2022-09-04 Dr Norlaine Thomas some talk about Anglo-Saxons

/via @mtobis: Long, worthwhile thread.

Some Canadian content, but much of it applies to America and neofascist movements all through the English-speaking world. https://twitter.com/Norlaine/status/1566232312597352448

Dr Norlaine Thomas (She/Her) (@Norlaine): Let's talk about how much the political right like Anglo Saxon. The language. Or they say they do. It's a bit complicated. A little bit of history to start with. Anglo Saxon is a catch-all term to describe the residents of Britain (England really) from the end of the Roman 1/?

occupation (about 400 CE) to when William the Conqueror (a Norman from France) turned up with a great army and pounded everyone at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE. This period, I want you to remember, was called The Dark Ages. It was called that for a reason. 2/?

The Romans had engineering. They had surprisingly advanced technology. They built roads and indoor plumbing and central heating. They kept detailed records. They created infrastructure for irrigation, municipal water supplies, and enforced some order and stability. 3/?

Now, don't get me wrong. The Romans were not kind and benevolent occupiers and I have no doubt many of the locals were not sorry to see the back of them when the garrisons left. They might have stayed indefinitely, except there was trouble at home. The empire was collapsing. 4/?

So, the Romans pulled out and went home. This was also the time when Christians began to show up in Britain and began converting the "pagans" to their faith, sometimes by force. Others were keen to stake a claim on the fertile lands recently left undefended by the Romans. 5/?

Germanic peoples from continental Europe were being displaced by flooding and invasions by other groups. They crossed the channel and began to claim land. The Romano-Britons fought them off for awhile, but eventually they became the dominant culture. 6/?

They did not keep records, except for the monks (who were literate, but recorded things through the lens of their faith). There was a lot of turmoil and jostling for control over several centuries between different tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. 7/?

So, back to the political right's obsession with Anglo Saxon. Both Pierre Poilievre (CPC leadership hopeful) and Pat King (out on bail insurrectionist) have talked about "Anglo Saxon" language or people. 8/? https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/poilievre-faces-backlash-for-comments-on-jordan-peterson-podcast-1.5910090

When Pierre first declared that he spoke "Anglo-Saxon" some of us had a bit of fun with that. If he actually spoke Anglo-Saxon, his followers would have a great deal of trouble understanding him. 9/? https://youtu.be/oFX1nbD3dV0

But, despite the ridiculousness of his claim, there is a far more sinister side to what Poilievre and others on the right are invoking when they talk of Anglo-Saxons. There are two things at play here. One is the adoption by the radical right of "Anglo-Saxon" to 10/?

signify their whiteness. Historically, Anglo-Saxons were not necessarily white. The Romans recruited, or took as slaves, peoples from across the European continent, parts of Africa, and parts of Asia. 11/? https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/many-myths-term-anglo-saxon-180978169/

These people, of all manner of ethnic origins and skin colours, were integrated into the Roman army. And they inter-married or inter-bred as they crossed the European continent. Trade also brought diversity. Early medieval society was not nearly as white as people imagine. 12/?

The radical right have somehow, in their minds, wed Scandinavian mythology with Christianity. They invoke symbols of Odin and associated mythical figures right alongside Christian theocratic ideology. 13/? https://theconversation.com/why-the-far-right-and-white-supremacists-have-embraced-the-middle-ages-and-their-symbols-152968

Some talk of the Great Replacement, with "Anglo-Saxons" being replaced by people of colour. That is reprehensible enough. But there is another angle to what Poilievre is saying when he encourages "speaking Anglo-Saxon". 14/?

He is campaigning on dumbing down the language in government communications. 15/? https://twitter.com/PierrePoilievre/status/1565377704903458817?s=20&t=6WlUvL-CYeV4Z7MzD4gk4A

There are already rules around having government communications in plain language. Pierre surely knows this. Nevertheless, he is insisting that "bureaucratese" costs Canadians money, a sure way to get his base onside. 16/? https://twitter.com/Norlaine/status/1566232349435908097/photo/1

This may sound fairly innocuous, despite duplicating what already exists. The trouble is there is more than meets the eye here. Throughout his tenure as PM, Stephen Harper used words very deliberately, and his repeated use of them in certain ways 17/?

changed the way the public interpreted them. In 2014, having observed this, I attempted to put together a small glossary of words which, under Harper's watch, had changed their meaning in public discourse. 18/? https://thecailleach.blogspot.com/2014/12/newspeak-harper-government-lexicon.html

The ascension of Trump in the US exacerbated the political reframing of our language. Trump's predilection for word salad speeches and long meandering strings of anecdotes further eroded North Americans' grasp of the English language. 19/?

What we have been seeing is politicians redefining words to mean something advantageous to them. Poilievre's promises to ban complicated words in government, the conservative drive in many provinces in Canada to suppress public education, the resurgence of book-banning 20/?

in the US, and the right's affection for what they consider to be "Anglo-Saxon" words, suggests something far more pervasive and detrimental to Canadian society. You see, the words we have available to us, to a very great extent, determine how we think. 21/?

And also what we think. This is from Rocio's blog on 1984: 22/? https://twitter.com/Norlaine/status/1566232365021954048/photo/1

Here's a short primer on language and cognition. I want to preface this by saying that this is both a fairly old debate and also a controversial one. In no way do I want to get into a debate about linguistic relativity and the ways it has been used to racially discriminate 23/?

Against non-Europeans, or non-English-speakers. I simply intend this short video to better explain what I mean when I say that language informs how we think, and how we view the world, our society, and each other. 24/? https://youtu.be/RKK7wGAYP6k

Now, imagine that someone is deciding that certain words mean something different to what we have conventionally thought they meant. My blog post gave several example of ways Stephen Harper and the CPC tried to change the way we use certain words. 25/?

The “Newspeak” of 1984 is an example of a controlling force taking redefining and limiting language to an extreme.

We are now somewhere along that continuum. It is not just Pierre Poilievre saying a couple of things about language. 26/?

We live in an age of growing anti-intellectualism. This is not new, as Isaac Asimov observed: 27/? https://twitter.com/Norlaine/status/1566234327318675456/photo/1

But it was less pervasive in Canada until recent years. Earlier this month I wrote about the decline in literacy in the US. 54% of Americans between 16 and 74 years of age read at a grade 6 level or below. 28/? https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1557067461349953536.html

And we, in Canada, cannot look at that & feel superior. “49% of the Canadian population does not hit a level of literacy that can "disregard irrelevant or inappropriate content" to accurately answer questions about something they have read.” 29/? https://www.cbc.ca/radio/costofliving/let-s-get-digital-from-bitcoin-to-stocktok-plus-what-low-literacy-means-for-canada-s-economy-1.5873703/nearly-half-of-adult-canadians-struggle-with-literacy-and-that-s-bad-for-the-economy-1.5873757

This is an extremely bad situation, brought about by decades of government cuts to education, which have only accelerated in recent years. But there is more to it than that. There is a pervasive resentment of educated people now, very evident in online interactions. 30/?

Trump once said he loved the poorly educated. Apparently so do Canadian conservatives, as they seem hell-bent on making future generations more poorly educated than those in the past. 31/?

Although most historians now use the term “Early Middle Ages” to describe the period between 400 C.E. and 1066 C.E., it used to be called the Dark Ages, because after centuries of detailed Roman records, much of Europe and Britain “went dark”. Very few people were literate. 32/?

Modern archaeology has shown that trade continued, cottage industry continued, there were developments in pottery and architecture, and there was a rich oral tradition, but written records are scarce. 33/?

The Anglo-Saxon era was marked by warfare, power being held by strongmen through force more than through diplomacy, and life (particularly among the peasant class) was cheap. 34/?

Order and justice were a mix of Ecclesiastic laws and whims of the rulers. This is the era that many on the right look to with reverence and nostalgia. When conservatives say they want to “Take Canada Back”, we must wonder both who they want to take it back from, & to when. 35/?

Many will say I am making too much of Poilievre and others on the right referencing Anglo-Saxons. But we must be aware of the underlying ideology and the implications for our society. We must not allow any political leader to undermine the education of our children. 36/?

We must not be apathetic about the future of our country. We must stand guard against the rise of factions that would “return” us to some imaginary simpler time where all the answers could be found in the Bible, and those with knowledge are regarded with deep suspicion. 37/?

“It couldn’t happen here” is willfully shutting one’s eyes to a very real threat. It falls under that unfortunate category of “famous last words”. The right in both Canada and the US is promoting the virtue of ignorance. 38/?

Instead of Poilievre banning big words in government communications, should he not be promising to pass laws that compel provincial governments to fully fund education? Of course, government communications, and laws, should be accessible to all. 39/?

But doesn’t it make more sense to increase people’s reach, rather than dumbing down communications to the lowest common denominator? 40/?

==The invocation of “Anglo-Saxon” is a dog-whistle to racists and those who long to live in a world where might equals right, where those with strength or powerful armaments make the rules.== 41/?

That is their version of “freedom” – another word that has been co-opted and used very inappropriately of late. But that is a rant for another time. 42/?

I have given anyone who has managed to read this far a great deal to ponder, and so I feel I should stop here. I am happy to discuss any parts of this with anyone so inclined. 43/43

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