hate speak is all the rage
We’ve got a scary new language. It’s online and it’s turbo-charged with hate and rage.
I found it in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington – in the maritime section, next to whaling hooks, muskets and scrimshaw. It was a brutal pile of scrap iron – nails, bolts and spikes – centuries old, dragged up from the sea bed.
“Langrage”, the caption read. “A crude weapon of the 18th century. Anything that would fit into the muzzle of a cannon. It was shot at the sails and rigging of enemy ships, to disable them. It could also be fired at the decks, to wipe out the crew.”
Destructive, crude fistfuls of iron, used scattershot, and lavishly, as a weapon. Langrage.
Over the past year or so, we have struggled – and failed – to come to terms with how hugely the way we communicate with each other has changed. For those who access their news in the old-fashioned way – from newspapers and TV bulletins – it will come as a shock to learn they are in a rapidly dwindling minority. Sixty-four per cent of news is now accessed through social media, where equal platform, and therefore often legitimacy, is given to an angry, libellous blog as to a rigorously researched, fact-checked article by a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist.
Because of this, the tone of debate – and, indeed, the meaning of “facts” – has altered. We are in a post-truth age of Breitbart’s “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”, alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos disseminating fake anti-semitic tweets from black Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, “nasty woman”, GamerGate – incidents where language has been so corrupted and turbo-charged with emotion that I do not think we can call it language any more. Language is for conveying information, starting debates, trying to make things, build solutions. That is not what is going on here. What these people are speaking in is, instead, “langrage”. Crude fistfuls of iron, intended solely to destroy. To wipe out “enemy” crews. To fill the sky with projectiles, in order to keep global communication in a constant state of warfare. This is dialogue turned into a shoot-em-up game – “langrage” is the weaponisation of words. Born on the internet, and now ported into politics, it’s more systemic than “trolling”. It’s not simply some habit of the alt-right. It’s the language of rage. And it is, increasingly, the language of our age.
Here are the common tropes of langrage.
1. It will be an attack on something or someone. Langrage is not for discussions, or whimsy, or musing, or asking questions: it is fashioned and purposed for blitz. Its intent is to belittle or destroy. It treats communication as something primarily devoted to warfare and believes anything is allowable so long as it means you “win”. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-semitism, calling enemies “unf***able”, “traitors”, calling into question their families, love lives, education, motivations: langrage has no Geneva conventions. It does not believe there are shameful tactics in debate. Indeed, its neat twist is that the saying of “shameful” things “proves” its honesty and power. Langrage believes it’s boldly saying “what we were all thinking – but were too scared to say”. This tells you more about those who use langrage than those it is aimed at: for langrage presumes you are male, white, straight. Jews are not secretly thinking they are evil. Mexicans are not secretly thinking they are rapists.
2. Should langrage be asked what will happen when it defeats its enemy – what will happen when it “wins” – it will say, “For things to go back to how they used to be.” Langrage wants to make America great again. Langrage wants to Take Back Control. Langrage sees the ships painstakingly made by others, for the furtherment of their own lives – gay marriage, anti-rape laws, birth control, healthcare, the civil rights movement, even women playing computer games – and wants to destroy their sails. Those who speak langrage don’t believe in a future that is innovative, new, yet to be created. These ships – on which people migrate to a different future – cannot be left alone to fare as they may, but must be destroyed. Things must revert to how they were. It wants control of the shipping routes.
3. Langrage is not simply “some unpleasant arguing on the internet”. It is beginning to destroy actuality. Because there is so much of it – generated by users, reposted by those horrified by it – it distorts algorithms, floods search engines. As reported two weeks ago, if you googled “Jews are …”, the autocomplete gave you “a race”, “white” and “evil”. Click on “evil” and nine out of ten returns “confirmed” Jews are evil – the top result was “Top 10 Major Reasons Why People Hate Jews”. (Google later removed some of these autocomplete suggestions.) Langrage has assumed such volume, it now takes up the position once accorded to facts. The shrapnel embeds. All our safeguards, and progress, being rapidly torn apart by handfuls of crude metal. This isn’t language. It’s langrage. Something that needs to return to the sea bed.
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© Caitlin Moran, The Times Magazine/News Syndication. 17 December 2016