How we can — and must — win the war on language
In 1997 a young researcher at a tech start up looked into the question of how people read online. His answer was surprising: they don’t. Instead they click from link to link, page to page.
The researcher in question was Jakob Neilsen, and the start-up was Google. This was arguably the most profitable insight in corporate history. Up to then, the internet was a tool for science geeks to share esoteric research among their peers. With this discovery, it was transformed into a universal weapon of mass distraction: as addictive as any drug, capable of swallowing our attention for hours every day. As we sit clicking from news to videos to shopping to social networking, our attention is being bought and sold with every blink.
The left quickly understood the power of the internet too — hardly surprising, given that most left wingers tend to be young. Once left wing activists realised it was about clicks and not content, the internet became the front line in a full scale war on language.
The tragic result is that dialogue has become a battle with real victims: people whose words are deliberately twisted and used against them, or the silent majority who are simply excluded because they do not understand the new language.
In Jordan Peterson’s lecture, “The Dialectic”, he explains how left-wing thinkers tend to be more creative, while right wingers tend to be more conscientious. Hence, each brings something to the table, which is why it is so important they work together. By stealing language, the left is using its artistic flair to shut down that vital dialectic. We are all victims when open debate and discussion can no longer be conducted. We are also robbed of our common inheritance.
“Progressive” refers to those who want to go back to the ideas of Marx and Lenin!
Take the recent calls by activists for football manager Joey Barton to resign after describing a terrible performance by his team as “a holocaust”. As Rod Liddle pointed out, the word predates the Holocaust by over 2000 years. While his description may have been hyperbolic, since when was hyperbole a crime? Would there be any football managers left if it were? Is Barton not entitled to wallow in words just as Shakespeare did? Does language not belong to us all?
If anyone is guilty of stretching meaning, surely it is the hard left. “Liberal” is now used to define someone on the political spectrum who wants more taxes and more regulation. “Progressive” refers to those who want to go back to the ideas of Marx and Lenin.
“Violence” is another misused term: a highly emotive term that, we are told, can now be committed with words, or even less. “Silence is violence”, apparently. “Abuse” now covers the spectrum from expressing a political viewpoint to war crimes. Some politicians want to criminalise “abuse” of MPs, which includes shouting at them or insulting them online. Yet when they shout at each other across the chamber, or support groups who insult members of the opposing party, that is not abuse.
Perhaps the biggest minefield of all is “racism”. Racism can now mean anything. Race can encompass beliefs, language, nationality, regionality, culture, history (real or assumed), education or appearance. Hence putting your family first is racist. Criticising Israeli policy is racist, as is questioning Islamic beliefs. Border controls are racist. Brexit is racist. Playing Cowboys and Indians is racist. Makeup is racist. Music, maths and even gardening are racist. Exams are so racist that they cannot even be marked: A teacher correcting the grammar of an ethnic minority commits a racist micro-aggression. Not correcting it is a racist micro-invalidation. Ironically, because racism has become such a vacuous term, it is impossible to define groups with terms such as “black” or “Muslim” without being racist.
Equality too can mean almost anything. It sounds like a nice word, but some pretty nasty things are done in the name of equality. Equality of opportunity is mutually exclusive from equality of outcome. You cannot have both; the latter requires compulsion or active discrimination. Hence Black Lives Matter claims to fight for equality (of outcome) by being overtly racist.
Activists have worked tirelessly to rebrand illegal immigrants as refugees
Labour has been playing these word games for years. The “Dementia Tax” was a left wing coup that arguably cost Theresa May her majority. While it sounds horrible, in reality this was a classic left-wing policy designed to get asset-rich pensioners to contribute more to the costs of elderly care. Of course, Corbyn’s policy of expropriating listed utilities would also have deprived millions of elderly pensioners but without the means-testing.
Wherever Labour go, the SNP goes lower. When benefits reforms were introduced to limit payouts for large families, Nicola Sturgeon led protests against “the Rape Clause”. This term referred to a compassionate measure designed to ensure that victims of rape could still receive full benefits for any resulting children. The choice of language was designed to be both emotive and entirely misleading.
Elsewhere activists have worked tirelessly to rebrand illegal immigrants as refugees or undocumented migrants —a phrase that masks the funding of organised crime, tax evasion, property damage and destruction of low income communities involved.
Activist judges in particular are having a field day. The European Convention of Human Rights provides a perfect example. It was drafted in 1949, in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its authors could never have imagined it would be used to prevent the deportation of murderers and rapists, provide carte blanche to environmental protesters to trash cities and block roads, or selectively repress freedom of speech. These judges have no democratic accountability or transparency. Thus, they can misuse language to tear down the rule of law with abandon.
There is a goldmine of leftist clichés just waiting to be exploited
It is not the first time. The left has always had the upper hand in the battle of words. Reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, feels perilously close to reality: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” What is different this time is that digital technology — with its powers of surveillance and manipulation — has made Newspeak more insidious than Orwell could have imagined.
Why do we, as the vast majority, accept this? It is a bullying tactic and a form of subjugation. It excludes people from democratic debate. It undermines the rule of law and rots the media.
It is no longer enough to win the battle of ideas with reason and debate. We have to win the battle of words by stealing back language. There is a goldmine of leftist clichés just waiting to be exploited. What’s more we can have a lot of fun doing this. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em, as they say.
American linguist John McWhorter has already given us “neo-racist” and “woke racism” to describe how the extremes of identity politics harm the very people they claim to help. “The Rape Clause” could be applied to human rights rules that allow dangerous criminals to stay in the country, or to oppose Trans rights where they compromise women’s privacy.
Priti Patel could borrow “reclaim the streets” to campaign against illegal protesters, while “Net Zero” could be used as a call for balanced migration. We could employ “indigenous rights” and “cultural appropriation” to defend our proud history and statues from cancel culture. “Power to the people” neatly describes Swiss-style direct democracy, with frequent referendums on populist causes. If any International organisations object, well, that’s just “neo-colonialism”.
Excessively high taxes amount to “modern slavery” and excessive government borrowing is surely “indentured servitude” for our children. Free trade and tax cuts are of course the original “liberal” ideals. Why not reclaim them as such?
And surely any genuine “Progressive” would demand a gradual lifting of Covid restrictions?
It took just thirty minutes to dismantle the daydream
This would be just the start. We need to carry on learning and redefining the left’s lexicon. In doing so, we steal back our language. To steal back language is to reclaim something before there is nothing left. The hard left wants to take all that is joyful in life: our education, history, culture, music, literature and our language. These are for the enjoyment of everyone, not the preserve of a neomarxist elite. We have to take them back, and language is the best place to start.
If we can speak to younger thinkers through their own language, we have the opportunity to recalibrate their beliefs and introduce them to alternative philosophies. What’s more, if we undermine the left’s lazy misuse of words and slogans, they will have to start explaining what they mean. Compared to the poetry of ideology, precise language is a dull act. That is when the mask slips to reveal the ugly face of tyranny and the flawed thinking that gave us the gulags, North Korean dictatorship and the Great Leap Forward.
In summer 2017, Jeremy Corbyn was at his zenith. Standing in front of a crowd of 100,000 Glastonbury revellers, he was treated to messianic euphoria. He spoke in age-old clichés, and they lapped it up. Three years later, the erstwhile labour leader was interviewed by Andrew Neil. With each question, the ideological poetry fell away to reveal a mind that was mad, dishonest or utterly incompetent. It took just thirty minutes to dismantle the daydream.
This is a call to action for every right-minded thinker, tweeter, journalist, MP and communications officer. We all have a duty to take back language and to use it lavishly for our own ends. That is how you win the battle of words and the battle of ideas.
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