Lazy Luddite Log


Tiresome Terminology

I have been barely acting or even thinking in a political way lately. And I am enjoying the hiatus. However the habit of a lifetime of conducting internal political discussions is still there and fills in some of my time while sitting on the bus or whatever. One thing I was thinking the other day was how frustrating and deceptive I find many terms in politics. They simplify. They make cunning implications. They almost always are the product of someone pushing some barrow. And even if they are pushing a barrow which I may identify with they can still bug me. Here I discuss just a few of them. They cover a wide variety of issues and my comments will presumably affect different readers in different ways...

Permissive Society

This one is a bit out-of-fashion now but then those that use it tend to be behind the times anyway. It refers to a society in which one is permitted to do stuff. What sort of stuff? Well stuff that the user of the phrase has some issue with. The simplification arises from suggesting that we live in a society in which everything is permitted. In this as in all cultures some things are permitted and some are forbidden. There are also some things in a grey area - the kind of things that tend to get 'sin taxes' placed on them like legal substance abuse and gambling. Those who use the term are suggesting that too much is permitted and they are specifically objecting to things that contravene notions of 'traditional family values' or standards that were assumed or pretended to in some past 'better' time. For this term I take the tack of embracing it and turning a negative into a positive. So in a permissive society one can engage in hippy free love if one is so inclined but one can also preserve traditional values if one prefers. This is a marked contrast to a more restrictive society in which one adheres to traditional values simply because one has to. Surely something has value if one had decided for oneself to be that way? I suppose that depends however - some of us just like to control others.

Wage Slavery

We still have bone-fide slavery in the world. It is rare but it exists. It involves one person owning another and controlling them in pretty much anyway one wishes. This is a far cry from the situation of having to decide between starving in the village of ones ancestors or moving to the city to work long days in difficult conditions for a pittance that nonetheless makes one better off than if one had stayed home. Wage Slavery is a convenient way of drawing attention to a very important issue and emphasising how awful it is. But in the process it serves only to diminish our understanding of both the condition it describes (shitty labour rights in developing nations) while also making us lose a sense of how atrocious true slavery is.


There are plenty of nouns that if attached to a particular institution are fine but they tend to get generalized to much bigger things - capitalism is just one of them. It is one thing to say that a multinational corporation or even a corner store is capitalist. It is another thing to say that all of society is capitalist. I say this in particular because capitalism is silent on a whole array of issues - it may provide one with sex toys but then has nothing to say on how they are then used. Only some of the decisions and actions we take from day-to-day are affected by capitalist considerations. It is only one of many phenomena that go into making society what it is today. If you try to look for that big top hat from Monopoly sitting on the scalp of the world you will be looking for a very long time because the world wears all sorts of hats.

Cultural Imperialism

For me imperialism is what empires do and an empire is a very political thing. For me to say something is imperialist I have to see the apparatus of the state (e.g. police) enforcing it. Nobody forces me to have Coke or Pepsi sitting in my bath during a party and yet some would identify that as evidence of American 'cultural imperialism'. Or what of the fact that a German friend of mine speaks excellent English in part because of all the cool music and movies coming from the UK or US? Some would call that 'cultural imperialism' as if 'nations' or 'cultures' are rarefied edifices that never change and never interact. Once more I object to this term because it makes a mess of a complicated topic and diminishes our understanding of what an empire truly is.

Political Correctness

Whoever invented this term was particularly clever. Nobody likes politics. Nobody likes to be corrected by others (even if they themselves have very particular notions of how the world should be). And yet in pretty much every society we have taboos. We have censorship of one kind or another. We have things that we say and do only in particular settings. Other words for these restrictions include 'courtesy' or 'politeness' or 'manners'. Was it ever right-and-proper to point and stare at a disabled person? Or to imply that someone is inferior on the basis of circumstance or background? In the end I think the problem for those who embrace the term of Political Correctness (as distinct from those who are accused of promoting its practice) is that they once got to dictate the terms and are sore that they now have to share this power with others. In society now what is right and wrong is an openly contested thing and different perspectives become ascendant in different facets of how we live. In a free society "you win some you lose some" is the norm. But by ranting "Political Correctness" one can give the impression that only one perspective ever gets its way.

And in the end I suppose that is what annoys me the most with all these terms - they give the impression that the problem is all-encompassing or that the opponent is all-powerful. It may serve some need in us to think we face impossible odds but - geez - can we get a bit of perspective every now-and-then?



  • Oh mate! Cyberspace is like that. And as Ms KS says..... all the action is on LJ these days. You should come over to the Dark Side one day. You may well find that the Think-tanks to which I belong will treat you more fairly.

    Capitalism is so much more than what you said. Cheers MOTG

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 19 November, 2008  

  • yeah the one i agree with you most on is 'political correctness' - that one shits me no end. Best defence of sexists, racists and all the other varieties of bigots...

    By Blogger Umm, At 20 November, 2008  

  • I love American "cultural imperialism", as it means I get to watch Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Scrubs, SVU, Buffy, Xena, Babylon 5 etc - bring it on!

    By Blogger Polly, At 21 November, 2008  

  • To Anonymous

    I am on LJ but I tend to do more frivolous posts there. Mind you drawing attention on Facebook has got some comments over here.

    Capitalism is both more and less than both its fans and critics think. More in that it cannot simply be 'removed' from the world of which it is a part. Less in that it is still just one small aspect of life.

    To Jess

    Yep to cry 'PC' is a fantastic bogeyperson. Mind you the few isolated cases of PC censorship gone mad (e.g. Cookie Monstser now saying "cookies are a sometimes food") only serve to help the detractors.

    To Polly

    I am a fan of many things American too. Of course many of them are themselves influenced by other cultures - European, Japanese, African. Popular culture is a global phenomenon.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 27 November, 2008  

  • I'm looking at this over a decade later and seeing that a lot is the same except some of the terminology has morphed or diversified. Capitalism is a case-in-point.

    It has become trendy recently to refer to 'late capitalism' as if that is a millennial phenomenon. Marxists however have been labelling what we labour under as late capitalism for something like a hundred years. I have also seen the rather silly term 'boomer capitalism' as if just one generation holds responsibility for its excesses.

    There is a massive lack of self-awareness in much of this. A phrase that comes from a similar anti-capitalist mindset is 'eat the rich'. Today I saw a friend use the phrase (approvingly) while on an overseas holiday! Very few humans get to do that even today:

    When members of - what - the top 10% in terms of global wealth vilify the top 1% then you have to wonder. They need to be careful. Revolutionary movements are very good at shifting the definition of villainy for as long as they need an enemy. Anybody can find themselves 'up against the wall'.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 20 November, 2019  

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