Ike: "To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees fit," a Briton or an American "will fight."
"Yet kinship among nations is not determined in such measurements as proximity of size and age. Rather we should turn to those inner things—call them what you will—I mean those intangibles that are the real treasures free men possess.
"To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees fit, subject only to provisions that he trespass not upon similar rights of others—a Londoner will fight. So will a citizen of Abilene.
"When we consider these things, then the valley of the Thames draws closer to the farms of Kansas and the plains of Texas. To my mind it is clear that when two peoples will face the tragedies of war to defend the same spiritual values, the same treasured rights, then in the deepest sense those two are truly related. So even as I proclaim my undying Americanism, I am bold enough and exceedingly proud to claim the basis of kinship to you of London."
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 549-550.
From a discussion on the Heterodox Forum started by John Faithful Hamer:
John Faithful Hamer: WHY IS COMMUNISM STILL COOL?: “Why is it still acceptable to regard the Marxist doctrine as essentially accurate in its diagnosis of the hypothetical evils of the free-market, democratic West; to still consider that doctrine ‘progressive’ and fit for the compassionate and proper thinking person? Twenty-five million dead through internal repression in the Soviet Union (according to The Black Book of Communism). Sixty million dead in Mao’s China (and an all-too-likely return to autocratic oppression in that country in the near future). The horrors of Cambodia’s killing fields, with their two million corpses. The barely animate body politic of Cuba, where people struggle even now to feed themselves. Venezuela, where it has now been made illegal to attribute a child’s death in hospital to starvation. No political experiment has ever been tried so widely, with so many disparate people, in so many different countries (with such different histories) and failed so absolutely and so catastrophically.”—Jordan B Peterson, preface to the new edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (2018)
Questions like this call for real answers, not comforting ones -- they need steel-manning. (Did you coin that term, John?)
Simple. Communism offers righteous struggle. The ideologies of liberal democracies do not.
(And it is STILL cool, because the struggle it proposes burns on beyond it's regularly updated objectives, until everything has been consumed by it)
Quentin MontagneReminds me of Orwell's 1940 review of MK:
"He has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life, there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags, and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result, a whole nation flings itself at his feet."
Obviously Orwell is talking about fascism here, but he even says the same thing applies to socialism.
Hard pill to swallow: Because the core values of Communism overlap a lot more with the core values as well as vectors of Liberalism than any Liberal (which includes JBP, whether it is prefaced by "classical" or not) would ever care to admit.
The general explanations which are echoed above (no true Scotsman, teachers' conspiracy, ignoring economics, overemphasis on Utopia etc.) are pertaining to the methods by which sympathizers wash Communism's feet and present it in a good light. This however, does not explain the pervasiveness of the ideology- so much so that it has not only survived its incarnation in the USSR, but some might argue it currently thrives, albeit under different guises - as well as the extremely high degree of acceptance it receives in the West, especially among highly educated elites. Why is the same not happening to even a remotely similar degree to Fascism which everyone (all Liberal, be it of the "classical", libertarian or socialist persuasion) agrees is pure evil despite having killed far fewer people, if we go strictly by the numbers (in a purely Utilitarian fashion)? After all, the Fascist ideology also has about 1000 years of Utopia in store for everyone on board with its tenets. Fascism glorified elites to the expense of everyone else. Fascism also doesn't require extensive reading of economy or history to grasp its core tenets. Shouldn't elites at least love an ideology glorifying elites? Apparently, no. Why?
Simply put, because the core tenets of Fascism are at odds with both the core tenets as well as opposed to the vectors of Liberalism, while the Communist ones are not. This is why so many "wide eyed idiot youths with no knowledge of history or economics" gobble up Communist ideals, because they are simply an extension of the oppression-fighting egalitarian-seeking society that their (classical?) Liberal great-great-grandfathers fought to create. The same ideals they are taught ever since they can walk that are good and just and true. That men are all (created? What happens if we remove the God that creates?) equal, that each person should be free from oppression, that everyone should fight tyranny, that all systems of government that centralize power in the hands of the few (or a single person, even worse) are pure evil because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. These are all normal values which are to be expected in a largely Liberal society.
Communism only overly exaggerates the egalitarian aspect which it deems the only true moral aspect to the detriment of the libertarian aspect of liberalism which is thrown down the wayside because it is seen as both selfish and elitist - both epithets associated with the tyrannical monarchy and the plutocratic aristocracy which Liberals, again, fought so hard to overturn a couple centuries ago. This also, partly, explains why Liberal elites try so hard to appear as if they are anything but elites.
This isn't a value oriented comment, it simply seeks to answer the original question: Why is communism still cool? In my view, try its hardest, liberalism cannot shake Marx's grim prediction: That it will inevitably lead to Communism or at least something very similar. The core liberal values are certainly pointing towards that direction if stretched towards a puritanically egalitarian extreme.
By appealing to unselfishness , vanity and ego.
This isn't all that difficult to answer. Now before anyone starts frothing at the mouth, Stalin and Mao killed more people than Hitler; the following is not a defense of communism as practiced in history or today.
The THEORY of communism is actually quite attractive to people who desire a caring more egalitarian society. "Let's govern ourselves in a manner that is egalitarian and flat structured where everyone gets a voice and is respected. Let's ensure everyone is cared for, valued and can live decently with proper housing food and clothing."
There is nothing wrong to preferring that ideal society to an individualist, capitalist, winner take all and devil take the hindmost society.
Please refrain from citing Pol Pot's killing Fields, Mao's great leap forward or the Holomodor under Stalin -- I am aware.
It is normal for idealistic young people (and old ones) to look at our western capitalist societies and yearn for a more humane system that helps everyone flourish not just the richest/most powerful/most able/most successful. A system that also crushes huge swathes of the population.
The problem with THEORETICAL communism is it doesn't account for human nature and communism in practice and in history.
And yet, there are instances of communist movements (which were in fact more socialist) in the developing world that did in fact increase education, literacy, women's equality and ability to learn and work while also combating government corruption. Such movements sent bright young village girls in Indonesia to the Sorbonne in Paris to study at University. It's not ALL a human rights disaster. But US foreign policy was to snuff out those political parties by any means necessary during the 1950s and 1960s - even if it meant funding and arming foreign regimes and militaries that would ruthlessly kill and disappear tens of thousands of people in mass terror operations. Who knows whether Indonesia wouldn't have been better off as a secular socialist democracy rather than living through the brutal Suharto regime and a current government now under the sway of Islamists? [Source:. The Jakarta Method, Vincent Bevins]
In my limited experience, the main driver, keeping people on board who otherwise should know better, is the belief that wealthy, privileged interest groups are actually waging an ongoing war against the rest of us, actually killing people sometimes with direct violence, other times by disease, famine, impoverishment, disenfranchisement ... . For most people, when you're in an actual war, the values of democracy and civil liberties become secondary, command and obedience are necessary as a matter of life and death, and you evaluate everything primarily by how you think it affects the war.
I think people inherently want an easy way out. Thats why fad diets and get rich quick schemes work so well.
Intrinsic theories of values and peoples general acceptance of altruism and self sacrifice as some kind of moral standard are the main reasons.
I've always heard that Communism works great in India's Christian state, Kerala, and that it's been Communist ever since independence. That may be a cruel myth, but it's worth checking out.
Then check it out and let us know.OK, it looks like they are officially communists, but in practice, they're a shining example of truly democratic socialism. And in politics, as distinct from economics or culture, they're liberal. It's hard to say if their economic model works in the very long run, because it's so interconnected with the rest of the world -- people get great educations and then earn their livings in the Gulf, the UK, the US ... . But it's hard to say if any real-life economic model works in the very long run, if it has one. (And personally I'm a hard-core libertarian.):
"In his new book The Property Species, Chapman University law professor Bart Wilson offers a strikingly original look at the origin and meaning of private property. Unlike scholars who argue that property is a 'social construct,' Wilson argues that property is a deeply and uniquely human practice. Incorporating insights from history, linguistics, law, and his own laboratory experiments, Wilson illuminates the means by which our ideas of private property originate and gain their moral and legal force. In this conversation our Teleforum will examine how the institution of private property marks human beings as 'the property species.'" LISTEN
"Haidt isn’t just scolding liberals, however. He sees the left and right as yin and yang, each contributing insights to which the other should listen. In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s. Haidt compares us to neurons in a giant brain, capable of “producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.” Our task, then, is to organize society so that reason and intuition interact in healthy ways.
"... You don’t have to believe in God to see this higher capacity as part of our nature. You just have to believe in evolution. Evolution itself has evolved: as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. In this way, a faculty produced by evolution — sociality — became the new engine of evolution. Why can’t reason do the same thing? Why can’t it emerge from its evolutionary origins as a spin doctor to become the new medium in which humans compete, cooperate and advance the fitness of their communities?"
I don't think it makes sense to trace a single psychological/character/personality trait as the cause of political beliefs. How do you like it when they do that to us?
Progressives have a lot of notions in common, but they can arrive at them for various personal and environmental reasons, including that that's what the people around them and raising them believed. The most common thread seems to be a belief that sublime, transcendent abstract entities like "society" or "the international community" are not merely metaphoric tools for describing people's interactions, but are actually more real and more important than real live individuals; that these abstractions have more agency and authority than all individuals put together.
This is supported by the common sayings, valid in some ways and dangerously wrong in others, that things are "greater than the sum of their parts," and that people should live for "something larger than themselves."
A contempt for individuality, for individual rights and responsibilities, is more a result of this than a cause, and for some liberals it presents an irrepressible conflict with other truly liberal beliefs that they have drawn from their patriotism, religion, or just from being thinking and humane people. That's the stage I was at for a while, when I didn't know anything about economics, but I could tell that the government wielding economic power over people would constrain their political freedom.
-- John Crouch, responding to the great Robert Bidinotto, who wrote:
UNDERSTANDING THE LEFT. After nearly six decades of direct experience, observation, and study, I have come to some firm conclusions about the ideological left (as opposed to those "liberals" who are simply compassionate toward others). I think it all revolves around the left's war on self-responsibility. They HATE that concept. In their worldview, if you create something good in the world, "You didn't build that"; but if you do something bad, "You couldn't help it." Either way, they HATE the notion that anyone (meaning: themselves) should be held accountable for their status in life. ... Ideological leftism is all, only, and *always* about advancing the Narrative of Personal Irresponsibility. It is the morality play that holds individuals responsible for every other man, woman, child, tree, plant, animal, or degree of temperature on the planet...but not for *themselves* as individuals.
The definition of a "hate" group has been in constant flux, no, expansion, for so long now that it's easy to forget that it was stable for generations. I always thought that the standard use of it for Nazis and other organized racists was unimaginative, and risked underestimating how dangerous they actually were, but at least everyone knew what it meant. American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell used it to describe his group's product as least as far back as the early 1960s, when he founded Hatenanny Records. In a 1991 college newspaper column titled "Bad Words to be Purged from the Language," I wrote,
"Hate speech, groups etc. As angry as they make us, Doug H. [prominent campus racial slurster] and friends are still expressing opinions, not hate. They probably have feelings of superiority, entitlement, self-pity, fear, envy, and contempt, but I doubt that many racists are possessed by hate or anything else unknown to the rest of us. The ones I know espouse sociological theories that were dominant until the 1940s, and think their own experiences empirically support them. They don't even dislike minorities, as long as they stay in their familiar and inferior "place."
With more space or forethought, I would have added that they often aren't expressing anything, they're just looking for words that will hurt, humiliate and enrage whoever they're using them against, or they're just trying to fit in with others, or show them that they can think of something powerful to say, and so on.
But this was still a "sidelines" kind of comment -- it wasn't about anything that was threatening me, or people I respectfully disagreed with, or any core values. It was just at that stage where you sense something "off" about someone's word choice, something that bespeaks some unknown, idiosyncratic, quirk in how they process the world, that might suddenly turn vicious under pressure if you had to trust or rely on them.
But now, Lord, ain't we got fun! At some point in the gay marriage movement, which itself had been outside the Overton Window of acceptable opinion until the early 90s, someone decided to label its opponents as "hate" advocates. Never mind that those opponents included Senators Clinton and Obama, at least officially. And now that the monopoly on "hate" victim status is broken open, everybody wants a piece of it.
In 2012, Randall Parker broke this ongoing process down in "On Labeling Opponents Of Multiculturalism As Hateful", citing and building on Jonathan Haidt's study showing why "The right gets the left better than the left gets the right":
That the Obama Administration would label a video that lampoons a religion as hate demonstrates why I so distrust Barack Obama. The primary use of the term "hate" is to label someone as outside of civilized discourse and deserving of pariah status. But lets get to root causes. Why use the term "hate" for this purpose? The role of hate looms so large in the elite liberal mind in large part because liberals lack the ability to understand non-liberal minds. The left has elevated their own psychological blindness and misunderstanding into a campaign of marginalization where they label their opponents as hate groups. This blindness of liberal minds to half the moral considerations used by conservative minds creates a condition very much like the Dunning-Kruger Effect where someone lacks the ability to detect the extent of their own misunderstanding, ignorance, and incompetence. ... This is the part that scares me. Will multi-culturalism and the desire to placate ethnicities at home and abroad cause an even larger reduction in freedom of speech than it already has? Speech codes in workplaces are already left-liberal. I'm expecting them to become more strictly enforced and for that enforcement to extend beyond the workplace.
The reason for this, as revealed in Haidt's study and vividly described by John Faithful Hamer:
Jonathan Haidt has found that when you give conservatives a questionnaire and ask them to answer it like a liberal, they’re able to do so with ease. When you ask them to answer like a libertarian, they’re able to do that too. Libertarians aren’t nearly as adept as conservatives, but they’re still fairly good at imagining how a conservative or a liberal might answer the questionnaire. Alas, the real outliers are the liberals.
In numerous studies, with respectable sample sizes, Haidt has demonstrated that liberals simply don’t have a clue. When you ask them to answer the questionnaire like a conservative, they answer it like a fascist. When you ask them to answer it like a libertarian, they answer it like a sociopath. The liberal conception of what makes the average conservative or libertarian tick is, Haidt concludes, way off.
Are liberals less imaginative than conservatives and libertarians? I highly doubt it. The virtues and vices are, it seems, to be found everywhere to varying degrees. Why, then, do liberals do so terribly on this “ideological Turing test”? And why do conservatives do so well? Haidt maintains that conservatives do well because they base their moral thinking on all six of the moral foundations (Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity, Liberty, Care & Fairness). Liberals do poorly because they base their moral thinking on only two of them (Care & Fairness).
Haidt’s explanation is fascinating. But it’s got way too many moving parts and a fatal flaw: namely, it implicitly presumes that liberals are somehow spectacularly deficient in imagination. I find it hard to believe that any sizable group of human beings could be spectacularly deficient in any virtue (or vice). That’s why I’ve come up with a simpler explanation for Haidt’s robust findings: liberals suck at this test because shutting down certain parts of your imagination has become central to what it means to be liberal.
Liberals haven’t just demonized their political opponents, they’ve demonized the very act of trying to think like their political opponents. Trying to sympathize with, say, a Trump supporter, has come to constitute a kind of thought-crime for many liberals (and almost all progressives). So it’s not that liberals have less imagination than conservatives or libertarians; it’s that they’ve set up mental firewalls that actively prevent them from even going there. Just as Odysseus’s men stopped up their ears with wax so they wouldn’t be tempted by the seductive song of the Sirens, many liberals have, it seems, set up taboo boundaries which more or less ensure that they’ll never have to empathize with a conservative or a libertarian. This is decidedly unwise, as it often leads to group polarization.
Just as the violent suppression of the labor movement pushed a lot of good people into the communist camp in the twentieth century, I fear that the outrageous attacks on nonconformists like Jordan Peterson may radicalize a lot of middle-of-the-road moderates in the twenty-first century. As Malcolm Gladwell makes clear in David and Goliath (2014), when you crack down on terrorism by demonizing an entire community, you invariably end up strengthening support for the terrorists; and when you crack down on the civil rights movement in a draconian fashion, you invariably end up strengthening support for the civil rights movement. What’s happening on the left at the moment is striking similar. Demonize everyone who seems to disagree with you and you’ll invariably end up strengthening support for those who actually disagree with you.
Telling people off on Twitter and preaching to the choir on Facebook can be fun. But it’s a dangerous kind of fun. Because you get intellectually lazy. Because you start speaking in a specialized jargon that no one outside of your safe space can understand. Because you develop a contempt for everyone outside of your élite group of cool kids that frequently leads you to dehumanize those who disagree with you. Live in your little bubble long enough, and you’ll become downright delusional, like the emperor in that Hans Christian Andersen tale.
The Final Wedge Cleaving Liberals from Progressives: Justice Alito's Speech and the "Two Minutes' Hate" Reaction.
"If you step on my foot, don't get angry when I . . . say 'Ouch!'" -- Minister Don Muhammad
When I was a campus ACLU leader in the 80s and 90s, I agreed with everything U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel J. Alito said in his speech to the Federalist Society last week. (Transcript here; video here, substance of speech starts at 17:30.) I still do. I realized even back then that some of my farther-left collaborators didn't agree with all of it, just most of it. But now, many of them don't agree with hardly any of it, especially suddenly controversial ideas like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and an independent judiciary. In case there was any doubt, they made that clear in their instant reactions to Justice Alito's speech. No longer "liberals," they now call themselves "progressives," after the late-1800s-early-1900s reformers who declared that democracy and constitutional limited government were outmoded, and that a nonpartisan expert elite should rule instead.
In college, we were taught what was called a "Marxist" critique of the "progressives": Whether foolishly or intentionally, they viewed their own cultural and economic elite interests as impartial, non-political, universal, benevolent and scientific. They were politically, culturally and economically anti-democratic. Back in the 1970s and 80s, it was a liberal and generational imperative to make sure that everything was done absolutely democratically and inclusively. But sometime in the 90s, this was replaced by a new prime directive: to be in harmony with "the international community" of unelected, unaccountable elites.
So the Progressives are back now, in force, and apparently trying to prove the truth and urgency of everything Justice Alito said about them. Kind of like threatening violence against someone who calls you violent. He criticized the growing intolerance of even mainstream beliefs, and thousands of tweeters and Facebookers responded by calling for him to be impeached for it. He criticized five Senators who had openly threatened to "restructure" the Court* if it did not rule the way they wanted, pointedly mentioning a foreign judge who told him about having judicial independence on paper, but with a tank pointing at his courthouse -- and Senators responded with more threats, saying he shouldn't be allowed to criticize them because that's "political." ( *Well, they now say they didn't say "restructure," their amicus brief just happened to quote a poll of people who said the court should be "restructured.")
Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted: "Supreme Court Justices aren't supposed to be political hacks. This right-wing speech is nakedly partisan. My anti-corruption bill restores some integrity to our Court by forcing Justices to follow the ethics rules other federal judges follow." Looking at her summary of the bill, that may be the only thing the bill does that is harmless or constitutional -- for now. But what she probably intended it to impose is a proposed reform to the judicial ethics rules, now withdrawn (for now), banning judges from the Federalist Society but not the American Bar Association. Because of course, in the fine old Progressive tradition, the ABA considers itself nonpolitical while advocating for thousands of left-wing public policies.
Los Angeles Congressman Jimmy Gomez tweeted, "Homophobic rhetoric isn’t a matter of free speech. It’s a matter of hate speech. These are stunning, harmful words from Justice Alito." To be clear exactly what he was calling homophobic, Constitutionally-unprotected "hate speech," he quoted the Justice: “'You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman' any more, Justice Alito said. 'Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.'”
Which part of that do Congressman Gomez and the other critics even disagree with? That "you can't say" it? That the vast majority agreed with it until recently? That it's considered bigotry? If anyone would disagree with that, wouldn't it be the "religious right"? Are they still around?
Many of the instant reactions seemed to be reacting to what people imagined Alito might say, not anything he actually said. For example, that he was against masks and shutdowns. Some headlines quoted his sentence, "The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty," as if that meant that he must be denouncing all such restrictions, not just stating a universally-recognized historical fact. Actually, he criticized a recent court decision that let a state single out churches for much stricter limits than casinos and other businesses. And more broadly, he warned that the now-necessary restrictions, and the executive branch's authority to impose them, were still subject to judicial review, and should not become permanent once the pandemic is over. The Young Turks, oddly, played a clip that included him saying that he was not criticizing most of the restrictions, and only questioning the legality of a very few of them, but then they spent ten minutes responding as if he had criticized mask mandates, calling him "insanely irresponsible."
An article titled "Jurists Shocked by Justice Alito's 'Wildly Inappropriate' Attack on LGBTQ Equality, Reproductive Rights, and More" merely played a game with the common versus the obscure meanings of the word "jurist" --
It quoted no judges, only two prominent legal journalists with law degrees, one lawyer/commentator, one law professor/former prosecutor, and the director of strategy at a "legal advocacy group." People certainly qualified to opine, but whose job is politics and advocacy -- very different from the impartial eminence "jurist" connotes.
Journalists who know better, or their editors who at least officially don't, began piling wild-eyed adjectives and warlike metaphors onto sometimes otherwise objective and balanced stories about the speech. CNN called it "ireful ... infuriated" with a "gnashing ideological tone ...". Roll Call, more subdued, said he "stepped into the ring ... to throw a few punches ..." and "targeted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse." The New York Times called it "unusually caustic and politically tinged," but admitted that it did not violate any rules and reflected his already published "judicial opinions, which have lately been marked by bitterness and grievance," and that several experts "said it was unexceptional for justices to describe positions they had already taken in their judicial work."
Slate, though, was in a class by itself, taking great pains to misrepresent the speech as unethical. It led with "Grievance-Laden, Ultrapartisan" ... "railed against COVID restrictions, same-sex marriage, abortion" [uh, no, he didn't actually criticize any of those, except for the restriction that singled out churches] and put an URL ending in "insane.html" on its article. "These comments revealed early on that Alito would not be abiding by the usual ethics rules, which require judges to remain impartial and avoid any appearance of bias" ... "a bitter partisan out to settle scores with the left. Flouting his ethical obligations, Alito waded into fierce political debates" ... "notoriously cranky, but he seemed to be in relatively good spirits ...".
Hundreds of Facebook commenters immediately called for impeaching him, some saying to throw in the Black guy while we're at it. Many claimed that the speech "revealed his bias," and they really seemed to believe that now that he had publicly revealed his beliefs about the issues he has ruled on, that that actually justified impeaching him, or demanding his resignation. Some said that he must be gay, sometimes using pretty graphic terms. Some demanded that the Federalist Society, too, must be abolished. Basically, there are a lot of fascists (I'm sorry, I mean "progressives") out there who believe -- or who pretend to believe so hard that they may actually come to believe -- that having conservative, libertarian, or mainstream-liberal-but-not-progressive beliefs should legally disqualify one from public office, and that actually advocating or working to implement such beliefs should be illegal.
I wonder what would happen if Senator Warren and the rest of the ProgMob found out that judges and Justices not only give speeches about the Bill of Rights and the need for an independent judiciary, and bristle at threats from politicians -- they actually write long opinions about every case they decide, even ones that involve political or controversial ideas, and the government actually publishes them! And they've been getting away with it for almost 700 years!
Clarification: was joke. Senator Warren was a professor at America's best law school, so of course she knows better. She just thinks that if enough of us pretend not to, for just long enough, we can pretend to rationalize court-packing by claiming the other side broke all the norms and packed the court first. And as a progressive, she honestly believes that only other people have ideologies or politics.
Before I had even finished watching the speech, my Facebook filled up with progressives suddenly convincing themselves that of course, we have always known that Justices aren't allowed to make speeches about Constitutional issues, evidently suppressing all their memories of a once-celebrated Justice named Ginsburg:
- "How can anyone have a fair hearing in front of this justice? He does not belong on the Supreme court. Who can take him on?"
- "He has abdicated his credibility and moral authority as a judge and must resign."
- "He doesn't even pretend to be impartial. Judicial sleeze."
- "Get rid of the Federalist Society."
- "They should never be allowed to put there personal ideas out publicly ...."
- "Omg....wow....what a nutcase! ... He, along with Trump, should be charged with murder for all these deaths."
- "Alito should be removed from the bench. He is making a political statement with his words about infringement of freedom."
- "Alito Outs Himself as Total Whacko."
- "He must recuse himself on all arguments involving these issues. He has revealed his bias!!"
- "Start the Impeachment process immediately. His ideas are too bias for his position."
- "Another one who could use a good boot in the neck."
- "Alito outs himself as full-on partisan crusader." -- U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
- "Such prejudicial opinions should disqualify him to sit as a Supreme Court Justice."
- "Time for partisan Supreme Court justices to be elected by the people rather than appointed for life."
- "Alito should be censured and removed from the Court. He violates his position."
- "Republicanism is a mental and social disorder. Alito needs to be impeached for speaking to a Republican Nazi organization like the "Federalist Society." They should be declared a domestic terrorist organization like the GOP, NRA, and a dozen others."
- "It shouldn’t be permissible for a sitting Supreme Court (or any other) justice to speak to radical organizations like the Federalist Society."
- "Appalling and sickening ... There really should be ways to remove justices with mindsets that are contrary to the very core of the Supreme Court's Constitutionally mandated role."
- "When a Chief Justice in the Supreme Court feels like he has to publicly make a political statement, he should lose his seat. That is not seperation of Church & State."
- "Religion is a lifestyle choice. Sexuality isn't."
- "'Justice Alito's wildly inappropriate speech is a reminder that Republicans have packed the Supreme Court with extremist politicians in robes -- and they're planning a partisan revenge tour,' said Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court, a progressive group advocating court expansion."
- "'If there were enforceable recusal standards at the high court, this would be a ripe opportunity for a motion to disqualify,' said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan independent watchdog group ..."
- "How can he continue on the court with such a publicly revealed bios! I believe this is impeachable for an associate justice!"
- "Diarrhea of the mouth with prejudice aplenty!"
- "He needs to get the fuck out of OUR Supreme Court!"
This is some of the best political vituperation I've ever seen. I thoroughly disagree with Lovecraft's disdain for human freedom and his childlike faith in Central Planning, but he finds several genuine weak spots, and makes the most of them. Weak spots that Republicans still have, and need to watch out for. I don't know if he's just blindly swallowing, and brilliantly regurgitating, a cartoonish portrayal of conservatives by the media and politicians at the time, or if this is based on some firsthand observation -- probably a lot of one and a little of the other.
"As for the Republicans — how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical 'American heritage'…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead."
American Library Association condemnation of "Little House" attacks everything the ALA should stand for
The American Library Association and its subsidiary, the Association for Library Service to Children, have voted unanimously to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder's name from an award given to children's book authors and illustrators for the past 64 years. They take pains to say they're only removing her name from the award, not trying to remove her books from libraries, but what they're really doing is far more fundamental: a leading organization is declaring a major children's author to be racist. And not just any major children's author, but one of the liberal heroes of the field, who obviously disapproved of the racist attitudes that were common during her childhood and even long after her death, who gave us strong, independent female main characters, and showed that the female perspective on life and on historical events was every bit as valid and important and compelling as the male. But the actual evidence they cite does not even purport to show that Wilder expressed or encouraged racism; it consists of subtle critiques that show how Wilder's racial liberalism could be improved upon; or that she is not where to go for a well-rounded, intensive, informed exploration of Indians' history and culture; or that any story told from the white settlers' perspective will include much that will irritate Native Americans.
Looking around the internet for Wilder's alleged racist passages, initially all I could find anyone complaining about are places where Wilder describes and portrays her parents' and other adults' varying attitudes. The whole point of these is that the author disagrees with those attitudes, and wants her readers to disagree with them, but wants them to know they existed and were predominant at the time. That, and the fact that some of the ALSC's statements seem to be specifically about those depictions, make it seem unlikely that there is anything actually racist about the books. That's also what I remember from reading them as a child and as a parent. The actual ALSC/ALA statements and background materials [links below] don't cite any particular racist messages in the books; they take for granted that Wilder's work has already been deemed racist, problematic, etc. One ALA memo says "her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments." The memo cites two academic articles on the subject:
One of the articles, Reese, Debbie. “Indigenizing children’s literature” (2008), Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 4(2), 59-72, does not reference anything that you could call racist in Wilder; it criticizes what facts or memories about Indians Wilder chose to highlight, but can't even convincingly speculate that there were other stories she knew and could have included instead in a childhood memoir. It laments the inclusion of a home visit from Indians wearing skunk glands, but doesn't say that that event didn't happen. The article's actual, legitimate, point is that reading Wilder's books is not the best and most balanced way to learn all about Indians generally and the Osage in particular. Not that anyone ever said it was.
The other article, Kaye, Frances W., "Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve: Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Kansas Indians" (2000), Great Plains Quarterly, 23, finds Wilder to be racist only on the grounds that any story told from the white settlers' perspective is racist. It actually makes sound, admirable, resounding arguments for that view, but the arguments do not support the message that educators, librarians, students and the public will take away from the ALA's move, which is to single out Wilder as racist and inappropriate. Kaye's article admits that Wilder, and her character in the books, have advanced and humane views for her time. And in fact, that
"The reader of Little House on the Prairie does not identify with the unthinking dislike of Indians demonstrated by Caroline Ingalls or the family bulldog, Jack, nor with the 'only good Indian is a dead Indian' philosophy that Pa explicitly rejects."
Kaye argues that Wilder's very liberalism is what makes her view of Indians so "insidious": By portraying them as suffering victims, she makes their exclusion from the land seem inevitable, and tolerable --
"The myth of the necessary tragedy ... that arises when the determined farmer meets the nomadic wanderer, the tragedy played out in Judeo-Christian myth from the time of Jacob and Esau."
Wilder portrays "good Indians" and thus implies that they were better than "bad Indians" who fought back, Kaye argues. Pa's "good Indian" friend is like Uncle Tom, which makes Wilder as racist as Harriet Beecher Stowe. And that fighting back was justified by a long history of treaties that the settlers were breaking. Kaye provides much interesting history and subversive description of the Osages. She makes valid criticisms of little Laura's views of certain historical events and land-use questions -- she should not have considered farming superior to buffalo hunting, nor complained about the government removing her family and the other white settlers for having no legal right to settle there.
But those have very little to do with what children read the books for, or what they remember from them. Nobody reads these books to learn about Indians. In the 1930s, maybe the Little House books were how some kids got their impressions of Indians, but for at least two generations there have been books widely available that let us at least try to see native and white American history from the natives' side.
If the ALA is relying on Wilder's depictions of racist attitudes that she obviously disagrees with, that means that an organization devoted to popular literacy and critical thinking is endorsing blatant intellectual dishonesty, by willful, simplistic, misunderstanding, in order to be "doing something" about racism even against a victim who isn't guility of racism. Pretending that readers can't distinguish between portrayal and approval, and shouldn't have to learn to do so. (Meaning that obviously Huckleberry Finn will be back on the banned list, and Jack in the Beanstalk must be suppressed for saying giants should grind Englishmen's bones to make bread.) With the predictable result of toppling a literary giant just because she could not see quite as far as the Lilliputians who stand on her shoulders; and permanently shelving a set of books that really do turn kids on to reading, and to history, when there is no reason to believe that other books can do the job just as well.
If on the other hand they're relying on the subtler academic critiques cited in their memos, then they are calling Wilder's books racist based on completely misrepresenting their own evidence, unless they're actually saying that all stories from the pioneers' point of view are now inappropriate.
Dr. Seuss is next. I'm not making this up. See p. 2 of the "ALSC Awards Program/ Strategic Plan" memo
ALA statements and materials on Laura Ingalls Wilder:
- ALA/ALSC statement regarding the Wilder Medal Name Change
- About the Children's Literature Legacy Award
- ALSC Awards Program Review Task Force Recommendation: Laura Ingalls Wilder Award
- Background Document memo: "ALSC Awards Program in Context of Strategic Plan"
By John Crouch in the Brown Daily Herald , Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1991
"Because I do not learn their words, I am called a heretic."
I once tried to compile a history of "PC." As a Southerner, I knew that the highest form of history is genealogy, so my inquiries first led me to some ancestors who were Presbyterian Covenanters. They were having some differences with the Puritan Commonwealthmen, led by Oliver Cromwell. Each of these sects had an exclusive contract with God, stating that the other was headed for a bad place and should be expedited there. (Think about it: these covenants were not contradictory, but complementary. God knew what he was doing.) After a pitched battle, Cromwell suggested that everyone should come together and cooperate with him in an exciting new broad-based ecumenical venture known as Persecuting Catholics. He offered my forebears exciting public service jobs as military policemen in exile. They agreed, and in return he deferred his natural inclination to confiscate their heads.
Soon they were in Ulster, doing the Lord's work. Then it was off to Barbados to practice their techniques on rebellious slaves, and then to Maryland, to do it to the Indians and Catholics. In time they settled down and became highly useful members of the community, raising tobacco and sailing to Africa to buy slaves. In occasional fits of public-spiritedness they would lynch a papist or two, but they mostly minded their own business for six generations until some outside agitators built Washington, D.C. in their neighborhood.
A more recent forefather of PC and related irritations was Horace Mann '19, who dominated the debating societies of Manning Chapel. These groups combined the functions of class discussion sections, dorm unit "workshops", the student government, and the Herald letters page. Kathleen Kendall, a rhetoric professor, wrote that Mann proved his points with "overstatements," "name-calling," "sophistry," "chest-thumping chauvinism," and "an abundance of star-spangled prose ... No one challenged his sweeping generalizations or lack of pertinent evidence." Doubtless the alumni pined for the grand old days of discipline, morality, and western culture.
Then again, Brown's administration didn't set a very mature example for Mann. They once fined him for violating their ban on Independence Day observations. This holiday was considered disruptively democratic, divisive, and deeply offensive to the Federalist community, which always felt left out.
Brown has a venerable tradition of expelling the politically incorrect, including President Bennie Andrews '70. Wildly popular, he was especially admired for his success in exhorting students to fulfill their human potential by volunteering for the Spanish-American War (once fabulously PC). So the trustees were especially shocked when he began advocating silver coinage. A man who believed in that could be neither sane nor moral, so they had to banish him before he poisoned the whole community.
PC flourished in Athens at the same time the Spartans were perfecting communism, so I hardly think either idea can have permanently "died" in the past year. It is true that, like Stalinism and McCarthyism, it had lost its real power before mainstream liberals began anathematizing it, or even giving it a name. (Four years ago, "PC Person" was a classist, fattist, WASPist, smartist term for a typical scholar at Providence College.) But while political circumstances change quickly and unpredictably, human nature changes too slowly to measure. Like some observers of political savagery in past decades, I would blame PC's inhumanity not on the counter-culture, communism, anti-communism or fundamentalism, but on certain strains of the human personality: control freaks, conformists, trendies, groupies, and opportunists. At least in my experience here, the intolerance that provoked so much resentment and ridicule was practiced not by political activists, but by encounter-workshop facilitators and a few administrators. Likewise, it should be obvious that Dartmouth's persecution of conservative journalists, and the Brown administration's rudeness toward liberal protestors and union organizers, relate not to the politics of left and right but to simple institutional self-interest.
But some cultures and ideologies may prove more PC-resistant than others. By "culture," I mean something we each help shape, not a genetic heritage that pre-determines us. Many people presume there is a certain inviolable space around individuals, and that all are equally human. In cultures that take such ideas seriously, certain rules develop: People are to be persuaded only by reason, and not manipulated, lied to, or forced around at gunpoint. People are given the benefit of the doubt, and not charged with unworthy motives or mental infirmity without proof. But at the same time, they are seen as ultimately responsible for their beliefs, having reason and free will. At times, concepts of "gentlemanliness" and "sportsmanship" have been current (and it is worrisome that our new less-sexist language has no words for them yet). They advise that an unfair advantage should not be pressed, that abandoning the moral high ground only hurts you in the long run, and that no disagreement may break the bonds of civility and charity. Where most people are willing to defend such standards, the PC might abandon their own tactics as counter-productive. In such a culture, Horace Mann went on to show that one can outgrow PC in the course of a mentally active life.
Our present culture, though, admires a no-holds-barred 100% dedication to one's chosen cause, fad or crisis, overriding all rules and distinctions, by any means necessary. So we should be grateful for our PC education -- it's probably excellent preparation for success in American politics, media, and business.
By John Crouch
On his 275th birthday, Thomas Jefferson is in danger of getting run out of town on a rail, his statues teetering on a slippery slope which we had been told would become dry and level as soon as Robert E. Lee was cast down it. We already knew he was a slaveowner and probably a race-mixing unwed father, but lately we’ve been confronted with the inhumane cruelties that slavery involved even at Monticello, and some are calling him a rapist and a child molester because Sally Hemings was a slave and was 16 when she first became pregnant.
But at the same time, without Jefferson, we would not have today’s movements for racial equality and other human equality, we wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights movement and its imitators, and even Abolitionism would have been very different and less popular. Now, it’s well known that he is where Americans think that we get most of our ideas about liberty. But what we forget, in these days when we’re focused on a mostly false opposition between liberty and equality, is that he is much more uniquely, and crucially, the source of our beliefs in equality, democracy, and universal human rights. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, as the founder of the Democratic Party, and as a powerful, lifelong agitator for expanding political liberty and equality.
Without him, the American Revolution, and the American idea, would likely have been about defending the hereditary rights of free-holding Englishmen. Perhaps inspiring enough to achieve independence, perhaps not. But not much of an inspiration to the rest of the world, and far less appealing to Christians and philosophers than declaring our independence by announcing:
"That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
This ideology and theology of radical human equality was not Jefferson’s invention: it had colorful, eccentric champions during the English Civil War and Commonwealth era (1640s-50s), Quakerism seems consistent with it if not based on it, and Hobbes and Locke used it in different ways as a starting point for their philosophies. The idea had recently been expressed in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and in George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. But Jefferson put it at the top of America’s founding document, its public statement of what its war was about, where everyone read it or had it read to them.
And Americans would not have their wide and deep belief in equality and democracy if it were not for the ongoing work of Jefferson and the political party he founded, which was always the democratic party even when it was still named “Republican” or “Antifederalist.” Even when it fostered and exploited racism, it did so using democratic rhetoric that ultimately arcs towards equality for all. Even now and in the days of Woodrow Wilson when it seems like the more elitist and “Progressive” party, it pays truly valuable lip service to democracy and believes it can reconcile all such contradictions; it contains multitudes with more consistently democratic impulses, which they carry with them to other parties if they leave the party in disgust, fear and sorrow. Even the Whigs and the modern Republican party inherited more from it than from the old, aristocratic Federalists.
Lately both the elitist Progressives, and a few loud, immature, shallow Libertarians, like to pit liberty and equality against each other. They envision a wealthy and antisocial Individual exercising individual liberty for his own amusement and benefit, at the expense and indulgence of a democratic government that seeks to constrain him for the common good of the many and the poor. But that wasn’t the situation in Jefferson’s time, nor for most of our history, nor today. Jefferson and generations of his contemporaries feared governments that suppressed individual rights in order to suppress the majority and subvert or prevent democracy. They saw absolutist governments create privileged elites, not equality. They knew that democracy can’t function as democracy if individuals aren’t free to express their actual beliefs, spread news, and try to persuade each other and their representatives. Nor without the other freedoms in our Constitution. And they fought for individual liberty, not because it let them do selfish things or express their unique selves, but to be free to do what they thought was their duty to God and to society.
On Jefferson’s birthday, we remember that he was far from perfect on issues of liberty and of equality. But he worked to expand both of them, and so should we.
How "Snowflakes" Cause Police Shootings, Lynchings, Witch Burnings ... But Only Because Our Culture & Institutions Encourage Them
Not the Onion. Not "Reno 911". This is why hypersensitive "snowflakes" are such a serious problem. They make completely innocent, ordinary people get treated like dangerous criminals. In the old days it led to witch burnings, then lynchings, and nowadays police shootings. I was reminded that "snowflakes" are so deadly when I saw a timely article about lynchings, including some men and boys who were lynched for "frightening" white women and girls. One was a Leesburg, Virginia teen who put a bag over his head to startle a white friend. Another is merely reported to have "acted peculiarly."
These days, as a Charlottesville, Va. area farmer recently explained, it's "Nervous white women in yoga pants" who "see something, say something" when they see a black man where they don't expect any to be. Over 12 times, "police would 'happen by' and sometimes even question me five or ten minutes after I got a strange look from a passerby ... I know to smile and give them the non-threatening black guy kind of thing, but all it really takes is for one of us to have a bad day and I could end up another tragedy in the street."
But back to the lady in this incredibly credulous news story and viral youtube craze. She saw four people in different places doing stuff like walking down the street or sitting in their cars, and just KNEW they were a gang of sex-slaver kidnappers. And she still hasn't been evaluated for paranoid schizophrenia. She's too busy being lauded as a hero on Facebook for "surviving" it and "raising awareness." Got 2900 likes, 5200 shares so far.
THAT WAS MY ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST. BUT HERE'S MY LATER CAVEAT.
I had a great post ready to go, but I thought I had better listen to her whole miserable 13-minute video about it first. There were a couple key facts the original news article, though sympathetic to her sick crusade, left out, which make her fears about the first guy subjectively reasonable.
- He was walking behind them and she slowed down so he'd pass them, and he slowed down too. Either because he was a stalker, or because her family took up a lot of the sidewalk and he couldn't get past them without brushing too close, which would reasonably give offense and alarm.
- They U-turned, and he U-turned too. Either because he was a stalker, or because he wanted to ask her husband something -- which he, in fact, did. She doesn't say what he asked her husband.
After that, she was running on fear, and that's why she saw fellow-conspirators everywhere, including one guy who looked over her 5-year-old daughter like a man looks at a woman, as we used to say before it became dicey for a man to look at a woman that way. She saw him do that, although her perception may have been warped by her fear, and in my experience people often read way too much into what they think they see on people's faces and eyes.
And then she talked to people who specialize in working with sex traffic victims. And they, like all specialists in any particular social problem, saw that problem everywhere. Whatever she described, they said it was something sex traffickers had been known to do.
So she wasn't actually the most dangerous, paranoid-schizo snowflake in the blizzard, but to apply her logic, she MIGHT'VE been, and we need to "raise awareness" about such people.
But while we're at it, let's raise awareness of the things we do that fan the flames, I mean fan the snow machines, and figure out how to do better.
I'd only add that his beliefs were deeply sincere, and not self-interested. He really thought a pro-business meritocracy would be better for everyone.
The party created to oppose consolidation of power by bankers and elites can now openly embrace the man who unapologetically advocated for it.
(where you can also read how Hamilton's economic and immigration policies were pretty much the same as Trump's!)
Legions of critics endlessly cite the logical flaws and dangers of "Identity Politics" on the left and even on the right, but as Mary Eberstadt points out, they overlook that emotionally, it's deeply authentic and heartfelt. Indeed, it has become the key to its believers' personal identities.
Now, in some ways, politics has always been about identity, but it's been based on identities that people could take for granted and don't have to prove and constantly have affirmed: first, family; then place, religion, and ethnicity. And Americans have always formed like-minded, politically-active voluntary groups, including ones based on minority race and ethnicity.
But looking for the causes of the surging rage and occasional mass hysteria that now swirls around I.P., Eberstadt notes that the normal sources of "identity" throughout history, especially family, have lost most of their power and permanence. We have far fewer people whom we consider "family" in the sense of loyalty, commonality, permanence, and identity. And you don't have to share Eberstadt's traditional Catholic views of sexual and family issues to be concerned about the breakdown of families and what rough beasts are emerging to replace them.
PC "Call-out Culture" Terrifies Its Own Activists. But That's What It's FOR! Also, Great Ideas From the Left that PC Shuts Down.
PC's main function is to keep the foot soldiers of the Left in line, and make them afraid to express any original thought or to even suggest being more tolerant or respectful of the enemy, or acknowledging any common ground. So if its own people fear it, as author Frances Lee does, that just means it's working as designed. Same reason infantry officers carry revolvers, not rifles. Perfect example from Lee's article:
"In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway. On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas ..."
Sounds like what I learned as a left-liberal would-be activist in college, except for that last bit. Great read though, and I'm glad this distress call made it through the censors -- for now. I'm including the whole text in case it somehow gets taken down in the future, if and when they get Lee to apologize, accept discipline and love Big Brother.
The article has many other uniquely well-expressed points about truly engaging and respecting adversaries based on common humanity instead of teh rhetoric of irreconcileable differences, knowing when to be soft and when to be hard, and owning one's own imperfection and responsilbilty for oppression without ceding one's right to talk about those things to others who claim absolute purity.
We are alienating each other with unrestrained callouts and unchecked self-righteousness. Here’s how that can stop.
Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years.
As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.
Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.
As a cultural studies scholar, I am interested in how that culture—as expressed through discourse and popular narratives—does the work of power. Many disciplinary practices of the activist culture succeed in curbing oppressive behaviors. Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.
In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway.
On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas, I still believe that the event was a critical win for the left and should not be written off so easily as it has been by some in my community.
Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.
I am also concerned about who controls the language of social justice, as I see it wielded as a weapon against community members who don’t have access to this rapidly evolving lexicon. Terms like “oppression,” “tone policing,” “emotional labor,” “diversity,” and “allyship” are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of minoritized people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude.
Furthermore, most social justice 101 articles I see online are prescriptive checklists. Although these can be useful resources for someone who has little familiarity with these issues, I worry that this model of education contributes to the false idea that we have only one way to think about, talk about, and ultimately, do activism. I think that movements are able to fully breathe only when there is a plurality of tactics, and to some extent, of ideologies.
I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society. Rather than wallowing in critique or walking away from this work, I choose a third option—that we as a community slow down, acknowledge this pattern and develop an ethics of activism as a response.
I believe it’s sorely needed as we struggle to mobilize in a chaotic and unjust world.
What might an ethics of activism look like?
Knowing when to be hard and when to be soft
I believe that when confronting unjust situations and unjust people, sometimes hardness is necessary, and other times softness is appropriate. Gaining the discernment to know when to use each is a task for a lifetime. I have often seen a burning anger at the core of activism, especially for newer activists. Anger can be righteous, and it often is when stemming from marginalized peoples weary of being mistreated. And yet, I want to use my anger as a tool for reaching the deeper, healing powers I possess when carving out a path of sustainable activism. Black social justice facilitator and doula adrienne maree brown writes of her oppressors, “What if what’s needed isn’t sexy, intimidating or violent? What if what is needed is forgiveness?” I’ve spent a good deal of energy exercising my ability to speak truth to power and boldly naming my enemies. Perhaps it is time to massage my heart so that I can choose to be soft toward someone in community who is hurting me, and open up the possibility of mutual transformation.
Adopting a politics of imperfection and responsibility
I have been mulling over sociologist Alexis Shotwell’s call for the left to adopt a “politics of imperfection and responsibility” as one way to move forward toward action and away from purity. A politics of imperfection asks me to openly acknowledge the ways in which my family and I have benefited and continue to benefit from oppressive systems such as slavery, capitalism, and settler colonialism. This is an ongoing investigation into my own complicity. I am a Chinese American with immigrant parents, and my family has built economic stability by buying into the model minority myth, which is based largely in anti-blackness. As uninvited guests and visitors to this part of the world, we have claimed our new home on lands stolen from indigenous peoples. A politics of responsibility means that as I am complicit in harmful systems, I also possess full agency to do good. This allows me to commit to dismantling these systems and embracing centuries-long legacies of resistance. It means I am accountable in community spaces and do not destroy myself when others call me out on my errors. It means I practice a generosity of spirit and forgiveness towards myself and others. To do all this, I must publicly claim both imperfection and personal responsibility as an activist.
Tapping into our shared humanity
Marginalized people ask that privileged people look at them and see a human being, not a lesser-than being. Oppressive systems operate by systemically dehumanizing some groups for the benefit of others. On the flip side, I believe people with privilege are dehumanized when internalizing their societal supremacy over others. For example, the ethnographic studies that have been conducted to explain the election of Donald Trump have revealed the mass identity crisis in white America. We have seen poor and working class white Americans denounce people of color and diversity efforts because, sadly, they perceive them as threats to their historically established power and access. Rather than base cultural identities solely on power, could we tap into what we all have in common: our humanity, no matter how trampled it is? Black public theologianChristena Cleveland practices envisioning the humanity in those who challenge and attack her. According to her, training herself to cultivate love for her enemies makes it more effective for her to communicate and speak her truth into their hearts. She is as concerned about her well-being as she is about transforming antagonistic people in her life into “liberated oppressors.” Black elder activist Ruby Sales firmly tells her oppressors, with unyielding love in her voice: “You can’t make me hate you.”
These are suggestions that have aided me in navigating toxic social justice environments. In testing them out, I try to stay open to new tactics while understanding that I must remain flexible and responsive to the variable stages of justice work. If we as activists do not feel safe in our experimental microcosms of justice and liberation, what can we attempt to replicate across larger society?
Our embrace of awful grammar's why we fall for foreign spammers, scammers whose unfluent clamors we'd have scoffed at heretofore ...
Our embrace of awful grammar's why we fall for foreign spammers, scammers whose unfluent clamors we'd have scoffed at heretofore, Tiva Quinn writes.
Right "wallowed in cloying sentimentality and curdled resentment", "sour, whiney, complaining, crybaby populism"
George Will contrasts the legacies of Buckley and his friend Chambers
Since the 1970s, the non-political media has taught us that everyone is essentially a consumer, not a producer or a citizen; men and masculinity are silly, and women are super-competent. The 80s added safety-mania to this mix. And that children (the ultimate consumers) are superior to adults and nothing's more important than focusing on children, no matter how excessively nor what else we sacrifice for what kids supposedly need or want.
This article by Carrie Gress reminds us how such ideas spread, and how often we need to notice and resist them, instead of passively absorbing them from sources that we don't think are selling ideology. That's extremely important even though I don't necessarily agree with most of her perspectives on such issues.
Also, this process happens even when there's no top-down conspiracy to spread ideas -- advertisers and entertainment producers use these common themes because they want to be fashionable, soft-newsworthy, and "relevant", to flatter their target audience, and not to shock or alienate them (except for faux-shocking that's actually conformist).
Of course it can be intentional and coordinated, like the Clinton administration's stealth attack on Congressional "economic extremists" via the women's magazines, supposedly non-political because they were reporting on threats to government spending programs that they pretended were non-political. This at a time when the administration felt too weak to attack the new Republican majority in Washington or in the political media, but they instead laid the groundwork for the lasting unpopularity of fiscal conservatism. Even while flattering Gingrich that he had won and that "the era of big government is over."
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:
- I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
- Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .
Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)
- On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. Buton the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
- All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
- If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
Letter in Tribune
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:
Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the-ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.
Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus exmachina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.* The jargon peculiar to
*An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.
Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in
† Example: Comfort's catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull's-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation." (Poetry Quarterly)
the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word likedemocracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse fromEcclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to sayI think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population orrectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he "felt impelled" to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: "[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe." You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un-formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases
*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.
and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.
To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.
Left & right should read Christopher Lasch to see where they, & their opponents, went wrong & got us here
By JAMES SHANAHAN, on THE CONVERSATION and SALON.COM
Leftists master the game of long-term policy change, tacking against strong headwinds. Can libertarians or conservatives do it?
Whatever you think about the merits of the issues, you've got to admire gun controllers' and other social-change movements' strategy and tactics, but also recognize their dishonesty -- their eternal cycle or ratchet between "This legislation merely imposes slight restrictions that hardly inconvenience any reasonable person, we would never try to take away your rights", and "That legislation has failed to seriously reduce the underlying problem and it's time to just ban everything" -- as Daniel Payne does in "Gun Controllers Know Their Policies Won’t Stop Murder. They’re Playing A Different Game", at The Federalist:
... If their proposed remedies would be so obviously and demonstrably unlikely to solve the very problems they claim to intend to solve, then why do gun controllers keep advocating these ridiculous and counterintuitive laws?
The answer is not hard to see. Gun control advocates, like most political actors, are pragmatic and practical. They understand that certain legislative goals and ambitions must play out over a period of time rather than in a political instant. You can see this type of long-game strategy in, say, the American health-care debate: after seven years of Obamacare, Democrats are increasingly pursuing single-payer, something that was much less feasible before the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, Sen. Harry Reid has explicitly stated that Obamacare is intended solely to be “a step in the right direction” towards single-payer, nothing more.
So it is with gun control: liberals propose these useless laws and regulations not in an attempt to honestly curb gun violence but rather in a long-form attempt to pass other laws down the road. It will be much easier to ban large classes of semiautomatic rifles, after all, after five or ten years of banning scary-looking AR-style “assault weapons.” It will be far easier, too, to sharply restrict firearm purchases after a decade of regulating ammunition sales, the latter of which will soon begin in California.
This doesn’t have to be some grand conspiracy theory or dark, shadowy intrigue. Gun controllers are not stupid. They understand long-form political action as well as anyone. They do not like guns and they are more than patient enough to play the drawn-out politics necessary to curtail American gun rights.
... To be fair, I get it: if the situation were reversed, and I were starting from a legal position in which gun rights were severely restricted in this country, I would play the same game if necessary. It’s the smart thing to do.