In late 2020 I began to notice a curious extension to the once harmless word access, both as a noun and as a verb, during the concerted vaccine awareness raising campaign. Covid sceptics had warned early on that the authorities would make regular genetic code injections a condition for participation in mainstream society with the introduction of digital health passports. Ultimately, they would be tied to Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) to make life practically impossible for citizens without means of independent subsistence. Alas, TV pundits and online influencers seemed more concerned about access to vaccines in the context of the equally Orwellian concept of vaccine equity. I can understand notions such as access to clean water, access to reliable electric power and even Wi-Fi access. Water is essential to life on earth while electricity and modern telecommunications can greatly enrich our lives. Yet we only crave access to things we need or enjoy. Nobody demands access to something they do not want. That demand must be manufactured. This intriguing juxtaposition of words implied that people might suffer because of a lack of a new pharmaceutical intervention that had never before been tested on billions of human beings. Who decided that we needed to have access to these new concoctions? Did we ever have any proof that we could no longer survive without them? The EU signed a €71 billion contract with Pfizer-BioNtech to buy 4.6 billion injections or more than 10 for each EU resident and sent hundreds of millions of jabs to Africa that went largely unused. There was never a shortage or a lack of access to something most people did not need. There was only ever a huge glut and massive overspend on coercion and enforcement. What people wanted was access to workplaces, bars, restaurants, sports venues, hotels and holidays abroad for which they needed proof of covid-19 vaccine compliance.
Language evolves all the time as it adapts to new social and technological realities. This is perfectly natural. Our forebears did not have snappy words for electronic pointing devices (mice) or personal digital assistants (pads or tablets) because they had not been invented yet. Neither did we have generic terms for someone we may employ to help us keep fit, as in personal trainer, or take our dogs for a walk when we’re too busy, as in dog walker. In the 1960s, the latter job title may have been comprehensible, but few would have seen such everyday tasks as career options. It stands to reason that language tends to change faster in times of rapid societal transformation. Cultural continuity helps us stay in touch with past generations and learn from history. Once the past becomes a foreign country with an unintelligible language, the managerial classes can more easily rewrite history and manipulate the masses. While the English language has coined thousands of new words, often with Greco-Latin roots, since the industrial revolution, some core concepts have remained cultural constants. Their pronunciation and dialectical variants may change, but the basic ideas stay the same. All languages have words for man, woman, child, mother and father. They correspond to the fundamental roles we play in procreation and in raising the next generation. Whether you are male or female was, until very recently, a matter of easily verifiable biology. Our ancestors may not have mastered the science of chromosomes, but we understood only women can give birth to children and only men can impregnate them.
Words like customer, mental health, protection, safety and access may seem innocent enough. They are hardly newcomers to our language, but the ideas and feelings they convey have mutated, sometimes out of all recognition. A customer used to be someone who chose to pay for a service or product. If you don’t like a product or service, you can always take your custom elsewhere. Today, it often means a service user, with no choice over whether to use the service or not. Mental health has progressed from a general concern over someone’s emotional wellbeing into a pervasive intrusion into people’s private lives and inner thought processes. Protection no longer refers only to sensible measures you make to ward off physical harm, but a temporary immunity from prosecution. More creepily, safety no longer refers to voluntary protection from danger, but to artificial isolation from our natural environment. An obsession with a narrow aspect of relative safety can expose people to greater danger. Leaving a frail elderly person with mild dementia home alone without physical contact may reduce the spread of infectious diseases, but increases all other causes of ill-health, not least through loneliness.
Let us return to the creepiest case of semantic drift, namely access. Traditionally, the word was much more common in technical or formal usage. In everyday speech, we opted for simpler or clearer expressions. There may be many reasons why you cannot or may not visit a restaurant. If it serves alcohol, there may be minimum age for minors unaccompanied by adults. It may be hard to reach, possibly involving a strenuous walk up a long and winding path. Its owners may have banned you because of previous misbehaviour. You may have to present a racial purity pass or a digital health certificate to enter the premises and, of course, you may not be able to afford the bill. The bland term access now covers all such eventualities. An accessible restaurant would be open to all, affordable, have facilities to accommodate people with physical disabilities and cater for all dietary needs and preferences. Such a restaurant is unlikely to be very special. If you travel to a Tuscan hilltop village to visit a rustic steakhouse with a bespoke selection of locally sourced seasonal vegetables, you should hardly complain that is not accessible to wheelchair-bound cash-strapped vegans allergic to almost everything on the menu. That’s not their market. The restaurant is not in the business of being accessible to all and sundry, but of catering to a niche clientele who go out of their way to sample a unique culinary experience away from the madding crowd. Accessibility is not always good. Mountaineers do not climb Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua or Mount Everest because they’re accessible, but because they are the ultimate challenge. Their beauty lies in their inaccessibility.
Accessibility often appears in official jargon alongside other deceptive buzzwords like equality and diversity. Despite all the anti-discrimination rhetoric and legislation, the wealth gap has never been larger and culture has never been more homogeneous around the world. Likewise, accessibility initiatives seldom empower the poor and vulnerable to gain access to venues erstwhile reserved to the lucky few, but rather adapt services targeted at the disadvantaged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for helping the physically disabled to lead more independent and rewarding lives, where feasible, but you can rest assured that if the ruling classes do not want us to access certain publicly funded venues, they will find other means to exclude us, usually under the pretexts of safety or security. They only care about access to things they want us to use. It hardly comes as a surprise that following the overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on the availability of legal abortion in the United States and recent calls for tighter restrictions on abortion in Italy, we now hear talk of access to abortion. As more and more jurisdictions extend the scope of legal euthanasia from a practice reserved for the terminally ill suffering from excruciating pain to people with mental health challenges, talking heads have already started to complain about lack of access to safe and effective euthanasia services. Anything, no matter how immoral, seems so much more palatable when dressed up in health-and-safety verbiage. There is nothing safe about death and nothing good about access to tools of biotechnical subjugation.