Tuesday, June 04, 2024

On Coded Language and Political Policy

In the last few years, coded language has become a significant factor in how political parties present themselves.  This is especially prevalent among  parties who are adopting policy positions that if they said them in plain language most people would be horrified about.  

Today's examples come to us from the BC Conservatives.  I'm not going to slice and dice all of their policies and language, but I am going to pull a few up and point out where they are clearly using coded language to mislead people about the nature of their policies. 

First, let's turn to their "Our Ideas" page. 

There is a ton of coded language in here:  "Support Parents' Choices", "Remove Ideology From the Classroom", "Protect Free Speech on Campus".  Each one of these phrases is a coded reference to policies which if they said it directly most reasonable people would look at them and say "what the hell are you thinking?".  

For example, "Support Parents' Choices" would effectively result in dismantling public education by directing resources away from public schools to a variety of "alternatives" which largely benefit those who are significantly better off in society.  Usually this gets implemented as a voucher system of some sort, where funding is "per student" and the same amount goes to the school attended regardless of whether it is public, charter, private, or homeschool.  The problem, of course is that this necessarily dilutes the resources available for public schools which have to take in all students who come to them, while the other options can pick and choose (and often have additional fees or tuition which can place them out of reach for all but the most well-off).  

The cry to "Remove Ideology" is, of course, a sop to various players who believe that anything from comprehensive sex education to critical thinking exercises represents some kind of "ideological bias".  This is reflected in the Alberta UCP's overhaul of school curriculum to reflect a "memorized 'facts'" model reminiscent of the 1950s and 60s.  We're going to focus on "facts" but not really talk about the implications of them because that's going to make someone uncomfortable (and sex education always makes a certain subset of parents get very uncomfortable for <reasons>).  

The cry to "protect free speech" is always a bit specious.  They aren't really talking about free speech per se, but rather they're talking about enabling the often most radicalized of speakers.  This is a derivative of the so-called "Chicago Principles" - which more or less argue that students protesting someone being given a platform is somehow "impeding free speech".  The Chicago Principles are basically what you get when you apply free market logic to public speaking, with the end result that whoever has the deepest pockets suddenly gets the megaphone, no matter how hateful or otherwise inappropriate their beliefs might be. 

But, it gets better, because they come along and present this little gem under "Culture and Freedom":  

The problem with this should be pretty obvious.  The argument is that various minority groups receive "preferential" treatment because of their minority status, and somehow this is wrong because it's "reverse discrimination".  What these positions inevitably mean is a return to what was the status quo before the impact of discrimination was acknowledged.  

Proponents might argue something along the lines of "when are these programs no longer needed?", and the answer to that is "when the wrongs of the past and present have been remediated".  One need only look to the United States, where BIPOC people were (theoretically) liberated during the civil rights era, and yet by no means can we say that they are treated equally in all facets of society.  Economic disadvantage continues to be pervasive, uneven treatment in the legal system has meant that far more BIPOC people are incarcerated, education opportunities are still limited even though on paper everybody is 'equal'.  Equal on paper does not mean equality in fact - that last bit takes a long time to achieve. 

Under healthcare, we find a cry for "conscience rights".  Speaking of coded language, this is almost always targeted at those who oppose abortion, 2SLGBTQ rights, transgender treatment etc.  In Alberta, we  have had one go around with this in 2019.  The problem with so-called conscience rights is they really turn out to be a means for medical practitioners to deny people needed medical care.  

"Oh, you're gay?  Well my religion tells me that you're an irredeemable sinner, so I won't treat you". I wish I was kidding.  It's a very real possibility with this kind of legislation on the books.  It also makes it very easy to deny a woman a D&C in the event of a miscarriage or other medical emergency that might require termination of a pregnancy.  

The language is cleverly obtuse - it never really says what they mean, but when you scrape away the surface layer, you very quickly learn that the intended implementation can be very, very damaging. 

When you delve into their policy declaration, things get so much worse because they start talking about how they're going to go about things.  A large proportion is probably a massive violation of Charter Rights, but with conservatives increasingly willing to shield their laws from scrutiny by invoking S33 (The Notwithstanding Clause), I think it's safe to say that we have to be much more careful to scrutinize the language being used.  However, that's a post for another day - this one is already getting a bit lengthy. 

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