Part of the transfiguration that takes place when you divest of mainstream points of view (that is, Leftism or Conservatism) is your appreciation of language. Suddenly, you see that your average newspaper ‘report’ is actually written in such a way that the reader will come to certain conclusions, as if the writer has an agenda. You begin to see the ways in which language becomes policed, and the ways it is manipulated. Simplification or obfuscation are the key tactics.
A great example employed by populists in Australia can be seen in the heavy-handed use of simple slogans. When Tony Abbott was running for Prime Minister, progressives constantly berated his constant repetition of ‘Stop the Boats’. This was in relation to turning back the boats coming across from South East Asia with people smugglers taking advantage of refugees. It is quite a callous sentence, but at least it is a sentence, which is more than can be said of the three word bomb used by the SSM campaign in recent months: Love is Love. Sounds nice in principle, but does it actually mean anything? It becomes a very easy way to dismiss counter-arguments and itself cannot be argued against. For that reason it is a far more insidious appeal to populism.
There are countless examples of this propaganda that is used against you every day. It’s the inevitable end result of living in a democracy: you have to be convinced one way or the other. But a particular favourite, and one that I keep returning to as it rears its ugly head over and over again, is the almost casual use of the suffix ‘-phobia’. Homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia are all words on the rise. Christopher Hitchens warned against the growth of the word ‘islamophobia’. Of course, what do all these entail? Why, they are meant to point out how scared the intended object is of the category in question. But being against homosexuality does not automatically make you scared of gays. Being worried about Islamic immigration does not automatically make you scared of Muslims (although they do their best to make it so). So why do they use such a blatantly false accusation?
Because it works! Much like being called a racist, there is a lot of baggage loaded on to you if any of these words are directed at you. No one cares a whit for particulars, nuance and discussion. No, everybody needs a label so we know where to draw the lines. It’s also a handy deflection from having to debate the topic at hand.
This is drawn into stark realisation with a recent incident in Australia. A Labor Senator has got himself in hot water over links with the Chinese Communist Party, and the current government is rightly a little concerned about this. But of course, members of the opposition come out and attack the Prime Minister as being ‘Chinaphobic’. Excuse me? Is that even a thing? Wouldn’t want to upset the 21% of residents in Bennelong who are Chinese, now, would we? Of course, the Senator at the centre of all this has now stepped down, but that doesn’t change the absurd counterpoint in the form of a label. Politics is now a series of jibes released from context. The culture wars are fought between snipers shooting off precision hits of ridiculousness before finding a new position.
To be called ‘-phobic’ is to already have won, and yet neither party will believe that. To resort to such weak name-calling is the sure sign of an intellectual deficit, while at the same time the shaming tactic is a highly effective one. But it must be resisted. Language is slippery and so it must be mastered. If these words are used against you or others, call it out. After all, you aren’t scared, are you?