The Power of Words

I have spoken previously on this site about the power of words. About how the phrasing of certain questions impacts on what we think, how we view others and what we believe. Noam Chomsky is a master of linguistics and often he warns us of the power, and danger, in the language we hear and use. This language should be apparent and obvious to us all but we have become so use to hearing it that we pay no real attention. We don’t question it, and by simply accepting the use of that language, we are therefore accepting the message the language carries.

The most obvious example, and one many people would have heard in the last decade or so, would be that of terrorist and freedom fighter. The label of terrorist automatically positions that person in the negative. They are immediately seen as bad. However, if the term freedom fighter was used then people would be more sympathetic to the plight of this individual. Look at the following fake news line I just invented, “A well-known South African terrorist is behind bars tonight after police arrested him at his home”. By replacing the word terrorist, for freedom fighter, the significance and position of the entire story shifts dramatically. “A well-known South African freedom fighter is behind bars tonight after police arrested him at his home”.

The same can be said for a variety of other labels and instances. How many times have we seen “died” and not “killed”? How many times have we seen “killed” and not “murdered”? How many times have we seen “killed” and not “assassinated”? By accepting these statements, by simply allowing the language to be used, we are immediately positioning ourselves on a certain side of the narrative. It is much harder to defend and attempt to justify a “terrorists” actions than it is a “freedom fighters”.

If we are not careful about the use of certain terms and labels, they will soon be completely appropriated and hijacked, leaving us in a position of not only having to be wary of terms, but also of having to reclaim them. The word “Anarchy” for example comes from the Greek word “anarchia”. “An” meaning “not” or “without”, and “arkhos” meaning “ruler”. Quite simply Anarchy means “no rulers”. This term though has been hijacked and used by states, ruling powers and governments to diminish and discredit the message Anarchists try to portray. Instead of Anarchy meaning “no rulers”, it now means chaos. By accepting, or not fighting, this use of the term the states, ruling powers and governments have already defeated anyone attempting to promote Anarchist principles.

Similarly in the news recently we have seen numerous headlines carrying the phrase “UK recovery”. An article byThe Telegraph in January of this year bears the title, “David Cameron hails the start of ‘recovery for all’”. With such a promising title surely nobody could oppose such an announcement. How could “recovery for all” possibly be a bad thing? Recovery is inherently good, so anybody in opposition to the “UK recovery” is quite obviously against the UK. They are the bad people and the ones that want the UK to suffer.

Here is a classic hijacking of a term, and unless we start a debate on the use of the language itself, we can never win a debate on the message the language carries. Cameron’s proclamation that the UK is recovering is wildly off the mark. A recovering alcoholic is not given the title because they look better, and their appearance is more presentable, they are given the title because their addiction has been curbed, their life has been redirected and their health is improving. The UK is the alcoholic, and though the aesthetics have improved, with a growth in the economy and a fall in unemployment, it is still drinking and its health is still jeopardised.

How on earth can the Prime Minister of the UK claim a “recovery for all” when as many as 185,000 people are affected by homelessness in England alone. This figure has been rising steadily for the last three years, coincidentally the same amount of time Cameron has been Prime Minister. A Guardian article in December 2013 reports that rough sleeping in England has risen by 6% in the last year, and there has been a 13% rise in London. According to thegovernments own statistics rough sleeping has increased by 31% since 2010, the year the coalition was formed.

How on earth can the Prime Minister of the UK claim a “recovery for all” when in the last 12 months alone almost 350,000 people have “received at least three days emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks”. According to Trussel Trust, the number of people attending food banks has increased by 170% in the last twelve months. In the first year of the coalition government the number of people attending food banks was just under 61,500, in the second year it rose to almost 129,000 and after three years in power it now sits at close to 350,000.

How on earth can the Prime Minster of the UK claim a “recovery for all” when policies relating to disability payments are set to negatively affect 330,000 people. This is the figure stated by The Independent when it reported that “330,000… are expected to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced”. The Telegraphreports that the government will cut “£2.24 billion annually – and lead to about 500,000 fewer claimants”. People who have suffered loss of limbs, those affected by downs syndrome and psychosis are all set to be denied the financial assistance they require. Even Paralympian athletes are victims, Sophia Christiansen who suffers from cerebral palsy and won three gold medals at London 2012 will be just one of hundreds of thousands having to be reassessed.

How on earth can the Prime Minister of the UK claim a “recovery for all” when according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 3.5 million children live in poverty in the UK, that figure representing 27% of all children. Between 1998 and 2012, 1.1 million children had been lifted out of poverty, but this success looks set to be reversed.  CPAG states that “under current government policies, child poverty is projected to rise from 2012/13 with an expected 600,000 more children living in poverty by 2015/16″. Speaking to the BBC in June 2013, Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society said that “figures also reveal that in the first full year of the coalition government, 300,000 more children faced a real fall in living standards that pushed them into absolute poverty”.

How on earth can the Prime Minister of the UK claim a “recovery for all” when real wages – what your money is able to buy – have fallen back to the levels of 2003. Inflation has outstripped pay rises, meaning that “UK employees’ average hourly earnings have fallen by 8.5% since 2009″. These figures come from the National Office of Statistics, and the BBC reported in August last year that  the “UK wages decline [is] among [the] worst in Europe”.

The term recovery should not mean a slight improvement in a small area, it should be overall, and general progress. For years economically and business minded individuals have hijacked the term “recovery” and we have all allowed them to get away with it. We are fighting them on their own terms by accepting their usage of the word, by allowing the term “recovery” to be contained inside certain parameters we are constricting our view and scope, ignoring the bigger picture, and missing what is truly important. The issue of recovery should not be contained purely inside an economic paradigm. It is not purely about jobs, it is not purely about business profits, it is about people and it is about lives.

If Cameron is correct and this is indeed a “UK recovery”, then I cannot begin to imagine the desperate situation that the UK would find itself in if it were ever in decline.