Democracies. Monarchies, constitutional or otherwise. Autocracies. Totalitarian regimes. Dictatorships. Did I leave out any other mechanisms of power?
I did. For no such list is ever complete if glossocracy isn’t on it: controlling the masses by controlling their language.
No glossocrat inherits his throne, no one votes glossocracy in, no one marches in its support, few even realise it’s there. But it is, and it can be more effective than any other form of power for being more pervasive and perfidious than any of them.
Philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, knew glossocracy was a danger, even though they didn’t use the term I might have coined. But, as is often the case, an artist got to the truth before philosophers did.
The artist in question is Lewis Carroll, who made Humpty Dumpty conduct this dialogue with Alice: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
That was nothing short of prescient for it’s Humpty Dumpty who is beginning to wield real power. He can force his warped phraseology on anyone, especially those who have to worry about jobs, posts or careers. In due course, he then gains power over people’s thoughts.
Humpty Dumpty has his own police, working through most media and a growing number of volunteers and snitches. Utter one word that Humpty Dumpty doesn’t countenance, and you have a case to answer.
The latest example is Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons. He was dragged before a Humpty Dumpty tribunal for using a perfectly inoffensive figure of speech.
Inoffensive, that is, to any normal person. But normal persons don’t seek to impose their rule on all and sundry, and Humpty Dumpty does. As far as he is concerned, Rees-Mogg is a criminal.
During a parliamentary debate he described the Liberal Democrats, whose logo and rosettes are yellow, as the yellow peril. This is what linguists call metonymy, describing something by referring to something else associated with it.
In no way did Mr Rees-Mogg try to suggest that his political opponents all come from China, Japan or Southeast Asia, nor that there’s anything wrong with the natives of those places.
Mr Rees-Mogg correctly identified every policy ever mooted by the LibDems as a peril to Britain, which peril he described by their party colour. It’s true that his metonymy got its currency from a racial slur, but that’s certainly not what he had in mind.
But Humpty Dumpty doesn’t care what Rees-Mogg or anybody else has in mind. Anybody’s words mean what Humpty Dumpty decides they mean because he is to be master. He issues his own Miranda warning: anything you say may brand you a racist.
Humpty Dumpty’s loyal servants immediately ganged up on poor Rees-Mogg. The Shadow Commons leader by the unlikely name of Thangam Debbonaire accused him of racism and demanded an apology – even though she acknowledged magnanimously that Mr Rees-Mogg committed his crime unintentionally.
Labour MP Sarah Owen, who is half-Chinese, then provided a helpful chronological frame of reference by saying: “It’s 2021 not 1821”. Yes, when England was ruled by George IV, not Humpty Dumpty.
She then added, displaying a command of English that must have come from her mother’s side: “There is simply no excuse for it and it was made worse by the fact the only two MPs of ESEA (East and South East Asian) descent were sat on the front-benches as the words ‘yellow peril’ left his mouth.”
Leave his mouth though they did, there was no putting them back. Sensing that his political career was about to be sacrificed at Humpty Dumpty’s altar, Mr Rees-Mogg pleaded ignorance and offered grovelling and profuse apologies.
Since he is an educated man, he must be familiar with the ancient legal principle of ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law is no excuse). He might have got away with his offence that time, just. But there’s now a black mark on his CV, guaranteed to scupper any loftier political ambitions he might harbour.
Although I doubt he harbours them: everything about Rees-Mogg is offensive to the new masters: accent honed at the best schools, breadth of cultural references, Catholic piety, Savile Row suits, wealth, double-barrel name. Actually, it’s amazing he has got this far.
Mr Rees-Mogg is perfectly capable of telling Humpty Dumpty where to stick his diktats, and I bet he desperately wanted to. But since he has his political career to worry about, he was suitably contrite.
I have no such limitations, which is why, whenever someone takes exception to my defiance of Humpty Dumpty, I invariably reply with a three-word colloquialism, where the first word is Go and the third one is yourself.
That’s in speech. In writing, I may cite the endless list of words and expressions that may conceivably be proscribed by Humpty Dumpty for being racially offensive.
For example, calling someone a blackguard or ascribing a black heart to him may imply that evil is uniquely a characteristic of the black race. Speaking of the red menace may be offensive to American Indians. (In fact, calling them ‘American Indians’ is offensive in itself. Repeat after me: NATIVE AMERICANS.) Stigmatising someone as a yellow-belly implies that all ESEA persons are cowardly.
It’s a game Humpty Dumpty will win every time because he’s the one who sets the rules. And then we’ll all become one collective loser, the worst kind, one who no longer even realises that there was a game played, and he lost.
Earlier I described Humpty Dumpty as perfidious because he spreads his evil designs over such a broad and seemingly nebulous area that focused resistance is difficult to marshal.
When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, the enemy was there for all to see: the communist authorities. Every decent person resisted them as best he could, which was both easy and hard. Easy, because they were clearly identifiable. Hard, because they could kill you.
Humpty Dumpty doesn’t yet possess the power of life and death, but he speaks in such a multitude of tongues that one doesn’t know how, or whom, to resist. I do anyway, but I can’t in good conscience recommend my methods to anyone who has something to lose.
I make a point of correcting woke usages wherever I hear them, and you already know how I respond to anyone, and I mean anyone, who corrects my diction for not being woke enough. But I do realise that not everyone is as truculent as I am, and that middle-class people (and who’s not middle-class these days?) are mortally scared of giving offence.
So let me just quote the American thinker Harry Jaffa who wrote the line that lost Barry Goldwater the 1964 presidential election: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Or in other words, if we don’t get Humpty Dumpty, he’ll get us.