A great wellspring of influence is control of the media, control of what people are hearing, over and again, every single day. In using words, writers are trustees of words and bear a great responsibility for the usefulness of the language. But without apparent design, words and phrases can migrate in meaning over time, shifts of emphasis can occur, new terms can come in. In the UK, personnel became human resources quite swiftly. And words can say so much beyond their apparent meaning. This article makes a point about the terms ex-pat and immigrant that we’d never even noticed or considered before. This article is about the misdirection employed by politicians to disguise how everyone’s pocket gets picked, again and again, and progressively.
In the UK, the term social security, became welfare, and soon became the word we all use, without us noticing very much. Welfare is, of course, a derogatory kind of word. But welfare is not charity, it’s merely some sort of recompense for the denial of people’s natural rights. Henry George spoke of denying a right and giving a dole.
There are countless examples of words changing, as the word Jubilee still means a great celebration, but the bit about cancelling all debts got lost along the way (except by the Jubilee Campaign, of course.) And
George Monbiot makes some chilling points about the enabling language of killing.
Recently, there is much use in the media of the word radicalisation, and we wonder if even the word radical might migrate in meaning, in some folks’ lexicon. But we’re being paranoid now, that’s surely nonsense. The word radical comes from the Latin radix meaning root, it means to return to the root of something. There is a fear of a potential to interpret the word radical in a certain way, that ideas can then be stamped radical and collected together with everything else categorised as radical and viewed the same. Is this paranoia? We live now in an age where Occupy activists found themselves categorised as terrorists, and there have been many instances where anti-terrorist legislation has been used by governments to suppress any kind of dissent. (More about that later.)
Anyway, we’re very happy to have been radicalised by Henry George. In every way George’s Remedy is radical; it’s the most radical idea of all; that all are free and free to access the nature they themselves spring from.
Most migration of meaning of words is natural and arbitrary, but it does seem to be so that, by whatever gradual process, any opposition to a preferred world view will be worked on linguistically. As in the hushing up of Henry George, useful words, like tools, are taken away, or twisted out of shape, and the new meaning is repeated over and over again until everyone’s saying it.
Neoliberalism co-opted the language of freedom to intimidate opponents, bend concepts. Words and ideas can be quickly forgotten, as well, and opportunistically picked up and reframed powerfully, in a way that’s difficult for people to respond to because all their understandings have been moved around, given new names, with different meanings. Definitions can be changed, as we will now see new definitions of poverty.
Precise meanings, and the ownership of them, is vital. There are key words and meanings to take possession of, like freedom, and the much morphed liberal. Of course, some terms can have different meaning in different cultures.
Henry George was at great pains to define terms and saw it necessary to spend the first third of Progress and Poverty clarifying terms, pinning and breaking down exactly what they meant, in order that a clear vision could be obtained. It’s crucially important to mind our language.
Since reading P&P and onwards, we’ve become much more sensitised to words and terms and what they exactly mean. Terms jump out at us all the time, terms like House of Commons have a very different sound now. House of Commons had always sounded so democratic. Now, it’s beginning to dawn on us that, right from the beginning, it has been an instrument to appropriate the commons and to protect the interests of a free-riding class. In two brief moments, in 1909 and in 1931, the House of Commons grasped the reality of the dire situation, and acted; but was thwarted. Democracy in this country has clearly always been conditional.
Rent-seeking is an interesting term.
John Kay has co-authored with Mervyn King, (ex-governor of the Bank of England, and Baron King of Lothbury, Lothbury is a short street in The City) – anyway, John Kay explained in the Financial Times, December 27th, 2009:
You can become wealthy by creating wealth or by appropriating the wealth created by other people. When the appropriation of the wealth is illegal it is called theft or fraud. When it is legal economists called it rent-seeking.
Of course, if it were only seeking it couldn’t thieve anything, it’s Rent-taking. Fred Harrison uses the term Rent-grabbing.
We swim in words of which we take the meaning for granted. Words like Capitalism, what does the word really mean? Something far removed from what it meant when it was first described. As Fred Harrison points out, a word like resource, implies a certain attitude towards the world we live in. But that’s the word we have and all use.
Words don’t take on meanings by accident; in the beginning, in some way, words are always ideologically informed.
(This has got little to do with all this, we’re just curious. On London Underground, there are very few people left now who remember how American sounding it was when they started saying that trains were northbound or southbound. This must have been quite a striking thing at the time, a lovely poetic innovation by London Underground. We don’t know when London Underground starting using southbound and haven’t been able to find out thus far, so we’d be grateful to know.)
As far back as the late 19th century, the conspiracy theorists’ favourite banking group bought the Reuters news agency, such scathing things were being said about them. Influence in the newspaper world was identified in the banking world to be, obviously, a vital key to success.
Of course, Henry George’s newspaper had been bought up by the railroad company, to stop his thunderous writing of what time proved to be precisely accurate predictions of the economic effects of the coming railroad.
Increasingly there was media consolidation in the States, until they were all owned by large corporations who are owned by other supranational corporations, owned by, etc. etc., the same groups that reap the harvest of, say, the economic exploitation of Third World countries. Ronald Reagan finished off what publically funded broadcasting there was in the ‘States, and the media chose mostly not to report on the USA’s activities in the Third World, especially not if they were right next door.
In general, an educated American populace (but not just they) would often have no idea of what was being done in their name. As mentioned, the democratic victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, a close neighbour of the USA, wasn’t reported in the United States. The massacres of thousands of people in El Salvador by US trained and financed security forces in the 70s, hardly mentioned in the American press. In 1975, the massacre of 750,000 people in East Timor by the US installed and supported Indonesian government, received 2% of the press coverage as the Communist Khmer Rouge massacres of a similar unbelievable number in Cambodia in the same year. That the International Court of Justice ruled that the USA owed reparations to Nicaragua, or that the UN General Assembly almost unanimously condemned the US invasion of Panama in 1989, were not considered by their media to be issues of interest to the American people. Many other examples stack up, there is a strict selection going on about what the American population are told.
Influence in the media in the USA has developed in the neoliberal era and public finance is streamed, through the military and security services, into the film industry, and even pop music, to make sure the right kind of message is being promoted. Over a century, Hollywood has represented and, to a great effect, written American history, in a way that George Orwell didn’t explore but perhaps might have done. Hollywood has been the greatest weaver of mythology in history, in what it hasn’t covered as much as what it has. And the history in people’s minds is history.
And the music in people’s minds. Popular music once threatened enormous cultural and even political influence; that had to change. This is an article about what’s called here the Military-Pop-Cultural-Complex, and the striking thing being the disturbing vitriol attracted just for making the point.
Media-wise, it’s been a somewhat better situation this side of the Atlantic. It could have got disastrously worse in the UK recently, had it not been for the dogged pursuit of criminality in the media by true guardians of British media and society. Meanwhile, the world famous BBC has been infected by the culture of massive remuneration for its management and stars, which, as a public company, has brought it into some disrepute. This was surely all part of a conspiracy to bring down Public Sector Broadcasting in the UK.