Sorry for the prolonged silence. I’m sooo busy. It’s a bit of a crunch time for me. My research fellowship ends and with it any regular money. I’m not realistically gonna get any university jobs mainly because instead of focusing in and carving out a particular academic niche, I’ve done the opposite and tried to incorporate many more ‘ologies’ and perspectives. I’m keen to understand and respond to the fundamental challenges we all face and that means transcending the artificial disciplines that compartmentalise knowledge and research within the university. It also means doing more than research and actually acting in/on the world. It means also not acting upon others, but acting with others in democratic processes of knowledge co-production. And it also means working with other kinds of people, especially artists.
Therefore, I, along with some like-minded friends, have decided to establish the ‘Centre for Transformational Learning and Culture’ (CTLC). We’re working on a model and plan now, but we’ll fill you in very soon along with an invitation to join us and be a part of it.
Anyway, this brief post is about something different and related. It’s about language and how language is used by powerful elites to deform us and how language can be taken and used by us to transform ourselves. We need to flip the script wherever possible.
The war over ‘benefits’
Here in the UK, it’s all kicking off within the ruling Conservative Party and a civil war is breaking out on two main fronts: 1) Whether the UK should remain in the European Union and 2) The economic and political merits of further public spending cuts (austerity). I don’t have the will to bring myself to comment on the first issue – a choice between staying part of transnational undemocratic, corrupt institutions or leaving it to advance the self-interest of those committed to our own national undemocratic, corrupt institutions. I guess I slightly prefer the former option.
On the second front, after the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) declared cuts to disabled people’s so-called ‘benefits’ alongside tax cuts for the richest, the long-serving Minister for Welfare and Pensions, one Iain Duncan-Smith, decided that enough was enough and resigned. Suddenly, after six years and countless deaths later, he claimed to have reached his moral limit. Enough has been written speculating on this internal conflict. My proposal here is to suggest that we strike while the iron is hot and strike with language.
Flipping the script: From ‘benefits’ to ‘compensation’
The word ‘benefits’ is a classic example of how the ruling class constructs political reality. A benefit sounds like something good, something generous, something not earned, but received. The mass media, particularly the tabloid press, hammer this home each day with stories of the lavish lives of the feckless, lazy poor. Again, enough has been written debunking these ridiculous, toxic myths. We know, of course, that benefits are meagre and condemn their recipients to lives of poverty, even when they are working.
We should not accept this word. Rather than the ‘benefits system’, I propose that we start talking about the ‘compensation system’. ‘Compensation’ is much more accurate. This system offers paltry compensation for the dehumanising experience of having lost the right to a decent livelihood, access to education and training, and, increasingly, access to transport, health, and justice. In short, it offers shameful compensation for rendering people surplus to, and reconstructing them to meet, the capitalist system’s requirements.
Imagine the potential political impact if everyone who opposed austerity and recognised its barbarity swapped ‘benefits’ for ‘compensation’! It could be huge. So, why not join me. Any time you’re in a conversation or debate, especially if you’re on TV or radio, start calling it the ‘compensation system’.
If you have any other ideas for ‘flipping the script’, let me know.