Saturday, 30 January 2010

Neoliberal Newspeak

Do you hate terms like 'elastic job market' and 'human resources'? Have you ever read the 'Economist' and wondered why the word 'reform' is repeated like a mantra? If so, you might like this....

Once again, the start of the new year belongs to the peddlars good news. Although unemployment is rising they tell us that it is OK, since it could be rising faster. The same people regard current GDP growth of 2% as a success story, even though they recently forecast that it would be 5%, and that 3% growth would be a worst-case scenario. Whatever happens, things are good and they can only get better. If necessary, any failures can be presented as successes. Only malcontents and trouble-makers will complain.

It's not only the economy: In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Army is fighting for peace and an end to terrorism. In Chechnya, on the other hand, we have freedom fighters and partisans, who Russia is fighting against in a deeply undemocratic manner. That is why sending Polish troops to fight alongside the US in Afghanistan is an honour and a wise investment, even if the few hundred million złoty spent means that scientific research and higher salaries for public workers become a luxury that we 'can't afford.'

Police violence against demonstrators is called 'ensuring public order.' On the other hand, violence carried out by shipyard workers against those institutions responsible for their fate is labelled hooliganism and banditry. Flying the Polish flag with the white eagle at football stadiums is a sign of healthy patriotism. Waving Russian flags in football stadiums is a worrying sign of growing Russian nationalism.

George Orwell had a name for this: Newspeak. The most famous example from '1984' include 'war is peace', 'freedom is slavery', and 'hate is power'.

Now it would appear that 'real capitalism' in today's Poland has its own brand of newspeak: Inequality is repackaged as 'equal opportunites in the market economy'. Laying off workers becomes 'cost rationalisation'. Cutting back on social spending is simply 'keeping public finances in order'. Worker's rights are defended by 'inflexible, self-interested trade unions.'

In a very interesting book, 'Neoliberal Newspeak', French sociologist Alain Bihr identifies 2 main functions of the current propaganda system. " On one hand, the aim is to invert the meanings of words and on the other to blur the meaning entirely....."

One is reminded of the Marxist observation that in every society 'the thoughts of the ruling class are the ruling thoughts'. This is why the rollling back of progressive social reforms, which were the result of decades of struggle, is itself called 'reform'. From the social point of view, reductions in benefits, longer working hours, privatised health care, tuition fees and other neoliberal policies represent a 'counter-reformation' harking back to the 19th century. Yet still the 'free media' clamours for more and more 'reform'.

Citizen! Your pension will be smaller and you will work longer but it is all for your own good. Don't you understand? You must be either an unreformed specimen of homus sovieticus or you do not listen enough to the 'free media'. The media, with the help of 'independent experts' from the Business Centre Club or the Adam Smith Institute will explain to you that working longer for less is in your best interests.

Naom Chomsky believes that propaganda plays a bigger role in democratic societies than in totalitarian regimes.... The stance of the 'free media' in Poland, dependent on large corporations, only serves to confirm Chomsky's opinion. Is it really possible to pull the wool over people's eyes and to silence thier voices? Luckily, not always and not with everyone.

Piotr Żuk is a journalist and sociologist. Translated by Czarny Kot 30/01/10

Source: 'Przegład' magazine.


Brett Hetherington said...

Nobody with their eyes open could seriously claim that governments in this era are telling us the truth. As Zuk rightly quotes Alain Bihr, they are now "invert[ers][of the] the meanings of words." Orwell's "War is peace" would be a fair summation of how US (and British)international slaughter "secures stability." In other words: "Our WAR on them IS PEACE for us." Equally, "slavery is freedom" means to the richest 10% of the population that for the poorer workers "Their SLAVERY IS our FREEDOM."

Undergroundman said...

Cor, someone in Poland actually writes likes this. About time. Keep it coming Czarny.

Frank Partisan said...

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Later today I will return the favor, and link back to your blog. My home computer has a funny browser.

Everyone should read The Economist. It is an honest reflection of capitalist thought. Capitalists don't lie to each other, as they do to others.

Brett Hetherington said...

'Renegade Eye' says above that : "Capitalists don't lie to each other, as they do to others."

What a ridiculous statement. Bernie Madoff never lied to another rich investor?

These guys lie to each other and they do it all day because that is so often how they get to be rich.

Frank Partisan said...

Bernie Madoff represented excesses of the system.

Brett: In your opinion, there is no value to reading The Economist or the WSJ?

I added this blog to my blogroll.

Undergroundman said...

May I recommend Steven Poole's excellent work Unspeak here. he has a website too which forensically scans neoliberal newspeak for its insinuated meaning, the use of spin inherent in terms like "ghost detainess", "reform", etc etc

Undergroundman said...

Czarny Kot said...

Thanks for your comments.

@Brett and RE: I once lived with someone who had a subscription to the Economist. Great bloke, but had an unhealthy obsession with GDP and other statistics. The magazine certainly does give an insight into a particular mentality and worldview.

@Karl: Only 5 złoty every Monday from your local kiosk. Although this week's is drier than unbuttered cream crackers you do generally get at least a couple of good articles.

Brett Hetherington said...

To Renegade Eye: Yes, Madoff was excessive, of course, but only in the amounts of money. His techniques and lies were no different to the average company bullshit artist. Yes, there is some value in reading the Economist or the Wall Street Journal: to know thine enemy.

This 'knowing' from personal experience is something I have written about here:

Gregor said...

'Flying the Polish flag with the white eagle at football stadiums is a sign of healthy patriotism. Waving Russian flags in football stadiums is a worrying sign of growing Russian nationalism.'

Think we Brits are even worse: always going on about the terror of Russian nationalism whilst participating in the illegal invasions of three countries.

Interesting that this is published in Poland. Still, I have a good friend from Romania who is somewhat to my right, and he's saying they're getting pretty p***ed off with neo-liberalism and America's reckless decision to recognise Kosovo.

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