On pretend common sense and consistent misunderstanding: an OUTLAW rebuttal
Ever more typical of Patterico, in his latest in a series of neverending posts and hypotheticals, he now characterizes my linguistic “approach” thusly:
I stand by my position that Jeff is wrong as a matter of his approach. We need not walk on eggshells to avoid offending those who will take offense no matter what we say. But we canâ€™t use that as an excuse to say to hell with everyone who isnâ€™t already rabidly committed to our side.
Then he doesn’t allow comments. Which, I guess that’s one way to try to get the last word.
Unfortunately for Pat, what he describes is not my approach, as anybody who understands my argument knows (I’ve maintained Pat doesn’t; this seems to prove it.). Not playing the left’s game doesn’t give us license to say whatever we want whenever we want in whatever way we want. Or rather, it does, but we can’t expect to do so without there being consequences. Knowing your audience and using media savvy is certainly one part of the rhetorical equation. But we can do that without conceding anything to faulty understandings of how language works — and how language works is a lesson we should be actively seeking to disseminate. Because regardless of how careful we are (revisit Bennett), or regardless of what we are acknowledged to actually mean (revisit Snow, who evidently was using “code words,” as professor Dyson, borrowing from a couple of Stanley Fish pieces that are nearly two decades old, seems to think is the only way conservatives can speak), so long as processes that aren’t interpretation are allowed to masquerade as interpretation, there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves against the linguistic attacks from the left.
It is a losing battle — and one we should expressly refuse to fight.
Rush Limbaugh’s statements — which prompted the left to take him out of context (he invited that, so he was aware that they almost certainly would) and prompted some “realists” on the right to quake in fear of how the “moderates” would react to that intentional, re-contextualized mis-characterization of Limbaugh’s argument (and he made an argument, not just offered up four words in a vacuum), resulting in strained pleadings about how we need to be more “precise” in what we say — perhaps achieved exactly what he hoped they’d achieve, which would suggest that he was as “precise” as he wanted to be, the result of which was to bait the media, the left, the White House, and the McCainian pragmatists on the right out into the open, where they could be shown either as opportunists or linguistic cowards.
They have prompted a debate about how conservatives should be operating in a political climate now completely controlled by Democrats.
I happen to think that a good thing. And what I’ve learned from my verbal engagements over the last few weeks is that there are conservatives who seem far more concerned with rehabilitating bad arguments and protecting their place within the GOP’s good graces than they are with fighting back against a corrupt press and an incoherent view of language that has allowed progressives to take control of the rhetorical battlefield, the result being to put conservatives always on the defensive, or to demonize them in advance, rendering their subsequent statements illegitimate or in some way tainted, knowingly or by some sort of magical ontological inscribing by the “code words” that bespeak their overt, hidden, or unconscious hate.
Patterico doesn’t agree with my approach because he has never truly understood it. And even as some people want to take me to task for being an impotent whiner who does nothing to help conservatism (whereas writing a largely unread manifesto is the height of activism, I guess), I’ll continue to fight the battle on this front, because to me, it is the foundation on which all battles are fought — and without a retaking of that battlefield, the skirmishes that break out on the terrain won’t much matter. Because in the long run, the objective of the left is simply to push us all into the sea.
The lines have been drawn clearly: I say as conservatives we use our idealism pragmatically, as a weapon against a political establishment that on both sides cares only about power. Others say we need to “play the game” — that we can’t win elections unless we woo the moderate middle, and we can’t do that unless we are very careful to make sure we cannot be portrayed as unintelligent, godbothering mouthbreathers and haters of all that is good and right and “elegant.”
I believe it’s been a mistake to embrace the latter strategy. And so I have rejected it, in the process, hoping to elucidate why it is a losing battle for conservatives: even when we “win,” we lose; and as McCain tells us to leave Geithner alone, I think it is clear to anyone who reveres the principles of classical liberalism that the GOP, in its current formulation, hasn’t a whole lot to offer us other than form letters begging for money.
So I fight — not with manifestos or calls to arms — but rather with essays and posts that I hope make it clear what is at stake if we choose to embrace the left’s linguistic assumptions as if they were an unmovable force of nature rather than a dishonest and calculated attempt to undermine the grounds for communication, reason, and meaning, with the end result being “right” determined by “might.”
This is not the America the founders envisioned, and it not one I wish to live in. So I’ll continue to make my argument, and if it gains purchase, I’ll have done what I can.
If it doesn’t? Well, I still will have done what I can. Which, while some may find it “trivial,” is in my estimation anything but.