June 18, 2014

Intentionalism, redux: Redskins and textualism

“Trademark board rules against Washington Redskins name”:

The U.S. Patent Office has ruled the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s federal trademarks for the name must be canceled.

The ruling announced Wednesday comes after a campaign to change the name has gained momentum over the past year.

The decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is similar to one it issued in 1999. That ruling was overturned in 2003 in large part on a technicality because the courts decided that the plaintiffs were too old.

The new case was launched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans. A hearing was held in March 2013.

Just like last time, the Redskins can retain their trademark protection during an appeal.

This is, of course, not about the “disparaging of Native Americans.”  It is about governmental power and the ascension of “authentic” ethnic voices, which it turns out are those who (conveniently!) back the position of the PC adepts within government.

Political correctness is a tool to coerce rhetorical conformity and to chill speech.  It is an attempt to sanction what “free speech” comes to count as legitimate and what does not — in essence, creating a kind of governmental sanction for what can and cannot be construed as free speech in the first place.  As such, it is anti-First Amendment.

That being said — and it’s all important, as is the backdoor use of the Patent office to force a change in the name, should the NFL wish to continue to build revenue off of the DC team — what I want to speak to here, yet again, is the importance of adopting and defending an intentionalist stance toward language.

It has been well-documented by now that the name “Redskins” — in addition to being a common descriptor of native Americans among themselves — was, in the case of the Redskins football team, bestowed as an honorarium by the team’s founder on a native American friend.  That is, the intent of the name was to honor and celebrate.  Meaning, the only “disparaging of Native Americans” that can be derived from the name comes after the fact, and is a result of an attempt to map onto the signifier a different referent, one that turns the term from its intended honorarium into some sort of slight.

I’ve written before that, in practical contemporary terms — that is, using context and historicity and all the things post structuralists insist trump intention — even there does this attack on the Redskins name fail:   by their own (mis)use of signification, these critics of the name know that the contemporary referent is “a DC professional football team” and not any specific native American (for instance, the one for whom the team took its name; or any contemporary native American; or the state of Oklahoma).  So even using their own incoherent view of language, the contention that the name is objectively “disparaging” is absurd on its face.

Instead, the argument goes that — regardless of how the name came to be, or the intent behind it (celebratory, honorary) — the fact that others today can take offense to what wasn’t intended, and can do so “reasonably” because they lay claim to the heritage that was initially honored, gives them the right of control over the sign / iconography which isn’t theirs to lay claim to unless you believe that those who purport to speak for all native Americans get to determine the meaning of another’s signs, which as we know are already clearly articulated and historical documented, and don’t jibe with this new “meaning” being mapped upon the signifier by those engaging in a pure power play.

Assault on language by allowing for the adoption of incoherent “textualism” is NOT fundamentally unserious.  And those on the right who fought me on this point, then worked to silence me because I called them out for being unwitting dupes and enablers of a kind of linguistic authoritarianism, should at this point be hanging their heads in shame.

For years I found this argument so important to the protection of individual sovereignty from a consensus or “mob” rule — pleasantly recast by the left as the “democratization” of meaning — that I was willing to take on all comers, from both sides of the political aisle, in order to try to instill in them just how crucial it is that we do not surrender the actual dynamic of the speech act, which is this:  in a second-order system of communication, intent determines meaning, because it is intent that turns the signifier, itself always just potential and available in many forms as part of the prevailing code and conventional usages, into a sign — the squiggle or sound form of the code coupled to its referent.

To go back a bit in this site’s history, there is no “subconscious racism” in the name Redskins, no matter what any number of “reasonable people” may agree upon, and no matter what any reader poll (consensus interpretive community’s theft of a sign’s fixed meaning) might decide.

All there is is a usurpation of meaning by a motivated set of “interpreters” who aren’t interpreting at all; instead, they are adding their own intent to the signifier and insisting we all accept their OUTRAGED reading as the sign under question.  It isn’t.  And to give it up is to surrender to a view of language crucial to the left’s move to rob us of individual sovereignty — our own attempt to mean — and replace that with group political narrative as the locus of meaning.   That is, meaning as a function of collectivism.

If you can’t at this point see the correlation, or your pride and HONOR is so thick that you pretend this can be ignored, then you aren’t at all interested in the fundamental principles upon which this country is based.  Instead, you are a superficial, right-leaning policy wonk and “pragmatist” whose institutionalized beliefs will, over time, aid in the political slide leftward, through concessions small and large.

That’s a fact.  And it’s time you came to terms with it.

Now, I’d be happy to have a larger forum to impress upon the lawyerly right — those who rely on the ability to rewrite meaning in order to pursue certain legal strategies — that they may be winning the specific battles even as they lose us the war, but this is unlikely to happen.  Which is, if I may say so myself, a fucking shame.

I hope the extra hits and the ego boost was worth it.

And yeah, go on and give this a RT if you think it’s worth noting yet again.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 9:11am

Comments (47)

  1. If I’m Dan Snyder, I call a press conference and I make the following statement:

    “OK, I have seen the light and I have decided to change the name of the Washington Redskins in such a way as to remove the foul, belligerent, disgraceful connotations which it invokes. I have decided to make the name more truly representative of the teams place in today’s society. From today forward, this franchise shall be known as the Landover Redskins. Official Landover Redskins merchandise will be available for sale at our website.”

    Then I drop the mic and walk off, swatting RG III on the ass on my way out.

  2. Have we any right to wonder whether the arguments the 6 plaintiffs, young race-purists, use to bring their complaint derive from ancient tribal tradition, unfolding rationally, one logical step after another, faithfully — manifestly! — representing that tribal cosmology, extending to a tribal theory of speech production and agency?

    Nah. That wouldn’t be proper.

  3. Hail to the Red Inks
    Hail victory
    Spendthrifts on the warpath
    Fight for old D.C.!

  4. On the plus side, because I choose this particular blog over the “serious” ones, I’m surprised by this kind of stuff.

    But, you know, I like being an adult, which is apparently also weird these days…

  5. “Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

    “The writing is on the wall,” he added. “It’s on the wall in neon, blinking lights. The name will change.”

    Reid has said previously he will not attend home games until the team changes its name.

    So if we change the name of the Senate to Redskins, does that mean dingy Harry will stay home?

  6. I second steph’s motion. All in favor?

  7. I just wish Danny Boy would realize that he has reached the point..where..as POTUS has been know to suggest …”he has made enough money”, trade off all his players for wampum, and shut the franchise down. How sweet would it be for us life long fans of this ever-rebuilding team to suddenly have our autumnal Sunday afternoons blessedly free of frustration? Then if by chance I craved a fix for some reminder of the Washington Redskins glory days, I could simply score it from checking John Riggins’ twitter feed:

  8. The decision means that the team can continue to use the Redskins name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to its use. If others printed the name on sweatshirts, apparel, or other team material, it becomes more difficult to go after groups who use it without permission.

    One has to wonder if this wasn’t the goal of such legal tactics in the first place — taking away any chance of protection of the income from selling jerseys, sweatshirts, ballcaps, et alia. It would be interesting to see if the Indian groups behind such moves will go after the other such groups that use names related to minority groups — e.g., Vikings, Cowboys, Texans, Chiefs…

    Or sporting groups that use identical names but without such a lucrative income stream — e.g., this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sports_team_names_and_mascots_derived_from_indigenous_peoples#High_schools

  9. Another day, another abuse and usurpation.

  10. no one involved in this gives a shit about indians

    it’s just another opportunity to accustom people to the new reality that in neo-fascist america, people are ruled by state decree, not by rule of law, and they better fucking get used to it

    i suspect Indians are already ahead of the game in this respect

  11. And how.

  12. Chemosabe.

  13. Fer damn sure Ganesh wouldn’t be copasetic with this nasty money-grab.

  14. native americans i mean i guess

    some of them built mounds

    they were mound-building peoples

    and if there’s nothing more american than building a goddamn mound i’d like to know what

  15. It’s just the other Indians might complain about being associated with a bunch of freaking primitive savages, is all.

  16. The mound builders invented baseball.

  17. This Gausman kid is turning out to be pretty good on that score.

  18. Up next, Oklahoma will now be renamed Flats, because referring to “red people” is hate. This goes for any musicals, too.

    Choctaws hardest hit. Again.

  19. Has anyone ever surveyed the red men? Not the ones like Elizabeth Warren or my wife but, say the folks who live on reservations or have some kind of “registration”. It would be interesting.

    I know that there was pressure to change the University of North Dakota Fight Sioux but, the local Sioux themselves insisted the name stay unchanged.

  20. here is an article about the pollings Mr. bear

    big chiefs no wantum pollings

  21. pollings steal your soul, you understand

  22. Ugh

    when did you learn to speak indian Mr. McGehee?

  23. Hoots are not given about this in the Cherokee Nation.

    These Oneida Indians (they of the cheap flatware town) don’t even meet the standard of Indian by their own Tribe’s measure. They speak with forked tongue on this issue.

    I bet they walk on their heels like real city Indians.

  24. Stereotyping Native Americans as professional athletes is cruel.

  25. Some of them Injuns is speedy. Jim Thorpe was one.

  26. The “Dances With Credit Cards” tribe.

  27. when did you learn to speak indian Mr. McGehee?

    I learned it from Irony Eyes Cody.

  28. Oneida, fork tongue, I see what you did there. . .

    The Nez Perce tribe still goes by that French name and I bet few have a pierced nose today. Seems derogatory.

  29. Heh.

  30. book burning news

    Feminazism After All

  31. A leader of the Navajo Code Talkers who appeared at a Washington Redskins home football game said Wednesday the team name is a symbol of loyalty and courage — not a slur as asserted by critics who want it changed.

    What does he know, dumb jarhead.

    Racisss team dares post pictures of these self-loathing Navajos.

  32. Isn’t what was done to the Redskin’s owner a Bill Of Attainder in spirit?

    From Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition:

    Bills of attainder. Such special acts of the legislature as inflict capital punishments upon persons supposed to be guilty of high offenses, such as treason and felony, without any conviction in the ordinary course of judicial proceedings. If an act inflicts a milder degree of punishment than death, it is called a “bill of pains and penalties,” but both are included in the prohibition in the Constitution.

  33. But if the legislature doesn’t act, per se, and it’s all handled by some random bureau under the Executive branch, it’s all cool!

  34. Politically “offensive” people may be deemed not able to enjoy the maintenance of long established IP protections because reasons.

    Yeah I can’t see much in the way of blowback from this.

  35. If it was me, I’d fire everybody and burn down the stadium and call it a monument to the power of Obama, rot, stupidity, and assholes.

  36. Don’t forget salting the earth, Palaeo.

  37. Isn’t what was done to the Redskin’s owner a Bill Of Attainder in spirit?

    No, that was Donald Sterling. In clear violation of both his First Amendment rights, California law, and the NBA’s own charter, he had his property forcibly taken away and sold to someone else. The Redskins are merely being told to change their name, on pain of Congressional legislation.

    That isn’t a Bill of Attainder, that’s a violation of Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242 (Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law). But he would have to file a complaint with the FBI, and unless Snyder is one of Holder’s “peeps”, that wouldn’t go anywhere.

  38. *** “There’s no trademark anymore for the Redskins,” Reid said in a Senate floor speech. “Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time before he is forced to do the right thing and change then name.” ***

    So there is no bill of attainder, of course. But let’s look and see what “. . . just a matter of time before he is forced to do . . .” means.

    What can force, or who can force, and in what manner?

    A thief on the street can put a gun to someone’s head and demand (force) the hand-over of the victim’s wallet. There’s the illegal manner.

    The government can force persons under its jurisdiction or control to hand over tax, either with the mere threat of physical coercion or the use of it. There’s the legal manner.

    Ah, but the legal manner must have a law.

    It’s the legal manner that is the problem.

    Sen. Reid makes these proclamations from the floor of the Senate. The place where laws are (in part) made. We wouldn’t think he believes the illegal manner is the manner of choice. So what’s left?

  39. Se. Reid knows that Sen. Warren is mightily offended and is just expressing her speechless rage for her.

  40. Greetings:

    I’m pulling for a change to “Injuns”. Honest.

  41. Washington = Power

    Power = Engines

  42. “Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time before he is forced to do the right thing and change then name.”

    Thus spake the clerisy.

  43. Hannah Arendt, I think, mentioned somewhere the Athenians’ insistence on a formal pretense of persuasion with those they convicted of capital crimes, a persuasion in keeping with their adherence to a democratic operation in government: “We talk it over in public and then agree”.

    “Here, Socrates, agree to take your cup of hemlock on your own volition. Let us keep to our ways.”

  44. O’Brien and the Party insisted on much the same.

  45. If I were Snyder I’d move the team and change the name to the Los Angeles Reconquistadores.

  46. How about the Washington Thieving Salty Feckless Sharia Compliant Fascismos ?