Capitalism and Language


It is impossible to go a day or two without being presented with language that means very little, whilst appearing to mean a lot. It gives the appearance of some sort of professionalism, but that is all it is; appearance. It exists in its own World, somewhat divorced from reality. It perhaps mimics notions of professional dress codes; professional hair cuts; making sure tattoos aren’t on display; all the signs of modern day lifeless ‘professionalism’. It is all appearance, with very little meaning behind it. It is a religion unto itself. Allow me to give you some examples I once noted down having seen on a company mission statement:

“Our team works to prioritise mission-critical web-readiness, leveraging cross-platform web services.”

– I have studied this wording for quite some time, and I’m still unable to tell you what it means. I think it means; “We update our website a lot.

Orwell once took this beautiful line from Ecclesiastes:

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

– And transformed it into modern, business-English:

“Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

If we take a look at language we’re so used to hearing from the business community, from politicians, and from those who are speaking from a position of considerable privilege, we can easily note that the rhetoric tends to reflect the prevailing social and economic centres of power, used – among other things – to water down injustices within that particular system. Words and phrases are used to subtly promote the prevailing structure. The Liberal Democrats have taken to using the word “fair” to describe policies that do not fix inherent problems (like housing shortages) but do such untold damage to those who at the bottom, that repeating the word “fair” over and over seems like nothing more than an insecure exercise in trying to convince themselves of what they’re saying.

Conservatives are wonderful at claiming to be a Party willing to take “tough decisions“. As if that’s an inherently good thing. As if “tough” translates to “right“. It ignores ideology, if you claim the decisions were tough. You might envisage the millionaire Chancellor weeping as he signs off on cuts to disability funds for the most vulnerable, as if his anti-social security ideology isn’t a factor. It’s no different to Republicans in the US claiming it a tough decision to strip women of reproductive rights. Or slave owners in the Antebellum South claiming it’s a tough decision to whip their slaves. Those with the privilege do not get to claim a decision that perpetuates that pivilege, whilst oppressing those already oppressed, is “tough“.

In the business world, “End of play” suggests a sort of child-like fun that you must be having. ‘Flexible accumulation‘ used to suggest an inherent and unavoidable part of the system that means of production, of distribution, and so labourforce (people) are in fact all unimportant in themselves – secondary – to the most important aspect of life; the accumulation of capital (which, oddly, is deemed a natural ‘good’). And so as language analysts suggest; if workers are convinced of their own nature as ‘flexible’ they are more likely to accept that their jobs are part of that ‘flexible‘ cycle, willing to work longer hours for less. If you tell a worker he or she is ‘expendable‘ or ‘worthy, until the boss deems otherwise‘, you’re unlikely to inspire much loyalty (a loyalty, the boss isn’t obliged to reciprocate). ‘Flexible accumulation’ is a very subtle threat, hidden behind more creative language. Just today, we read that the Institute of Directors has responded angrily to suggestions that zero-hour contracts be banned, insisting that it risks the UKs ‘flexible’ labour market. Another way to describe a ‘flexible‘ labour market, is job insecurity. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; anxiety, depression, and poor health increase dramatically in those people who consider their job to be insecure. This, to the Institute of Directors, is an unimportant consequence of a “flexible labour market“.

Burst bubble” denotes something out of anyone’s control, and so those who were at the very centre of the financial crash are exonerated by a linguistic con-trick. Those who suffered the most from the impact of the “burst bubble” tend to be those with very little political or economic power, and so it is easy to transfer the blame from those at the centre of the bubble, to those who were reliant on the bubble. The rule of divide and conquer. Ensure those on incredibly low wages, with a falling standard of living, and insecure jobs (flexible workforce) believe it is the fault of those who are poorer than they, rather than those with the power and the wealth. The poor must be ‘scroungers’ or they are ‘leechers’ or they are ‘Welfare dependent’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘immigrants taking our jobs’.

We are bombarded with how ‘the markets‘ will react, to any social or economic change. ‘The markets‘ are treated as a mysterious, God-like entity that must be obeyed. A new Theology. Milton Friedman appears like a Prophet promising “freedom” but delivering destitution. The ‘Market‘ God is treated as if infallible. As if perfect rather than what they actually are; indifferent, amoral. For example, if I were to drive my car a mile away to the shop, I must buy a car, I must buy insurance, I must pay my road tax, I must buy petrol, I might choose to buy a new CD for the car, or an air freshener. Doubtlessly, driving a mile down the road to the shop contributes to the growth of ‘the markets’. Or, I could choose to walk the mile to the shop. I am benefitting the environment this way, it is far more healthy for me to do this, and yet, I contribute nothing to the growth of ‘the markets’ this way. In this example, my health and the health of the environment are less important, than pollution and laziness. The Institute of Directors, who care little for the health of humanity, would be thoroughly unimpressed if I were to walk to work. But for the thriving of Capitalism, especially after such a risky crises, the language used to portray ‘the markets’ must be positive and lofty at all times, whilst those that fall victim to the insidious side of market forces, portrayed as weak, lazy, and a burden. By dehumanising the most vulnerable, people are able to turn their heads when harsh economic violence is conducted against them.

We are told that policy must be directed to benefit those we now consider “job creators“. They are our saviours. We are indebited to those people. As if their money is how wealth is created. As if they don’t just ride the tide of demand. We have called it supply-side, we have called it trickle-down, now the rhetoric has moved on to labeling anyone with money as a ‘job creator’. We are told that if we do not cut taxes for the richest, whilst slashing social programmes that those taxes fund, the ‘job creators‘ will all leave. And so, they must be given the biggest Welfare payment of all; a massive tax cut. This is the real something-for-nothing society, because the obligation for someone who has used a well funded public system and social security safety net and framework in order to gain great wealth, to pay back into that system in order for the next generation to be afforded the same opportunities, is cut the moment a government give into the threat of leaving if taxed. The poorest do not have that option.

Interestingly, through all the media hype and demands of “catching” Welfare cheats, alongside exaggerated shock stories of parents claiming millions in Welfare, for their 40 children, in their 140 bedroom house, and their Spanish beach home, all paid for by your hard work!!!!!…. only £1.2bn was lost to Welfare fraud in 2010/11, which is 0.8% of the total benefit expenditure. If the total benefit expenditure was a £1 coin, less than 1p would be lost to fraud. By contrast Vodafone (that’s one company, not an entire Nation) was allowed to write off its tax bill of £6bn. That’s six times more than that lost to Welfare fraud across the whole country. Rather coincidentally, the head of tax policy at Vodafone is a man named John Connors. Connors used to work at HMRC and enjoys a close relationship with current head of HMRC, David Hartnett. They go for cosy lunches together, and then they casually wipe £6bn from the Nation’s second largest company on the Stock market’s tax bill. Unsurprisingly, Hartnett is the most wined and dined civil servant in the country, by corporations. I’m sure it’s just because he’s such a nice guy. Yes. That must be it.

The Conservative Party does not like talking about individual cases of those suffering intensely due to Tory budget cuts. Iain Duncan Smith, when presented with families struggling to live, started his answer with “this is typical of the BBC“.
In March 2012, according to figures by the Department for Communities and Local Government, local authorities registered 48,510 households as homeless, representing a 14% leap. The largest in nine years. A report from the same department also showed the number of people sleeping rough had jumped by a fifth, in a year.
Leslie Morphy the Chief Exec. of Crises said:

“Our worst fears are coming to pass. We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services.”

Similarly, the Chief Exec. of Shelter, Campbell Rob said:

“These figures are a shocking reminder of the divide between the housing haves and have nots in this country,”

Similarly, Matt Harrison, interim chief executive of Homeless Link said:

“This comes at a time when reduced funding has already hit services and further cuts are expected this year. Our research indicates that there are now fewer projects, fewer beds and more of our members are turning people away because they are full.”

– With overwhelming evidence, and statements from those whose lives are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable, wishing to highlight the situation, you’d think the government might firstly accept their is a problem given that the 7th largest economy in the World has a rising homeless population, and secondly, set out just what the government intends to do about this horrendous situation. Instead, Grant Shapps said:

“the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country”.

During the Mick Philpott murder case, George Osborne echoed the sentiments of the right winged Tabloid press, when he hinted that the murder of children, could in any way be linked to the concept of Welfare. Social security under attack politically, needed a rhetorical bedfellow, and it was handed it with the Philpott case. Tory Councillor John Bell, ran with this:
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– The manipulative nature of the rhetoric is evident when we note how the Daily Mail dealt with the case, in its story:

“Michael Philpott is a perfect parable for our age: His story shows the pervasiveness of evil born of welfare dependency. The trial spoke volumes about the sheer nastiness of the individuals involved. But it also lifted the lid on the bleak and often grotesque world of the welfare benefit scroungers — of whom there are not dozens, not hundreds, but tens of thousands in our country.“

– The suggestion being that there are two groups of people in the UK; those not on any form of Welfare, and those on Welfare who are also potential child killers. The Daily Mail headline that day, above a picture of Mick Philpott was simple:

“Vile Product of Welfare UK.

– Yet, when Stephen Seddon murdered his parents for his £230,000 inheritance, the Mail did not suggest this was the ‘vile product‘ of the concept of inheritance. When the Mail editors got hold of the Philpott story, their main objective was to further the demonisation of Welfare. Nothing more. Any tenuous link was going to be drawn. Capitalism, that inevitably leads to the necessity of social security is not to blame, for the Daily Mail. That social security itself, is to blame.

When the Shropshire millionaire Hugh McFall murdered his wife and daughter, the Mail said:

“Detectives believe the mild-mannered family man snapped as he struggled to cope with spiralling debts…..Last night his sister Claire Rheade said: ‘It’s unbelievable – he doted on his family, he would never harm them. ‘He was a gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly.’ ”

– Note the rhetorical differences.
The Philpott case: “evil“, “sheer nastiness“, “grotesque“, “scroungers“, “bleak”.
The McFall case: “mild-mannered“, “family man“, “doted on his family“, “never harm them“, “gentle man“, “wouldn’t hurt a fly“. They mention his “personal spiralling debts” as a catalyst. Here, they limit responsibility to he alone. They could call the McFall murders a “vile product of Capitalism“. They don’t.

To water down injustices within the system, whilst promoting the prevailing order, it is necessary to inflict linguistic damage upon those considered ‘outside’ of the system. Those who lose out. Those on the receiving end of the injustices, because to face up to the injustices puts those who gain the most, in a threatened situation. Marx was convinced that the injustices would eventually manifest in the collective consciousness of the oppressed, which in turn, would lead to revolution. Marx faltered in his underestimating oppressive discourse and how it becomes so ingrained into the social fabric (especially if it is repeated over generations) so as to threaten opposition by stigmatising it as much as possible. It represents a narrowing of both social, and political discourse. You can usually tell just who benefits the most from the prevailing rhetoric of the day, because they’re the ones with the power.

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