behind words – empire’s grammar

The grammar of empire is all around us as, words and languages continue to serve as instruments of domination, even more so amid a pandemic. The next time you turn to your Oxford Dictionary or the Thesaurus on your Microsoft word document remember this insight from John Agard: “I ent have no gun/I ent have no knife/but mugging de Queen’s English/is the story of my life.” The need to continue ‘mugging de Queen’s English’ (among other colonial languages) continues and especially so in the current climate with sorts of pundits and their commentaries on the pandemic. Consider just two (you may wish to think of others):

international consensus” is one that politicians, pundits and journalists continue to deploy. But interrogate deeper and one starts to uncover a massive and blatant lie. In the first instance there is no consensus (even in any evolving sense of the word). And do you think ‘international’ will include Ghana, Nigeria, Cuba, Jamaica, Belize, Chile, Tonga, Palestine, Bangladesh or Venezuela, just to name a few? Yet we lick-up this nonsense and regurgitate without interrogating the real agenda. Be it on China, North Korea, Cuba, COVID-19 and much more – international consensus is a camouflage and trigger descriptor to bend our minds and knees to genuflect to the ways of the modern temples of domination. And, if international consensus really matters, why then are some powerful nations selective of what they follow or respond to?

we are in this together’ meaning that we are all responsible. Neil Vallelly writing in the May-June 2020 issue of The New Internationalist took to task the creeping ‘self-help myth’ which governments are deploying (by stealth) to absolve themselves of their responsibilities, by appealing to the people and their individual responsibility in crises situations such as the current pandemic. We are asked to take greater responsibility for managing our own health. On the surface this may not appear problematic, as one cannot dispute our individual role in ensuring personal well-being, observing protocols, and staying safe, Vallelly’s substantive argument though, is that:

“where once the role of government was to safeguard the general happiness of the majority of citizens….its primary role now is to facilitate the conditions where each citizen can take on more and more individual responsibility, absolving the state from its responsibility towards its citizens” [56]

Digging deeper, Vallelly shows how over the years the worship of neo-liberal capitalism has resulted in (among other things) a move away from welfare and the language of ‘rights’ to personal responsibility, contending that it will lead to the liberation of human potential. This may be the case, but what is not often disclosed is that releasing of human potential is then quickly commodified and privatized to an economic end.  It is geared to drive the growth engine of neo-liberal capitalism.

Sure, there may be merits in reimagining welfare not as a right, but as an opportunity and linking opportunity to responsibility (incentivizing it). The reality though is that the ‘table’ (to draw on an image) is not a level space, nor can all sit around it nor is the playing field one of equity.  As Neil Vallelly notes:

“The language of personal responsibility is the flywheel of neoliberal capitalism….but this background mantra conceals an ulterior motive: to legitimize divestment in education, training and social security for citizens….”[59]

This was quite evident in an economic crash and now with COVID-19. With the former – the crash – the bankers and banks (who operated with impunity) were absolved of their responsibility through state bailouts. And with the current crisis, just look who are the ones on the front-line and losing their lives during the pandemic. We are surely ‘not all in it together’. The disparities are deadly and scandalous, weighing unfairly and heavily against BAME peoples and the most disadvantaged. Neil Vallelly nails it well:

“If the role of government is to ensure the well-being of its citizens, and if the well-being is tied to the security of employment, then surely government should be safeguarding the labour sphere from exploitative practices by businesses and corporations.” [58]

That would be the logic, but it is not the reality. The mantra about responsibility is nothing less than laying workers-people on the altar of neo-liberal capitalism to be sacrificed for the 1%.

So in good Caribbean style, I am going to borrow (and paraphrase) from The Devil’s Dictionary (Ambrose Bierce, 1911) to describe ‘responsibility’ as: “a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of the Divine and poor people”. God has no option but to take the side of the poor, still waiting for release (jubilee) on this earth…..

©caribleaper May 6, 2020

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