Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Powered by a dynamo of sanctimony, shrill voices screech in many political debates. It appears commonplace that reserved terms – words and phrases with important and valuable meanings – are used catachrestically.
Modern slavery is meant to refer to contemporary practices similar to slavery, after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. According to the United Nations, modern slavery takes on multiple forms, including child soldiers, sex trafficking and debt bondage. In particular, debt bondage is the status where a nominal ‘loan’ is given – though it is never repayable and passed through generations – with violence and threats delivered to prevent escape. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states debt bondage “can hardly be distinguished from traditional slavery”. Giles Fraser, a priest of the Church of England and Guardian contributor, wrote:
Those who are trapped in Wonga’s wicked 5,000% APR, often borrowing money to pay off other loans, thus deepening the crisis, have their lives owned by other people – by those, in this instance, making £50m a year profit off their misery. This is modern slavery.
Firstly, small, short-term loans will have a large Annual Percentage Rate (APR) when the interest rate is annualised, but these loans are never meant to be paid over a whole year. Secondly, pay-day lenders do not use force to make recipients accept these loans. Thirdly, if the loan is not repaid, the Wonga puppets do not visit their customer’s house to violently assault and sexually abuse them. Fourthly, debt enslavers rarely receive a 92% customer recommendation rate. Fifthly, Wonga published in 2013 that 91.2% of their loans were repaid on time, with 23.5% of loans repaid early. Pay-day lending is completely incomparable to slavery and debt bondage.
Political commentator and blogger Sunny Hundal wrote an article entitled Are Right-Wingers Evil? Yes. This article led columnist Hugo Rifkind to call Mr Hundal “the blogosphere’s answer to Karl Pilkington”. Mr Hundal provides the following definition of evil:
If a person of considerable power and responsibility deliberately ignores or cheers on policies that lead to multiple deaths, they are evil.
This definition describes every Defence Secretary as ‘evil’, since both military action and inaction lead to many deaths. Shared Cabinet responsibility means that all other government ministers must fit this definition too. In Mr Hundal’s definition, the person must intentionally ignore or cheer on the policy, not that the policy must enact intentional death. Given intent is excised, this definition is unsatisfactory.
Ultimately, labelling political opponents as ‘evil’ is a debasement of the English language. If people who believe government spending should be reduced by 2.1% in real terms over five years are ‘evil’, then what word do we use to describe serial killers, terrorists and genocidaires: double-evil? These proclamations of villainy circumvent actual argumentation and debate, instead substituting for attacks on their supposed motivations.
‘Slavery’ and ‘evil’ are terms that should be reserved, as they exhibit historical and religious significance. This inflation of rhetoric harms our politics, as we are diverted to consider absurd accusations.