Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Art of The Acronym

Strictly speaking it’s not an acronym, just three letters run together, but she would still be fascinated. According to DeutscheWelle TV this morning, M.S.G, or monosodium glutamate, also known as ‘flavour enhancer 621’ is in fact umami, the fifth flavour. MSG is recognised by special receptors on the tongue in exactly the same way as the other four flavours: sweet, salt, sour and bitter. My dear, departed Catherine was one of those rare people for whom smell and taste are their primary senses, the sort of person who could genuinely tell you how much rainfall the grapes in a particular vintage had by bouquet alone. So for her, discovering umami relatively late in life was like gaining an extra limb, although without the constant tripping and falling over.

But it got me thinking about two acronyms of my own invention. The first is B.O.F.S. It’s a shorthand my daughter and I developed in the last few years and it covers those situations when despicable people, en masse, behave in a particularly primitive, brutish manner, bringing the human race into disrepute (a charge for which there should be a custodial sentence). Typically it’s something you come across in the electronic media, about which you can do nothing but take immediate umbrage (a sovereign remedy), but which nonetheless drives you to a futile rage, inches you closer to despair about the human race, and adds just a little tarnish to your own soul merely by becoming aware of it.

BOFS! is the short form of
‘Bunch Of Fucking Savages!’

Whether it’s police brutalising a blameless Brisbanite; ‘happy slapping’ assaults on the homeless; Pakistani courts upholding the kidnap and rape of young girls or the replay of the Srebrenica massacres under the leadership of Radovan the Repulsive, it still rankles, leaving a gritty, grubby feeling on the skin, a greasy gnawing in the gut.

This is where BOFS! is useful. SayingBunch Of Fucking Savages in a firm, decisive tone, usually with a slight shaking of the head, allows one to pack up the bitterness, the disgust, the impotent rage into a neat little throwaway phrase, sloughing off the guilt by common species association and clearing the mind to engage in more productive uses of one’s emotions. Exclaiming BOFS! does the same, but with even less wear and tear on the heart. It’s quick, brusque, and enables a pose of world weary ennui that prevents the corrosive formation of genuine cynicism. The important thing isn’t to blot out the news, merely to evade it's depressing effects and keep one’s critical faculties in play.

As professional scumbag Johnny Rotten once wrote, “Anger is an energy.” Personally I find it focuses the mind wonderfully, sharpening the wits and the quill. Bunbu ichi, as the Japanese say, pen and sword as one. The important thing is to avoid being drawn into hatred, which binds you to both victim and vile perp, feeding your own energy into a descending spiral that deadens the heart and diminishes the soul.

The use of the word ‘savages’ however does leave one open to a charge of cultural or racial bigotry if the target group involves persons of negritude or those for whom the wheel would be an advance (if that’s not too derogatory a term). Yet employed it must be if the situation demands. If white folk can behave like savages so too can those for whom the term has a historical significance that leaves the bourgeois feeling uncomfortable. “Monkey see, monkey do” insults only the ape-like among us. Or as my dear departed was wont to say, “Joke ‘em if they can’t take a fuck.”

This is where the second acronym comes into it’s own. OFFS!, or Oh For Fuck’s Sake! Deployed early it gives one time to pause, consider and reflect while hitting the offending image or footage straight back over the net at commensurate speed. Having disposed of the first serve one can decide whether this is indeed a bunch of f*cking savages, allowing a free upgrade to the commensurate term, or something lesser, stranger, or merely abstruse. Which brings me to the Prime Minister taking federal Cabinet to meet with aboriginal Australians at Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

I had great sympathy for Aboriginal Australians (while it’s fair to say that none of my best friends could wear that rubric). And the killing of Cameron Doomadji by Queensland police brought an instantaneous cry of BOFS! to my lips, and left an enduring rage at a white political and judicial system that allows the quasi-legal killing of black men. Yet the sight of the PM talking to black elders elicited a brisk OFFS! almost before I knew it.

On reflection I realised that watching pompous white male politicians continuing to deal with a matriarchal society by talking to pompous black old men filled me with a familiar weariness. The demands for endless consultation that buried all previous efforts to improve health and life-expectancy were trotted out again. The sound-bite of the day was an old aboriginal man saying, “We want the Prime Minister to give us a future we want to live in.” The idea that the future is something you make for yourself seemed as alien as, well, something really alien.

Could I consign them all to BOFS-dom?

Was it racist to even think such heresy?

Would anyone, even me, really care?

I must admit to personal interest here. My dear Catherine became my dear departed while working her tail off to provide housing for Queensland’s aboriginal population. She literally dropped dead on the job from overwork. In her last year I became inured to endless examples of feckless black men preening their egos; endless demands for new houses in places where any property left vacant for more than a week was systematically destroyed; a right to welfare mentality that fed into habitual male arrogance, drunkenness and violence. And so on. So I’m fresh out of sympathy, or empathy, or even basic compassion.

But one thing I’m very clear about. An enormous amount of money, time, consultation and good will over decades has got damn near nowhere. White society and history, and successive governments have achieved little and often caused more damage than good. But it’s absolutely time that aboriginal culture was honestly appraised as at least half of the problem. Any culture that doesn’t change dies. That’s true of white, black, yellow or red cultures. The inability to adapt to changing circumstances is the only prerequisite for extinction. Species or culture, it’s adapt or die.

Violence, drunkenness, and systemic abuse of women and children, generation after generation, are vile, destructive and signs of near-terminal cultural decay. Does that make them a Bunch Of Fucking Savages? Probably. Probably no more than the rest of us. But I’m an equal opportunity misanthrope. I don't like most people. Why should they be any difference.



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