A Dangerous Rhetoric

Photograph: 'competition-dispute-goats' AND Pexels

Throughout the past few years, there has been a substantial decline in the care politicians and public figures choose to put into their choice of language. Recently it has become abundantly clear that the more inflammatory the use of language, the better it is received. I remember I was studying for my A-levels when I first heard David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister at the time, refer to refugees as ‘a swarm’. A deliberate use of dehumanising rhetoric. Since then there have been countless occasions where the world has seen prominent figures using antagonistic and careless language. I believe we are now at a stage where the more aggressive and thoughtless the language used the more powerful those talking believe they appear. Where before one would have expected such dangerous political rhetoric to come from more extreme fringe groups; now you would hardly blink at politically extreme language coming from the mouths of prominent mainstream figures. Although this is clearly wrong in itself, it steps beyond the realm of simple concern over the correct use of language. The more extreme our political language gets; the more our politics follow suit. In today’s political sphere, with the technological advances we have, such an escalation of aggression and depletion of diplomacy leaves us facing, at best a fractured and paranoid global community, at worse it leaves us facing an existential danger.

We are seeing a seismic shift in the way people expect those in charge to talk. Whereas before the majority of us would have expected those representing our nation to employ diplomacy, we now have grown to expect, and sadly respect, those who can bark and threaten the loudest. We respect this zero-sum rhetoric to such an extent that it has visibly seeped into the public sentiment. We are demanding more severe and antagonistic political action by the day. Brexit was one example of this. Cameron bullishly ramped up the rhetoric and antagonistic action with staged walkouts from EU meetings and Theresa May helped, in her capacity as Home Secretary, with her aggressive anti-immigration policies that included vans driving around the UK that had ‘go home or face arrest’ written across them. One could be forgiven for conjuring up images of the Child Catcher in ‘chitty chitty bang bang’.

This course of knee-jerk rhetoric and policy to garner popularity has sadly worked towards creating deeper divisions within society. Calls for us to leave the EU would likely still have been contained mostly within outdated pockets of the Conservative Party and the far-right single issue party UKIP. The effects of manipulative rhetoric are creeping yet swift and hard to hold to account and hold greater consequences than just the creation of a less tolerant electorate.

These knee-jerk style political relations and use of aggressive rhetoric has been escalating for nearly a decade now, and it is clear that we are approaching a cliff edge of sorts. In an already fractious world, there is no scope for a continued aggressive approach in the place of calm diplomacy. The divisions created as a result of political posturing instead of thoughtful action has created a palpable sense of global division. As those who are subjected to these aggressive interactions will inevitably begin to respond in kind it is clear that something has to give. Theresa May’s decision to begin Brexit negotiations with the threat that she would be willing to walk away with no deal ensured that tensions would be rife throughout the talks; it also meant that the EU was left with little choice but to take an even harder line. Given the rise in Euroscepticism, they cannot afford to respond lightly to a country that is undermining the institution’s entire identity and security. Creating a bad situation for all parties involved. Rather than beginning with discussion and composure, negotiations are beginning with both party’s holding a gun to one another’s heads hoping the other will be the first to blink.

All long-term solutions seem to have been thrown out and replaced with childishly short-sighted action. In the past couple of months, we have seen the US President Donald Trump pull out of the Iran deal and move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Two devastating political manoeuvres in an already fractious and fragile region. Both decisions made as an arbitrary attempt to bolster his own precious self-image as a tough bully boy who follows through on his aggressive agenda. However, we saw the devastating effects that this short-sighted action had in Gaza. We also saw Iran double down on their anti-American sentiment, making it look highly unlikely Iran will attempt to heal their long-term damaged relations with the US as long as Trump is still US President. Aggressive posturing only results in aggressive or ultimately tragic responses. No country or institution can afford to sit back and allow themselves to be undermined. It forces those who would not usually behave in such a manner to resort to reactionary politics. Therefore, we are facing a precarious and divided future; when we should instead be learning to employ more diplomatic and collegiate rhetoric than we ever have before. Because that in my mind is what political progression is; a world moving forward toward cohesion and egalitarianism, not one moving further towards self-interest and power games.

Rather than using political rhetoric to ramp up tensions and back ourselves into a corner where we are forced to follow through on action we never wanted to embroil ourselves with in the first place, we should be trying to de-escalate these new political tensions. We are not past the point of no return, however. This rise in aggressive political language and relations could be seen as a warning sign that there is a need for some real change and active attempts at domestic and international healing. A new multilateral humanitarian based approach to political action must be the next step rather than the on-going continuation of power games. This must start with public figures being pulled up on any use of dehumanising or pointlessly aggressive and antagonistic language. We cannot afford to refer to human beings as a ‘swarm’ or ‘scroungers’ or any other pejorative terms. Because a long-awaited shift toward a more human-centric global outlook and policy is only possible through holistic change which must start with a concerted effort to hold those to account that use language and political action to undermine humanity.

The World Wars taught us that we cannot afford to negate diplomacy and allow the endless escalation of aggression in place of diplomacy and rationale. Now that we are in a world that has nuclear weaponry and other technological advances that pose a real existential danger, how can we possibly justify using petty point scoring language and aggression in place of real negotiation? But this is not just a matter of the consequences, it is also a matter of who we want to be in this new world. Do we want to carry on with pointless power plays, name calling and finger pointing rather than real conversations that progress and improve humanity? Surely in a world where we are so economically interlinked, we cannot possibly justify acting within such an old world logic. The natural progression from here must be, certainly should be, a move toward global cohesion and care. This has to start by realising that we cannot have arbitrary hierarchies within domestic or global society; therefore we cannot allow dehumanising rhetoric within our political debate never mind consider it par for the course. Do we really want to carry on existing in a world where we hear debates on whether we are facing a new ‘Cold War’ or whether there could be a world war three? Because I do not. I want a world and a country where we are discussing how we can all work together to make sure no one in society falls through the cracks and how we can eradicate inequalities and injustices. Now is the time to push for this; rather than being pushed into further division lets try to stand up for greater cohesion.


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Cello Vashti Dutton David 2 Articles
I am a recent MA graduate from the University of Sussex where I read Geopolitics and Grand Strategy. I hope to go into a career in charity, international policy or left wing politics. I also want to write. I was home educated for most of my young life and this was how I found my love for Literature, History, Philosophy and Politics. I have been fascinated by people and society ever since. My favourite author is Albert Camus.

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