Brendan O'Neill: The Corruption of Political Language

Brendan O'Neill: The Corruption of Political Language

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Brendon O’Neill talks about the corruption of political language at the Battle of Big Ideas.


it's been a while since I posted a lazy Sunday upload but I thought this excerpt of Brendon O'Neil talking about the corruption of political language was worth a post now it might sound like a cliche to describe certain types of modern political language as Orwellian but consider some examples I've noted previously the language of diversity which often refers to a very narrow conception of diversity like skin color or gender and totally ignores either diversity of thought or the natural diversity amongst individuals in fact diversity is often code for conformity if you're not on board with the diversity agenda then you'll be cast out as James d'amour discovered or similarly the word inclusive is often invoked when what is actually being practice is exclusion Stanford University announced just last week that they were banning men for the gym for four hours a week under the banner of inclusivity or how about equality which is more from the common understanding of equality under the law and equality of opportunity to equality of outcome although not explicitly stated and the language of equality continues to change you now hear phrases like substantive equality or equity which obscure intentionally I believe they're real meaning anyway this excerpt is taken from a battle of ideas forum last year titled the corruption of political language and Brendan O'Neill does a great job of laying out some examples of how confusing our political language has become enjoy if you want to see what a mess both politics and language are in at the moment you just have to consider the fact that last week Downing Street issued a statement saying it was okay to use the phrase pregnant women so this is the seat of political power in Britain informing the populace that it is acceptable to say that women get pregnant it is acceptable to say that pregnancy is something that happens to a woman not to a man and basically Downing Street is saying it's okay for you to express and give voice to biological facts which the vast majority of people around the country will have thought was a very strange thing for Downing Street to have to remind us of now of course this was in response to a controversy involving the foreign the Foreign Office had to give advice to the United Nations on the wording of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that covenant contains a line which says pregnant women should not be given the death penalty and the Foreign Office said we have a bit of a problem with the phrase pregnant women because it might be offensive to I don't know the 17 people who have given birth while claiming or identifying as men and so it said to the UN please say pregnant people to avoid giving offence and it caused such a stink that eventually Downing Street had to come out and say look it's okay to say pregnant women this is an incredibly bizarre situation that we have to try and get our heads around firstly the fact that the Foreign Office has gone even the Foreign Office even the kind of stuffy foreign office which extends Britain's influence around the world full of suits and civil servants and probably quite boring people even the Foreign Office has gone down the rabbit hole off postmodernist trans speech where even the words men and women are being called into question and the second bizarre thing of course is that Downing Street has to tell us has to give us a green light that it's okay to say pregnant women a phrase that people use every single day and that's how they understand the world they live in and I think what that story really points to is that we face something really worrying today a crisis of political language that is actually quite profound and disturbing a crisis of political language that I think expresses a crisis of politics more broadly and beyond that the crisis of meaning a collapse of meaning a collapse of the basic categories through which people have traditionally understood politics the world and their place in the world a collapse of the ideas and substance and meaning of everyday life in essence so I think the anchoring of political language the confusions of political language today both express and intensify a crisis of public life and even a crisis of common sense so we we actually face something more than what all well wrote about in his famous essay which is not just the the misuse of political language not just the use of political language to mystify rather than clarify into disguise rather than enlighten we still have that of course we still have the propagandistic misuse of language but we have something else to something even worse a situation where political language has become disconnected from reality and has increasingly become this very crude tool for the expression of narrow contradictory mystifying and even unhinged ideas so I just want to look at three ways in which I think political language is in crisis today the first is that thing all well and others wrote about their ongoing often quite conscious and sometimes quite sinister misuse of political language – in all Wells words make murder look respectable we still got that we still have that we still have people who very consciously misuse language to hide what they're really doing or to hide what they really think so this is an era in which peacekeeping is presented to us as something that the United Nations does something that the British military does when we know that what they're really doing is war war is increasingly presented to us as peacekeeping the United Nations will intervene in a foreign normally already war ravaged country it will often support one side demonize another it might even get involved in arming certain groups it might get involved in raping women as has happened in certain places where the UN has posted troops it will inevitably end up entrenching the divisions in that country intensifying the conflict deepening the bloodshed and it calls it a peacekeeping operation war is now peace all peace is war this is an era in which Western governments the British government and the American government will bomb other countries and refer to it as humanitarian intervention that shockingly Orwellian political phrase that was invented by the likes of Tony Blair and much of the Labour Party of the time which supported him and also the liberal press which presented the bombing of Yugoslavia in particular in 1999 as humanitarian intervention they used the language of caring saving humanitarianism protection while they were killing hundreds of people including hundreds of refugees on more than one occasion they bombed columns of refugees who are fleeing Yugoslavia and killed them women pregnant women children all blown to bits all of it referred to as humanitarian intervention a deeply sinister misuse of language barbarism disguised as humanitarianism destruction describe disguised as construction as rescue and then on the domestic front I think one of the misuses of political language that I find most intriguing and concerning is around the word incapacity particularly in relation of course to incapacity benefit which is a thing that was introduced in the 1970s really took off in the 1980s it's in that decade where the number of people receiving incapacity benefit goes up exponentially and eventually reaches around a million and then in more recent times in capacity has been reimagined as disability or in capability in other words get attached to this idea but that's also incredibly deceitful language that is the presentation of societal failure in this instance the Society's failure to provide people with gainful employment the presentation of societal failure as individual incapacity the presentation of the the limitations of capita society and it's an inability to provide everyone with work as a failing on the part of the individual here it's his or her incapacity that is the problem and of course if you look at the 1980s what happens hundreds of thousands of people are thrown out of work particularly in the areas of manufacturing and mining and other traditional forms of Industry and they're redefined as incapable and they come to think of themselves tragically and inevitably as incapable and so what we have in those instances and there are numerous other instances is the misuse of language the very sinister misuse of language to disguise what's really going on politically and to cover up war destruction unemployment and other deeply problematic things that happen in modern society the second way in which political language is in crisis is the way in which some political terms and phrases and descriptions have become so emptied of substance that they now mean the opposite of what they once meant and there are a few examples of this I want to give the first is the word progressive whenever I hear someone described themselves as progressive now I know that they are not progressive it's the easiest way to work out if someone's progressive you can see this all the time almost everyone who described in selves as progressive is actually opposed to progress is actually largely very uncomfortable with the ideas of the Enlightenment and with the ideas of a future orientated humanist desire to expand man's influence over nature to develop the forces of production to move forward and progress even environmentalists call themselves progressive and you just know they're taking the mick I've heard people say we are progressives opposed to fracking and you just want to shape them by their collars and say that means you're not progressive you are opposing a progressive step a new form of Industry something that could give people employment and create more energy that's not progressive the other word uh Turley changement is an anti-racist to be anti-racist now is to be hyper conscious about race to be anti-racist now is to think racially all the time it is to say to people you're white you're black you're this you're that it is to behave in the way racist people used to behave although it's done in a very politically correct way to be anti-racist now is to go and see a movie and the cinema and count the number of black faces and then write a tumblr post later about how terrible it is that Hollywood won't employ enough black people it is to be myopically racial obsessively racial that to me is the opposite of what anti-racist used to me which was to get rid of the whole nonsense idea of race free speech now means the opposite of what it used to mean free speech used to mean you wanted free speech now very often people will argue for censorship under the guise of freedom of speech one example of that is event Cooper who is pushing this thing called reclaim the internet which wants new rules and regulations on the internet so people can't say certain things and she says this is not about limiting free speech this is about expanding it because if we allow trolls to speak online other people feel that they can't speak so in calling for the regulation of speech she says she is defending freedom of speech utterly Orwellian censorship is freedom the other two words that now are emptied of meaning is conservative and labor the Conservative Party is no longer interested in conserving things and the Labour Party no longer knows anyone who Labor's for a living the Conservative Party if you just look at their gender identity Act which would allow anyone to claim to be an agenda regardless of reality looked to me like a complete and utter embrace of post-modernism a destruction of tradition at its very core that is the end of any suggestion that the Conservative Party is the Conservative Party labor increasingly looked to me like a movement against ordinary people rather than for ordinary people a movement that wants to police and control what people see and eat and how offer making gamble and which sees them as a problem to be solved rather than a people to be represented the left increasingly means being against ordinary people rather than for them and the brexit debate proves that two and then the third and final way in which political language is corroded today is I think the most important which is that political language has increasingly surrendered to the culture wars it is increasingly political language is increasingly a tool of identity and validation rather than of description and the expression of convictions and it's really interesting I think that the two of the most common political terms today that are used to describe people are very rarely used by people themselves to describe themselves and those two phrases are politically correct and neoliberal I find it fascinating that we see those phrases bandied around all the time you're politically correct you're a neoliberal but it's incredibly incredibly rare that anyone describes themselves as politically correct or anyone describes themselves as neoliberal because that is political language that is not used to describe something accurately it's used to brand it's used to other people it's used in the culture wars in the identity wars to say I'm good you're evil it's a marker rather than a tool of description and you see that again and again today particularly in the misuse of terms like fascist and communist so people on the Left will call anyone who even remotely disagrees with Angola Merkel's welcoming of a hundred thousand migrants into Germany you're a fascist if you have any issue with that whatsoever you're instantly a fascist there like Rick from The Young Ones everyone is a fascist and then on the right anyone who likes the NHS and wants to expand it and think certain things should be done by the government rather than by the free market is a Marxist a communist the firebrand they keep saying this about Korbin esters and of course it's not true someone recently said Corbyn ism is basically just microwaved Miliband ISM it's not mark that's the key problem I think with political language right now which is that it is increasingly used within the culture wars not to accurately describe yourself or to accurately describe your enemies but simply to puff up yourself and demonize others and that gives rise to a situation where it can be very difficult to work out the truth of politics and the truth of where people stand the one word that is most demonizing which I think we should reclaim is the word populist that's the word that is the most demonic were today everyone who opposes the European Union a deeply authoritarian bureaucratic backward institution is branded a populist and in relation to that I say bring it on populist means being interested in and wanting to engage with the popular will and I think the more that we can reorient politics around doing that the more we can move away from the dishonest destructive self-interested misuse of political language [Applause] you

44 thoughts on “Brendan O'Neill: The Corruption of Political Language”

  1. Couple of points:

    1) Capitalism is not obliged – by lack of a better word – to provide full employment all the time. Economic dislocation is a part of the competitive nature of capitalistic economy. One could criticize it as a "failing" if so inclined, but it is made mute by the fact that workers dislocated from one sector will eventually be absorbed into another sector. I just find his idea that Capitalism is "flawed" because jobs cannot be guaranteed indefinitely as a criticism based on the premise that Capitalism should be more like the command economy of Socialism.

    2) His remarks about war reveal some polar thinking. Yes, politicians shouldn't call war "peace-keeping". Yes, that's right. But the idea that a military inadvertently killing people they are trying to protect in an isolated incident does not mean that they are lying about the intent of the operation. Military history is full of cases of war being used justly to end murderous or enslaving regimes and save people who cannot defend themselves. The fact that it gets ugly doesn't erase or invalidate the underlying purpose. Ever heard of WW2, Brendan?

  2. My greatest insight from actually reading 1984 was that Orwell imagined the party as non centralised.
    It was not a top down or bottom up hierarchy but horizontal system where the fear of ones peers was what held the party together. The leaders where more enslaved than the thralls and big brother didn't actually exist.
    The people were collectively possessed by an ideology rather than being proponents of it.
    The ideology was self perpetuating so long as everyone was more concerned with self preservation than truth.
    I think this is precisely the kind of tyranny that is starting to creep in to our institutions. The way to combat it is not to find and attack personalities who spread it, that only creates martyrs. It is to reject the ideology itself. To assert truth regardless of retribution.

  3. Along the lines or Orwell's "ministry of peace" which is mainly concerned with war is the Australian Defence Force, mostly concerned with the invasion occupation of foreign countries.

  4. Here in Canada, "Social Justice" is literally being written into the grade school curriculum. They actually have no problem whatsoever of turning public education into a tool for political indoctrination.

  5. Of course, Labour is no longer for ordinary people. They're Fabians and that means they want to create a technocracy with a scientific elite dictating and running the rule over everyone else.

  6. There's another corruption of political language and that is the corruption of written legislation. Take a look at the concise and clear laws of 100+ years ago and compare it to the obscure, confusing and often contradictory language used in modern legislation. IM perhaps you could do a video on that.

  7. This is pure bliss. The Western countries that ridiculed and laughed at all the states behind the Iron Curtain for communism are fucking sense enough to fall into the same trap hole, turning into intellectual shit holes and tyrannical regimes. Karma is an absolutely gorgeous thing. You fucking deserve it. All of you, for being lazy and dense enough to let that happen. Good luck digging your way out of this rancid big.

  8. I dunno, he has some points but some of his points are kind of…blind? i get what hes saying about language, and it seems like a good set of statements, but his own political standards seem to be tied deeply into some parts of his argument, which is a bit troubling.

  9. Populism = Enacting the democratic will of the people. – But racists are not welcome as part of democratic processes. If populism leads to the wrong outcome, then democracy has failed. – No democracy for Nazis

  10. I do disagree with his point of environmentalists not being progressive. They think that the unsustainable exploitation of the environment is not the future thus they want to progress away from that.

  11. So the UN went to yugoslavia and murdered a bunch of people for no reason at all? Everything was just fine in Yugoslavia before that? The United States just decided they needed to go kill hundreds of people for no reason, spun a globe, and thats where their finger landed? Is this right?

  12. He seemed to agree the Fracking was ok?
    Maybe just used it as an example but a little research would surely change his view, way too much of the procedure and the chemicals used are secretive, which should automatically raise red flags…

  13. ¨The left is against ordinary people…¨ – same in Australia – the Labor Party labours to convince labourers that it is interested in them.

  14. You can 'progress' towards a state of economic growth while simultaneously reducing environmental impact. It can be done with nuclear energy. It cannot be done with hydraulic fracturing. Does he support it just to piss people off?

  15. Well he was wrong about the redundancies in the 1980's. People weren't made "incapacitated" over night, that was just the label for the government payment they needed. It is not capitalism's purpose to provide everyone with a job. That is the sort of straight-line thinking that cripples Marxists. They see people without jobs, they think someone should give them jobs, they look to the only economic actor that can be forced to do something in a liberal society; government. Then government creates jobs that 1) only government would create (i.e. not jobs that actually do something profitable) or 2) would have been created anyway.

  16. I have to disagree with him on fracking. Fracking is just a new way to do something we've already been doing for a very long time. It's expanding stagnation. We've been using natural gas for a very long time and we've gotten it in a safer way. Now we're causing more damage to the planet to get the same product that we've been using. Progress would be finding a way to create energy without damaging the planet. Without causing more damage than the way we previously have done it. Fracking is just a new way of doing the same old thing. How is that Progressive? How does that move us forward in any imaginable way? Although I will give him the fact that it does employ a couple of people.

  17. I'm suspended from Twitter most likely because I indefinitely identify as a man. I'm an American, facts are being removed from twitter under the guises of social justice. My murdered twitter username was @Styles. I don't need saving, they killed me. Most likely, I'm looking into legal resources for resurrection.

  18. The reason the left doesn’t use the terms “politically correct” and “communist” to describe themselves is because they are deeply dishonest about who they are and what their endgame is.

  19. So then we need to take the term "Politically Correct" and apply it to all these political terms being used as if they were in Bizarro World. All this diversity, inclusivity bullcrap is NOT Politically Correct.

  20. here is two examples of saving lives  enslaved`over 120 million for over 50 years–and 50 years later they are still the most dangerous countries in the world -N Korea and Iran.  Iraq war was mess but the people are free  and will be more like South Korea in 20 years. If you don't think sadam wouldnt be as bigger problem  than N korea is today – think again.

  21. On what level is the term 'pregnant women' acceptable? As a transitioning pregnant person I find this offensive. Might as well refer to me as an unhinged fat bloke.

  22. Bleak Lies Matter because truth confuses language with meaning. In ‘other’ words, results do matter, not just the fabled intentions of the vital virtue of Victimology; which IS the secular-sealed religion of the post-modern age of Aquarius.

  23. just brilliant…….
    listened to a you tube regarding european feminism…. they are beginning to wake up and realize they have imported a culture which has no regard to women's rights ….. they will now try and shame the european men to defend them ( white feather) …. the comment that hit the button was…. "do your own fighting now…… we are too busy doing the dishes….."
    equality in spades……

  24. Neo Liberal and Neo Conservatives became popular terms of demonization during the Culture Wars of the 1980s & 1990s. A handful of self identified Communists, Marxist and religious liberals (that leaned more toward a conservative/evangelical mindset) joined censorship forces with the religious right and deemed the vast majority of liberals … “Neo Liberal”.

    As a kid – teen I was naturally more enthralled with the cultural aspects than policy. The country had just gone through the free speech and sexual lib movements and I could not understand this minority on the left that joined forces with right wing evangelicals, and attempted to censor music while calling everyone else “Neo Liberal”. It was bizarre. The whole thing was bizarre because those pushing for censorship of subjective lyrics often lied about or misconstrued their meaning while demonizing the musicians singing them as sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti immigration, pro rape and violence against women (last but not least) devil worshippers flirting with the occult while poisoning the children’s minds with talk of sex and drug/alcohol addiction.

    Self proclaimed atheist Marxists & Communists moved this dishonest and weird weird mash up of anti sex/lesbian separatist/victim feminism, sprinkled with a pinch of evangelical fire and brimstone, on college campuses in the late 80s (after they failed in society at large). They also took their hatred for “Neo Liberals” there, too.

    See hell, fire and brimstone excerpts from a 1992 article titled Feminists Against the First Amendment below:

    With this exclusive focus on prohibiting material that reflects incorrect attitudes toward women, anti-porn feminists don't deny the chilling effect of censorship; they embrace it. Any speech that subordinates women—any pornography—is yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, they say, falling back on a legal canard. But that's true only if, just as all crowds are deemed potential mobs, all men are deemed potential abusers whose violent impulses are bound to be sparked by pornography. It needs to be said, by feminists, that efforts to censor pornography reflect a profound disdain for men. Catharine MacKinnon has written that "pornography works as a behavioral conditioner, reinforcer and stimulus, not as idea or advocacy. It is more like saying 'kill' to a trained guard dog—and also the training process itself." That's more a theory of sexuality than of speech: pornography is action because all men are dogs on short leashes.

    'This bleak view of male sexuality condemns heterosexuality for women as an exercise in wish fulfillment (if only men weren't all dogs) or false consciousness (such as male-identified thinking). True feminism, according to MacKinnon, unlike liberal feminism, "sees sexuality as a social sphere of male power of which forced sex is paradigmatic." With varying degrees of clarity, MacKinnon and Dworkin suggest that in a context of pervasive, institutionalized inequality, there can be no consensual sex between men and women: we can never honestly distinguish rape from intercourse.


    Sensationalism, however, is an organizing tool for antiporn feminists. If questions about the effects of pornography seem intellectual to some women involved in social-service work, the popular campaign against pornography is aggressively anti-intellectual. Although advocates of First Amendment freedoms are stuck with intellectual defenses of the marketplace of ideas, anti-porn feminists whip up support for their cause with pornographic slide shows comprising hard-core pictures of women being tortured, raped, and generally degraded. Many feminists are equally critical of the soft-core porn movies available at local video stores and on cable TV, arguing that the violence in pornography is often covert (and they include mainstream advertising images in their slide shows). But hard-core violence is what works on the crowd. Feminist rhetoric often plays on women's worst fears about men: "Pornography tells us that there but for the grace of God go us," Gail Dines, a sociology professor at Wheelock College, exclaimed during her recent slide show at Harvard, as she presented photographs of women being brutalized.

    Dines's porn show was SRO, its audience some three hundred undergraduates who winced and gasped at the awful slides and cheered when Dines pointed to a pornographic picture of a woman and said, "When I walk down the street, what they know about me is what they know about her!" She warned her mostly female audience that pornographers have "aggressively targeted college men." She seemed preoccupied with masturbation. Part of the problem of pornography, she suggested, is that men use it to masturbate, and "women weren't put on this world to facilitate masturbation." She advised a student concerned about the presence of Playboy in the college library that library collections of pornography aren't particularly worrisome, because men are not likely to masturbate in libraries.

    In addition to condemnations of male sexuality, Dines offered questionable horror stories about pornography's atrocities, like this: Rape vans are roaming the streets of New York. Women are dragged into the vans and raped on camera; when their attackers sell the rape videos in commercial outlets, the women have no legal recourse.

    A story like this is impossible to disprove (how do you prove a negative?), but it should probably not be taken at face value, as many students in Dines's audience seemed to take it. William Daly, the director of New York City's Office of Midtown Enforcement, which is responsible for monitoring the sex industry in New York, has never heard of rape vans; almost anything is possible on Forty-second Street, but he is skeptical that rape vans are a problem. Part of Dines's story, however, is simply untrue: under New York State privacy law, says Nan Hunter, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, women could seek damages for the sale of the rape videos, and also an injunction against their distribution.

    ^^^^^ Again, it’s a bizarre mix of religion and feminism marked by a hatred for liberals or Neo Liberals. We all know and see it.

    This is a pretty good breakdown of issues surrounding policy but I would disagree with the authors assertion that the religious conservative elements of the left were gone.

    Its basic claim is that, from the New Deal through the Great Society, the Democratic Party espoused a set of values defined by, or at the very least consistent with, social democracy or socialism. Then, starting in the 1970s, a coterie of neoliberal elites hijacked the party and redirected its course toward a brand of social liberalism targeted to elites and hostile to the interests of the poor and the working class.

    Any remotely close look at the historical record, as opposed to a romanticized memory of uncompromised populists of yore, yields the same conclusion as the numbers. The idea that the Democratic Party used to stand for undiluted economic populism in its New Deal heyday is characteristic of the nostalgia to which the party faithful are prone — no present-day politician can ever live up to the imagined greatness of the statesmen of past.

    In reality, the Democratic Party had essentially the same fraught relationship with the left during its supposed golden New Deal era that it does today. The left dismissed the Great Society as “corporate liberalism,” a phrase that connoted in the 1960s almost exactly what “neoliberalism” does today. The distrust ran both ways. Lyndon Johnson supported domestic budget cuts after the disastrous 1966 midterm elections, to the disappointment of liberals who already loathed the Vietnam War. “What’s the difference between a cannibal and a liberal?” Johnson joked during his presidency. “A cannibal doesn’t eat his friends.”

    ^^^ The one’s most likely to call everyone else Neo Liberals are the ones geared toward the elite and petty causes. Gail Dines has numerous campus lectures on YouTube condemning Neo Liberals, and numerous lectures condemning and calling for the censorship of music and movies in the name of saving prostitutes. The 1992 Atlantic article gives a good breakdown of the differences in the McDworkin and Dines mindset and the mindset/opinions of those who were actually on the streets working with and helping prostitutes, or providing therapy to abusive men. They were very aware addiction was the common thread, not lyrics or movies.

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