Tuesday, 31 January 2023
You have to figure it out for yourself
You have to figure it out for yourself, and if you’re the kind no one pushes off the boat, the whole thing will never come your way and you're safe. Maybe you’re hardly interesting enough ever to be in danger. Most people walk high and safe—all their days.
Sherwood Anderson - Dark Laughter (1925)
Safe spaces - it’s a well known term, frequently ridiculed as woke, but there is much to be gleaned from it. If there are safe spaces then there are unsafe spaces. This gives us a political direction – unsafe spaces to safe spaces. All a matter of perception, but manipulating perception is how the nudge game works.
In which case, we may turn the safe spaces notion around and say the ruling elites are not interested in safe spaces, but they are interested creating a perception of unsafe spaces. They weave unsafe spaces into government narratives to create a pervasive sense of social direction. Unsafe to safe.
Unsafe spaces within language is a major part of where this is going. Spinning a sense of caution and reticence rather than fear. Nudged towards a version of Newspeak where more and more subjects are turned into swamps of unsafe language where nice people don’t go. Not a new thing of course.
Apart from language, here in the UK, the biggest unsafe space for many decades has been the coronavirus lockdown. An official message suggesting that the range of lockdown measures made everyone safer, but the message was transparently aimed at making everyone feel unsafe except in their own home.
The catastrophic climate narrative is run on similar, if less effective lines. Here, and with monumental absurdity, the entire planet becomes an unsafe space. There is no escape from this one, which was perhaps a strategic error from the start. With no escape route there is no point trying to escape. We may as well adapt and enjoy life while recycling a few yogurt pots to show willing.
We could even suggest that the NHS has a contribution to make to the unsafe spaces strategy. There is nothing safe about needing medical assistance. If that medical assistance is not quite as effective as we might desire, not quite safe when we need it to be particularly safe – what then?
Ruling elites may prefer the NHS to be that way – not quite as safe as other health services. Not in a deliberate sense, but merely one outcome of an underlying, unstated policy where general anxieties are never allowed to fall as far as complacency.
In gender politics we have a wild attempt to make unsafe space within the language of human biology and reproduction. So wild it may backfire, but still a remarkable reminder of how far unsafe language can be pushed. And will be pushed. It won’t stop.
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Those who consider themselves to be elite, and especially those who want to join the elite, know that it is only the observation of laws by the rude mechanicals that keeps the elite secure in their privilege.
Now although it is not much talked about the British, especially the English, are only as law abiding as suits them and mulishly stubborn if it doesn't. The elite fear the mulishness that could easily undermine them and so concentrate on promoting the scare stories that keep it in check.
My suspicion is that the horrors of Brexit, climate change and coronavirus have been (obviously in retrospect) so overhyped that the same tricks are unlikely to work again. At least for a while.
DJ - I hope you are right and suspect you may well be. When narratives are overhyped, more people are likely to spot it even if they only pay casual attention to political games. Net Zero and gender politics both feel like a step too far in that respect, too obviously absurd.
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