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21st of October 2018

Politics



Terry Sarten: Locked, loaded and aimed at you next

In the beginning was the word ...

Then it began to become loaded with different meanings, misused and used to advance personal, political and commercial agendas.

Words: A collection of alphabetic symbols or sounds assembled into various patterns that are accepted within a particular linguistic range that act as a currency for exchanging thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Politicians, business people and religious types often reshape words away from their original meanings by loading them up with other connotations or placing them alongside ideas that will shift the context.

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This is if often done to get attention in a world where getting noticed requires shock, awe and a dollop of bad taste before the media pay any attention.

The latest example of this is a recent newspaper column written by former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

He described the Brexit situation as being Britain in a "suicide vest with the EU holding the detonator".

As a metaphor it lacks nearly everything but, as an explosive rhetoric device, it worked. It gained him high profile media attention at a time when his political light was going out.

The wording appears deliberate. He knew that using words referencing terrorism would be the equivalent of a word bomb, and this would be linked to acts of terrorism that have killed many British citizens and thousands around the world, thus attracting massive coverage.

Linking Brexit with the images of death and mayhem perpetrated by terrorists had nothing to do with advancing a political agenda, but Johnson is hell-bent on becoming prime minister of the United Kingdon and cares little for anything that stands in his way.

For him, the use of such language is just another way of advancing person ambition. He does not care that many have died from the actions of suicide bombers – he only cares about Boris.

In New Zealand we have our own versions of this — Winston Peters is one that comes readily to mind with his past tarring of people from China as enemies in the housing market when he found he was falling below the visibility threshold.

It is important to recognise the impact of potential power on a ministerial aspirant.

Ministerial roles are attractive to the ambitious power-seeking individual — you can bully people; have them fear you; initiate schemes that have absolutely no foundation in evidence; and travel the world at someone else's expense.

Using words loaded with fear factors is one way to get there.

The word "immigrant" is a good example of how a simple meaning has become loaded with a host of different values.

It can mean foreign, something to be feared because "they are not like us"; it can be used to scaremonger about jobs, housing and wages; it can also mean coming from another land to make a life in a new country.

Another example of words being misused is the newest iteration of the Australian Prime Minister — Scott Morrison.

He speaks of his Christian values as if these load his words with virtue and righteousness.

But he was the key political force behind the detention of asylum seekers, including very young children, on offshore island prisons in conditions that breached a whole swath of human rights.

He uses the loaded words of religious entitlement to obscure the very un-Christian nature of a policy he has pursued with a zeal that has been both cruel and obsessive in its projections of fears on to white Australians.

Be wary of loaded words — they may be locked and loaded and aimed at you next.

*Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker — feedback welcome: tgs@inspire.net.nz

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