'The Leader' and other dodgy job descriptions
Job titles can be squawking, flashing bullshit detectors. And in South African politics, we’ve had some special ones
There is, I learned this week, something drifting through the corporate world, like an odour released from an open drain, that calls itself a “conversation architect”.
This person, I discovered, is someone who designs the conversations that businesses need to have in order to remain healthy.
I’ve had contact with a few businesses and I can confirm that there are plenty of conversations they need to have. I’m just not sure they need a conversation architect more than, say, a kindergarten teacher, who will sit everyone on beanbags before gently ushering in such topics as “Emotions are things human beings have” and “Why it is bad to actively hurt people”.
Of course, “conversation architect” is just the latest bullshit title in an almost endless list that started when a flint-chipper decided to rebrand himself as a “geological technologist”.
Some have been around for a while but have been given new prominence by the Internet. “Wordsmith”, for example, is a thing I strive not to be, mostly because “wordsmith” is a word loved by people who actively hate language and the written word. If anyone ever describes you as a “wordsmith” you can either sue for defamation or accept that you are producing horrible work and go and do that plumbing course your mom always wanted you to do.Still, I’d rather be a wordsmith than a “product philosopher”, a person hired by tech giants to whisper sweet, humane nothings so that it looks like said tech giants aren’t in fact building killer robots that will use our own Facebook updates to learn our weaknesses and exterminate us.
As for “fashion evangelist” – someone who urges you to wear certain clothes and accessories so that you will find love and fulfilment at some future date – well, that’s just a normal evangelist, isn’t it?
Yes, job titles can be squawking, flashing bullshit detectors. And in South African politics, we’ve had some special ones.
Consider the Commander-In-Chief. No, not Cyril Ramaphosa, the actual Commander-In-Chief. I mean the make-belief, dress-up one that some media still sometimes unblushingly refer to as Commander-In-Chief: the leader of the third-largest political party in the land, Julius Malema.
Taken literally, it’s a flagrant lie that borders on sedition: if you call yourself Commander-In-Chief you are claiming to be president of the country. But of course Malema isn’t lying or stoking sedition because, as we all know from TV and magazines, it’s not a lie if it’s an advertisement. And if you’re going to sell a brand, the first thing you have to do is distinguish yourself from other brands.
In this case, if you’re going to show that you’re not the ANC, you need to reject everything that the ANC is, including being a political party staffed by civilians. The fight for pow – sorry, I mean economic freedom – can no longer be political. Politics, after all, has failed. The old ways have failed. The media fails every day, peddling lies. That’s why the party faithful will reject all of it and put on red hats that read “Make America Great Again” and – wait, that’s not right, is it?
Some people have been alarmed by the EFF’s militaristic jargon, but, to be fair, its only alternative was honesty and it wouldn’t be nearly as sexy if it had named itself what it is: A Normal Political Party For the Advancement of Some Generally Socialist Ideas Which Will Make Some Huge Concessions to Traditional Capitalism Should It Ever Get Into Power And Be Faced With the Ideology-Crushing Demands Of Existing In A Capitalist World.The ANC, too, has given us some spectacularly dodgy job descriptions: who knew, until Jacob Zuma, that “president” was a synonym for “co-conspirator”? Its most duplicitous, however, has been the ubiquitous “comrade”, a colonial title imported from the then Soviet Empire that is surely our great oxymoron: a name pretending solidarity and common cause while denying a history drenched in blood and a recent past in which rich rogues tried to cut each other’s throats for the opportunity to steal a little bit more from the poor.
Still, not even the EFF on its most pompous day or the ANC on its most larcenous could make me burst out laughing as I did when I discovered that the DA top brass refer to Mmusi Maimane as “the Leader”. In public. On purpose.
It’s part primary school clique having a secret meeting to swap stickers behind the toilets, part North Korean labour farm, part religious jungle death cult. And it’s altogether hilarious. Still, perhaps that’s what happens when politicians’ fights become public and the smooth façade starts cracking: you start believing that if you say “Leader” enough, one might just appear.
But that’s enough from me. Next thing you call me a wordsmith and then we can’t be friends any more.