Break down the Lies



29 dead at Pike River, Korean children die in shipping tragedy; hundreds of miners perish in Turkey. What do all these tragedies have in common? They all followed aggressive policies of deregulation and privatization. Safety is turned into policy and implementation is self-regulated and discretionary. People die unnecessarily. These are not accidents, they are preventable tragedies.

When campaigning and discussing politics leading up to this year’s general election remember that while the Left has perfected sloganeering, the Right has changed the language.

We chant that there is a war on the poor, they speak of flexibility for the job creators.

We say stop bashing beneficiaries; they speak of welfare reform for self-reliance and independence. When did social security and social protection become social welfare and were we asleep when this change occurred?

We are losing the battle for meaning and comprehension. It is no accident that education is being narrowed into vocational training. If citizens are to understand the current role of language in entrenching the politics of privilege we need the restoration of broad based education in the arts and sciences which has been deliberately undermined by the deregulation and partial privatisation of tertiary education.

Language is important. It is how we gain a rich understanding of the world through the use of complex symbols to name and describe.

Let’s work less on the slogans and more on the language. It is easy to adopt the language of business in describing the world because that is the language that workers have been bombarded with for three decades. But when we do so we admit defeat. Many activists, including myself, have fallen into this trap because we thought we could embarrass the corporate world by pointing out the contradictions in their language. This is a mistake. The power elite reevaluate, restructure, reassess and  describe the new reality with the support of the corporate controlled media  and dress it all up with a strong mix of  ‘truthiness’.

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‘Truthiness’ is the new message to the masses- it doesn’t matter if it is factual as long as it fits with popular prejudice and the feelings of fear, hope and desire. And the strategy is that if you say it often enough and with enough conviction it becomes ‘truth’. One of the most powerful examples of this was the Bush Administration claims about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.  By the time the real truth was known, truthiness had prevailed when it came justifying military intervention.

How often do you read or hear the corporate claim that “our people are our first priority”. Bullshit. Their shareholders are their first priority.

Here are some examples of mainstream accepted wisdom which require concerted and consistent effort to fight and win back the language.

The PM is the Nations CEO. No. – She or he is elected to govern in the interests of all New Zealanders not in the interests of those who have the biggest financial investment and demand a seat on the Board.

Global supply chain:  The way a corporation gets its products or services from the raw material to the customer.  Because this is complex in a globalized world we are told it requires understanding of the different labour and environmental standards in this ‘supply chain’. In reality the global supply chain is normally a cesspit of human rights abuses and heavy-duty contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

 Level playing field.

In common usage this does not mean that all workers should be treated equally and have reasonable living standards. It means that all enterprises should be able to compete. Actually – it no longer describes anything approaching the real world.  Getting on to the field at all is a distant dream for an increasing number of marginalized people.

Free trade agreements

These should be named ‘investor rights agreements’ or ‘corporate greed agreements’. They no longer have much to do with the trade of goods between nations.

Balanced budget

Reducing taxes on the wealthy, reducing services, less Government, more privatization, less regulation.

Doing more with less

Dismissing workers from their employment in the interests of greater returns for shareholders.


Destroying the lives of a whole generation in the interests of preserving the value of the sharemarket.

Reducing the deficit 

Slashing public services

Job creators

Business rationale for reducing costs by keeping wages low.


Zero hours contracts, labour hire employment, no rights to bargain collectively or join a union, working day and night for less than you need to live on.

Cutting red tape

Removing social and environmental protection, manslaughter.

Language is distorted and manipulated to justify all manner of crimes against humanity. The dominant use of language now sanctions human rights abuses and describes preventable tragedies as inevitable.

Fight for the language of truth and meaning.


  1. Well said. It is refreshing to hear the truth when we are constantly bombarded with doublespeak. I remember an article about connotative words and how these words, which mean the same meaning have a positive or negative connotation. Although it was in relation to how we educate our kids all I could think of was the twisting of meaning that most rightwing politicians engage in.

  2. …. The PM is the Nations CEO. No. – She or he is elected to govern in the interests of all New Zealanders not in the interests of those who have the biggest financial investment and demand a seat on the Board.


    • John Key is not the nations CEO. He is a temporary employee of the people of NZ. He did not study for years to become an expert in this field. He is an administrator who should seek the wisdom of highly trained and experienced specialists in their field. hm wtf happened with the GCSB bill then?

  3. Google “George Lakoff”, if you haven’t already.

    The corruption of our language is something that we’ve known about for a while now – there’s more to it than simply translating lies into truth. You need to present a counter-frame.

    eg: (not great, but off the top of my head:

    Cutting red tape = Letting the drunks run the bar.

  4. This is the kind of post to keep and reflect on while developing some new language to use in everyday life.

    There are hundreds of these evil subtly undermining terms “going forward”, “all good”, “correction”, “buy in”, “drill down” etc. Ban them from your vocabulary.

  5. Delivering a surplus does not mean we are debt free we still owe $60 Billion to overseas bankers = Snake Oil Salesmen

  6. Thanks for this James. Long live the broad liberal education, the arts and studying beautiful complex writing by impoverished authors and poets.

  7. Well put this article.

    Everyone who has to deal with a govt office will understand this!

    And then the msm go ahead and print it all too – all the garbage, so that it can be filtered into our brains.

    Remember when ‘awful’ used to mean ‘full of awe’ – rather than something horrible; and ‘awesome’ used to mean ‘some awe’ – rather than fantastically amazing.

    And now we have WINZ and ACC bureaucrats telling everyone on their books, that they “just need to send you for reassessments to confirm your eligibility to your entitlements” – when what they are really saying is “we are looking for a legal way of shafting you off your benefits so we can get our performance bonuses, and jet off for our overseas holiday in the Bahamas.”
    And if you dare to point this out to them, in plain honest language with no swear words – they tell you that you are being abusive, and then they will either hang up on you or treat you worse than before you said it – you may even get a talking to from their manager! Phew!

    They are all idiots to think that we can’t see through their lies and deceptions!

    Opinion and belief.

    • It sounds as if you have been taking your frustrations out on the CSR phone operators at MSD. Unfortunately this is futile as they are powerless to change government policy. In fact they are obligated to implement these draconian measures, or run the risk of being on the other end of the phone call. All their phone conversations are recorded and may be played back by their managers.

      • No. I wasn’t.

        The example was only one of many possibilities.

        MSD and ACC staff don’t have to be so abusive to their clients. But they do, and your words above “they are obligated to implement these draconian measures, or run the risk of being on the other end of the phone call”, is really just what this article is about!

        They earn bonuses for getting rid of people on their books! If they were honest, and spoke honestly, they would say something like: “Well, I don’t really care about you at all. This is my job, and it puts the bread and butter on my table, and I get a financial reward (aka bonus) if I manage to get you off the books. Nanenanenana!”
        Because that is the truth of the matter!!!


        • “MSD and ACC staff don’t have to be so abusive to their clients.” I absolutely agree with this sentence, Mistery, and please remember one can complain to their manager if one thinks they have been abusive; their manager will then playback a recording of the call to ascertain if the CSR should be reprimanded -there’s no excuse for bad behaviour. Unfortunately sometimes clients confuse not hearing what they wish to hear as abuse when CSRs are explaining the government regulations they are bound to uphold.
          To my knowledge MSD staff (I can’t talk for ACC) do not receive a bonus based on whether they “get you off the books”, however, their overall performance is assessed annually which may lead to a pay increase. In my opinion this assessment should be strongly judged on whether the CSR has interacted favourably with the clients, however, once again this is over to government and management policy.
          I can tell you that any manager hearing a recording of the facetious CSR quote you imagined would probably be contemplating taking disciplinary action against that cheeky bugger!

          • @yogibare:

            Unfortunately there are exceptionally bad WINZ and ACC staff – from the case managers to the managers, to the CEO’s to the PM. Fact! And your way of saying what you said above there, is what this article is all about. Twisting twisting twisting and manipulating!

            Saying bad is good or unfortunate, doesn’t make it not bad – it will always remain bad, to right and straight thinking honest minds!


  8. On this theme John Key was peeling one phrase off after another today on Radio NZ reacting or should I say ad libbing to a new report from the OECD that rates New Zealand homes as the most overvalued in the developed world relative to rents and income.

    Without going into vast details on that interview, the phrase that had me spitting my tea out was his use of the term “Strong wages” as one of the justifications to our insane unregulated housing bubble that John Keys government has stood by and either profited from it or simply watched.

    Any fool knows this country has been compounding low wage growth in a low wage economy through “flexibility” especially in the John Key era so his use of the term “Strong Wages” must have some other reverse meaning to the one we are all familiar with.

    The Wall Street Journal (May 16, 2014) had this to say;

    “Statistics New Zealand figures last week showed private-sector wages grew just 1.6% in the first quarter from a year earlier. Wages growth has slowed sharply in the past year even as the agriculture-rich economy gathers steam, buoyed by growing demand from China’s middle classes for dairy products and the estimated 40 billion New Zealand dollars (US$35 billion) Christchurch rebuild”. The article described NZ’s wage growth as sluggish.

    To add to this 2012/3 were also Statistics NZ data showing easing of wage growth as well.

    So even though NZ is apparently a Rock Star economy it’s not shared by most of the working population through strong wages!

    So what the hell is Key on about?

  9. Here is some more of this very garbage, in this excerpt from a stuff article:

    “…ACC also proposes introducing risk ratings on vehicles, rewarding drivers for buying safer cars.

    “Risk rating would mean owners of safer cars pay lower levies, to reflect the fact their vehicle is less likely to cause injury if involved in a crash,” Rebstock said.

    – Stuff….r-petrol-prices”

    Facts about road accidents and ACC are that 75% of claims are made by males. (not cars)
    So why is Collins picking on people with older cars, rather than just males?
    What she is really doing here, with this dastardly move, is rewarding the wealthy (who can afford late model cars) with less ACC levies.

    The less wealthy and the poorer of society who cannot afford late model cars, are again being penalised by not having any reduction in ACC levies!

    What is this?

    Seriously, if Collins were to (for once) be truthful, she should say that male car owners are going to be charged more levies than women – men will pay 75% of the levy, and women 25% – that would truly be statistically fair – but no, she has to go and pick on the poor again!

    Doing it ‘her’ dishonest way, I believe, is by direct design to benefit large corporates, and govt agencies etc, as their ‘fleet cars’ are late model vehicles, and they will be able to save money on lower ACC levies- while the poor are hammered again.

    Opinion and belief.

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