Intentionalism, redux: Redskins and textualism
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.