Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 21/01/09

Choice Language

You'll know by know that I operate almost exclusively in Pedant Mode, and am highly sensitive to the use of language, and more especially to its deliberate misuse to obscure, sanitise or simply bullshit those at the intended receiving end.

I got a little leaflet through the post from BT today. In it, they say that they are 'relaunching' their Friends & Family scheme. That word 'relaunching' is suspect enough: it's almost always code for "we're going to make our service worse, but hope that we can pull the wool over people's eyes by tying it up in a red silk ribbon and parading it behind the town band, and thus disguising that unmistakable sewage-farm aroma coming off it".

And so indeed it proves. For the 'relaunch' involves ending the current F&F scheme, and replacing it by no fewer than two new ones. One will only apply to calls made to mobiles, and the other only to international calls. The existing scheme will be wound up.

The upshot of this - for me as for many others, I suspect - is that I will now pay more for what few phone calls I actually make, which are to my family and to my place of work. The 'relaunched' scheme will be of no earthly use to me, as I seldom call mobiles and have never in all my years made an international call.

Having thus shafted me once, the leaflet goes on to tell me that BT are 'changing' their line rental price, and that they are also 'changing' their daytime UK call costs. Note that word 'changing'. Now, in the normal usage of the word, that could mean that the price could go up or it could go down. However, in the mouths of corporations - especially monopolies and near-monopolies, and those companies which operate what amounts de facto if not de jure to a cartel in their own field - 'changing' means only one thing: they're putting the price up. And so it proves with BT. The line rental will increase by 1 per month (an 8.7% increase) and the call charge by 0.59p per minute (up 15%). They are also increasing (sorry, changing) other charges, in some cases by up to 46%.

It's like our local near-monopoly bus service: they never increase their fares nowadays, they merely 'revise' them. Yet again, the revision is invariably upwards. In both cases, it's an example of how corporations think that we dear consumer units are so dense we won't spot it. Not that it makes any difference if we do: there's almost always naff all we can do about it except pay up.

"But oh!", I hear you cry, "you can always change to another supplier!" Yeah, sure. There are so many other suppliers, but they are all pretty much the same when it comes to their actual behaviour. Switch to another company, and within weeks they will do the same thing as the one you've just left. Switch again, and your next choice will follow suit. Look at what has happened with gas supply in the last two or three years for evidence if you don't believe me.

For all the yammering and simpering about 'consumer choice', the simple fact is that we don't have any, except to do without a service altogether. This is not only true in the general, but in the specific as well: BT, having delivered a multiple mugging of my finances, is the company which has the sheer bloody gall to charge me an extra 4.50 per quarter because I choose to pay my bills by cheque rather than in a manner which they find more convenient and profitable. I like to keep a tight control on what goes out of my finances, and handing over details of my bank account to a company with a reputation for ripping off its customers is simply not an acceptable option. OFCOM, the so-called 'regulator', wimped out as usual, deciding that there was nothing wrong with telecoms companies ripping us off, so long as they made it obvious that that is what they were doing. If we don't like it, they strongly implied, we can find some other gouging company - whom OFCOM will then allow to get away with doing it to us again.

Similarly with their increa...hmmmph...changed line rental charges. You can cut the cost, but only if you agree to 'paper-free billing'. On the face of it, this seems like good ecological sense, but I'd be more convinced if the company's activities in other areas were consistent with that. The fact is, it's cheaper for them, which is why they are...what's that lovely word?...ah yes, 'incentivising' their 'customer base' to...hold on, I think I'm going to puke....

So, you can have all this wonderful 'choice' they keep wanking on about, but if you dare exercise it in a way which is deemed disadvantageous to the company, you'll either pay extra for it or they'll withdraw the facility altogether.

It should be obvious by now that we are ruled not by governments, but by corporations. Indeed, judging by the revolving door between the boardroom and the Cabinet, those two pillars of rapacious Anglo-American-style late capitalism are in fact only one pillar, united not only by their mutual lust for power and control, but by an identical desire to pervert communication to their own ends (which is why politicians fear the Internet and corporations want to spam it into submission with advertising). Orwell foresaw that it would be the State which would debase language into meaninglessness. He was only half right.

And we're the poor sods who either have to shoulder the burden of keeping it up (Atlas Mode), or end up being crushed by it (Samson Mode). We can all just put up and shut up, or deceive ourselves that it doesn't matter.