Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's a Gas, do the maths

I've been thinking about language or, more precisely, words today.

It's all been brought on by who first of all raised a question about the word "tosser" in the comments of an earlier post on feminism (here) and then whose latest post on "socialist porn actress" Nina Hartley raised rather more questions than it answered. So, looking into Nina, with the possibility of posting on the topic I noticed a big difference in the way she was described.

For some she had a "liberal upbringing" and others point out her parents were paid up members of the Communist Party. Part of me thought, well, some people are trying to cover up the fact that there ever was a Communist Party in the USA, but it's also true that the term liberal has quite different connotations over there than it does over here.

It got me thinking about the time years ago that my Dad (I don't remember the context) used the word incontinence and I asked him what it meant. He said that "It means you can't control your actions" where of course "actions" is a euphemism for bowel movements, which are quite unmentionable.

I laughed at this and started wriggling round on the floor as if I was having a fit and giggling "Oooo, I can't control my actions" What a slap I got. Man.

Then there's gas. When I was learning to drive the pedal that made the car go faster was called an "accelerator" and, when I'm in the driving seat, it still is. But my instructor used to call it the gas pedal, I think because it's easier to say quickly as in "Oh my Lord, take your foot off the gas!" It makes no sense for an English person to call it gas because, whilst to an American gas is also the fuel, for the English it's petrol. Gases are oxygen, hydrogen and argon (there may be some others too) not liquids.

I'm just saying.

Of course, a more political word problem I've been talking about this week is the term "cooperatives" when applied to Bolivian mining. For me a workers' cooperative is somewhere where everyone who works there owns a share and has a say.

In Bolivia it's simply a reference to the origin of certain private companies set up in 1982 when the price of tin collapsed. Many private mining firms collapsed and the state operator COMIBOL laid of 35,000 workers. Some of these workers clubbed together and set up business, but instead of operating under the principle of new workers are equal shareholders they operate like any other business. The workers are paid on piece rate and their terms and conditions are casualised and anti-union.

It's hard enough to do political activity without having to explain new meanings of old words to people - but there you have it. I'm not one to complain.

The last word I'll come to is the term "ethical". Whilst it doesn't actually have a new meaning in the mouths of some on the left I love the delicious coating of supercilious contempt it acquires. As if being ethical is positively sickening.

I think this comes down to two things. Firstly, fairtrade, organic biscuits do nothing to build the revolutionary party (although an army does march on its stomach). Secondly, there is a weird tendency on the left of people who believe morals don't exist - possibly from a misunderstanding of what was meant when Engels advocated "scientific" socialism.

Quite clearly a corrupt undemocratic union, for instance, can be a blunt tool in the class war, but part of the argument against these problems is a moral or ethical one. I think it would be fantastic if the left adopted an ethical code rather than looked forward with salivating glee for the day they can string up the Queen Mother's corpse from the tallest lamppost in London.

Those who are "ethical" when they raise demands about investing in the arms trade, the exploitation of third world farmers or in their personal relationships are not always the ones with a comprehensive strategy to overthrow international capitalism - but hey, perhaps that's why I like them.


Renegade Eye said...

Nina told me she was a "red diaper baby", which means her parents were communist, in the McCarthy era.

At my blog in the comments, I posted a link with more info about Nina.

Now I know what a tosser is. One who likes to spank the monkey.

Daniel S. Ketelby said...

I think it would be fantastic if the left adopted an ethical code...

Yes. One way of putting why I'm now a Christian and not a Marxist is that Christianity spoke to the person and (in my own experience) Marxism failed to do this (perhaps because of a certain exhaustion, it has to be said - I was in my late teens in the late eighties, which says it all).

Christanity (at its best - there's a great deal of reductionism, antiscientism and fundementalism around) is more humane, and has a more robust and flexible ethical language, or heart-language.

Jim Jay said...

One of the reasons why I think ethics is important is because socialists have to be rooted in the community and you have to be trusted and seen as people of principle and integrity by that community. Without ethics ordinary working class people aren't gonna trust you.

They might like you, or respect you even - but not trust you.

If, for example, you say things because you are obliged to, it allows you to take sharp turns and argue the opposite without blinking an eye - because what you say is only about achieving your ends in the first place anyway. But once people have come to know you, they know you do that and view your statements with that in mind.

This happens a lot with left wing publications.

If on the other hand you are consistently honest and argue the way it seems to you - especially when that does not suit your immediate needs - then, I think, there is the potential to build up a long term and therefore deeper trust.

Do you see what I'm saying?

I also happen to think being honest is the right thing to do anyway.

LeftyHenry said...

The CPUSA don't really count as communist anymore. "Just vote democrat" Is reactionary as fuck!

BTW I'm gonna add you to my blogroll if that's cool with you. Just comment me back.