Language Games: An Appeal On Behalf of Dave

“I’m going out with my pal Rick for a beer tonight, he’s got himself into a spot of bother with the police again. Fighting.” said Dave.

I think for a minute: “Rick, I don’t think I know him do I?”.

“No” said Dave, “you’ve never met him. I know him from my anger management group.”

Dave is my running partner yet he and I are not alike. He has spent much of his adult life swirling around the British penal system and I, well, haven’t. But an interest in running can forgive a multitude of sins, and he has been gracious enough to forgive many of mine.

Dave’s back story makes for a cautionary tale of how the UK statutory services can infiltrate a life and subvert the identity of the person they purport to help. He has probation officers, social workers, outreach workers and counsellours, all vying for his time and all interfering with his attempt to construct a life, honest or otherwise. But he is fighting back, with the aid of his Penalty Box.

The idea is as follows. Whenever Dave has a meeting with a representative of any of the abovementioned agencies, he takes with him his Penalty Box, into which the relevant factotum must pay a forfeit if she uses any of the following expressions:

acceptable (or unacceptable); appropriate (or inappropriate); empower(ing); person centred (or person oriented); developmental; non-judgemental; rights-based; forward-looking ; in partnership.

If a project or service is ever said to be rolled out then Dave claims a double forfeit. And if any mention of the date is made in such a way as to imply it has a particular moral relevance then that is triple. Hence if a social worker were to say of his opinion that it is  “judgemental and not an appropriate comment to make in this, the 21st Century” then he’d hit paydirt.

But Dave has a Budweiser habit to feed and he wishes to go abroad for his Summer vacation so he is in need of funds. I therefore appeal, on his behalf, for any submissions which you the reader believe could plausibly be added to the above list.

Dave’s strategy has a pleasing consequence, one that is more than merely financial. He has discovered that in being denuded of the above expressions the social worker, probation officer and counsellour suffers a pleasing paralysis of expression and of thought.Meetings that used to take several hours are now over in minutes.  It has become obvious to him that the Wittgensteinians have a point: that there is no pre-linguistic “given”, that thought and experience are mediated by and logically consequent upon language. Strip these statutory representatives of their language game and they become like putty in his hands. He used to spend his time running from these people, now he knows that, with the help of his Penalty Box, he can philosophise them away.

  1. s. wallerstein (amos)

    How about “an opportunity to grow”?

  2. s. wallerstein (amos)

    How about any use of the pronoun “we” which is designed, generally unconsciously, to make you, as a misfit, feel excluded, marginalized or outcast from the world of rational, scientifically enlightened and reasonable agents?

    For example,

    we no longer believe that….

    we know that the cause of X….

    today we can treat…..

    He should charge a bottle of French wine for each
    “we”.

  3. How do the people concerned react when he attempts to penalize them for using such language? If I were the social worker or probation officer I’d be tempted to say something like: “gee Dave, you do seem bent on changing the subject, don’t you?”

    If Dave accused me of “subverting his identity” or “interfering with his attempt to construct a life, honest or otherwise”, I’d probably say something like “you’re full to the brim with shit.” But then I’d point out that “you are partially right, in that we’re trying to interfere with any attempt you might make to construct a dishonest or violent life. If you hadn’t behave dishonestly or violently in the past, you wouldn’t be here, would you?”

    Seems to me like your shared hobby has led you to excuse bad behavior.

  4. behave behaved

  5. @Thos

    He receives from me all appropriate censure.

  6. If he uses ‘she’ as a pseudo gender neutral expression then he ought to pay triple.Rehabilitation of the English language, oh dear!

  7. This is the worry. Strip those people of all that jargon and they become inarticulate, almost unable to listen and then create from their own minds, an acceptable and helpful reply, couched in simple unambiguous, and yet, telling terms. Out of all that, they are not in a position to win the respect of a person like Dave who will accordingly continue to ‘Take the p**s’, and continue in his way of life.
    On the other hand I know next to nothing about Dave (assuming he does actually exist) so it is not possible to suggest what else may reach him. I am also wondering how many of these officials actually pay a forfeit. In this connection he certainly needs correction/advice; e.g. he is not there to play games, and if he does not like the way I speak than I will put it bluntly in plain f*****g English so there can be no confusion. Again I doubt if these officials are capable of speaking on such a basis, and I dare say bad language is forbidden these people. He may in any event be no more capable or needful of changing his way of life than I am. A few expressions he may dislike are:- Downsize, Time-frame, Value-added, Business plan, At this point in time, Buy-in, Gainful employment, Rethink, Avoidance.
    Michael Reidyh on the 2nd of Feb gave utterance to something I have wished for years to say. So many Philosophers climbed on the band wagon when presumably, PC exerted its influence in this direction. It is a tantalising irritation in so many ways.

  8. Having spent some years in psychiatric nursing the use of cover all terms as if some precise description was being carried out or some explanation was being offered, I found like Dave a bit of a game, but carried on with all seriousness.
    I had already spent some time in philosophical “analysis” having undertaken a degree in philosophy and found psychiatry and “mental health”, was awash with half baked pseudo evaluations. Example – in the Nursing notes the phrase made inappropriate comments to the female charge nurse on duty, might appear.Now it doesn’t follow that there is no reason for the phrase. If the nurse in question when questioned replied, “He asked me if I fancied a shag”. From experience I don’t think the reaction would be a gasp of incredulity (or even a blush). Given the environment then it wouldn’t be an empty substitute, but a description that indicated that (maybe) something was wrong. It is then that a more general vocabulary is invoked a vocabulary that involved some psychiatric category – in this case (for example) – the client is manic depressive and is in the manic phase and needs some help. In this context it might be a change of medication or an increase in the dosage. Lest it be thought that this is the medical equivalent of a slap for being naughty one has to travel back in time before any medication existed for manic states the mania – basically the manic state would escalate until the clients heart would burst. That is often the reason they were chained up. If terms like “inappropriate” couldn’t be unpacked then Dave would be on firmer ground but it looks like Dave is just a bit of a clever shit and not very clever at that. It is true that the higher level evaluative terms that Dave eschews as empty can and are sometimes used as if they were, just as he says – empty, but not always and thankfully not too often. The worry in mental health and psychiatry is bad diagnosis, and inappropriate medication (for me that means control is all). Without going on too much it is the balance between a concern for both the welfare of the client and others involved and should inform the dialogue between client and those whose job it is to help rather than adopt a an empty vocabulary that they cannot go beyond

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