One of the more fascinating social developments that have occurred since September 11, 2001 has been the way vocabulary has been pushed and prodded to create a language that clearly delineates whose "side" you're on. With growing polarisation between the politically left and right has come new terminology, a new set of "weasel words".
Previously, "baddies" were tainted with the "ism" suffix: Communism, Nazism, terrorism, fascism etc. Curiously however, the new fad when it comes to calling someone something unpleasant, is the use of the suffix "ist".
The 'ist' is used almost exclusively by the right to indicate the intrinsic badness of whatever unfortunate subject comes under their disapproving gaze. To use "ist" at the end of a word automatically taints the subject. Not only that, but it is employed to create pseudo-politically-correct "dog-whistle" statements, instantly identifiable by those of a similar mindset, that the object under discussion is to be treated not only with suspicion, but with disdain. Thus, those on the left become 'leftists', followers of Islam become Islamists, or if particularly vitriolic, Islamisists (two ists!). A good one I saw today was 'exterminationists', whatever that means.
Those on the right who are particularly fond of polemics love a good 'ist', take this selection from Andrew Bolt: fundamentalist, activist, socialist, terrorist, paganist, alarmist, jihadist, catastrophist, Zionist, elitist. Or Tim Blair: humanist, Islamo-fascist (hey?), relativist, lobbyist, hobbyist, imperialist, revisionist, denialist.
Rarely do you hear someone referred to as a rightist or a Christianist and while the left seems to be catching onto this, the right have been far better at using this vocabulary, far happier to essentially make words up in order to bring their opponents down before they even reach the debate.
It's a sign of the political landscape that this distortion of language continues to have influence and continues to insinuate its way into the general lexicon without being more frequently questioned. It also demonstrates the parlous state of political discussion, particularly in this country.
Political ideas are rarely, if ever genuinely discussed. Opinion leaders on the right, whether they be politicians or columnists, refuse to engage, ducking tricky questions while spraying 'ists' all over their opponents like squids venting ink. And in an atmosphere where the right simply refuses to talk in any reasoned and coherent manner about pretty much anything, how does the left develop a counter to it? When people have become so inured to the dog-whistling 'Istists', how can any meaningful and productive political discussion take place?
What we need is a return to actual discussion. Argument based on knowledge. Knowledge based on education and research. Let the Istist polemicists (thankyou) scream and throw the insults around until they no longer bite and once they're exhausted from the vitriol, maybe, just maybe people will return to actual debate.