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The death of euphemisms

  • Published at 06:05 pm June 3rd, 2019

Is political rhetoric starting to lose its hold over people?

The world has, since the dawn of the new century, embraced a silent rebellion against the old practice of how one cleverly avoids telling lies while trying to hide facts, rules, principles, and pledges.

Nicety in public speaking was believed to be a necessary attribute for showing a decent face. Such a culture was fostered through a deterrent to reckless social behaviour -- the sugarcoated language had often offered an alternative, with clear deviation to things that the audience knew to be true.

“When businesses mask their actions with vague, robotic language, both clarity and people are the big losers,” wrote the BBC’s Mark Peters in a 2017 article titled “The hidden dangers of euphemisms,” listing terms such as “downsizing,” “making redundant,” “laying off,” “demising,” and “personnel surplus reduction.”

A new generation in America, Europe, North Africa, and all over Asia -- the millennials -- expected an end to what they viewed as politics of hypocrisy and what certain individuals from older generations recognized as “double standard” through changes in social approach and public service.

In no time, a handful of deceitful politicians fooled their old rivals either by setting the trend of disregarding the established norms or by taking advantage of the naivety of the yet-to-be-grown-up in their constituencies.

These “leaders” could even afford to suppress universal voting rights, as we witness a democracy turn into a dictatorial state. Development, a major excuse for clinging on to power, practically means the diversion of public resources to the sycophants of the leader.

For the acts of those who pledge changes but are not true to the cause, an innocent generation is set to pay a high price. The youthful minds of the Arab Spring have already been cheated as the likes of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt have proven unrepentant in curtailing all civil rights, reversing the course of revolution, instead.

A neo-Nazi wave in Germany, Nigel Farage’s success in instigating the Britons to vote Leave, motivations for “making America great again” by communications strategist Steve Bannon, Benjamin Netanyahu’s record re-election in Israel, and Narendra Modi’s recent return to power in India, are all a common feature that confirms the effectiveness of their respective ideologies.

So what if you call them politically incorrect, ultra-rightist, racist, or communal?

Suddenly, the democratic missionaries of the West have lost their self-asserted right to criticize the system of governance in China and post-Soviet rule of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Third-world dictators who complied with their foreign mentors’ edicts, instead of respecting their own people at home, have found relief from outside moral pressure.

A minister can, therefore, argue, the price of paddy fell for the country’s development, because he doesn’t need to show sensitivity to the farmers, given the kind of mandate his government has secured. Pretentious advocates of salvation for the working class can easily serve a regime that widens disparity.

The people’s voting rights are said to have been upheld when the franchise is hijacked -- and it is carried out by leaders who speak of democracy but act against the people.

This honesty in distorting facts and violating the rules of the game has been possible for they can do so without facing political repercussions. Sophistication of the leadership no more bears much significance while a new value system for defining power politics has yet to emerge.

So, the current US president can tell a CNN reporter, “you are a very rude person,” when he himself is extremely rude to whoever he encounters. A “shameless” Donald Trump knows he can do everything, issuing eight false or misleading statements a day on average, as studies suggest.

At the very beginning of this century, another US president, George W Bush, invaded the sovereign countries of Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2002), without paying heed to international rules. Why can’t Vladimir Putin do so by annexing Crimea when he has the military might?

20th-century rhetoric like “revolution” and “counter-revolution,” “respect for sovereignty” and “policy of non-interference,” “freedom,” “electoral system,” “good governance,” “transparency and accountability” and so and such are of little value today.

Nowadays, people’s reactions to vague, metaphorical, and confusing expressions on social media indicate they have become immune to euphemisms. While fake news moves some people, they annoy most others.

A representative from Facebook, in a statement to The Washington Post, said: “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.” A tacit admission of their guilt, if I’ve ever heard one. 

When a peripheral country like Myanmar forces its minority Rohingya people to take shelter in another country, the statesmen in the neighbourhood don’t even use strong rhetoric, let alone proper actions, to contain the aggressor who violates “human rights.”

This is what pundits call “realpolitik.”

Those who call it the post-truth era hardly question if the previous one was the opposite or if facts and righteous causes can be buried forever. Do all social actors love to see truth be replaced with falsehood? 

Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist and winner of UN MDG Award, DAJA Award, and WFP Award. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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