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Lazy language damages our present and risks our future

Labels have power. They shape the way we know the world. They allow people to see actions with greater clarity or distort our understanding to make things unrecognisable.

When war involves “collateral damage,” the label strips the incident of shredded flesh and wailing orphans. By labelling the near elimination of abortion access a Pro Life position, conservatives elide the dramatic and deadly impact on lives caused by the denial of reproductive justice. Calling it a “state sanctioned forced birth” position recasts the nature of women’s experience in Republican America.

When Scott Morrison demanded that refugees exercising their legal right to seek asylum were relabelled “illegal maritime arrivals,” it became easier to persecute people fleeing hell without public horror.

By depicting welfare recipients as fraudsters, Alan Tudge escalated the war on those who experience periods of struggle. And Robodebt showed how labels can even hide things from us. The Saturday Paper’s special podcast series “Inside Robodebt” illustrates that one of the key factors delayed recognition of the scandal emerging is that the illegal debt averaging process didn’t have a name.

“Inside Robodebt” also highlights that it was not journalists, by and large, who detected the program’s criminal disgrace. It was a loose group including a lecturer and Twitter commentators. No wonder the Coalition’s friends love to apply disparaging labels to their Twitter critics, conflating commentators’ valid critiques of a scandalous decade with the troll army’s vile bullying.

Right wing politicians and commentators have an additional label in their arsenal at the moment to discredit every person or idea that doesn’t suit their agenda. By calling something “woke,” it ceases to be a matter of morality or compassion or sound policy or good manners. It becomes something – or someone – to be derided and despised.

We deny ourselves the ability to choose our present circumstances and shape our future if we allow the lazy application of labels.

Mainstream journalists were supine in their acceptance and repetition of the politicians’ disgraceful mislabelling of vulnerable people during the Coalition decade. The public absorbed the idea that people could be “illegal,” that fake debts made ordinary Australians into criminals. Sometimes journalists were rushed and forced to fill pages with tweaked press releases. Sometimes, however, journalists were cynics ensuring access and front page leaks by playing the politicians’ games.

The most likely news source to counter the government’s narrative was the ABC, but that has been abused largely into complicity. Any ABC efforts to challenge and expose malfeasance continues to be discredited by the wholesale framing of the organisation as “woke” or “socialist” by the Coalition and the corporate media. Any exposé coming from it is thus made irrelevant.

Some on the Labor side had accepted the Coalition’s labels as valid and echoed the framing. Others gave up trying to frame the debate more accurately and tried to fight the battle along lines drawn up by the power players of the narrative.

Journalists have been the gatekeepers by which we understand the civic space. Their lazy acceptance of labels helps perpetuate distortions that damage individuals and society. We need journalists who understand that they share the blame with politicians and public servants for making the Coalition’s decade of shame possible. Without critical thinking skills, journalists betray the muckraking and investigative stars of their profession’s history; otherwise they can be much better paid as the spin doctors many seem content to ape.

The news media has struggled to describe the events of this era. Part of the problem is that they fail to appreciate the degree to which the Right is radicalising, bogged down in normalcy bias. Part is that the news sector bends excessively towards being balanced between positions: when the Right’s position is so extreme that to describe it aptly sounds like a judgement, the decision-makers struggle to cope with the new reality.

We need to understand our political labels at a moment when the Right is embracing ever more oppressive political ploys internationally. Robert Reich noted that American newspapers are finally beginning to label presidential contender Trump’s messaging as “authoritarian.” He spells out clearly, however, that it is technically better understood as “fascist.” Trump’s Republican Party is a ghoulish parody of its grand old past.

None of this is accidental. The cynical Americanised ultra free market Right does not believe in government’s role. It is funded and galvanised by the needs of the plutocrats: low tax and ever fewer protections – labelled “regulation”- to stifle their ultimate freedom to exploit. The same kind of cynicism has driven the Right in America to fight, since the Civil Rights era, to reverse the progress that withdrew the barriers to equality for persecuted and disempowered groups. The strategies to undo America’s democratic structures have been in construction at least as long.

Much of the plutocrats’ Dark Money has gone to strategists and spin doctors. The same ethics-free intent to achieve their goals at any cost pervades their political representatives. Robodebt’s egregious fraud perpetrated against citizens is the most striking Australian example; media advisor Rachelle Miller has revealed Alan Tudge’s spin strategies. When Scott Morrison took over immigration, he employed 66 spin doctors compared to PM Tony Abbott’s 39: “on water” secrecy and propaganda was costing us $8 million a year.

Journalists have been far too ready not to question their role in spreading this strategic toxic spin. In fact, they use that spread as the basis for further stories about artificial “controversies.”

Structural politics is illustrative of these orchestrated drifts. It only takes a brief look at the names of Australia’s two major parties to see how political labels can ossify, representing the history rather than the ideology of a party. Labor does not represent the labour movement that was its original constituency. The Liberal Party is not liberal, but neither is it conservative. The Liberal politicians who merited those labels have largely left in disgust at what the party has become. The rump is a radicalised Right mimicking the extremists dominating the Republican Party.

Parties represent a loose coalition of ideologies and goals aiming to contain personalities, priorities and the tactical decisions that might achieve them. Since John Howard’s era, Australians have seen how much these can change a party. Dragging the label “conservative” with them, the Right now depicts centrist policy as “woke” and “socialist” in a long Americanisation of the more worker-friendly Australian social contract.

The linear continuum by which we have attempted to understand our politics – from Left to Right – has always been an artificial construct too.

The rightly contested horseshoe theory shallowly suggests that the political extremes of communism and fascism are closer to each other than to liberalism. Kathleen Belew replaces that with the metaphor of a circle. She described the “crunchy to alt-right pipeline” where, since the 1970s, hippies and white supremacists bonded over such anti-government fights as the fluoridation of water.

The Red Brown alliance is a late soviet description of a much older phenomenon – the rough cooperation of communists and fascists in joint, nationalist loathing of liberal elites. Third Reich Nazis were often both “green” and yoga lovers.

These connections do not reflect true sympathies, but they do underscore the fact that we all have different concerns activated at key moments.

In the era of permacrisis, however, even the old approximations are crumbling.

Over covid, the far right exercised its usual cunning in coopting the conspiracy theorists emerging around an internet joke: QAnon. It also drew on the deep resentment that came from policies poorly explained or executed that harmed the precariat while the billionaires reaped massive profit. Belew’s “crunchies” (hippies) were absorbed over again into the White supremacist sphere in their antagonism to Big Pharma and a fear of government’s oppressive tendencies. In Australia, our Pastel QAnon yoga influencers and antivaxx mums joined the far right in their Convoy to Canberra in a complicated conspiracy smoothie.

QAnon has now seeped into the radicalised right space intermingled with Pentecostal cultish beliefs. These underly the application of the term “groomer” to anyone defending LGBTQIA+ existence on social media as a side note to the exterminationist rhetoric.

Online, influential men considered to be of the Left drifted towards the Right, often driven by resentment towards the age of consequences, more commonly labelled Cancel Culture. Their preeminence as mostly White men has been challenged by the demands that they share the microphone with minority voices. Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, for example, suddenly started finding a better home on Fox News than subversive left-leaning platforms. The dirtbag Left and the Alt-Right (a label meant to elide the movement’s white supremacist core) share an ironic and provocative aesthetic that has helped draw these figures together in shared disdain for the prissy judgement of the bougie “woke.”

Younger American “conservatives” – many of them on the lucrative gravy train where Dark Money donations fund their early career – have turned old Soviet Nazbol politics into the new Nat Con movement. National Conservatism feigns support for the battler in a way that looks vaguely leftist while continuing the persecution of the most vulnerable combined with a “traditionalist” persecution of minorities for “patriotic” redemption. These elite youth frame an anti-American “elite” as an existential threat: their prestigious university education is not the same as the university education that they define as “woke” poison.

Presidential contender Robert Kennedy uses similar faux-egalitarian talking points to signal himself as meriting the destiny of a “Kennedy” while actively working with his tech bro plutocrat funders and spreading disinformation, labelling it “free speech.” He has now said that the Covid19 virus was ethnically targeted to protect Jewish and Chinese people.

These shifts in allegiance make pinning down “Left” or “Right,” “centrist” or “conservative” outrageously challenging. Journalists of integrity can be forgiven for missing the seriousness of the trajectory.

Such mislabelling normalises the dragging of “conservative” politics ever further towards fascist politics; it serves the far right by presenting their grotesque policies as a facet of business as usual rather than a radical change. Ignoring the trajectory outside their information bubble meant that most Americans missed the indicators leading to insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on 6 Jan 2021. Normalcy bias means journalists continued to quote Republican politicians reframing it as a normal tourist visit.

Climate scientists have struggled for decades to frame their messaging of the looming – potentially existential – crisis. Scientific communication that always conveys the possibility of new discoveries has been exaggerated to imply doubt about predictions. The profession of creating doubt to prevent regulation of industry was deployed by tobacco sector: the same strategies, and even the same people, translated into the fossil fuel sector’s destruction of our sense of a shared knowledge base.

At the end of the Obama era, those watching knew how fragile America’s democratic structure was, but few imagined the brink towards which the Republican Party could drive their nation in a single presidential term. It took one shameless conman to achieve it.

Australia’s Coalition is similarly disdainful of their opposition’s right to govern. They too showed that they had ceased to believe in the validity of the democratic contest over the last decade.

Australia is at risk of the Coalition finding that charismatic conman who will allow it to destroy the reign of the despised “woke” urban electorates. Just as so much of their agenda and strategy is defined by the Republican machine, their policy will likely come after the rights and freedoms that their mentors are destroying in the USA.

If journalists can’t label the moment in its true seriousness, we can’t expect the distracted public to recognise it.

 

A much shorter version of this was published in Pearls and Irritations as An American system of “state sanctioned forced births”?

 

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38 comments

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  1. Lucy Hamilton

    If this is too long for you, there is a much shorter version linked at the end.

  2. Harry Lime

    Thankyou for that Lucy,very disturbing…and informative Articulating what many of us feel.I think I’ll go and have a lie down now.

  3. frances

    ‘Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called ‘pacification’. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called ‘transfer of population or rectification of frontiers’. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called ‘elimination of unreliable elements’. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.’ (George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’, 1946.)

    Heartfelt congrats from All Saints’ Church, Sutton Courtenay to Ms Hamilton for her brilliant and timely essay.

  4. Canguro

    It would be doing you a gross disservice, Lucy, to reference the lazy acronym TLDR to this essay, whatever the complexity and richness of ideas and information. As you point out, we currently live in a world of eye-popping complexity, and as is starkly evident to anyone half-paying attention, we are also subjected to myriad versions of ‘the story’, in whatever form that takes, on almost any topic one chooses; whether politics, gender and sexual identity, women’s rights, education, social contracts, employment and workers’ rights, climate and environment and much more.

    It’s somewhat amusing that the word ‘woke’ has been assigned the pejorative connotation that it has, and co-opted by those of the ‘right’ to label those of the ‘left’, liberals et al, as being wrong on all counts… when one takes the word literally and then looks for an antonym, the word ‘asleep’ comes readily to mind. Is this the preferred position of the right-wing conservative constellation, that they wish to be seen as asleep… or are they in fact so deeply asleep, psychologically, that nothing can enter their consciousness unless it finds its appropriate fit, lock & key, that corresponds with their reality bias, with every other concept and idea and attitude automatically relegated to the dustbin of rejected ideation or consideration?

    Humans, it seems, by their very nature, cursed – or blessed, take your pick – with a cerebral cortex that separates us from our near cousins the great apes, and that automatically enables the development and functional use of language wherever the geographical arising along with the use of discrimination – that tricky function that so readily disguises whether the discriminative action is subjective or objective, and when used so often leads to major negative consequences for both the user and the target – have a long history of muddling through the thicket of competing ideas. I’m not at all sure that anyone has the answers, nor am I sure that anyone really understands the questions that beg to be asked, the right questions, as opposed to the slipperiness of self-serving positions that willingly engage in weasel language intended only to benefit the articulator for their own ends.

    Notwithstanding, given the functional existence of the Tower of Babel and the unintelligible din of the wagging of millions of tongues in a thousand languages in manners ranging from devilish to heavenly, sane to lunatic, along with wise to foolish, productive to destructive, self-centred to altruistic, sematically appropriate to gobbledookery, and all of this babbling of the humanoid so-called intellectual ape ongoing with fierce and unstoppable momentum and never-ending until eternity, it behoves one to remind the reading audience that there is a climatic crisis unfolding such has not been seen on this planet since deep deep prehistory and that, in reality, we are as nothing in the face of great Nature, or sentient Gaia as James Lovelock would have it, and if we mess with the forces that govern the ecosystems and climatic homogeneity then there will be a reckoning, in time, that will in all probability shunt all of this frankly stupid posturing about the relative correctness of A vs. B into the deserved dustbin reserved for the unique stupidities of the creature generously termed by Carl Linnaeus as Homo sapiens… the wise man.

  5. Win Jeavons

    While non woke conservatives sleep , it is the world at large experiencing the nightmares of fire and extreme heat and floods and massive suffering !

  6. andyfiftysix

    i remember a while back , i was having a discussion about how words can hurt. It was in reference to freedom of speech. You can say what ever you want. Total freedom was the agenda. Absolute freedom creates its own problems was my response.
    Now freedom in advertising is an interesting one too. Apparently there is no law that prevents a politician from lying on their adds.Clearly there is no law preventing politicians from telling the truth, full stop.
    So why do they lie like this? Lie by ommission of the facts, historical facts you can say. The answer is simple, they want to win by hook or by crook. Ethics or morality are luxuries in their brutalised world. What ever gets them over the line is fair game. Is it any wonder, thats the type of people who get attracted to the liberal light?

    what i can say , it is still ok to choose right from wrong. Its ok to chose the lesser of the two evils, life is never a straight line to nirvana. We need more people calling out the lies and shaming those who chose this path to glory. Its ok to make a stand. In a time when religion has fallen off a cliff of its own making, the teachings of JC are still relevant today. But then, they always were universal truths, apart from the supernatural that we invented.

    An arsehole is always going to be an arsehole. So we have constructed the perfect vehicle for arseholes, its called democracy.
    Until we are willing to put a brake on their excesses, i will call it a shit system. But the reality is you cant legislate against stupidity or narcisism having hands on the levers. No matter how much we want Morrison to serve time for his behaviour, we wont stamp it out by more of the same. We need to get real and heavily penalise self serving behaviour.

  7. frances

    Another couple of orwellianisms:

    ‘“Creative disruption”, with its call to forge a new paradigm by destroying the existing one, has been the buzz phrase of the computer-tech business era. Kalanick prefers his own adaptation of the same idea to describe his antagonistic approach to local government, licensing authorities and professional taxi bodies. He calls it “principled confrontation”’.

    https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2014/dec/21/travis-kalanick-uber-cab-app-observer-proifile

    Of course this kind of ruthlessness is neither ‘creative’ nor ‘principled’.

  8. Terence Mills

    The Republican Party in the US stands for freedom of the individual and small government but wants to deny women autonomy over their own bodies and have the government dictate their reproductive cycle.

    The Republican Party stands for democracy but insists on voter suppression particularly if you are black – Trump in one of his more candid moments noted that if everyone who is entitled to vote actually voted, that could be the end of the Republican Party in the US.

  9. Clakka

    Thanks Lucy, excellent article – so true.

    I am reminded of today’s Credlin “struggle street” label in her NewsCorps Oz article:

    “Liberals must hold fast to conservative values in the gathering storm.”

    I couldn’t possibly contribute to the NewsCorps paywall, so here’s a snippet from Crickey:

    “PETA THE GRATE Former Tony Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin says former PM Malcolm Turnbull is foolish to recommend Liberals become more teal to win their seats back, as she writes for The Australian ($). She says climate and the environment were not the most important election issue for 83% of Australia — nearly one in five said it was the No. 1 issue, but anyway — and suggested the Coalition should’ve gone harder on the cost of living. (But the biggest problem for the party was leadership, Credlin conceded, pointing out Scott Morrison had the lowest rating in the history of ANU’s Australian Election Study.) The best thing the embattled party can do now is forget wealthy voters and go for “struggle street”, she says: “Voters earning more than $140,000 a year are now those least likely to vote Coalition and most likely to vote Labor or Greens.””

    As a hopeful believer in the conveniently invisible universal mean of peace, love, truth, joy and purity, I am not astounded by the various corruptions by desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, effort and cognition. Collectively, like the proverbial lemmings, over the years we seem to be exposed to incessant transitions like sine waves from the sublime to the ridiculous. And nearing the peaks there is crisis and confusion often giving rise to the partners of violence and post-truth, for example.

    Would that we are soon to turn over from that peak would be wonderful.

  10. Andrew Smith

    Interesting and important read, a history of how the Anglosphere right, especially the US GOP, has distorted language and meaning in public discourse to confuse, spook and leverage ageing electors, in cooperation with and while allowing consolidation of legacy media channels (Mayer’s Dark Money has gone into the Koch’s ‘media audit’).

    Just around the former white Australia policy (known more by Asian neighbours vs. not whisper in Oz curricula/syllabi?) which ended in 1973 under the Whitlam government (to be fair most Libs had been mooting same in their time in ’60s), also coincided with the end of the US discriminatory migration policies; but you would think it has never ended if one follows the language and concepts tracking older generations.

    Good example was the mid noughties, one having insight into visas, immigration and international students, when ‘Australia’s best demographer’ and related inc Labor types, started describing temporary residents inc. international students, temp workers, NZ’ers etc. caught under the ‘nebulous’ (Ian Dunt UK) NOM Net Overseas Migration, as ‘immigrants’ and quoting these higher NOM numbers (for effect but misunderstanding, hence, misrepresenting data).

    This suggested very high permanent migration, but not true (permanent cap 150-200K pa) and taking advantage of an unpublicised expansion of the NOM UNPD defined formula to 12/16+ months; an apt descriptor is ‘temporary resident churn over’ of ‘net financial budget contributors’, majority eventually depart, but not much to dog whistle…..

    Further, linked to the old ’70s fossil fueled Club of Rome (‘limits to growth’ & ‘population bomb’) and ZPG Zero Population Growth, i.e focus on headline population via fertility and now immigration, as an environmental issue, or greenwashing both fossil fuels and bigotry. A local related NGO type once complained about ‘post 1970s immigrants’, wink wink and same is still…. being promoted in Oz and the UK via Tanton Network (in US shares fossil fuel donors with Koch Network).

    ALP government fell for it big time in the noughties, especially when carbon pricing was being mooted, coincided with a coincidental UNPD NOM (?) expansion in 2006 (spiked population, but missed by everyone), dog whistling of population growth, deflecting or weakening emissions scheme, ending up with student/migrant visa restrictions and a Minister for Sustainable Population (while ignoring permanent population ageing & growth in oldies)…..

    US legal academic Prof. Ian Haney-Lopez (echoed by former UK Tory head Dame Warsi), has complained that dog whistling is destroying the middle class (see Trump & Brexit) in ‘Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class’ (2013) and more recent edition ‘Dog Whistle Politics: Strategic Racism, Fake Populism, and the Dividing of America’:

    ‘Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives.’ (Good Reads)

    Unfortunately for the right, as more diverse and educated cohorts move through electoral demographics, the former including media, cannot avoid using language to dog whistle, not just electoral, but ideology of ingrained and corrupted white nativist Christian authoritarianism, or simply eugenics.

  11. Steve Davis

    Andrew Smith — “White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives.”

    I like that !

  12. JulianP

    Many thanks Lucy for the courage and candour expressed in your essay. In the event that it be more widely published and read, it will serve nicely as a well overdue kick-in-the-bum for the many deserving of such that presently thrive among us. I am grateful also for the erudite & informative comments.

    There’s one matter Lucy on which I would query your conclusion and that relates to RFK Jnr and his alleged comments on genetically engineered bioweapons that may have been “ethnically targeted”. Curiously it seems the anti-Semite theme is being applied – but given the political context, there’s obviously more to this than meets the eye. May I bring to your attention the following article: https://scheerpost.com/2023/07/19/patrick-lawrence-anything-anything-anything-to-avoid-debating-r-f-k-jr/

    BTW, RFK Jnr said the first thing he would do as President would be to release Julian Assange.

    I note a number of references above to “conservative” and “conservatives”. One of the best essays on the “politics” espoused by (for example) Mr. Abbott and others like him, was that published in 2017. The author notes that such persons “…favour right wing extremist views trying to combine a reactionary form of moral authoritarianism with a dogmatic version [of] economic rationalism. They seek to cloak this befuddled thinking in conservative respectability.” See: https://johnmenadue.com/allan-patience-the-failure-of-australian-conservatism/

    The application of words and labels to individuals and groups has long been a useful tool to disguise the use of duplicity and subterfuge – especially against one’s political enemies. A good example was the hatchet job done on ex-UK Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn who was removed as Party Leader in 2020 on the basis of fabricated charges of anti-Semitism.

    Closer to home: “When former NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane was vilified, his home raided and false claims made by a journalist who wanted to promote himself, no apology was given, no restoration made. Instead, the victim became the guilty party, punished for something he did not do. Sounds familiar?” See: https://johnmenadue.com/the-cowardly-conduct-of-the-media-government-and-afp/ The pile-on here was truly remarkable.

  13. B Sullivan

    ‘’ Sometimes, however, journalists were cynics ensuring access and front page leaks by playing the politicians’ games.”

    “ The cynical Americanised ultra free market Right”

    Lazy language Lucy.

    Journalists simply don’t fit the description of cynics. You are clearly attempting to disparage the journalists by referring to them as something you think is disparaging. Original it was intended to be. When the ancient Greeks came across people who rejected the benefits of their civilisation because of the evil consequences associated with them they described them as no better than dogs, because they had chosen to live in what seemed to civilised Greeks to be a wretched state of self denial. The Greek word for doglike is where the term cynical comes from. The cynics were happy to accept the intended insult pointing out that dogs are man’s best friends.

    The cynics were hated because they seemed to be morally incorruptible choosing to live simple lives as simply as humanly possible. They didn’t live by exploiting slaves and oppressing women or by waging war to acquire property and power. Instead they chose to be self reliant and self sufficient, unlike their critics. They held the simple truth in high regard unlike journalists who weave a tangle of deceit. Cynics are people who would never play such cruel political games, yet your lazy use of a word that everybody throws around whenever they can’t or are afraid to use a genuinely appropriate term of disparagement, gives the false impression that they would.

    Your use of the word is an example of how our language is corrupted by constant misuse, if not deliberate intent to misinform. I mean, “The cynical Americanised ultra free market Right” How can you possibly justify using the the word cynical to describe those people? We live in a world where cynicism is treated with the same contempt as wokeness. The cynic advocates that rampant consumerism is neither necessary nor does it lead to happiness, and is more likely to result in the destruction of what we do need, a healthy sustainable environment. The cynic chooses not to indulge in the excesses that we know are not necessary. The Covid lockdowns showed us that most of our human indulgences are both unnecessary and extremely damaging to our world. When pointless industry for industry’s sake were closed down pollution quickly disappeared from rivers formerly toxic and skies cleared so that people could see distant mountains formerly obscured by industrial haze and smog. Cynicism would be a welcome philosophy to this beleaguered world, but practically everybody has been convinced by lazy language that cynicism is something to be despised. Can you even begin to imagine how such a misinformed attitude damages our present and risks our future?

  14. Steve Davis

    Second attempt to post, hopefully more luck this time.
    B Sullivan, I totally agree that we need a lot more cynicism in the world, in the sense of simplicity and self-reliance, but that does not justify criticism of the use of a word for which the meaning has changed by popular consent.

    Words change meaning all the time. For example, the propaganda on which the article is based has changed its meaning.

    You have even conceded a change in meaning for “cynic” yourself. The original “dog-like” has nothing to do with self-reliance, because dogs are reliant. So the meaning changed even in Greek times.

    I admire your efforts to make the world a better place, but we won’t do that by criticism of others who are on the same mission.

    You had the option to use the change in meaning in a positive way, as an introduction to a welcome and constructive discussion of consumerism, but by choosing to attack, well, to my mind, the option you chose negated your point.

  15. Canguro

    Quite the rant, B Sullivan. It’s as if you’ve been attacked by an ear worm, you poor fellow. Directing your misunderstanding of the common acceptance of the meaning of the word cynic into an attack on the author of this essay, someone who, if you’ve been paying attention, has a consistent record of producing the highest level of critical analysis of her chosen topics, does you no credit at all.

    As Steve Davis correctly points out, the meaning of language is not static and words can change in their accepted meanings over time; to argue otherwise is an exercise in foolish pedantry. Google english words that have changed in their meanings over time and you will find dozens of examples of words that have had had a wholesale refit in their accepted cultural identity. Wicked, yes?

  16. Steve Davis

    I was going to post this at “Executions” but in keeping with the propaganda theme it might be better here.

    I scour websites from across the world to get my info on current affairs, and have found that official sites from many countries present news items in a far more neutral and balanced manner than the corporate media sites that are well known to us in the West. To me this means that those official sites are more reliable, while keeping in mind that all news is potentially slanted.

    I was pleasantly surprised however to find that the state-owned Voice Of America, despite being viewed by some as a propaganda outlet,(which of course it is) is in line with other official sites, presenting items in a more informative and neutral way than the corporate media. For example this article, https://projects.voanews.com/china/global-footprint/english/projects/education/education-part-of-chinas-belt-and-road-push-in-africa.html — while containing some anti-china sentiment, is not outrageously over the top and gives a useful description of how China operates its BRI initiative.

    Because VOA reaches out across the globe, its content is global and wide-ranging, so for those who might recoil from accessing say, Chinese, Venezuelan, or Iranian sites, (all worth a look, by the way) VOA might be a good source for widening awareness of global trends. (If all your info comes from West-centric sources, you cannot be well-informed.)

    But do yourself a favour, as with any site — sort the wheat from the chaff. (The linked article is a good training resource for chaff sorting.)

  17. Steve Davis

    Just came across a great quote — “Skepticism of government doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist — it makes you a history buff.”

  18. Paul Smith

    Lucy your articles bring an unfathomable depth to the term TOUR DE FORCE. I will repost this and send anyone who says TLDR to their room and not let them out for dinner.

  19. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks to (almost) everyone for the outstanding and fascinating commentary. I am intrigued by the avenues to follow. Frances is correct to bring in Orwell and I really ought to have referenced him. Probably also Edward Bernays.

    Thanks also for giving so much of your time to reading the double length version. I value your effort beyond expressing. It is no small thing.

    Thanks to Paul, Julian, Clakka and Frances for such lovely compliments. I’m blushing.

    I’m now off to remove any reference to spartan lifestyles in my prose in case people think I am referencing institutionalised pederasty.

  20. Lucy Hamilton

    I’m sad nobody enjoyed the joke that last comment finished with 😉

  21. Steve Davis

    Lucy, I enjoyed it, but didn’t want to twist the knife.

    My knife hand needs a rest.

  22. Paul Smith

    I laughed, Lucy, but NOL … just… y’no… in case…
    ; )

  23. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks Steve and Paul 💜

  24. Michael Taylor

    Just for you, Lucy, I’m in stitches. 😀

  25. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks, Michael. 😀

  26. Steve Davis

    This failure of journalistic ethics — the deliberate misrepresentation of events by mislabeling, has had a side-effect that was detected by H L Mencken in his prophetic words about the US Presidency and the tendency of propaganda to dumb-down society.

    “All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    This trend was detected by Mencken about a century ago, and his prediction has come to fruition. Only a powerful and relentless program of manipulation could achieve such an astonishing result. So we have to ask why. The answer lies in what has actually been achieved.
    We see not only presidents that facilitate corporate priorities that harm society and the globe, but also a citizenry that is too complacent or powerless or unknowing to stop the rot. And “rot’ is the right word. We now have US intelligence officials admitting that they feed lies to the media. So servile is the US public that the intelligence agencies no longer have to operate covertly. They boast of their malfeasance, knowing that a compliant corporate media will play their game.

    Perhaps the quote attributed to former CIA Director William Casey is correct. A White House policy analyst alleged that Casey stated at a meeting of President Reagan and department heads in 1981, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

    It matters little if that was actually stated or not. Because we do know that there is a disinformation campaign. We do know that, for all practical purposes at least, everything the public believes is false. Of course there’s dissent and debate, its endless. Dissent and debate is part of the agenda, part of the con. It keeps people distracted. It convinces them that they live in a free society while keeping debate within boundaries. The situation described in the statement has, for all practical purposes, come to pass. And so the corporate agenda — endless profit no matter how harmful — is now the agenda of the US.

  27. Barry

    Steve, true. The agenda is not confined to the US but is being implemented by a relative handful of narcissistic power-hungry manipulators, sociopaths with an agenda to control the masses, the snake-oil salesmen and women of yore. Today they have upscaled their power by access to technologies beyond the comprehension of the average person and are protected by legislation that their backers and sikophants pluck out of thin air. The duplicitous media is their voice and are experts at the game of deceiving the public.
    I can see what Casey (CIA ) said is actually the fact. Whenever the media says something, I find myself checking the veracity if a claim is made without backing by impartial evidence. And it’s lucky for my health and peace of mind that I do. The majority of people still believe the govt and their misinfo collaborators, MSM, the govt propaganda unit. This is mainly the result of another trap that has been laid, ie, keep people running on the spot, going nowhere really, busy with ‘busyness’; so much so they have little time to separate propaganda from facts.

  28. frances

    @ Lucy Hamilton: I appreciated your thought-provoking article and can understand why Orwell is a bit on the nose in this era of moral presentism.

    But as to, “I’m now off to remove any reference to spartan lifestyles in my prose in case people think I am referencing institutionalised pederasty,” try as I might I just don’t get the joke!

    I’ve re-read your article and I still don’t get it. Something worries me about your use of the word ‘pederasty’.

    Presumably its usage is a wry postscript to emphasise the importance of being careful about one’s own speech. But I worry about any jokey use of the word ‘pederasty’, it being a kind of neutralising archaism with which perhaps only survivors of 19th-20th C English boarding schools might associate the word ‘spartan’. Yet its usage is readily associated with a homophobic cliche in currency (propaganda) suggesting that paedophilia/hebephilia = homosexuality or, again, with NAMBLA propaganda, where pederasty/paedophilia is promoted as a human right and a sexual freedom as if child/teen consent is a given.

    So my sense of humour screeches to a halt at the word ‘pederasty’, which I – and perhaps others – negatively associate to the many soul-killing, venerable institutions – boarding-schools writ large – that oversaw and covered up mostly irreversible sexual traumata perpetrated upon many thousands of lives.

    Tender young lives picked off, brutalised, and thrown away.

    As implied by your joke, we are all somehow complicit. Perhaps that’s what you meant all along and I’m finally getting it?

  29. Paul Smith

    FFS frances, get a life. If you are serious about your last five words you would have edited out the rest of your ridiculous diatribe.

  30. Barry

    @ Frances, I’m similarly confused, still. The ‘pederasty’ comment by Lucy followed by Steve, Paul and Michael chiming in, reads like a secret pedo-joke-ring bouncing flippant comments off each other. How is that possible? Pauls’ final comment throws no light on the situation for me and his angry outburst makes no sense, unless it is some kind of tactic to scare off any more comments.
    Lucy adding the label ‘pederasty’ into the comment section as a joke does not fit with the theme of this otherwise very good essay, an essay which notes “lazy acceptance of labels helps perpetuate distortions that damage individuals and society”.

  31. Steve Davis

    Hey fellas, the joke did not follow from the article, it’s not something sinister, it followed from the comment from B Sullivan.

    There’s a lesson for us all here. The written word is a minefield, because body language and facial expression that since the dawn of humanity have been crucial to communication, play no part.

  32. frances

    @ Steve Davis, thank you. I understand now, having re-read B Sullivan’s comment, that Lucy Hamilton’s reply follows from it. And I agree with your earlier comment emphasising that it is not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ of the comment that matters, i.e., not its intriguing pedagogical content but the attacking tone of its delivery.

    Yet if the written word is a minefield, surely its advantage over spontaneous real time verbal communication aided, as you say, by “body language and facial expression”, lies in its civilised/civilising scope for pausing to reflect, check, rewrite, and edit, just as I am doing now. It follows that below-the-line commentary, by virtue of its spontaneous, conversational, almost familial character, contrasts with what has been (usually) carefully composed and edited above, perhaps to the degree that passing through both realms – an unusual dispensation here – may take some navigating.

    But I do not think my oversight invalidates a principled objection to the use of the word ‘pederasty’ by the author in a casual comment below the line of her own article. It was because I respect the work of this author whose pieces I look forward to reading – indeed I missed them when they disappeared for a while – that I felt the need to comment especially as, as Barry observes, the article itself cautions, “lazy acceptance of labels helps perpetuate distortions that damage individuals and society”.

    Ancient Greece aside, however, the word ‘pederasty’ is neither label nor lifestyle choice but signifier and signpost to part of a broader global paedophilic organisational/criminal dimension sanctioning psychologically problematic, sometimes brutally and even murderously self-serving sexual activities between adults and children.

    I can only assume readers and writers bring to AIM hugely varied bundles of skills, talents, life experiences, attitudes, and political/social/professional commitments. My clinical background has taken me to dark places and to privileged knowledge which means there are certain things – albeit seemingly small or trivial – that I cannot pass over for all kinds of reasons (including knowledge-sharing which I also gain from others here).

    Yet it’s also true I can spring to the moral high ground as quick as the next person, and I reflected for a while before replying to Lucy in a way that may have seemed to be nit-picking or even an ‘attack’. But this was the furthest from my intentions, just as I imagine causing offence even inadvertently would have been from Lucy’s.

  33. Steve Davis

    frances, thank you for a well-considered comment.

    You are quite right, it’s essential in a forum such as this to, as you say, “reflect, check, rewrite, and edit.”

    As well as eliminating errors, quite often you come up with a far better comment as well, so it’s win-win.

  34. Lucy Hamilton

    Frances, I am so sorry that my choice of term and reference was so ill-judged. As a Classicist, I intended it to be archaic. It was indeed systemic, I believe from decades-past lectures, in Sparta. (More so than in Athens where it was accepted but not part of the structure.) The whole existence of boys in Sparta sounds more ghastly than I had remembered. The diamastigosis (ritual beating) sounds worse. I do understand that it is a ghastly and grotesque exploitation in the modern world. I am sorry for being academically-detached and flippant in such a terrible way.

  35. frances

    It is very good of you to say so Lucy, and to explain where you were coming from so clearly.

    I know there’s a whole universe of the living out there who are hurting and who, because they cannot speak for themselves for countless reasons and causes, remain mute and invisible.

    I’m one who, whilst spared, hurt for those I love who were not. Sometimes I even get triggered – as if I am them. And so I speak for them when I can.

    Perhaps we are both educators in our own ways.

    Thank you,
    frances

  36. Centrelink customer

    Services Australia keep sending me debt letters demanding my Rent Assistance I received as component of my Jobseeker allowance (over $4000 in total). I was fully qualified for the Rent Assistance as I met both of the conditions (receiving Jobseeker allowance and paying a private rent).

    When I applied for an internal review, they sent me a decision made by an anonymous delegate /officer not an Authorised Review Officer. I raised an issue of legality of the decision with Services Australia, ACOSS and government officials. None of them made a comment about that.

    ACOSS keeps referring me to Economic Justice Australia but I need ACOSS to answer simple questions regarding legality of the debt letters and review decision. Someone please help get information out of ACOSS.

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