AmeriCAN-DO Attitude

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At Their Mercy

Absolutely brilliant post by Jeff Goldstein at HotAir: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the F-Bomb

[ … ] Because even were Republicans to begin winning elections based on their newly found ability to negotiate a hostile media bent on misrepresenting them, they’d be compelled to maintain the practice of carefully parsing their words, which means they’d always be at the mercy of those looking to attack and discredit. And such has the effect both of chilling speech and of determining in what way a message must necessarily be delivered.

And when your opponents are making the rules, you are necessarily playing their game.

To put it more forcefully, it is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy.

Bingo. Exactly what I have been trying to say, though much less eloquently than Mr. Goldstein.

He also added to his post what he stated back when Bill Bennett was ridiculed and smeared by the Left in the same way they are doing now (and always do) to Rush Limbaugh. Perfectly spot-on as well. And I echo his wondering why people on the Right are too quick to surrender to the Left and the mass media.

First, [certain conservatives are making the claim] that it is standard business and political doctrine that communicators be aware of how they are likely to be interpreted, which conflates the idea of practice with rectitude. And the fact is, being aware of how your utterances may be interpreted by those who are looking to maliciously misrepresent them in a soundbite culture is a fool’s errand — one that is shown up by the very issue at hand: Bennett was careful to note that the hypothetical in question was morally reprehensible — and in fact used it to argue against utilitarian rationalizations for moral problems (a stand that implicitly rejects statistics-based racialist arguments) — but that important qualification was left out of many media representations of his quote, which allowed those who wished to embarrass Bennett to call him out. In this case, Bennett clearly was aware of how his words might be used, but that awareness could not prevent misuse. For Bennett to have avoided the “major failing” [some conservatives identified] he would have had to avoid the subject altogether. And to do so is to trade intellectualism for the kind of circumspection that has the practical effect of chilling free speech.

Linguistically speaking, we have but two choices: either insist language be ground in the intentions of its utterers, or else conclude that we must each be responsible, in perpetuity, for whatever might be done with our utterance once it leaves our control. [Some conservatives] it seems to me, [are] choosing the latter — an unfortunate choice, in that it will forever codify a use of language that demands of its users the kind of overly-self-conscious self-censorship that is anathema to the free exchange of ideas. And if our goal is to hash out policy or to discuss potentially controversial issues, we simply must be able to do so without worry that parties invested in maintaining the status quo are allowed to silence us by assuming control over the terms of debate.

[The political pragmatists’] thesis here is straightforward — and it matches the theses of many of those (including the White House and the Corner’s Ramesh Ponnuru) who’ve taken Bennett to task for his “impolitic” remarks. Bennett, the argument goes, is a seasoned political operative and a professional communicator, and so he should have known that certain people — from the perpetually aggrieved to those in whose interests it is to try to smear what they take it he represents — would use his remarks against him. Which is certainly true.

But why must an awareness of such dictate a surrender to it?

Descriptions about how communication can be made to function are no substitute for the insistence that it be made to function as it should — in a linguistically coherent way that is dependent on appeals to the utterer’s intent, and so therefore refuses to give equal weight to the whims and motivations of interpreters who wish to use their interpretations as a rhetorical cudgel (in this case, quite disingenously) against the utterer. Each time a conservative makes such excuses for linguistic surrender in the guise of world weary linguistic pragmatism (which it is not; it is a feint toward relativism and certain pernicious post-modern ideas of language that undercut its moorings), they cede a bit more control over future debates to their opponents.

I refuse to do so. And while I can understand why many on the left wish me to be cowed by their linguistic presumptuousness, what I can’t understand is why so many on the right allow them to get away with it.

Mike at Cold Fury is absolutely spot-on as well:

[ … ] The time for tailoring our words out of significant concern over whether our enemies might be able to distort them is past; they will find a way, always, and there’s absolutely no reason to think otherwise. The discussion going forward, it seems to me, ought to be about how we’re going to go around the liars and speak directly to honest people of good will — while revealing, every chance we get, the craven dishonesty the shameless Left has no qualms about employing as a political tactic.

Fucking A-men.

Here is my response I left to give kudos to Jeff Goldstein in the comments at HotAir:

Here, here, Jeff. Spot-on. Spot-f***ing-on. I have been getting sick and tired of the passive crap from Ace, Gabriel Malor and AllahPundit and this was an absolutely brilliant piece. Let’s hope these passive “pragmatists” get their heads out of their asses and understand this simple point that we have to stop playing the game by the rules of our enemies. Because in case these geniuses haven’t been paying attention, as soon as we prostrate ourselves and figure out the rules, the enemy changes the rules and f***s us all over again, even worse.

It’s well past time to stop this passive, victim sh*t and go on the offense against these lying, corrupt bastards and not apologize for anything.

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March 9, 2009 , 4:06PM - Posted by | Barack Obama, Censorship, Communism, Conservatism, Fascism, Liberalism, Marxism, Rush Limbaugh

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