The Judge RANTS!
"The Words Are Weapons Of Their Will"
(A reference to this track by Hawkwind)
One hardly needs to be a George Orwell, a Noam Chomsky or a Michael Parenti to recognise that words have power; one merely needs to be observant, which is why that is a quality discouraged by our education systems and our political and media gatekeepers alike.
So it is that certain words, used in certain contexts, will carry a load of implied meanings intended to invoke certain reactions in certain (or, more importantly still, uncertain) readers, with the unstated but nonetheless firm intent of keeping the audience onside with the ruling élites' views.
Examples are, of course, legion, and I have delineated many of them here in the seventeem years in which I have been torturing pixels to no positive purpose. To give just one example of the irregular nouns deployed to this end:
dictator: a bastard who is their bastard (the 'their' meaning 'the official enemy du jour')
autocrat: a bastard who isn't their bastard but isn't ours either, and is of little economic or geopolitically strategic use to us (see also authoritarian)
strongman: a bastard who is no less a bastard for being our bastard, but who buys armaments from us.
These code words are not merely used to project, however; they are just as often used to protect; to protect the assumptions and givens of those who use them and those at whom they are directed, and to seek to create a perception of distance between what is stated and the reality beneath.
I came across a prime example in - where else? - the Guaraniad yesterday morning:
(The headline was used over a trio of letters relating to Greater England's imperial past, the consequential ongoing racism of Greater England's present, and the renaming of a street in Norwich away from that of a man who was a great scientist and an even greater misogynist.)
There are two words which I feel are significant here.
The first is that word 'imperfect'.
For what exactly is being described by that word? Why, nothing less than the whole phenomenon of the English Empire, its impact on those most directly subject to it and the long after-effect on those who are in the Mother Country and the attitudes and assumptions fed into their heads by those with the power and influence to do so.
It's a very touch-me-not way of referring to all that happened under that process. Indeed, that is the underlying - if subliminal - intent of using it; to describe the Empire as merely 'imperfect' rather than its realities of being rapacious, murderous and catastrophic is both to state that the Empire was quite benign, really, I mean, compared to some empires we could mention (once again, Brussels can be used as a scapegoat); and also that, being merely 'imperfect' means that it could be put permanently to bed by establishing an official body - perhaps under the chairmanship of Trevor Phillips or some similar trusty of power - to look into it, weigh the evidence and then come out with an anodyne report which claims that "...no one person was to blame..." "...everyone acted out of the best of intentions...", and that "...lessons have been learned".
Let us at this point remind ourselves about some of the 'imperfections' which we are being asked to 'acknowledge':
For the people of Greater England - just as they have been misdirected on the subject of 'Der Wo-Wah' by seventy years of films where Dickie and Johnny saved Blighty unassisted on the back lot at Shepperton - have been similarly dazzled by an even longer train of convenient fictions going back to the eighteenth century or earlier about the essentially benign nature of the Empire. Oh yes, goes the narrative, we killed a few wogs but we were civilising them, don'tcha know? We were bringing to them the munificent benefits of mercantile capitalism, corporate-owned government, high-powered armaments and the King James Version! We dragged these backward tribes into The Modern World!
And in the name of Blighty, various kings-and-queens-gawd-bless-em and The Citeh, a country which had been one of the richest in the world when the Brits showed up was left after two centuries of grand larceny and mass murder (including, in its terminal phase, the deliberate starving to death of three million Bengalis by the drunken génocidaire Churchill) as one of the poorest; similarly, people after people was rendered into little more than wholly-owned subsidiaries of the movers and shakers in London, Bristol and other English cities; men, women and children were herded into unsanitary camps - where they were frequently starved, mutilated or murdered - because their mere existence was deemed to be a threat to the 'wealth creators' of their day; whole swaths of Africa and Asia were artificially divided across their natural boundaries by lines drawn on maps by people who knew nothing and cared less about the consequences of their actions; and that all this is established fact with documentary evidence (indeed, some of it is of such recent vintage that there is contemporary film footage of it).
Yet, despite this, the perception still persists in the minds of hoi polloi that the Empire was not merely benign, but something to be not merely 'acknowledged' but celebrated. Why should this be the case?
Because the population of Greater Gammonia (at least, the melanin-challenged contingent of it) has been very thoroughly conditioned by generations of propaganda. How many films, how many television and radio programmes, how many books (fiction and non-fiction alike) have been produced in which the Empire is presented as - if not benign - then certainly well-intentioned? And where, even where there might have been some motive on the part of the producers and authors to show things more as they were, the natives are reduced to supporting players (because all the major rôles were cast in Wardour Street), with the narratives tending to be more concerned with the disorder in the mem-sahib's lingerie drawer than the disorder caused by her husband's high-handed brutality beyond the compound's walls.
This has been augmented by the works of historians who are routinely described by the similarly distancing euphemism of 'revisionist' - the names Roberts, Ferguson and Starkey come to mind for some reason - who seek to be to the imperial project what Shakespeare was to the Tudor dynasty. That their works have been routinely puffed by the right-wing press in England is testimony to their ultimate purpose of propaganda; those who control the past - or, at least, those given the loudest mechanisms to shout through - control the present, and it is only now - literally, as in 'the last few weeks' - that that control is facing a serious challenge in the streets and via online media from those whose perspective has been blotted out for so long.
It is also why we have heard so many screams of rage not only from reactionaries but from many of those who would self-describe as 'liberal' or even 'progressive' about the de-plinthing of statues and other commemorabilia to slavers, rapists, looters and other exemplars of the White Man's Burden. Much is being made of a so-called 'cancel culture', in which it is taken as axiomatic that those who have if not celebrated then acquiesced in the idolatry of imperialism are being 'silenced' by a tidal wave of 'intolerance' from something the screechers call 'the Left'.
(I recommend this piece by Jonathan Cook on the subject of the now-infamous letter published in Harper's by a positive galaxy of bien-pensants calling for what they term 'justice' and 'open debate' and how, as even Homer nods, so does even Chomsky goof.)
The words which have been used to describe and analyse the Empire have had their consequences on the minds of the contemporary Great British Public™ just as the pillage of that empire and the unfeasibly regular lines drawn on maps as a consequence of its withering have had on the subsequent history of the liberated areas.
Which is why it is deemed that we require merely to 'acknowledge' the problem; heaven forfend that we might actually have to do something to suck out some of the poison from the wounds of past events.
But as above, so below; as out there, so also in here.
Because the other thing which caused me to ponder on this was a Tweet on one of the Twitter accounts I regularly read which referred to the 'Rebecca Riots'.
I've seen that phrase hundreds of times down the years, of course, but it was only yesterday that the thought struck me...
Why is the operative word in the phrase 'riots' rather than anything else?
It then occurred to me that there were other, similar événements in my nation's history in which that word - and no other - has been deployed as a descriptor; the Merthyr 'Riots'; the Mold 'Riots'; the Tonypandy 'Riots', to name but three.
It is, of course, in order to shape the narrative and - as those deemed the victors of any conflict still get to write the histories of it - shape it in the direction desired by those who wield the power to do to.
And so, far from being the uprisings which all these events actually were, be they against the imposition of toll-roads on the rural poor, the lowering of miners' wages by rapacious colonialist coal barons, or the imposition by an arrogant English manager of a ban on the miners speaking their own native language in (or, rather, under) their own native land; as I say, far from being revolts against oppression, a word has been regularly deployed to indicate an inchoate and yobbish response to that oppression.
For clearly, if you allowed the use of the words 'rising' or 'uprising' to describe these phenomena, you would then be obliged will you, nill you to address the underlying causes. This would bring you uncomfortably close to having to concede that there were political, socio-economic and cultural underpinnings to them, and we can't possibly have that, can we?
Thus has the word 'riot' come to be used routinely and as a conditioned reflex. Such upheavals may then safely be quarantined and dismissed as a mere issue for the Forces of Laura Norder (whom God preserve), caused by 'hotheads', 'agitators', 'ne'er-do-wells' and other people whom polite society would never invite to tiffin.
Use the word enough and you can convince a whole population into thinking that the struggles of their forebears for rights and dignity were mere colonic spasms of the local groundling population, and nothing of any consequence set side-by-side with the glories of Empire (however sanitised) and the maintenance of good order in the service of those who have globally screwed their colony over.
For the events I have just described all took place in a colony.
(When did you ever hear an Irishman refer to the events of 1916 as 'the Easter Riot'?)
There will be those who will scoff at such a statement; but whereas those who favour the continuation of London's rule over Scotland can claim with at least a modicum of accuracy that that country voluntarily joined a 'union' with England (notwithstanding the fact that it was only the lords and lairds who assented to such an arrangement - with a gun to their collective heids - against the strongly-expressed views of the ordinary folk of that land), no such justification can be used in the case of England's First Colony™; we were invaded, conquered and occupied, and that occupation continues unabated to this day; co-termination with, and proximity to, the colonising power does not mean that the relationship cannot ever be one of possessor/possessed.
Thus it is that our main transport routes run west-east from the colonial need to transport troops to a quondam rebellious province, and - then and subsequently - to expedite the transfer of loot from that colony and our own across to Mother England, and why the main north-south road resembles a country lane for much of its length and why to get from the north-west to the south-west by train means spending half the journey travelling through England; and why it is that our hyper-abundant water resources are expropriated with no compensation chargeable to the private companies in England who turn a big profit from it (we are not 'permitted' - a favourite word of colonial powers - to do so), even when entire villages are wiped out to create the reservoirs (see under 'Capel Celyn' and 'Llanwddyn'); and why our pretendy parliament exists only while it remains a useful combined fig-leaf and tool for the further exploitation of our country by the colonisers, and can be hamstrung, emasculated or even removed altogether by a decision made in the imperial capital over which we could have no possible control or restraint; and it is why the long history of our land is barely taught to our children - except in the most anodyne terms, and only in those aspects which lock in to the history of Empire - and they are instead propagandised with fine tales of kings, queens, admirals and merchants from the Golden Age Of Rapine And Pillage, and taught moreover that these are fine deeds to aspire to.
We are therefore guilty of using the words which suit our occupiers to describe our own country, our own history, our own very being, and it is long past time to challenge that narrative just as it is more than time to challenge the notion of the benignity of England's empire in its relationship with the rest of the world.
a riot an uprising...