[Note: I wrote this as a gut response to The New Left Project’s “May Day Special” article on Austerity. I really like it. The title is taking the Michael at the word "peremptory".]
Look, I get it. You’re a smart cookie. You have been to Oxford, you have studied politics, you may even have a PhD. So you know some long words. You know so many long words that you can read Das Kapital all the way through without needing the dictionary once. You are educated, you are middle class. Well done.
Now, here’s the thing: the people we are trying to reach? They are not “educated”. They haven’t been to University, they may not even have any A levels (horrors!). “Oxford” and “Cambridge” are something they have heard of, but happens to “other people”, meaning the rich. They don’t know many long words. In fact, the use the word “like” in every sentence, as a kind of substitute for other words they either don’t know or can’t remember. They have never heard of Marx. They have no idea of “economics” other than what school has told them.
They don’t have PhDs.
They don’t holiday in the Caribbean, they go to Newquay if they can afford it. Spain, if they are really lucky and can stretch that far.
They don’t struggle with “careers” because they are stuck in sh*t jobs.
They have no way of feeling “worthy” other than to spend money.
They do their shopping at ASDA, not Waitrose. They may even work there.
“Eating out” means ordering pizza or popping to the Chip Shop.
They are brown, black, and white. They are single parents, young mothers. They are on benefits, they’re mentally ill. They know the police means trouble, because so many people they know have gone to jail.
They’re addicted to something or other because they need to function, but can’t.
And they are suffering. They may not say it, they may not know it. But they are suffering. They are lost, they are hurting.
And THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE ON ABOUT.
I have been studying English for, oh, since the age of 5. I have been living in this country for 5 years. I read a lot, and daily.
And I don’t think I’ve ever encountered the word “peremptorily”.
Oh, I can work it out alright, because it’s very similar to the Spanish one. That’s usually the case with long words.
But the “working class”, the unwashed masses? No idea what you’re on about.
I can write like that. There are around 100 posts in my old blog that can bear testament to the fact that I can write like that. The academic, scientific, journalistic voice. The pretentious, bombastic, alienating, unemotional voice.
But the problem is that the people I want to reach don’t understand that language. And the people I want to hang out with? The people whose validation I seem to need so desperately? The “Leftists”, the “educated, middle class, PhD holders”, they aren’t fooled by this language. They know I don’t have a degree from Oxford.
Which is why they don’t give me the time of day. Like Oxford itself, this is a group that is characterised by the number of people it excludes.
They can “tell” my language is a pose because it is used to explain things that are un-conventional. No wallpapering on the old cracks from me!
No, I am here to uncover deeper truths. And here’s a couple of them that I bet you didn’t expect.
First one: this is the language of the “enemy”. Ok, yes, “enemy” is a strong word. What I mean is that this is the language that is used by the powerful to serve their interests. It was created by the powerful to serve their interests.
It is not “neutral”; it is not a tool that can be used for “good or bad”.
It came from a particular political background and it is used to further perpetuate that political background. (See? I can do long words as well.)
So, if the interests of the powerful are diametrically opposed to OUR interests, what does that say about our language?
It says that we should at the very least consider coming up with something different, that’s what.
Second, and more radical. The academic-type of language? Easy peasy to use. Now, writing like a real human being and trying to reach out to real people?
balls guts. Most people do not have them.
Why does it take guts? Because it requires that we create a different language from the kind used by the authorities. And it takes real courage to do anything that doesn’t have the seal of approval from “big daddy”.
Most of us on dissidents are still human after all. And we want to be respected, valued and listened to. That means we have to use the kind of language that people deem worthy of respect, value and attention.
It also means that, living in a hierarchical system, we want the authorities to “approve” of us. It always seemed fascinating to me that any student from Oxford could turn out a dissident. After all, you don’t get to the most exclusive university in the land by upsetting those in charge, do you?
This is something which I bet Oxford graduates don’t want to own up to: that in order to get to Oxford they had to be really, really good kids for a really long time. That they did really well at following orders. That they did not bring up their dissenting beliefs into school with them.
As for me, it’s a miracle I got anywhere academically. I’ve been upsetting teachers since I was in second grade.
Yes, I am trying to say this: that if you really disliked the system, if you really went against authority, you would have dropped out of school and, most likely, ended up in jail.
All of this leads us to conclude something a tad uncomfortable: that since the only dissidents being listened to are those who have done well academically, and that since those people who do well academically only do so because they have behaved really well and pleased the teachers and professors, any dissident ideas and beliefs that these dissidents may have will be at least suspicious.
This doesn’t mean that they are wrong, of course not. But it does mean that we have to ask questions. And asking them to consider, at least consider, the language they use to communicate their “dissenting” views is a good place to start.
And to end on a note by Lisa Ansell:
A media bubble of middle class, educated, left wing liberals, with their organochav tendencies and Guardian subscriptions don’t represent the working classes, and haven’t done for quite a while. The so called middle classs lefties have helped contribute to demonisation of what was left of working class communities as 'chavs’.