It is curious to note the expressions that people who think they are important use to denote people they think are not. The phrase ‘ordinary people’, used by those who sometimes appear on television or in the national press to refer to those who don’t, is perhaps the archetypal example. The EU’s phrase ‘civil society’ which EU referendum helpful explains as a number of organizations set up by the EU in order that they can tell it what it wants to hear, is another commonly heard expression. It is another attempt to give the thing a veneer of democracy, but the choice of term is strange. It suggests a tin ear and an inability to see who is really affected by the decisions they make, but it also fails in another way- if other people are civil society, then what are EU bureaucrats? Are they not civil? Are they not part of society? Are they to civil society as the military is to the civilian? Is this revealing?
In Spain the King is at least known as ‘El Primero de los Españoles’, the ‘First among Spaniards’, which attempts to reflect something which is constitutionally true, although historically and institutionally false. On the other hand there is a tendency to refer to ‘los agentes sociales’, when making laws which affect large numbers of people, or decisions on tax and public sector pay and conditions and so on. This seems to be code for the major trade unions, the press and the autonomous parliaments, each of which speaks for the people it is supposed to represent in a very limited manner, being more interested in its own benefits and ideas. But they are easy to identify at least, which is why they claim to have spoken to them. (Some of these Autonomous parliaments have real power; none is truly representative of the people it controls).
Another strange and more disturbing expression which I keep coming across is ‘citizen journalists’. It is not clear who they are and in what way they are supposed to be different from other kinds of journalist. A journalist, one would say, is someone who transmits, researches and comments on current events through a public channel. Is it simply an attempt to retain the pristine, cultured image of official, licensed journalists, while recognising that there may be other, lesser beings who are allowed to speak as long as they keep in their place and don’t imagine that what they say matters? It would be easy to believe this, since journalists- those who think of themselves as real journalists- tend to take themselves tremendously seriously, and resent the idea that just anyone can do what they do.
But the phrase is heard more often on the lips of politicians, and that is more disturbing still. It suggests an attempt to create two orders of journalist; one, a pet stable of newspaper, radio and television reporters and commentators, who would be given shiny badges and told how important they were, and in the second class, those who cannot be tamed. The NUJ sold out to this idea decades ago, so it would not be surprising if they went along with it. The point, of course, is that the tame journalists with their badges would be allowed to spout orthodoxy, or even question it a little, with comparative freedom, but the rest of us, the ‘citizens’, would find very severe limits placed on our freedom to report, research and comment.
For a startling insight into how this is working in Canada, and the idea some people in authority have of freedom, have a look at Ezra Levant’s site. Peruse it at length. It is very instructive.
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