Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spread the word!

English is apparently nearing its millionth word,
not, of course, without controversy. A new word, we are told, is birthed every 98 minutes amongst a community of 1.5 billion speakers. To make the list of Paul Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, a word must have 25,000 citations across a wide range of sources and geographical locations. There are only 176 words to go until the million word mark has been reached.

This is a shameless plea to help me join the millionth word sweepstakes. My word, in which I take a certain pride, is "sado-politics," used to describe the right-wing political penchant for inflicting pain and generating vicarious enjoyment of that pain as a political ploy. From Vic Toews' proposal to jail ten-year-olds, to former Ontario Premier Mike Harris' slashing of welfare benefits and setting up snitch lines to harass the poor, to the eliminationist rhetoric with which we are all by now drearily familiar, "sado-politics" has become the hallmark of a certain type of conservative.

Not, of course, that this doesn't have historical antecedents. From gladiatorial combat in panis et circenses
Rome to gruesome executions at the stake and on the wheel, rope and rack for the delectation of the masses, there has always been a predilection on the part of the powerful to play to the baser instincts of the people.

we know, thanks to B.F. Skinner, that positive reinforcement is the most effective means of altering behaviour. Yet the powers that be have always preferred the inefficient and yet crowd-pleasing alternative--punishment. If those fearful and bloody mediaeval spectacles (which actually went on much later) were truly meant only to instruct the people in proper behaviour, one wonders why the better choice was virtually never made. Returning to the gladiators, however, it is clear that there is something distressingly attractive to many in observing the suffering of others, or even being a party to it.

And the infliction of suffering, it seems, is as politically saleable today as it ever was. From capital punishment restorationism to war talk, from excusing torture to self-righteously killing off a pauper, to urging addicts to off themselves, to the lipsmacking enjoyment of the death of a political opponent, it is abundantly evident that unvarnished sadism has infected the politics of the Right to the point that decent conservatives (for example, frequent commenter "Peter") are left shaken and appalled.

We need a word to describe this kind of politics, and, with all due humility, I believe that I have contributed one. Come on, bloggers and tweeters--let's get cracking.

UPDATE: Give scurmunging a shot.

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