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The peculiar case of condemnation


It’s a strong word. Meaty in its meaning. Tidy in its appearance.

I am using the word here with its definition of expressing complete disapproval, rather than its other meaning of sentencing someone to death, or a worse punishment. Like being chained to a computer screen where twerking GIFs set to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines trigger your epileptic gag reflexes.


Governments around the world love this word. Opposition parties have rammed it into many press conferences shined up with the lofty spin of self-righteousness and rebuke.

Some easy examples to think of. The South African government condemns the xenophobic attacks. The Obama administration strongly condemns the chemical warfare in Syria. The DA roundly condemns 2% milk in its morning cappuccinos. The power of your condemnation is linked to the helpful adjective you attach to it.

It is not that condemning these things is bad. I don’t drink milk, but I can imagine 98% lacking would be pretty grim and worthy of condemnation.

But the point is that merely using that strong, tidy word is never going to be enough. It almost feels like a political blanket being used to put out a raging veld fire. Wholly inadequate and if observed from a distance, pretty ridiculous.

No right thinking person is going to believe that our government wants foreigners burnt in the streets. No person who has cultivated a mindful sense of this world will think that chemical warfare is acceptable. We know these things to be heinous. Decreeing them so in a rote manner for the sake of politically expedient commentary is offensive and ineffective.

Merely condemning an act – and this is perhaps a much better metaphor in my head – is a bit like jumping into a comfortable bathing pool filled with lukewarm apathy, where those in power can splash around feeling moderately cleaned from responsibility.

The “appropriate” things to say in situations are often meaningless. Think about the “I’m so sorry line” as a response to news of the death of a person’s loved one. It is meaningless to the hearer. It is self-serving and cathartic to the speaker. It is at best a thoughtless line  heard enough times to fill the silence and walk away disconnected from the pressing reality.

So the next time you hear a suited politician shimmering with that public relations veneer, offering a strong condemnation of something as heinous as xenophobia, corrupt coppers, chemical warfare, or the DA’s disregard for watered down bovine juice, ask what the benefit of their fancy words are.

Press them, some how, to put the words away and lead the action. Make the changes.