The Language Games of Power

An important tool, not just for academic anarchists, but for any individual who wishes to think critically about what is presented to them by political elites, is what is known as the genealogical approach. A ‘genealogy’ is just an obtuse and elitist word which roughly means ‘a history of words, or terms and their use’, and it’s a brilliant way of undermining the machinations of political operators.

As the critical theorist James Tully notes, you ‘begin by questioning whether the inherited languages of description and reflection are adequate to the task’. Nowhere is the lack of discursive options more prevalent in British political life then the discussions surrounding the economy and around immigration; two clear preoccupations of the political elite. When it comes to the economy, we are hearing the same Thatcherite cries as before- TINA (‘there is no alternative!), and the language of the economy is tied down to a limited number of possibilities. We must tackle the deficit, how do we tackle the deficit, how much of the public sector do we sell off to our friends, how many tax breaks do we offer millionaires, how many pensions do we undermine, how many people on the breadline do we deprive of their dignity before we can no longer get away with it? When it comes to oppositional forces, aside from the quite deliberately under-interviewed and underexposed Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, the economic argument is about deficit reduction, what to cut, to what extent and for how long. The language of neoliberalism is so pervasive that even centre-right Keynesians have been excluded from the narrow mindset.

As for immigration, it is just seen as an absolute fact that immigration must be cut down in some way, that the problems of British society stem from the ‘failed social experiment’ that is multiculturalism (conceptualised as some sort of heinous Blairite eugenics initiative as opposed to a social consequence of post-colonial globalisation), and the fact that the British isles are literally about to submerge into the depths of the ocean in a geographical catastrophe of Biblical proportions unless all the Muslims (who are all, of course, closet ISIS brethren) and all the Romanians (who are all, of course, benefit scroungers), leave immediately. Immigration is now perceived as a problem in of itself as opposed to a social factor in a market economy, the type of economic settlement that the political elite are absolutely intent on resuming even to the point of wilful contradiction (see the bank bailouts that run roughshod of the moral hazard argument for capitalism’s legitimacy). Even my aforementioned use of the term ‘scrounger’ implies that there is an implicit pejorative to be garnered from requiring state subsidy, and even the term ‘benefits’ as opposed to ‘welfare’ or ‘entitlements’ implies that anyone receiving such a subsidy is being unfairly advantaged in relation to others.

The next step is to look at how things were before, how things used to be articulated, perhaps even how the same politicians acted prior to the current language game. The difference between harsh austerity Cameron and soft-centred Blairite imitating Cameron is as brazenly opportunistic as it is so obviously consciously controlled; he’s a careerist playing a dangerous game for the sole aim of remaining pointlessly in power, but with the fabricated burden of righteous purpose. The difference between the liberal commentariat during what we may tenuously describe as the ‘boom years’ in stark juxtaposition to the cloying realization that the populism of UKIP has coarsened public political discussion so much that even centrist writers feel the need to apologise on behalf of Labour for immigration targets that went unmet, and political correctness that has objectively gone mad, even though the phrase itself is sardonic and pathetic in its original, Daily Mailite form. For inclusive language to have transcended the rational, surely that would mean allowing UKIP’s nonsensical rants to make headline news in a detached and neutral format? Surely the racist diatribes of the purple-rosette-wearing gibbons that puppet the whims of medium-sized capital is the example of political correctness gone mad par excellence? This is beside the point that even the most routine and vague of Google searches reveals that all Daily Mail claims of censorship and authoritarian crackdowns on freedom of speech are grossly exaggerated, farcically misrepresented and intentionally fabricated to create the illusion that progressive laws against hate speech and racial abuse in public is tantamount to the Stalinist gulag: usually all of this is shouted from the safety of a column in a nationally circulated newspaper, such is the vehement force of socially-administered cultural Marxist (whatever that means) censorship.

So next time a politician makes a claim that rings untrue in your ears, use the following criteria: is what they are explaining as if it were obvious as self-evident as they are making out? Are they using terms that are making this easier to understand or harder to understand? What possible alternatives could there actually be that are deliberately left out by using this language? By taking this approach, you’ll always have the better of those prolesychising from above, and you’ll be better equipped to change the minds of those who are unfortunately influenced by their calculated deception. As Wittgenstein famously said, ‘to convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth‘.

 

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Jamie Ranger graduated with a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Sheffield, and is currently an Msc student in Political Theory at the London School of Economics. When he isn't encouraging his coursemates to overthrow Capital and the State, he can be found whining about football, the distinct lack of global anarcho-communism and trying to be funny on Twitter at @jamieandhisego.

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