In the beginning there was the word


    It’s been obvious for some time that words are no longer doing what we expect them to do.

    At a personal level, words have got me through a lot of heavy lifting in what’s been a fairly long and successful life.

    Generating gratitude, acceptance and often just a desperate commitment to do what needed to be done – whether it was building a fair sized yacht to sail round the world or putting a fledgeling newspaper together, no matter what, for decades.

    But, without notice, technology has inexorably cheapened, hyped and appropriated important words – “freedom” being the most obvious in recent years. Successfully buried behind sequences of mirror images serving the global hegemony* of visible and invisible online forces.

    Words can divide into two basic categories. 

    We use descriptive language that offers evidence of who, what, when, where and a bit of why but all mired in the past; inert, forgettable. “The sandwiches are on the table”. Useful if you were looking for them, but going nowhere. 

    Generative language is an almost biblical construct. It generates change and informs the future. It’s how we create influence and accomplishment between ourselves and is the ontological, creative language of leaders. We are never so alive as when we are fully engaged in a meaningful goal. Think planning a holiday and feel the fire. 

    Good quality journalism uses both languages, the first to collect data, the second to join dots and provide a sound context for readers and assurance that power and integrity will be brought to the task. Or not.

    In her latest book, Doppelganger, Naomi Klein describes teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s career since 2021 when she made her first scathing “blah, blah, blah” interventions at the Glasgow climate summit where delegates were plainly talking about climate change but doing very little about it – yet again.

    Subsequent careful and well-crafted speeches showed her waning faith in the use of speeches to shame global leaders into action and starting to make speeches that were less about climate change and more about the absurdity of the whole charade, says Klein.

    “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah, blah, blah. Net zero 2050. Blah, blah, blah”. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders,” Thunberg said after the summit was over. “Words, words that sound great but have so far led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”

    Two days later, asked by the BBC what she thought of the final agreement to come out of Glasgow that year, she said “they even succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah, which is quite an achievement.”

    She gave up scolding and tears that, if harsh to the leaders listening to her, still implied a kind of faith in them, “but it would seem that Greta no longer believes in the theory of change,” says Klein.

    “She has come to the place at which so many of us have arrived: the realisation that no one is coming to save us but us and whatever action we can leverage through our co-operation, organisation and solidarities.”

    The same sense of shadow boxing with malign forces was evident when last Saturday’s protest march filled Queen Street with an astonishing 20,000 – 30,000 strong cross-section of New Zealanders, from veterans of the last 40 years of climate action to dyed in the wool conservative citizens. There were plenty of dots to join and evidence to back up the underlying sense of outrage.

    The coalition government’s Fast Track consenting legislation comes with plans to put three ministers in charge of deciding on major infrastructural spending and Greenpeace executive director Russel Noman sent a warning to prime minister Christopher Luxon that responsibility for such an environmental nightmare would rest with him.

    “Expect resistance from the people of Aotearoa. There will be no seabed mining off the coast of Taranaki. There will be no new coal mines in pristine native forest,” Norman said (in a fine example of generative language).

    “We will stop them – just like we stopped the oil exploration companies. We disrupted them until they gave up.”

    Chillingly, despite the evidence of rank and file New Zealanders swirling around its own doors in Queen Street, the next day’s New Zealand Herald buried a weak story about one of the biggest protest marches in Auckland for decades on page 10.

    Powerfully generative language created the vision of a fair and kinder New Zealand that won the last Labour government a second term with a huge margin just three and a half years ago. Since then, one party’s near limitless access to money for technology and pollsters has given us this rampage through that environmental and regulatory mandate.

    May its brutish run be short. And enough to frighten the horses. • Liz Waters.

    *hegemony – noun. Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.

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