In 2015 I got together with a few comrades to write a short, monthly magazine with left-wing content ranging from takes on the news to poetry and drawings. It was called "The Media: Your Newspaper." An arrogant-sounding name intended to mock the pretences of corporate and state news-media. Unfortunately, we were never able to devote the time and attention that the project deserved and we were only able to publish two editions. We had intended to include a small column about the way language is often used to mask or frame certain everyday things. Although the media is probably dead, word games certainly aren't. From time to time - time and inspiration permitting - I will post new word games on the blog.
Language is used as a tool of power. Small word games are used to hide our role in the world; to palliate our role; and to constantly influence the way we perceive the world. In Word Games, I will attempt to look at the way our masters abuse our common heritage: language.
No-one is more universally loathed by the rich than the poor. They are constantly told they are at fault for their own misfortunes. Whenever poor people, no matter if they have a job or not, speak up about their hardships the rich will tell them that they should just be more prudent with money. Unfortunately, large parts of the poor people tend to believe the propaganda against themselves at a certain point. It is, after all, a hegemonic viewpoint poured down our mouths by corporate media and the government. The effect is that many poor people are ashamed of being poor, which makes it harder to speak up. When poor people do speak up, they are met by a torrent of hatred and vitriol which tends to effectively shut poor people up further. I'm fairly sure the rich are perfectly aware of their own complicity in keeping the majority of the world in poverty, but they don't want to be confronted with it.
A portion of the world's governments have implemented certain systems through which a subsection of their population can get access to a pittance in order to - barely - survive. These systems are generally referred to as "benefits." A convenient word that completely hides the daily troubles most people who have little other recourse than such "benefits." The use of the word "benefit" creates the idea that one, in some way, benefits from being unemployed. It is, of course, nothing new that unemployed people are being blamed for their own bad luck in finding a job. All too often the idea is raised that unemployment is an inherent characteristic of a person, and not a normal effect of capitalism working exactly as designed but rarely advertised. Furthermore, unemployment in a capitalist economy is certainly not beneficial to the unemployed. It is beneficial to the masters of industry who can drive down wages of people who know they are easily replaced and are, thus, less likely to stand up for themselves. As such, unemployment is not beneficial to the employed either. Really, in the end, only one group benefits - those who can drive up the profits. As such, using the term "benefit" for the pittance one can, sometimes, get when unemployed is utterly incorrect.
Compensation would, perhaps, be a better word for these small sums of survival-money. Instead of framing the unemployed as receivers of benefits, they are then compensated for their unemployment. After all, we are all forced to live in this capitalist system and most of us, at some point in our lives, will be unemployed. This unemployment is certainly beyond our control, and as such it is only just that the unemployed are to be compensated for the inconvenience they are enduring. After all, unemployment means stress and can form a serious challenge to one's feelings of self-worth. Next to that, money is simply necessary to survive in this society.
Compensation also works for people who are in one way or another disabled. The current capitalist society demands people who have bodies and minds that work within a very narrow standard deviation from a specific norm. Many disabled people would be able to have productive and meaningful lives in a society that is willing to adjust to their special needs. However, adjusting to special needs means a certain emotional, intellectual, and often monetary investment. The latter, companies are often not willing to make and if they do, there's a good chance they wouldn't have without some compensation package from the government. As such, disabled people are more likely to be unemployed (1,2 - in the Netherlands unemployment for disabled people is roughly twice that of non-disabled people). To a large extent, people are being disabled through a generally uncaring economic system and, just as with any unemployed person, it is only just that disabled people are compensated for the system's incapacity to accomodate them.
A capitalist economy has always meant the existence of a large group of unemployed people and people will be unemployed for as long as capitalism exists. Those benefitting from unemployment - the masters of industry - have a propensity to blame the unemployed and the word "unemployment benefit" only serves to mask the reality of what unemployment is. We need to reject their propaganda and start thinking about unemployment in terms of something that is done to the unemployed, and something they should be compensated for as long as this system exists. It serves only the masters of industry and the wider neo-liberal agenda to blame the unemployed for their misfortune. Instead, we need to think of how to re-envision a society in which everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and in which everyone can live a meaningful life.