a level of such palatable mildness that it becomes substantially unbearable*.

What is most concerning perhaps isn’t necessarily that discourse is simply descending into people exchanging overused propagandistic statements, but that words which used to have and maintain such power are spoken/written so often (usually when not needed) that their effect and meaning becomes diluted.

It is evident that Orwell was right in some regards (I do disagree with him on some minor points but overall I think his essay is precise in its criticisms). Indeed, Orwell’s points can be applied to today’s discourse.

Euphemism is particularly dangerous as it subtly lacerates our minds by allowing us to succumb to the harmful, by believing what wishes to implement hurt onto us to be either: non-threatening or a nonchalant “everyday”.

Wars are called “armed conflicts”, terrorists are called “insurgents”, bombs are called “Improvised Explosive Devices”, areas which have experienced intense civil-wars between violent militia groups are said to be “destabilised regions”, war-crimes, genocide and slaughter en-masse are simply ignored in phrases which gloss over the events, such as, “humanitarian intervention”, and my most favourite of all: a phrase used when families have been flung out of their homes and made refugees is “the displaced”.

Eupemisms are insulting

Euphemisms are insulting

Pundits gleefully chuck around political-clichés like rabid cheetahs throwing around the dismembered heads and intestines of their prey. “It’s an us and them mentality”. “The Westminster Bubble”. “The Political Class”. “The Liberal Elite”. “Give The People what they want”. “We’re being robbed of our liberty”. “A Political Landslide”. “A Political Earthquake”. “The Loony Left”. “We’re living in a Nanny State”. “We’ll make Britain great again”. “The gap between rich and poor is at an all-time high/low”. “Boom and bust”. “Health and Safety gone mad”. “The Mainstream Media always does this”. “Parties like UKIP are just blaming the other” (identity politics has always been a bit of “a minefield”, when it comes to clichéd phrases)…

What is perhaps more disturbed is that – as already mentioned – powerful ideological words have become semantic-voids: “Political correctness”, “Socialism”, “Liberalism”, “Fascism”, “Racism”, “Homophobia”. Even “Democracy”. These shouldn’t be clichés or political-buzzwords or pieces of rhetoric employed – if I may adamantly use the cliché – “to score cheap political-points”. I hear Obama described as a socialist. I hear David Cameron being called a fascist. I hear phrases which ejaculate paradoxes of such intensity that it is like observing Ron Jeremy gushing out orgasms of thunderous nonsense-speak: “socialists hate poor people”, “liberals don’t like free-speech”, “**insert leader here** is just like Adolf Hitler” (Why is it when people wish to compare elected leaders to totalitarian ratbags, Hitler and Stalin are always the most popular choice?), and certainly the worst phrase – a phrase which exhausts superlatives – is “multiculturalism is white genocide”.

Hitler must take it as a compliment that his name is used as a piece of rhetoric employed to win debates...

Hitler must take it as a compliment that his name is used as a piece of rhetoric employed to win debates…

Certain individuals seem to be under the guise that socialism and Stalinism are synonymous and that Liberalism isn’t about freedom of speech or a free press but actually just a synonym for what has been crudely termed “Cultural Marxism”. I must admit, I do cringe when I read articles or hear people who use “Left” and “Liberal” interchangeably.

Other peoples will then brand celebrities homophobic for using specific words (of course ignoring the context in which offensive/obscene language is used entirely). James Arthur once tweeted “fucking queer”. Does this really mean he dislikes gay people, really? He doesn’t. He’s just intensely…”insensitive”, with his language use. I’ve never been a particular fan of the word “homophobe” (and it’s derivatives). It’s a very limiting word and implicitly states that dislike for gay people is entirely due to fear – thus when you use the word against someone who doesn’t fear gays but is instead disturbed, disgusted or repulsed by them, the word seems so false that to the “homophobe” it becomes a useless word in and of itself. Thus, a vital question arises: do new words have to be formed, and indeed who should form them?

This progresses onto a more serious point. How can we discuss Homophobia or Islamophobia if the words themselves dictate entirely a whole situation? How can we understand prejudice if we only ever view it through the lens of “people fear what they don’t understand” (a cliché which is not only annoyingly overused but false in some circumstances).

Indeed, if we stretch this issue wider, how can anyone be persuaded by rhetoric and language if our sentences are toxicated with linguistic-poison? (Do forgive me for the melodramatic tone).

One of my favourite maxims is: A truth expressed badly is a lie. Language should be used to persuade and enlighten. How can we persuade and enlighten our fellow ignoramuses about poverty if we are restrained by only ever using phrases like “the gap between rich and poor”, how can we talk about an overly-protective universe, to our fellow creatures, if we only ever use phrases like “nanny state” and “health and safety gone mad”? The problem with clichés is that they are words and phrases so overused that their original intent and meaning has become severely pixelated. Thus, we have to conjure new expressions, phrases, words, and portmanteaus to express the same ideas. All debaters will know that the same ideas are recycled in debates, but how one expresses them is what matters: for the original turn of phrase makes the issue seem more relevant than it would if expressed via…a weakened mode of language.

Indeed these same points can be extrapolated onto issues regarding “armed conflicts” and the war-crimes which occur during them. People seem to be referring to civil-wars in Iraq and in Russia/Ukraine by not stating what is actually occurring and instead cloaking the issues behind opening a sentence such as: “The situation in Iraq”. What situation? There are multiple “situations” that occur in Iraq – and why is every foreign international event referred to as a “crisis” (this isn’t a middle-aged fedora-wearing IT-expert attempting to find his lost watch – we’re talking about politics infused with machete-off heads and children with bullet-wounds here). It gets more perturbed when certain pundits discuss what other nations and “foreign powers” are doing, will passively refer to the entire globe as “The International Community”. It’s hardly a “Community” – I don’t see much communal spirit, and when there is, it’s based on entirely false premises (the Olympics for example).

Henceforth, I think some rules need to be stated on how to write about politics without resorting to cliché:

This is what cliches "open themselves up to"...

This is what cliches “open themselves up to”…

1) If you’ve heard the phrase before or seen it “in print”, don’t use it.

2) Try and think of multiple similes or metaphors and use the one which seems most appropriate.

3) If you are to use a cliché, ensure to veil it in a salad of irony, you might wish to use quotation marks – I personal always put “110 percent” into doing this.

4) Refrain from being overly-sentimental, this is where most clichés seem to simper their way in.

5) If you are to use a political-insult, try and design a new phrase which expresses the same meaning. For example, rather than saying “champagne socialist”, you could use phrases like: “airport-lounge revolutionary”, “occado-communist”, “New-Statesman-subscribing Bolshevik” – or simply replace the word “champagne” with its sister-drink “Prosecco”.

6) Always question the names of political-parties. Most political-parties do not adhere to the ideology to which their title would subscribe. The Labour Party isn’t left-wing and The Conservative Party is hardly adopting the beliefs of Edmund Burke.

7) Never use euphemism. State facts. Don’t avoid events. Soldiers didn’t “pass away”, they died. If you wish to be emphatic you could use words like “massacre” or “slaughter” – but try not to over-use such words or be too emphatic with this type of tone as being so melodramatic is essentially the same as being euphemistic.

 

* George Orwell has also written another essay called “What is Fascism” where he explains succinctly and clearly why the term “Fascism” doesn’t have any semantic-worth and is simply used as a political-insult.

 

Rise of the Nazis that Actually Aren’t Nazis

A rant about the analysis of the United Kingdom Independent Party.

If Politics is intrinsically linked to words, then you’d assume that people would choose their words with great care and precision. Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

I have been observing the language and the political discourse used by seemingly everyone (emphasis on seemingly). It is distressing to see terms such as “racist” and “homophobic” being so lazily used. I think such words have to be used with great caution, because more often than not the person criticised with such words is either just insensitive, misinformed, idiotic or Jeremy Clarkson.

Do you think Jeremy Clarkson is a racist? I imagine a large proportion of you might think so. Let me rephrase this: do you think Jeremy Clarkson actively despises black people, and anyone else who isn’t white? Do you think Jeremy Clarkson views a person of white skin colour in more regard than someone of non-white skin colour? I imagine you’re doubting such questions already. It is interesting how terms of such power have lost their meaning because they are bandied about and shoddily flung at people to win an argument or to gain an applause. It’s disturbing to, because it actually demeans what these terms used to mean, or rather: what they should mean.

There is a fundamental difference between someone who lazily uses the N-word without thinking and someone who actually doesn’t like black people. Please reread the previous sentence, I think it’s vital that you do.

Let me move this on to something more current. Do you think UKIP is a racist party? I imagine there is a niggling feeling inside of you that says ‘yes’ (if not, I’m sorry for being a presumptuous arse). Let me rephrase this: having read UKIP’s policies, do you think that such policies have a disturbing racial hatred lurking behind them?

I think you can tell by now that I don’t think UKIP or Jeremy Clarkson are racist, just mad.

But, I hear you ask: what about all the racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted members? True. I cannot argue with the ‘rotten apple’ argument. But I said party, not members. You dig deep enough, you’ll find that lurking amidst lib/lab/con there are some views amongst its members which you’ll find disconcerting – just, the media seem to be attacking UKIP, because like lib/lab/con it is violently evident, that they do not want them to have any ounce of power, so rather than actually having a proper political debate, what we instead have is words which used to have such intense emotion, history and meaning behind them being used again and again so that progressively we observe their meaning slowly suck away. So what is my point? Well, I think it’s important that we draw distinctions and carefully analyse political parties and their policies. There is a fundamental difference between a party having a racist policy and a party having racist members – and the fact that apparently nowadays there is no difference between the two, I find just uncomfortably distressing. Again, I’ll repeat what I said earlier: sexism, homophobia, racism (et al) are now words with no meaning, they are semantically defunct.

But don’t UKIP hate immigrants, isn’t that racist? Again, it is disturbing how much I’m going to have to repeat the mantra about how words have lost their meaning, but they really have. Race and Nationality are separate issues. If you believe that UKIP dislikes people from other countries, then at least use the correct terms of phrase: xenophobe, xenophobia, xenophobic, and so forth. It is vital that we draw distinctions. If we just lazily brand a party with casual insults, without actually looking into their policies, and actually label them with the wrong insult, then there is a profound problem with political discourse at the present time. How do we expect society to change if we cannot have a proper discussion? This idea being intensified if you consider that ‘democracy’ is brought about via debate and converse.

I think the most annoying and frustrating comparison I keep seeing over and over again is the fact that UKIP are being compared to the German Nazi Party led by that infamous man with the infamous name, Adolf Hitler. I find this comparison actually disgusting. “Oh, but if you look at their rise to power and the fact that one of them used the N-word and the fact that they’re relying on a culture of ‘blaming the other’ then obviously Nigel Farage is like so ‘the new Hitler’…” I think the best way to actually answer this is via inquiring people who come out with such statements to look at the actions of the Nazi Party and then the actions of UKIP, then, more importantly, look at the ideological values of the Nazi Party, and then look at UKIP, and then just for added rhetorical emphasis ask people who grovel out populist statements of a scare-mongering and a moral-panic-creating nature the following questions:

Do you think Nigel Farage wants to overtake and conquer the globe? Do you think Nigel Farage wants to make groups across the country devoted to the brainwashing of children with UKIP propaganda, presumably called the “Anti-Euro Youth” (shortened to “AEY”)? Do you think UKIP wants to gas and exterminate blacks, Jews, homosexuals, anarchists, lesbians, Jehovah’s witnesses, the disabled and pacifists (etc)? My last point, you may think extreme – but isn’t comparing Nigel Farage/UKIP to Adolf Hitler/German Nazism? If you compare UKIP to such a party, then what else do you expect other than somebody to bring up such elements of history? Furthermore, lets look at UKIP’s economic policy: they want a flat-rate tax and they are ‘fans’ of privatisation. Did you know that Nazi stands for National Socialism? Yes, that’s right, it’s got the word ‘socialism’ in it. Economically the Nazi Party were of the left and socially they were of the right (this is a generalisation, but I feel it more a specific broad sweep than comparing Nigel Farage to a tooth-brush-moustache-carrying dictator). Thus, do you think concepts such as privatisation are socialist ideas? I’ll answer it for you: they’re not.

I know, I know, people are frightened or worried about UKIP. That’s fine. You have the right to not be ashamed of your own emotions and thoughts. You have the right to like, dislike and be concerned about ideologies/political parties. But if you’re concerned about an ideology or political party, please criticise properly, fairly and don’t steep to defaming certain words to the extent that they might as well be non-existent.