You’ve perhaps heard it said that the simplest use of language is the most intelligent. Great writers such as Orson Welles have been quoted for their direction in trimming unnecessary word use too. And within a culture where the use of subtext allows many of us to make guesswork of messages that we could all too easily say, it might sound strange to suggest that this process could go too far.
Words are truly fascinating things. But we are experiencing times when simplification and the focus of broader meaning down into one or very few words – often for the purposes of marketing or political expedience – has created a cult of watchwords or polysemic terms which overtly mean just one thing, but do in fact hide a multitude of different meanings, which can be as diverse as the number of people reading or indeed using them.
It doesn’t sound like much of a problem when we think about the way we see the world, because its all too easy to assume that everyone uses the same words for the same things as we ourselves do.
The problem is that they don’t.
On a day by day basis, those differences may not be so big as to cause any great problem, and discussing the structural differences and the relative meanings of there, their and they’re, probably creates more humour than it ever will do some level of dangerous misunderstanding between two or many more people.
So what is it I’m trying to say so simply here?
Well, oversimplification of language and/or meaning is not only flawed, it is also fundamentally dangerous. That narrowing dialogue down in to terms which the speaker or author understands takes for granted that the reader or listener will do so too. That people with responsibility to communicate a message should be mindful that the words they use may not generate the same understanding for those who hear.
The profundity of what is becoming a menace, cannot be illustrated better than the use of the term ‘immigration’, and the significance that its use has and continues to have in relation to the debate over Brexit, our relationship with the European Union, and also the different lenses that we are all using to picture the political viewpoints of people across the political spectrum.
So let me ask the question; what do you think of when you hear the term immigration?:
- Welcoming refugees?
- Being burdened with unwelcome economic migrants?
- Creating cultural diversity?
- Destroying our National identity?
- Helping those who need our help the most?
- A source of cheap labour?
- The loss of British jobs?
- Long queues in A+E?
- The source of the housing problem?
- The reason its so difficult to get an appointment at the Doctors?
- No place for your children at your most local school?
- An opportunity for our children to learn other ways of thinking?
- An opportunity for us to learn other ways of thinking?
- We are importing terrorists?
- Being made to feel like a foreigner in your own country?
- Everything that is wrong about Europe?
- Everything that is right about Europe?
- That everything will change for the better if its stops?
- That everything will go wrong for us if it stops?
The chances are that it could be any one or perhaps more of these or many others., and almost without exception, there is a duality to the particular meaning that it may have, which depending on which side of the Brexit coin you may sit, will be conversely mirrored by someone who sits on the other side.
Knowing that immigration is a word with such diversity of meaning, and that it also makes people think as it is said was in some respects the greatest genius of the Leave Campaign message. However, it may also have been the most dark, bearing in mind that it is clearly the case that the use of a dog whistle of this kind has inadvertently let a rather large genie out of the bottle in terms of the broad misunderstanding of other people that we might previously have thought we understood.
For instance racism in its genuine, un-nuanced and non-pc promoted sense is thankfully rare. But immigration to those few amongst us has always represented the unwilling acceptance of difference within our communities and its end, the removal of all other kinds. These are the few who have shamefully found new confidence in their ignorance and bigotry, taking their vitriol to our streets and transport since the 23rd of June to offend people who have done nothing to deserve such intolerance.
However for those looking on with the moral certainty that Remain was always the enlightened path, this intolerance of immigration must surely be representative of all people who voted Leave on the basis of the immigration question.
Call it being tarred with the same brush or death by association, the fear and frustration that the collapse in public services which has correlated with the arrival of mass immigration is seen as excuse enough to cast many people who want to do nothing more than go happily about their normal lives in safety in the light of thugs who desire no such thing. And all because these issues have been narrowed down into just one thing, which itself overlooks the reality of the role of the EU in immigration in the first place when the matter is correctly put into context by the role of Globalisation.
It seems there is a lot to be said about simplifying language into more accessible terms. But the access can itself can go too far, and the travesty is that simplification of this kind is not rare and is continuing within the government and media sphere all the time.
Take ‘hard Brexit’ and ‘soft Brexit’. What do these terms mean to you?
Whats about JAM’s (Just about Managing). Isn’t that the experience that most of us are having too?
The travesty of using terms like these, is the damage that their being misinterpreted or misunderstood creates. It is distinctly unintelligent to heap so many meanings into such basic terms and then expect everyone else to understand them.
They don’t. and social, demographic or political labelling of this kind is merely serving to create even greater distrust and disenfranchisement than that which shook the establishment with the No Vote in June.
People are never wrong when they understand things their own way, using the lense that their life experience has given them. Some of us would risk simplifying this to the term ‘living in the real world’ and until our leaders begin to respect the people they collectively represent and stop treating us all like an audience which is a seedbed for manipulation, the electoral shocks will continue to come.
Make the effort to put ideas, problems and policy into terms that are easy to understand. But please do us all a favour and stop being lazy as you do.
image thanks to source unknown