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2011-08-30

“Community” and “Austerity” explained

Austerity. Chosen by Merriam-Webster dictionary editors as “word of the year” for 2010, due to a sharp rise in the number of people seeking a definition on its website.

The word appeals to politicians because it has connotations of virtue. “Austerity” evokes monastic ascetics who shun worldly goods.

In real life, “austerity” (or “belt-tightening”, or in the US, “small government”) usually means taking money from poor, sick or old people.

If you believe this is good policy, you shouldn’t need to cloud it in euphemism.

Community. A word with several bogus meanings. The first, often used during the British riots, is a euphemism for “neighbourhood” or “town”. You might wish your neighbourhood were a “community”, but using the word does not make it so.

“Community” is also often used to mean “ethnic group”: the “Jewish community”, “Dominican community”, “black community”, etcetera. In this usage, the pretence is that all black people, for instance, are united and believe pretty much the same things. You can then go and see their “community leaders”, who will tell you what the “community” wants.

These “community leaders” tend to be elderly conservative men, often self-appointed. A good response to “community leaders” is what a peasant says to King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Well, I didn’t vote for you.”

Phrases such as “black community” are often used by white people who would never consider themselves members of the “white community”. They think they are independent beings who can make their own decisions without help from “community leaders”.

Lastly, there is the bogus phrase “international community”.

This means the US + UK + anyone else who agrees with them.

 By Simon Kuper, Financial Times 26 August 2011


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