There are vows, oaths, and solemn promises the breaking of which can be costly. There are Nixonian and Clintonian lies and cover-ups that exact a high price in the end. There are verbal assaults that bring reprisals that don't always remain verbal. And there are other sorts of 'fighting words' and incendiary speech.
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals might want to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government. Certain scumbags of the Left love to slander us by saying that we are anti-government. It is a lie and they know it. They are not so stupid as not to know that to be for limited government is to be for government.
There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronald Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.
From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the governing) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).
The AP [Associated Press] Stylebook has opened a new chapter on the non-"offensive" Engllsh-language lexicon to parse the war on the world waged by Islam. The wire service bible (can I say that?) has decreed that "Islamist" is out as a "a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals."
Well, if you are 'Islamophobic,' then, given that a phobia is an irrational fear, you have an irrational fear of Islam or of certain Muslims. Is that really what you want to say? Do you really want to announce to the world that you are proud to have a phobia? I should think that fear of radical Islam and of those who promote radical Islam, whether Muslims or non-Muslim leftists, is entirely rational.
But I know what you mean. My suggestion is that you say what you mean.
'Islamophobic,' like 'homophobic,' is a coinage of liberals/leftists. It is their word. It is foolish for a conservative to use it. If you are a conservative, why are you talking like a liberal? Why are you allowing them to frame the debate in terms they have invented for their own advantage? Is that not foolish? You should insist on standard, ideologically-neutral language.
Compare 'social justice.' That is leftist code. Why then does Bill O'Reilly use it? Because, like too many conservatives, he is not good at properly articulating and properly defending conservative positions.
Liberals, whose love of political correctness gets the better of their intellects, typically object to the phrase 'illegal alien.' But why? Are these people not in our country illegally, as the result of breaking laws? And are they not aliens, people from another country?
"But you are labelling them!" Yes, of course. Label we must if we are not to lose our minds entirely. 'Feral cat' is a label. Do you propose that we not distinguish between feral and non-feral cats? Do you distinguish between the positive and the negative terminals on your car battery? You'd better! But 'positive terminal' and 'negative terminal' are labels.
Label we must. There is no getting around it if we are to think at all. There is a political outfit that calls itself 'No Labels.' But that too is a label. Those who eschew all labels label themselves 'idiots.'
Related to this is the injunction, 'Never generalize!' which is itself a generalization. Label we must and generalize we must. Making distinctions and labelling them, and constructing sound generalizations on their basis are activities essential to, thought not exhaustive of, the life of the intellect.
Liberals also object to 'illegal immigrant.' In fact, the AP has banned the phrase. But given that there are both legal and illegal immigrants, 'illegal immigrant' is a useful label. There is nothing derogatory about it. It is a descriptive term like 'hypertensive' or 'diabetic.'
One consideration adduced at the AP site is that actions are illegal, not persons. But suppose your doctor tells you that you are diabetic, and you protest, "Doc, not only are you labelling me, you are forgetting that diabetes is a medical condition and that no person is a medical condition." The good doctor would then have to explain that a diabetic is a person who has diabetes. Similarly, an illegal immigrant is one who is in the country illegally. There is the act of illegally crossing the border, but there is also the state of being here illegally.
Plain talk is an excellent antidote to liberal nonsense. When a liberal or a leftist misuses a word in an intellectually dishonest attempt at forwarding his agenda, a right-thinking person ought to protest. Whether you protest or not, you must not acquiesce in their pernicious misuse of language. Or, as I have said more than once in these pages,
If you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal!
Bear in mind that many of the battles of the culture war are fought, won, and lost on linguistic ground. If we let our opponents destroy the common language in which alone reasonable debate can be conducted, then much more is lost than these particular debates. The liberal-left misuse of language is fueled by their determination to win politically at all costs and by any means, including linguistic hijacking.
When I encountered 'transpicuous' for the first time today, I thought the writer was either neologizing by combining 'transparent' and 'conspicuous,' or else just confused. But the word, though rare, has been in the English language since the 17th century.
Will liberals call for oven control? Or perhaps demand that ovens come with warning labels: Do not store ammunition in ovens! Or perhaps: Remove all ammo, fuels, cats and babies before preheating!
Is there anything so stupid that some liberal won't jump to embrace it?
That last sentence is an example of a rhetorical question, which I define as follows. A rhetorical question is an interrogative form of words utterance of which is used to make a statement or issue a command. For example, suppose you are the father of a teenage daughter. It gets back to you that she was texting while driving. You utter this grammatically interrogative sentence: 'Do you have to text while you drive?' You are not, logically, asking a question or making a statement. You are, logically, issuing a command: Do not text while driving! Depending on the proclivities of the lass you might add: And do not 'sext' while driving!
'Is there anything so stupid that some liberal won't jump to embrace it?' is grammatically interrogative but logically declarative.
Addendum (26 February): Steven comments, "I have my doubts about "crap" meaning "anything." I think it means "nothing", but appears in acceptable double-negative propositions which, because of widespread colloquial usage. The evidence I bring forth is the following. "You've done shit to help us" means "You've done nothing to help us," not "You've done anything to help us."
BV: I see the point and it is plausible. But this is also heard: 'You haven't done shit to help us.' I take that as evidence that 'shit' can be used to mean 'anything.' Steven would read the example as a double-negative construction in which 'shit' means 'nothing.' I see no way to decide between my reading and his.
Either way, it is curious that there are quantificational uses of 'shit,' 'crap,' etc!
A Fox News anchor's reportage from earlier today betrays presumably inadvertent bias. The anchor said that Pope Benedict XVI is "a conservative not in favor of many reforms." A reform is not merely a change, but an improvement. The Wikipedia article gets it right: "Reform means the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc."
"A conservative not in favor of reforms" therefore implies that conservatives are not in favor of the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc. And to describe the current pontiff using the phrase in question is to imply that he is not in favor of improvement or amendment of what needs improving or amending.
The Fox News anchor could have avoided the biased formulation by reporting what is true in neutral language, e.g., "The Pope, being a conservative, is skeptical of changes." Or something like that.
Conservatives tend to resist change. That is not to say that conservatives are opposed to what they take to be ameliorative changes. For a conservative, there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs and practices. Note the adjective 'defeasible.' Liberals, being more open to change, lack this presumption in favor of the traditional.
The paragraph I just wrote is an example of neutral writing. It does not take sides; it merely reports a salient difference between conservatives and liberals.
As I have said many times, language matters. It is particularly important that conservatives not adopt the slovenly speech habits of liberals. Much of liberal-left phraseology is rigged to beg questions and shut down debate. That is exactly the purpose of such coinages as 'homophobe' and 'Islamophobe.' To call a person who argues that radical Islam is a serious threat to the West and its values an 'Islamaphobe,' for example, is to deflect attention from the objective content of his utterances so as to focus it on his mental state. Since a phobia is an irrational fear by definition, calling someone an Islamophobe is a way of refusing to engage the content of his utterances. It is a form of the genetic fallacy.
If you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal!
For example, why do conservatives like O'Reilly and Hannity and Giuliani and a score more play the liberal game and speak of 'assault weapons'? Can't they see that it is an emotive phrase used by the Left -- the positions of which are mainly emotion-driven -- to appeal to fear and make calm discussion impossible?
Note the difference between 'semi-automatic long gun' and 'assault weapon.' Suppose you did a poll and asked whether ordinary citizen should be permitted to own assault weapons. I am quite sure that you would find that the number answering in the negative would be greater than if you framed the question correctly and non-emotively as "Do you think ordinary citizens should be permitted to own semi-automatic long guns?"
And why does Bill O'Reilly say things like,"Obama is for social justice? 'Social justice' is lefty-talk. it sounds good, but if the folks knew what it meant they would oppose it. See What is Social Justice?
It is the foolish conservative who acquiesces in the slovenly and question-begging speech patterns of liberals.
Language matters, but so does accurate quotation. I thank the illustrious Mr. Lull for his contributions to the high level of quality control here at MavPhil.
William Safire came up with a list of what he called "fumblerules." "A fumblerule contains an example contrary to the advice it gives . . . ."* Among them is "Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague."** I think that that fumblerule's what Mr Hitchens misquoted.
===== * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fumblerules **Mr Safire's fumblerules are widely quoted on the web. I checked on this particular one in his book Fumblerules : a lighthearted guide to grammar and good usage (New York : Doubleday, 1990), page , and I've quoted it as it appears there.
From: William F Vallicella
To: Dave Lull
Sent: Monday, February 11, 2013 1:27 PM Subject: Safire Quotation
I recently quoted William Safire as having written, "Avoid stock expressions like the plague." I think I got this quotation form Hitchens' final book. Since I object to the passing off of bogus quotations, can you tell me where Safire wrote the above, if he did?
My tendency has long been to use 'reification' and 'hypostatization' interchangeably. But a remark by E. J. Lowe has caused me to see the error of my ways. He writes, "Reification is not the same as hypostatisation, but is merely the acknowledgement of some putative entity's real existence." ("Essence and Ontology," in Novak et al. eds, Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Analytic, Scholastic, Ontos Verlag, 2012, p. 95) I agree with the first half of Lowe's sentence, but not the second.
Lowe's is a good distinction and I take it on board. I will explain it in my own way. Something can be real without being a substance, without being an entity logically capable of independent existence. An accident, for example, is real but is not a substance. 'Real' from L. res, rei. Same goes for the form of a hylomorphic compound. A statue is a substance but its form, though real, is not. The smile on a face and the bulge in a carpet are both real but incapable of independent existence. So reification is not the same as hypostatization. To consider or treat x as real is not thereby to consider or treat x as a substance.
Lowe seems to ignore that 'reification' and 'hypostatization' name logico-philosophical fallacies, where a fallacy is a typical mistake in reasoning, one that occurs often enough and is seductive enough to be given a label. On this point I diverge from him. For me, reification is the illict imputation of ontological status to something that does not have such status. For example, to treat 'nothing' as a name for something is to reify nothing. If I say that nothing is in the drawer I am not naming something that is in the drawer. Nothing is precisely no thing. As I see it, reification is not acknowledgment of real existence, but an illict imputation of real existence to something that lacks it. I do not reify the bulge in a carpet when I acknowledge its reality.
Or consider the internal relation being the same color as. If two balls are (the same shade of) red, then they stand in this relation to each other. But this relation is an "ontological free lunch" not "an addition to being" to borrow some phaseology from David Armstrong. Internal relations have no ontological status. They reduce to their monadic foundations. The putatively relational fact Rab reduces to the conjunction of two monadic facts: Fa & Fb. To bring it about that two balls are the same color as each other it suffices that I paint them both red (or blue, etc.) I needn't do anything else. If this is right, then to treat internal relations as real is to commit the fallacy of reification. Presumably someone who reifies internal relations will not be tempted to hypostatize them.
To treat external relations as real, however, is not to reify them. On my use of terms, one cannot reify what is already real, any more than one can politicize what is already political. To bring it about that two red balls are two feet from each other, it does not suffice that I create two red balls: I must place them two feet from each other. The relation of being two feet from is therefore real, though presumably not a substance.
To hypostatize is is to treat as a substance what is not a substance. So the relation I just mentioned would be hypostatized were one to consider it as an entity capable of existing even if it didn't relate anything. Liberals who blame society for crime are often guilty of the fallacy of hypostatization. Society, though real, is not a substance, let alone an agent to which blame can be imputed.
If I am right then this is mistaken:
First, I have given good reasons for distinguishing the two terms. Second, the mistake of treating what is abstract as material is not the same as reification or hypostatization. For example, if someone were to regard the null set as a material thing, he would be making a mistake, but he would not be reifying or hypostatizing the the null set unless there were no null set.
Or consider the proposition expressed by 'Snow is white' and 'Schnee ist weiss.' This proposition is an abstact object. If one were to regardit as a material thing one would be making a mistake, but one would not be reifying it because it is already real. Nor would one be hypostatizing it since (arguably) it exists independently.
Whenever I speak of liberals sans phrase I mean contemporary liberals. But contemporary liberals are leftists, so perhaps I should drop 'liberal' and use 'leftist.' As Roger Kimball remarks,
Usage note: attentive readers will register the fact that I say “leftists,” not “liberals.” Conservatives, I know, often speak about the depredations and bad behavior of “liberals.” But it has been a long time since the people whom we have called liberals were interested in freedom or liberty. What they are interested in, on the contrary, is pursuing the illiberal agenda of control.
In the same short piece Kimball compares the Tractarian Wittgenstein with the politically correct: "Wittgenstein sought to exclude the whole realm of ethics and metaphysics from the kingdom of speech; our politically correct leftists wish to exclude anything that doesn’t conform to their political agenda."
1. Is anybody against gun control? Not that I am aware of. Everybody wants there to be some laws regulating the manufacture, sale, importation, transportation, use, etc., of guns. So why do liberals routinely characterize conservatives as against gun control? Because they are mendacious. It is for the same reason that they label conservatives as anti-government. Conservatives stand for limited government, whence it follows that that are for government. A simple inference that even a liberal should be able to process. So why do liberals call conservatives anti-government? Because they are mendacious: they are not interested in civil debate, but in winning at all costs by any means. With respect to both government and gun control, the question is not whether but how much.
2. Terminology matters. 'Magazine' is the correct term for what is popularly called a clip. Don't refer to a round as a bullet. The bullet is the projectile. Avoid emotive phraseology if you are interested in serious discussion. 'Assault weapon' has no clear meaning and is emotive to boot. Do you mean semi-automatic long gun? Then say that. Don't confuse 'semi-automatic' with 'fully automatic.' Bone up on the terminology if you want to be taken seriously.
3. Gun lobbies benefit gun manufacturers. No doubt. But they also defend the Second Amendment rights of citizens, all citizens. Be fair. Don't adduce the first fact while ignoring the second. And don't call the NRA a special interest group. A group that defends free speech may benefit the pornography industry, but that is not to say that the right to free speech is not a right for all. Every citizen has an actual or potential interest in self-defense and the means thereto. It's a general interest. A liberal who has no interest in self-defense and the means thereto is simply a liberal who has yet to be mugged or raped or had her home invaded. Such a liberal's interest is yet potential.
4. Question for liberals: what is your plan in case of a home invasion? Call 9-1-1? What is your plan in case of a fire? Call the Fire Department? Not a bad thought. But before they arrive it would help to have a home fire extinguisher at the ready. Ergo, etc.
5. The president and Congress are fiddling while Rome burns. Compared to the fiscal crisis, the gun issue is a non-issue. That really ought to be obvious. There was no talk of it last year. Why not? It looks to be a red herring, a way of avoiding a truly pressing issue while at the same time advancing the Left's totalitarian agenda. One can strut and posture and show how sensitive and caring one is while avoiding painful decisions that are bound to be unpopular and for some pols suicidal. I am talking about entitlement reform. Here's a part of a solution that would get me tarred and feathered. After a worker has taken from the Social Security system all the money he paid in plus, say, 8% interest, the payments stop. That would do something to mitigate the Ponzi-like features of the current unsustainable system.
6. Believe it or not, Pravda (sic!) has warned Americans about draconian gun control. 'Pravda,' if I am not badly mistaken, is Russian for truth. That took real chutzpah, the commies calling their propaganda organ, Truth. Well, the former commies speak truth, for once, here: "These days, there are few things to admire about the socialist, bankrupt and culturally degenerating USA, but at least so far, one thing remains: the right to bear arms and use deadly force to defend one's self and possessions." Read the whole thing. Some days I think the US is turning into the SU what with Obama and all his czars.
7. Nannystaters like Dianne Feinstein ought to think carefully before they make foolish proposals. The unintended consequences may come back to bite them. Gun and ammos sales are through the roof. Although more guns in the hands of responsible, trained, individuals leads to less crime, more guns in civilian hands, without qualification, cannot be a good thing.
8. It doesn't follow, however, that if, per impossibile (as the philosophers say) all guns were thrown into the sea we would be better off. The gun is an equalizer, a peace-preserver, a violence-thwarter. Samuel Colt is supposed to have said, "Have no fear of any man no matter what his size, in time of need just call on me and I will equalize." Granny with her .45 is a pretty good match for an unarmed Tookie Williams.
9. SCOTUS saw the light and pronounced it an individual right. You persist in thinking the right to keep and bear arms is a collective right? I wonder if you think that the right to life is also collective. If my right to life is an individual right, how can my right to defend my life and the logically consequent right to the means to such defense not also be an individual right?
Regular readers of this blog know that I respect and admire Dennis Prager: he is a font of wisdom and a source of insight. And he is a real Mensch to boot. (If I were a Jew and he a rabbi, he'd be my choice.) But I just heard him say, "Environmentalists are by definition extremists." That is another clear example of the illicit use of 'by definition' that I pointed out in an earlier entry. Here are some examples of correct uses of 'by definition':
Bachelors are by definition male
Triangles are by definition three-sided
In logic, sound arguments are by definition valid. (A sound argument is defined as one whose form is valid and all of whose premises are true.)
In physics, work is defined as the product of force and distance moved: W= Fx.
In set theory, a power set is defined to be the set of all subsets of a given set.
By definition, no rifle is a shotgun.
Semi-automatic firearms are by definition capable of firing exactly one round per trigger pull until the magazine (and the chamber!) is empty.
In metaphysics, an accident by definition is logically incapable of existing without a substance of which it is the accident.
In astrophysics, a light-year is by definition a measure of distance, not of time: it is the distance light travels in one year.
By definition, the luminiferous either is a medium for the propagation of electromagnetic signals.
Incorrect uses of 'by definition':
Joe Nocera: "anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill."
Donald Berwick: "Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."
Illegal aliens are by definition Hispanic.
Bill Maher, et al.: "Taxation is by definition redistributive."
Dennis Prager: "Environmentalists are by definition extremists."
Capitalists are by definition greedy.
Socialists are by definition envious.
Alpha Centauri is by definition 4.3 light-years from earth.
The luminiferous ether exists by definition.
By definition, the luminiferous ether cannot exist.
I hope it is clear why the incorrect uses are incorrect. As for the Prager example, it is certainly true that some environmentalists are extremists. But others are not. So Prager's assertion is not even true. Even if every environmentalist were an extremist, however, it would still not be true by definition that that is so. By definition, what is true by definition is true; but what is true need not be true by definition.
So what game is Prager playing? Is he using 'by definition' as an intensifier? Is he purporting to make a factual claim to the effect that all environmentalists are extremists and then underlining (as it were) the claim by the use of 'by definition'? Or is he assigning by stipulation his own idiosyncratic meaning to 'environmentalist'? Is he serving notice that 'extremist' is part of the very meaning of 'environmentalist' in his idiolect?
What follows is a reposting of an entry that first appeared in these pages on 19 July 2010. The reposting is prompted by the following surprising statement by Joe Nocera: "But it is equally true that anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill." (Emphasis added.) Well, maybe it isn't so surprising given that Mr. Nocera is a NYT op-ed writer. Surprising or not, Nocera's claim is not only false, but illustrative of complete confusion about the meaning of 'by definition.'
Suppose a Palestinian Arab terrorist enters a yeshiva with a semi-automatic rifle and kills 20 children and six adults. May you validly infer that the terrorist is mentally ill? Of course not. He may or may not be. Were the 9/11 hijackers mentally ill? No. They collectively committed an unspeakably evil act. But only a liberal would confuse an evil act with an insane act. Suppose a young SS soldier is ordered to shoot a group of 26 defenceless Jews, toppling them into a mass grave they were forced to dig. He does so, acting sanely and rationally, knowing that if he does not commit mass murder he himself will be shot to death.
Conceptual confusion and emotive uses of language are trademarks of liberal feel-good 'thinking.' To give one more example from Nocera's piece, he refers to semi-automatics as "killing machines." Question: would a semi-auto pistol or rifle be a "killing machine" if it were used purely defensively or to stop a would-be mass murderer? Is an 'assault weapon' an assault weapon when used for defense? Is a liberal a liberal on the rare occasions when he talks sense?
What is wrong with the following sentence: "Excellent health care is by definition redistributional"? It is from a speech by Donald Berwick, President Obama's nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, speaking to a British audience about why he favors government-run health care.
I have no objection to someone arguing that health care ought to be redistributional. Argue away, and good luck! But I object strenuously to an argumentative procedure whereby one proves that X is Y by illict importation of the predicate Y into the definition of X. But that is exactly what Berwick is doing. Obviously, it is no part of the definition of 'health care' or 'excellent health care' that it should be redistributional. Similarly, it is no part of the definition of 'illegal alien' that illegal aliens are Hispanic. It is true that most of them are, but it does not fall out of the definition.
This is the sort of intellectual slovenliness (or is it mendacity?) that one finds not only in leftists but also in Randians like Leonard Peikoff. In one place, he defines 'existence' in such a way that nothing supernatural exists, and then triumphantly 'proves' that God cannot exist! See here.
This has all the advantages of theft over honest toil as Bertrand Russell remarked in a different connection.
One more example. Bill Maher was arguing with Bill O'Reilly one night on The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly came out against wealth redistribution via taxation, to which Maher responded in effect that that is just what taxation is. The benighted Maher apparently believes that taxation by definition is redistributional. Now that is plainly idiotic: there is nothing in the nature of taxation to require that it redistribute wealth. Taxation is the coercive taking of monies from citizens in order to fund the functions of government. One can of course argue for progressive taxation and wealth redistribution via taxation. But those are further ideas not contained in the very notion of taxation.
Leftists are typically intellectual cheaters. They will try to bamboozle you. Listen carefully when they bandy about phrases like 'by definition.' Don't let yourself be fooled.
"But are Berwick, Peikoff, and Maher really trying to fool people, or are they merely confused?" I don't know and it doesn''t matter. The main thing is not to be taken in by their linguistic sleight-of-hand whether intentional or unintentional.
One often hears liberals refer to gun owners as gun lovers. Would they refer to pro-choicers as abortion lovers? I don't think so. Why the differential usage? Is it just liberal bias?
If you are pro-choice, then you stand for the right of a woman to have an abortion. You want abortion to be legally permissible. The maintenance of such a stance is consistent with wanting there to be fewer abortions. The following is a logically consistent position: "It would be better if there were fewer or no abortions, but women ought to have the right to choose for themselves."
The analogy with guns is fairly close. The following is a logically consistent position: "It would be better if there were fewer or no guns in civilian hands, but citizens ought to have the right to keep and bear arms if they so choose."
I am making a point about political rhetoric. Unless you liberals are prepared to call pro-choicers abortion lovers, you ought not call gun owners gun lovers. If, that is, you are interested in a calm, serious, truth-seeking discussion. A big 'if'!
Lest any of my conservative friends get the wrong idea, I am (obviously) not maintaining that abortion and gun ownership are on a moral par, that both are morally permissible, and that both ought to be legally permissible. Not at all. Abortion is a grave moral evil. Gun ownership is not. In fact, in some situations gun ownership may be morally obligatory. (But brevity is the soul of blog, so the exfoliation and defence of this latter suggestion belongs elsewhere.)
It's absurd and chauvinistic for Obama to talk about the woman he thinks should be Secretary of State of the United States as if she needs the big strong man to come to her defense because a couple of Senators are criticizing her.
Powers' article is good and I have no problem with its content. But her misuse of 'chauvinistic' is a good occasion for a language rant.
A chauvinist is someone who believes his country is the best in all or most respects. The word derives from 'Chauvin,' the name of an officer in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. This fellow was convinced that everything French was unsurpassingly excellent. To use 'chauvinist' for 'male chauvinist' is to destroy a perfectly useful word. If we acquiesce in this destruction, what then are we to call Chauvin? A 'country-chauvinist'?
Whether Obama is a male chauvinist, I don't know. But he surely isn't a chauvinist!
Note also that Chauvin was himself a male chauvinist in that he was both a male and a chauvinist. Thus 'male chauvinist' is ambiguous, having different meanings depending on whether we take 'male' as a specifying adjective or as a sense-shifting (alienans) adjective. Taken the first way, a male chauvinist is a chauvinist. Taken the second way, a male chauvinist is not a chauvinist any more than artificial leather is leather. Think about it.
This distinction between specifying and sense-shifting adjectives is an important one, and one ought to be aware of it. See my Adjectives category for more examples of alienans constructions. It's fun for the whole family.
While we are on this chauvinist business, there was a time when 'white chauvinist' was in use. Those were the days before leftists seized upon 'racism' as their bludgeon of choice. Vivian Gornick in The Romance of American Communism (Basic Books 1977, p. 170) tells the tale of a poor fellow who was drummed out of the American Communist Party in the 1950s on charges of 'white chauvinism.' His crime? Serving watermelon at a garden party! And you thought that Political Correctness was something new?
I wonder whether you are aware of my recent work, Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition(University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). Attached are the publisher's notice, plus an interview I did with the blog called "Catholic World Report." My own thinking about dictionaries -- and specifically philosophical dictionaries -- can be gathered from the interview, as well as from the Introduction to my volume, which can be accessed as the "Excerpt" highlighted near bottom of p. 1 of the UNDP announcement.
I would be pleased to see you mention Words of Wisdom on "Maverick Philosopher," and to learn what you think about my project.
Best wishes from a philosopher who can't seem to get himself to retire,
John W. (Jack) Carlson Professor of Philosophy Creighton University Omaha, Neb. 68142
Dear Professor Carlson,
I am pleased to announce your book on my weblog which, at the moment, is experiencing traffic of over 2000 page views per day. So I should be able to snag a few readers for your work.
CWR: Let’s begin with a Big Picture question: what is the state of philosophy today? I ask because philosophy today seems to be dismissed often by certain self-appointed critics. For example, the physicist (and atheist) Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe from Nothing, said in an interview with The Atlantic that philosophy no longer has “content,” indeed, that“philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, ‘Those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym.’” Why this sort of antagonism toward philosophy?
Dr. Carlson:So Krauss in a single sentence denigrates both philosophy and gymnasium. May we begin by remarking that Plato—who thought highly of both—would not be impressed?
Your question, of course, is a good one. A response to it requires noting salient features of Western intellectual culture, as well as key concerns of philosophers in the recent past. Over the last century and a half, our culture has come to be dominated by the natural or empirical sciences and technological advances made possible by their means. It thus is not surprising that there has arisen in various quarters a view that can be characterized as “scientism”—i.e., one according to which all legitimate cognitive pursuits should follow the methods of the modern sciences. Now, somewhat ironically, this view is not itself a scientific one. Rather, it can be recognized as essentially philosophical; that is, it expresses a general account of the nature and limits of human knowledge. But if it indeed is philosophical, we might well ask on what basis scientism is to be recommended. Does this view adequately reflect the variety of ways in which reality can be known? To say the least, it is not obvious that the answer to this question is “Yes.”
Lawrence Krauss is one of a large number (along wth Jerry Coyne, Stephen Hawking, et al.) of preternaturally ignorant scientists whose arrogance stands in inverse relation to their ignorance of what is outside their specialties. They know nothing of philosophy and yet 'pontificate' (if I may be permitted the use of this term in the presence of a Catholic) in a manner most sophomoric. Their education has been completely lopsided: they have no appreciation of the West and its traditions and so no appreciation of how natural science arose.
I criticize Krauss's scientistic nonsense in a number of posts showing him the same sort of contempt that he displays towards his superiors. These posts can be found here. His book is so bad it takes the breath away. If you haven't read it, you should, to get a sense of the lack of humanistic culture among too many contemporary scientists.
What you say about scientism is exactly right. I have made similar points over the years, but it seems one can never get the points through the thick skulls of the science-idolaters.
See the triangle-like piece of roadway where the routes diverge? That's called the gore lane. Gore lanes are also found near on ramps and exit ramps. Driving across such a lane is a moving violation. The gore lane is not, strictly, a lane, nor is it named after Al Bore Gore.
This scintillating topic came up in conversation with Peter L. yesterday morning after we had done with Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos. Peter maintained that the 'lane' was so-called because of one Officer Gore, a motorcycle cop who supposedly had been killed in a gore lane near an entry ramp to a freeway. But I learned this morning that the noun 'gore' has among it meanings, "a small usually triangular piece of land." This leads me to suspect that Peter's explanation is a bit of urban folklore.
Yesterday I objected to calling leftism a religion. Curiously, some people call atheism a religion. I object to that too.
The question as to what religion is is not at all easy to answer. It is not even clear that the question makes sense. For when you ask 'What is religion?' you presuppose that it has an essence that can be captured in a definition that specifies necessary and sufficient conditions. But it might be that the concept religion is a family resemblance concept like the concept game (to invoke Wittgenstein's famous example). Think of all the different sorts of games there are. Is there any property or set of properties that all games have and that only games have? Presumably not. The concept game is a family resemblance concept to which no essence corresponds. Noted philosophers of religion such as John Hick maintain the same with respect to the concept religion.
If you take this tack, then you can perhaps argue that Marxism and secular humanism and militant atheism are religions.
But it strikes me as decidedly odd to characterize a militant anti-religionist as having a religion. Indeed, it smacks of a cheap debating trick: "How can you criticize religion when you yourself have a religion?" I prefer to think along the following lines.
Start with belief-system as your genus and then distinguish two species: belief-systems that are theoretical, though they may have practical applications, and belief-systems that are by their very nature oriented toward action. Call the latter ideologies. Accordingly, an ideology is a system of action-guiding beliefs. Then distinguish between religious and non-religious ideologies. Marxism and militant atheism are non-religious ideologies while the Abrahamic religions and some of the Eastern religions are religious ideologies.
But this leaves me with the problem of specifying what it is that distinguishes religious from non-religious ideologies. Perhaps this: all and only religions make reference to a transcendent reality, whether of a personal or impersonal nature, contact or community or identification with which is the summum bonum and the ultimate purpose of human existence. For the Abrahamic faiths, Yahweh, God, Allah is the transcendent reality. For Taoism, the Tao. For Hinduism, Brahman. For Buddhism, the transcendent state of nirvana. But I expect the Theravadins to object that nibbana is nothing positive and transcendent, being only the extinguishing or dissolution of the (ultimately illusory) self. I could of course simply deny that Theravada Buddhism is a religion, strictly speaking. I could lump it together with Stoicism as a sort of higher psychotherapy, a set of techniques for achieving equanimity.
There are a number of tricky and unresolved issues here, but I see little point in calling militant atheism a religion, though I concede it is like a religion in some ways.
But as I pointed out yesterday, if one thing is like another, that is not to say that the one thing is the other or is a species of the other.
For at least the last hundred years, the world’s most dynamic religion has been neither Christianity nor Islam.
It has been leftism.
Most people do not recognize what is probably the single most important fact of modern life. One reason is that leftism is overwhelmingly secular (more than merely secular: it is inherently opposed to all traditional religions), and therefore people do not regard it as a religion. Another is that leftism so convincingly portrays itself as solely the product of reason, intellect, and science that it has not been seen as the dogma-based ideology that it is. Therefore the vast majority of the people who affirm leftist beliefs think of their views as the only way to properly think about life.
While I agree with the rest of Prager's column, I have trouble with his characterization of leftism as a religion.
It is true that leftism is like a religion in certain key respects. But if one thing is like another it does not follow that the first is a species of the other. Whales are like fish in certain key respects, but a whale is not a fish but a mammal. Whales live in the ocean, can stay underwater for long periods of time and have strong tails to propel themselves. Just like fish. But whales are not fish.
I should think that correct taxonomies in the realm of ideas are just as important as correct taxonomies in the realm of flora and fauna.
Leftism is an anti-religious political ideology that functions in the lives of its adherents much like religions function in the lives of their adherents. This is the truth to which Prager alludes with his sloppy formulation, "leftism is a religion." Leftism in theory is opposed to every religion as to an opiate of the masses, to employ the figure of Karl Marx. In practice, however, today's leftists are rather strangely soft on the representatives of the 'religion of peace.'
Or you could say that leftism is an ersatz religion for leftists. 'Ersatz' here functions as an alienans adjective. It functions like 'decoy' in 'decoy duck.' A decoy duck is not a duck. A substitute for religion is not a religion.
An ideology is a system of action-guiding beliefs. That genus divides into the species religious ideologies and nonreligious ideologies. Leftism, being "overwhelmingly secular" just as Prager says, is a nonreligious ideology. It is not a religion, but it shares some characteristics with religions and functions for its adherents as a substitute for religion.
You might think to accuse me of pedantry. What does it matter that Prager sometimes employs sloppy formulations? Surely it is more important that leftism be defeated than that it be fitted into an optimal taxonomy!
Well yes, slaying the dragon is Job One. But we also need to persuade intelligent and discriminating people. Precision in thought and speech is conducive to that end. And that is why I say, once more: Language matters!
By the way, my opening sentence illustrates the principle that the antecedent of a pronoun need not come before (in the order of reading) the pronoun of which it is the antecedent despite the following bit of schoolmarmishness from Grammar Girl:
Our second antecedent problem is what’s called “anticipatory reference,” which Bryan Garner calls “the vice of referring to something that is yet to be mentioned (5)," meaning that the writer puts the pronoun before the antecedent—a no no.
I say to hell with that. I opened with a beautiful classy sentence. Grammar Girl needs a good spanking not only for endorsing this stupid rule of the dumbed-down and inattentive but also for her use of 'no no' baby talk.
I should rant more fully on pronouns, their antecedents, with an application to Obama's "You didn't build that."
I do have a fine rant here on baby talk and first-grade English.
Here are her recent additions to the list. By the logic of the Left, cosmologists are racists because they study, among other things, black holes.
The willful stupidity of liberals is evidenced by the umbrage they take at the apt description of Obama as the food stamp president:
At the dawn of the modern federal food stamp program, one in 50 Americans was enrolled. This year, one in seven Americans is on the food stamp rolls. The majority of them are white. Obama’s loosening of eligibility requirements combined with the stagnant economy fueled the rise in dependency. “Food stamp president” is pithy shorthand for the very real entitlement explosion.
Democrats fumed when former GOP candidate Newt Gingrich bestowed the title on Obama and decried its purportedly racist implications. But who are the racists? As Gingrich scolded the aforementioned race troll Chris Matthews last week: “Why do you assume food stamp refers to blacks? What kind of racist thinking do you have? You’re being a racist because you assume they’re black!” Time to find a new code word.
You have to ask yourself whether you want a culture of dependency or a culture of self-reliance. What is so offensive about Obama and his ilk is their undermining of such traditional American values as self-reliance.
And as I said yesterday, many of these same liberals such as the "race troll' Chris Mathews got where they did in life precisely because of such virtues as self-reliance. And yet they refuse to promote them and pass them on. It shows the contempt they have for their clients such as blacks who keep them in power.
If it hasn't happened already, some liberal will now besmirch the beautiful word 'self-reliance' as racial code. There is just no level of scumbaggery to which a leftist will not descend.
You often speak of the importance of using language responsibly, i.e. not like a librul.
So I thought you would enjoy this:
“Our understanding is conducted solely by means of the word: anyone who falsifies it betrays public society. It is the only tool by which we communicate our wishes and our thoughts; it is our soul’s interpreter: if we lack that, we can no longer hold together; we can no longer know each other. When words deceive us, it breaks all intercourse and loosens the bonds of our polity.” – Montaigne
Montaigne's point is mine. Language matters. It deserves respect as the vehicle and enabler of our thoughts and -- to change the metaphor -- the common currency for the exchange of ideas. To tamper with the accepted meanings of words in order to secure argumentative or political advantage is a form of cheating. Wittgenstein likened languages to games. But games have rules, and we cannot tolerate those who change the rules mid-game. We must demand of our opponents that they use language responsibly, and engage us on the common terrain of accepted usage.
The violation of accepted usage is a common ploy of contemporary liberals. Some examples:
Minimal ID requirements are said to disenfranchise certain classes of voters. The common sense requirements amount to voter suppression. They are described absurdly as an onerous barrier to voting."
Onerous? Barrier? In Pennsylvania a photo ID can be had free of charge. In Arizona it costs a paltry $12 and is good for 12 years. If you are 65 or older, or on SS disability, it is free.
People who insist on the rule of law with respect to immigation are called xenophobic. And then there are the cheaply-fabricated neologistic '-phobe' compounds. One who rationally articulates a principled position against same-sex marriage is dismissed as homophobic. One who draws attention to the threat of radical Islam is denounced as Islamophobic.
The sheer stupidity of these mendacious coinages ought to disgust anyone who can think straight. A phobia is an irrational fear. But the proponents of traditional marriage have no fear of homosexuals or their practices, let alone an irrational fear of them. And those alive to the threat of radical Islam may be said to fear it, but the fear is rational.
Liberals can't seem to distinguish dissent from hate. So they think that if you dissent from liberal positions, then you hate liberals. How stupid can a liberal be? "You disagree with liberal ideas, therefore you are a hater!" Even worse: "You differ with a black liberal's ideas, therefore you are a hater and a racist!"
'Unilateral.' John Nichols of the The Nation appeared on the hard-Left show, "Democracy Now," on the morning of 2 September 2004. Like many libs and lefties, he misused 'unilateral' to mean 'without United Nations support.' In this sense, coalition operations against Saddam Hussein's regime were 'unilateral' despite the the fact that said operations were precisely those of a coalition of some thirty countries. The same willful mistake was made by his boss Victor Navasky on 17 July 2005 while being interviewed by David Frum on C-Span 2.
There are plenty more examples, e.g., 'white Hispanic.' When Republicans had control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, Dems whined about a 'one-party system.' Exercise for the reader: find more examples of liberal misuse of language.
It is no wonder that Ryan, and of course Romney, set out immediately to distort the president’s “you didn’t build that speech” in Roanoke, because in complicating the causes of economic achievement, and in giving a more correct picture of the conditions of entrepreneurial activity, Obama punctured the radical individualist mythology, the wild self-worship, at the heart of the conservative idea of capitalism. An honest reading of the speech shows that Romney and Ryan and their apologists are simply lying about it. The businessman builds his business, but he does not build the bridge without which he could not build his business. That is all. Is it everything? Surely it takes nothing away from the businessman, who retains his reason for his pride in his business. But it is not capitalist pride that Romney and Ryan are defending, it is capitalist pridefulness.
Here is the key passage from Obama's speech (emphasis added):
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.
What is the antecedent of the pronoun 'that' in the fifth sentence? The general rule, one admitting of exceptions, is that the antecedent of a pronoun is the noun or noun phrase immediately preceding it in the context in question. By that rule 'business' is the antecedent of 'that' and Obama is saying that business owners did not build their businesses. But since the rule allows exceptions, the context permits a charitable reading: 'If you've got a business, you didn't build the roads and bridges and other infrastructuire without which your business would have been impossible.'
So there are two readings of Obama's words. Both are permitted by the words themselves, but one is uncharitable and the other charitable. On the first what he is saying is plainly false: no business person built his business. On the second, what he is saying is trivially true and disputed by no one, namely, that no business could be built without various infrastructure already being in place.
On either reading, there is a serious problem for Obama and his apologists. Either Obama is is saying something that everyone, including Obama, knows is false, in which case he is lying, or he is saying something that goes without saying, something disputed by no one. On the second reading Obama is commiting a straw man fallacy: he is portraying his opponents as holding a position that none of them holds.
So if we are going to be charitable, then we ought to tax the president with a straw man fallacy. But there is worse to come. Behind the latter fallacy is a fallacy of false alternative. Obama assumes, without justification, that if you didn't build the infrastructure without which your business could not exist, then government built it. Or, to put it in the form of a disjunction: Either you as an individual built the the roads and bridges and tools or government built them for you. But that is a false alternative. Not everything that arises collectively is brought about by the government. Obama confuses government with society. Only some of what we achieve collectively is achieved by government agency.
Uncharitably read, Obama is lying. Charitably read, his claim is doubly fallacious and doubly false. It is false that conservatives maintain a rugged individualism according to which each of us creates himself ex nihilo. And it is false that what is achieved collectively is achieved by government agency.
Now did Romney and Ryan lie about Obama's message? No. They interpreted his words in a way that the English language permits. Their interpretation, of course, is uncharitable in the extreme. After all, no one really believes that business people pull themselves up out of nothing by their own bootstraps.
Is Wieseltier lying about Romney and Ryan? No, he is is just being stupid by failing to make an elementary distinction between sentence meaning and speaker's meaning.
Obama's gaffe will be and ought to be exploited to the hilt by the Republicans. Politics is not dispassionate inquiry but war conducted by other means.
Obama must be defeated. Four more years of his collectivism may harm the country irreparably.
Gen-Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) are the cohort sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials. Now they have one of their own in contention for high office. And Paul Ryan, 42, is no slacker. Romney's pick of the man for VP was a brilliant stroke and may gin up support for the Republican ticket as Kirsten Powers argues.
She quoted a word I had never seen before, 'athazagoraphobia':
Generation X chronicler Jeff Gordiner, has written that Gen-Xers suffer from “athazagoraphobia”—“an abnormal and persistent fear of being forgotten or ignored.” Except it’s not really a phobia; it’s been reality for a long time. Maybe that is about to change.
Marvellous, travelling, tranquillity. Not that the single 'l' is wrong. It could be argued that the extra 'l' does no work and just takes up space. What's my rule? Being a conservative across the board, I am a linguistic conservative, though flexibly such and not hide-bound like some people I could mention. So I may well split an infinitive if the forward momentum of the sentence demands it. And the muscular elegance to which my prose style aspires often requires the use of contractions, as above, fourth sentence. The schoolmarms be damned. And great writers too, such as George Orwell, when they presume to dictate iron-clad rules of good writing. Here I show that Orwell falls into traps of his own setting.
The Latin tranquillitas sports two 'l's. So to honor that fact I write 'tranquillity.' You are free to drop the second 'l' -- or the first.
My rule, I suppose, is to favor the old way as long as the archaicism does not mount to the point of distraction.
One of the fruits of civilization is that it allows some of us to occupy ourselves with bagatelles such as this.
But don't forget that civilization is thin ice and that we must be prepared to defend it with blood and iron. (A sentence slouching toward mixed metaphor?)
My wife observed last night that our young cats are very active at twilight. No surprise there, said I. Neither diurnal nor nocturnal in their hunting habits, housecats are a crepuscular species of critter. The word derives from the Latin crepuscula, twilight. But there is morning twilight and evening twilight. And so critters crepuscular are either matinal or vespertine or both. Matins are prayers said in the morning while vespers are prayers said in the evening. Cats, however, prey rather than pray. When not on the prowl or in play they sleep, having been made in the image and likeness of Sloth.
There is also an interesting etymological connection between Hesperus (Hesperos), the Evening Star, and vespers. Hesperos/Hesperus became the Latin Vesperus. Eosphoros/Phosphoros became the Latin Luciferus, Lucifer, light-bearer, from L. lux, lucis, light. Interesting that the Bearer of Light in his later career became the Prince of Darkness.
Eosphoros and Hesperos in their later careers went from being gods to being mere Fregean senses, mere modes of representation, Darstellungsweisen, and conduits of reference.
Here a cool cat name of Thelonious Sphere Monk bangs out "Crepuscule with Nellie." Was he on the prowl with her, or just hanging out in the gloaming?
A new reader (who may not remain a reader for long) wrote in to say that he enjoyed my philosophical entries but was "saddened" by the invective I employed in one of my political posts.
I would say that the use of invective is justifiable in polemical writing. Of course, it is out of place in strictly philosophical writing and discussion, but that is because philosophy is inquiry into the truth, not defense of what one antecedently takes to be the truth. When philosophy becomes polemical, it ceases to be philosophy. Philosophy as it is actually practiced, however, is often degenerate and falls short of this ideal. But the ideal is a genuine and realizable one. We know that it is realizable because we know of cases when it has been realized. By contrast, political discourse either cannot fail to be polemical or is normally polemical.
Let me then hazard the following stark formulation, one that admittedly requires more thought and may need qualification. When philosophy becomes polemical, it ceases to be philosophy. But when political discourse ceases to be polemical, it ceases to be political discourse.
A bold pronunciamento, not in its first limb, but in its second. The second limb is true if the Converse Clausewitz Principle is true: Politics is war conducted by other means. Whether the CCP is true is a tough nut that I won't bite into just yet. But it certainly seems to be true as a matter of fact. Whether it must be true is a further question.
Another possible support for the second limb is the thought that man, contrary to what Aristotle famously said, is not by nature zoon politikon, a political animal. No doubt man is by nature a social animal. But there is no necessity in rerum natura that there be a polis, a state. It is arguably not natural there be a state. The state is a necessary evil given our highly imperfect condition. We need it, but we would be better off without it, given its coercive nature, if we could get on without it. But we can't get on without it given our fallen nature. So it is a necessary evil: it's bad that we need it, but (instrumentally) good that we have it given that we need it.
Of course my bold (and bolded) statement needs qualification. Here is a counterexample to the second limb. Two people are discussing a political question. They agree with each other in the main and are merely reinforicing each other and refining the formulation of their common position. That is political discourse, but it is not polemical. So I need to make a distinction between 'wide' and 'narrow' political discourse. Work for later.
Now for a concrete example of an issue in which polemic and the use of invective is justified.
Can one reasonably maintain that the photo ID requirement at polling places 'disenfrachises' blacks and other minorities as hordes of liberals maintain? No, one cannot. To maintain such a thing is to remove oneself from the company of the reasonable. It is not enough to calmly present one's argument on a question like this. One must give them, but one must do more since it is not merely a theoretical question. It is a crucially important practical question and it is important that the correct view prevail. If our benighted opponents cannot see that they are wrong, if they are not persuaded by our careful arguments, then they must be countered in other ways. Mockery, derision, and the impugning of motives become appropriate weapons. If you don't have a logical leg to stand on, then it becomes legitimate for me to call into question your motives and to ascribe unsavory ones to you. For, though you lack reasons for your views, you have plenty of motives; and because the position you maintain is deleterious, your motives must be unsavory or outright evil, assuming you are not just plain stupid.
Everybody profiles. Liberals are no exception. Liberals reveal their prejudices by where they live, shop, send their kids to school and with whom they associate.
The word 'prejudice' needs analysis. It could refer to blind prejudice: unreasoning, reflexive (as opposed to reflective) aversion to what is other just because it is other, or an unreasoning pro-attitude toward the familiar just because it is familiar. We should all condemn blind prejudice. It is execrable to hate a person just because he is of a different color, for example. No doubt, but how many people do that? How many people who are averse to blacks are averse because of their skin color as opposed to their behavior patterns? Racial prejudice is not, in the main, prejudice based on skin color, but on behavior.
'Prejudice' could also mean 'prejudgment.' Although blind prejudice is bad, prejudgment is generally good. We cannot begin our cognitive lives anew at every instant. We rely upon the 'sedimentation' of past exerience. Changing the metaphor, we can think of prejudgments as distillations from experience. The first time I 'serve' my cats whisky they are curious. After that, they cannot be tempted to come near a shot glass of Jim Beam. My prejudgments about rattle snakes are in place and have been for a long time. I don't need to learn about them afresh at each new encounter with one. Prejudgments are not blind, but experience-based, and they are mostly true. The adult mind is not a tabula rasa. What experience has written, she retains, and that's all to the good.
So there is good prejudice and there is bad prejudice. The teenager thinks his father prejudiced in the bad sense when he warns the son not to go into certain parts of town after dark. Later the son learns that the old man was not such a bigot after all: the father's prejudice was not blind but had a fundamentum in re.
But if you stay away from certain parts of town are you not 'discriminating' against them? Well of course, but not all discrimination is bad. Everybody discriminates. Liberals are especially discriminating. The typical Scottsdale liberal would not be caught dead supping in some of the Apache Junction dives I have been found in. Liberals discriminate in all sorts of ways. That's why Scottsdale is Scottsdale and not Apache Junction.
'Profiling,' like 'prejudice' and 'discrimination,' has come to acquire a wholly negative connotation. Unjustly. What's wrong with profiling? We all do it, and we are justified in doing it. Consider criminal profiling.
It is obvious that only certain kinds of people commit certain kinds of crimes. Suppose a rape has occurred at the corner of Fifth and Vermouth. Two males are moving away from the crime scene. One, the slower moving of the two, is a Jewish gentleman, 80 years of age, with a chess set under one arm and a copy of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed under the other. The other fellow, a vigorous twenty-year-old, is running from the scene.
Who is more likely to have committed the rape? If you can't answer this question, then you lack common sense. But just to spell it out for you liberals: octogenarians are not known for their sexual prowess: the geezer is lucky if he can get it up for a five-minute romp. Add chess playing and an interest in Maimonides and you have one harmless dude.
Or let's say you are walking down a street in Mesa, Arizona. On one side of the street you spy some fresh-faced Mormon youths, dressed in their 1950s attire, looking like little Romneys, exiting a Bible studies class. On the other side of the street, Hells Angels are coming out of their club house. Which side of the street would you feel safer on? On which side will your concealed semi-auto .45 be more likely to see some use?
The problem is not so much that liberals are stupid, as that they have allowed themselves to be stupefied by that cognitive aberration known as political correctness.
Their brains are addled by the equality fetish: everybody is equal, they think, in every way. So the vigorous 20 year old is not more likely than the old man to have committed the rape. The Mormon and the Hells Angel are equally law-abiding. And the twenty-something Egyptian Muslim is no more likely to be a terrorist than the Mormon matron from Salt Lake City.
Scowled upon by schoolmarms for generations, contractions are now seen in formal writing. But formal writing, or what passes for such, has not yet sunk to the use of what I will call double contractions such as 'shouldn't've' and 'couldn't've.'
But the times they are a changin' and with them the language.
Why do people have such trouble with this distinction? One flouts the law. One does not flaunt it. Correct: 'She flaunted her naked breats thereby flouting the law.' Incorrect: 'She flouted her naked breasts thereby flaunting the law.'
I like Dennis Prager, but he is sometimes sloppy in his use of language. He will often say that high self esteem is not a value, or words to that effect. It sounds as if he is against people having high self esteem. But what he really wants to oppose, or rather what he ought to oppose, is not self esteem or high self esteem, but the silly notion of many liberals that high self esteem is a value, a good thing, regardless of whether or not it is grounded in any actual accomplishment.
Suppose my high self-esteem, in general, or in some particular respect, is justified by actual achievement. Then I am entitled to my high self esteem, and my having it is a good. When a person of high achievement suffers from low self esteem we consider that an unfortunate state of affairs.
Another example of Prager's sloppiness is his use of 'Ponzi scheme.' He said one day on his show that the welfare state is a Ponzi scheme. I know what he means, and what he means to say is true, but he ought to say what he means. What he means is that the welfare state is economically unsustainable in the long run like a Ponzi scheme. But if X is like Y, it doesn't follow that X is Y.
Ponzi schemes are set up by people with fraudulent intent. But neither the architects of the modern welfare state nor the architects of the Social Security system in particular had fraudulent intent. Nor do current supporters of the welfare state or SS have fraudulent intent. They really think that these schemes are good and workable.
Why is this important? Well, because one ought not demonize one's opponents, or, less drastically, impute to them unsavory motives, unless one has very good evidence of the unsavoriness of their motives. I am not saying that one ought never impute evil motives to one's opponents, but that one ought to be very careful about doing so.
I just now heard Dennis Prager on his nationally-syndicated radio show use 'beg the question' when what he meant was 'raise the question.'
To raise a question is not to beg a question. 'Raise a question' and 'beg a question' ought not be used interchangeably on pain of occluding a distinction essential to clear thought. To raise a question is just to pose it, to bring it before one's mind or before one's audience for consideration. To beg a question, however, is not to pose a question but to reason in a way that presupposes what one needs to prove.
Suppose A poses the question, 'Does Allah exist?' B responds by saying that Allah does exist because his existence is attested in the Koran which Allah revealed to Muhammad. In this example, A raises a question, while B begs the question raised by A. The question is whether or not Allah exists; B's response begs the question by presupposing that Allah does exist. For Allah could not reveal anything to Muhammad unless Allah exists.
The phrase 'beg the question' is not as transparent as might be hoped. The Latin, petitio principii, is better: begging of the principle. Perhaps the simplest way to express the fallacy in English is by calling it circular reasoning. If I argue that The Los Angeles Times displays liberal bias because its reportage and editorializing show a left-of-center slant, then I reason in a circle, or beg the question. Fans of Greek may prefer hysteron proteron, literally, the later earlier. That is, what is logically posterior, namely, the conclusion, is taken to be logically prior, a premise.
Punchline: Never use 'beg the question' unless you are referring to an informal fallacy in reasoning. If you are raising, asking, posing a question, then say that. Do your bit to preserve our alma mater, the English language. Honor thy mother! Matrix of our thoughts, she is deeper and higher than our thoughts, their sacred Enabler.
Of course, I am but a vox clamantis in deserto. The battle has already been lost. So why do I write things like the above? Because I am a natural-born scribbler who takes pleasure in these largely pointless exercises.
Or at least it was new when I first ran an ancestorof this post on the old blog back in 2008 (26 July).
No doubt you have heard of 'people of color' not to be confused with 'colored people.' (But what exactly is the difference in reality?) Just this morning I discovered that some airlines are now referring to fat passengers as 'customers of size.' I am not making this up.
A 'customer of size' is defined by Southwest Airlines as one who is "unable to lower the armrests (the definitive boundary between seats) and/or who compromise[s] any portion of adjacent seating . . . ."
As one who has been 'compromised' by obese flyers on more than one occasion, I can only applaud the policy if not the PC expression.
The tort against the English language is similar to that of dropping qualifiers. Thus a high quality journal is referred to as a 'quality' journal. But since every journal has some quality, high, low, or middling, why should 'quality' get to stand in for 'high quality'? Why should 'intercourse' get to go proxy for 'sexual intercourse'? Similarly for 'chauvinism' and 'male chauvinism.' Since we all have some color or other, why are only some of us 'people of color'? And since all of us have some size or other, why do some bear the distinction of being 'customers of size'? Just because I'm not fat, I don't have a size?
Just because my body is not misshapen, I don't have a shape?
'Fat' is perhaps rude. But what is wrong with 'obese'?
It is interesting to note the difference between 'sexual intercourse' and 'male chauvinism.' 'Male' here functions as an alienans adjective: it shifts or 'alienates' the sense of the term it qualifies: a male chauvinist is not a chauvinist. 'Sexual,' by contrast, in this context is a specifying adjective: sexual intercourse is a species of intercourse in the way that male chauvinism is not a species of chauvinism.
Recent talk of dummy sortals occasions the observation that 'dummy' here is an alienans adjective. It is not as if sortals come in two kinds, dummy and non-dummy.
If I were to write a book, Sortals for Dummies, that would be a point I'd make early on.
For more fun with alienans adjectives see my Adjectives category.
We speak of a pair of shoes, a pair of socks, a pair of gloves. But why a pair of pants? 'He bought a new pair of pants.' 'Why, does he have four legs?' A pair of socks is two things, a pair of pants one. Raising to reflective awareness these little quirks of the mother tongue is a source of pleasure to some of us.
These are pronounced similarly: cowl, fowl, howl, jowl, owl, yowl. But 'bowl' is an exception. And note that each of the following is pronounced differently: blood, food, good. Blood is good food!
These are pronounced similarly: dour, hour, our, sour; but unlike 'four' and 'pour.' And 'tour' is pronounced differently still.
Addendum 5/28: A reader sends us here, where we read:
According to Michael Quinoin at World Wide Words, pants are a pair because, "before the days of modern tailoring, such garments, whether underwear or outerwear, were indeed made in two parts, one for each leg. The pieces were put on each leg separately and then wrapped and tied or belted at the waist (just like cowboys’ chaps). The plural usage persisted out of habit even after the garments had become physically one piece.
With a little stretching, the explanation can be made to fit 'pair of panties' despite their not having legs.
And that reminds me of the weighty question put to Bill Clinton: boxers or briefs? Instead of replying , as he should have, that that is not a question one asks the President of the United States, Bubba answered the question in a display of what could be called anti-gravitas. And of course thoughts of Clinton lead on quite naturally to thoughts of Monica Lewinksy and her thongs. 'Thong' and 'G-string' are two of the species of the genus 'panties.' Does one speak of a pair of thongs or a pair of G-strings? Do the English speak of a pair of knickers? If I am not mistaken knickers are what we call panties.
I once heard a prominent conservative tell an ideological opponent that he was 'on the wrong side of history.' But surely this is a phrase that no self-aware and self-consistent conservative should use. The phrase suggests that history is moving in a certain direction, toward various outcomes, and that this direction and these outcomes are somehow justified by the actual tendency of events. But how can the mere fact of a certain drift justify that drift? For example, we are moving in the United States, and not just here, towards more and more intrusive government, more and more socialism, less and less individual liberty. This has certainly been the trend from FDR on regardless of which party has been in power. Would a self-aware conservative want to say that the fact of this drift justifies it? I think not.
'Everyone today believes that such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is true. 'Everyone now does such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such ought to be done. 'The direction of events is towards such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is a good or valuable outcome. In each of these cases there is a logical mistake. One cannot validly infer truth from belief, ought from is, or values from facts.
One who opposes the drift toward socialism, a drift that is accelerating under President Obama, is on the wrong side of history. But that is no objection unless one assumes that history's direction is the right direction. Now an Hegelian might believe that, one for whom all the real is rational and all the rational real. Marxists and 'progressives' might believe it. But no conservative who understands conservatism can believe it.
The other night a conservative talk show host told a guest that she was on the wrong side of history in her support for same-sex marriage. My guess is that in a generation the same-sex marriage issue will be moot, the liberals having won. The liberals will have been on the right side of history. The right side of history, but wrong nonetheless.
As I have said more than once, if you are a conservative don't talk like a liberal. Don't validate, by adopting, their question-begging phrases.
'Racism' and 'racist' are words used by liberals as all-purpose semantic bludgeons. Proof of this is that the terms are never defined, and so can be used in wider or narrower senses depending on the polemical and ideological purposes at hand. In common parlance 'racism' and 'racist' are pejoratives, indeed, terms of abuse. This is why it is foolish for conservatives such as John Derbyshire to describe themselves as racists while attempting to attach some non-pejorative connotation to the term. It can't be done. It would be a bit like describing oneself as as an asshole, 'but in the very best sense of the term.' 'Yeah, I'm an asshole and proud of it; we need more assholes; it's a good thing to be.' The word has no good senses, at least when applied to an entire human as opposed to an orifice thereof. For words like 'asshole,' 'child molester,' and 'racist' semantic rehabilitation is simply not in the cards. A conservative must never call himself a racist. (And I don't see how calling himself a racialist is any better.) What he must do is attack ridiculous definitions of the term, defend reasonable ones, and show how he is not a racist when the term is reasonably defined.
Let's run through some candidate definientia of 'racism':
1. The view that there are genetic or cultural differences between racial groups and that these differences have behavioral consequences.
Since this is indeed the case, (1) cannot be used to define 'racism.' The term, as I said, is pejorative: it is morally bad to be a racist. But it is not morally bad to be a truth-teller. The underlying principle here is that it can't racism if it is true. Is that not obvious?
Suppose I state that blacks are 11-13% of the U.S. population. That cannot be a racist statement for the simple reason that it is true. Nor can someone who makes such a statement be called a racist for making it. A statement whose subject matter is racial is not a racist statement. Or I inform you that blacks are more likely than whites to contract sickle-cell anemia. That too is true. But in this second example there is reference to an unpleasant truth. Even more unpleasant are those truths about the differential rates of crime as between blacks and whites. But pleasant or not, truth is truth, and there are no racist truths. (I apologize for hammering away at these platitudes, but in a Pee Cee world in which people have lost their minds, repetition of the obvious is necessary.)
2. The feeling of affinity for those of one's own racial and ethnic background.
It is entirely natural to feel more comfortable around people of one's own kind than around strangers. And of course there is nothing morally objectionable in this. No racism here.
3. The view that it is morally justifiable to put the interests of one's own race or ethnic group above those of another in situations of conflict or limited resources. This is to be understood as the analog of the view that it it morally justifiable to put the interests of oneself and one's own family, friends, and neighbors above the interests of strangers in a situation of conflict or limited resources.
There is nothing morally objectionable in his, and nothing that could be legitimately called racism.
4. The view that the genetic and cultural differences between races or ethnic groups justifies genocide or slavery or the denial of political rights.
Now we arrive at an appropriate definiens of 'racism.' This is one among several legitimate ways of defining 'racism.' Racism thus defined is morally offensive in the extreme. I condemn it and you should to. I condemn all who hold this.
Millions of so-called whites are now adults who grew up in the age of affirmative action, and have no memory of systemic discrimination. To the degree some avoid certain schools, neighborhoods, or environments, they do so only on the basis of statistics, not profiling, that suggest a higher incidence of inner-city violence and crime.
My quibble concerns Hanson's use of 'profiling.' He is suggesting a distinction between avoidant behavior based on statistics and such behavior based on profiling. But there is no difference. To profile is to predict the likelihood of a person's behavior based on statistical information. A fiftyish Mormon matron from Salt Lake City does not fit the terrorist profile, but a twenty-something Egyptian Muslim from Cairo does. To screen the two equally at an airport is therefore unreasonable, and to take a more careful look at the Egyptian is entirely reasonable.
Who fits the heart attack profile? Is it the obese and sedentary fiftyish smoker who has bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning, or the nonsmoking, vegetarian, twenty-something marathoner? The former, obviously. Of course, it doesn't follow that the marathoner will not have a heart attack in the near future or that the fat man will. It is a question of likelihood. Similarly with the Mormon matron. She may have a bomb secreted in her 1950's skirt, but I wouldn't bet on it. If the Muslim is stripped-searched this is not because of some irrational hatred of Muslims but because of the FACT that twenty-something Muslim males are more likely to be terrorists than fiftyish Mormon matrons.
What I am objecting to is the use of 'profiling' to refer to blind, unreasonable, hateful characterizing on the basis of skin color or ethnicity. All decent people are opposed to the latter. But that is not what profiling is. Profiling is neither blind, nor unreasonable, nor hateful.
What Mr. Hanson is doing is acquiescing in the liberal misuse of 'profiling.' It is not a pejorative term. Liberals want to make it a pejorative term, but we must resist them.
Liberals love the phrase, 'institutionalized racism.' A racist society it is in which so many blacks achieve high political office despite the fact that blacks are a small minority of the population. Indeed, we have a black president. What better proof that racism is inscribed into our institutional structure? But then again, Obama is only half black. If George Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin fame is a 'white Hispanic' as maintained in the Solomonic pages of the New York Times, then, by parity of reasoning, Barack Obama is a 'white black.' Is that perhaps the proof of institutional racism? You see, if the USA were not institutionally racist, then we would have a black-black president by now.
Of course I am being sarcastic. In dealing with notions as preternaturally idiotic as those of liberals, mockery, derision, sarcasm and the like are more effective than patient argument. Reason and argument are effective only with those who inhabit the plane of reason. There is no point in talking sense to the denizens of the planet Unsinn. Or if you are not in the mood to mock and deride them, if you are feeling charitable, then offer your help and therapy. Those who are beneath reason do not need refutation; they need therapy. They need care. And we conservatives do care. We want you liberals to be happy and successful and less stupid. Of course we are honest enough to admit that our motive is partially selfish: the less stupid and unsuccessful and unhappy you are, the better it will be for us.
Actually, what we need is a 'proctology' of the liberal. We need to understand how so many heads can inhabit that region where the sun doesn't shine. But understanding is not enough: we need practical methods of extraction. My fear, however, is that even an army of proctologists, each member of which enjoys the life span of a Methuselah, would not be able to bring the shrunken pate of even one liberal into the light of day.
And that's a pity. (I have successfully resisted the temptation to engage in scatological alliteration.)
For an example of the sort of idiocy I am excoriating, see here; for an antidote, go here.
I appreciated your recent posts on "social justice." I agree that the phrase is a mendacious rhetorical device and that conservatives should refuse to use it. But what should we use instead? In one post you asked what's wrong with "plain old 'justice.'" One problem is that the phrase "social justice" has now become so depressingly commonplace that many folk, unaware of this conceptual revisionism, understand "justice" as shorthand for "social justice". So conservatives need their own distinctive qualifier. Fight fire with fire. What would be your suggestion?
One possibility is "natural justice". Not only does it tip its hat toward the venerable natural law tradition, it also communicates the idea that justice is inextricably tied to the intrinsic nature of things (specifically, the nature of human beings) as opposed to being a mere social construction (as, perhaps, "social justice" suggests). And like "social justice" it has the virtue of being unobjectionable on the face of it. To adapt the opening sentence of one of your posts: "How could any decent person be opposed to natural justice?" What would be the alternative? Unnatural justice?
I'd love to read your own thoughts on this, if you're inclined to share them.
I wish I had a worked-out theory and I wish I had a good answer for Professor Anderson. But I won't let the absence of both stop me from making a few remarks. Nescio, ergo blogo.
As a sort of joke I might suggest that 'subsidiarity' be used by conservatives instead of 'social justice.' The trouble with that word, of course, is that it conveys no definite idea to the average person whereas 'social justice' seems to convey a definite idea, one that the average person is inclined to embrace. It sounds so good! Who could be opposed to social justice and a just society? But once one understands what 'social justice' means in the mouth of a leftist, then one has excellent reason to oppose it. The Left has hijacked the phrase and now they own it; it would be quixotic for a conservative to try to infuse it with a reasonable meaning and win it back. Let the Left have it!
Anderson and I therefore agree that we conservatives should never use 'social justice,' or 'economic justice' for that matter. Beyond that, we might take to using 'socialist justice' as an informative and accurate way of referring to what leftists call social justice. But what word or phrase should we use? How about 'local justice'? That's not very good, but at least it points in the the subsidiarist direction. Plain old 'justice' is better. Anderson's 'natural justice' is serviceable. It has the virtue of combating the notion that justice is a social construct. But it doesn't combat the top-down control model of socialists and collectivists. This brings me to subsidiarity.
One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.
The principle of subsidiarity strikes a reasonable balance between statism and collectivism as represented by the Obama administration and the libertarianism of those who would take privatization to an extreme. By the way, one of the many mistakes Rick Santorum made in his campaign was to attack all government-sponsored education. He was right to question whether the Federal government has any role to play in education, but to question the role of state and local government in education was a foolish extremism that befits a libertarian, not a conservative.
I take it that subsidiarity is easily detachable from other Catholic doctrines. Professor Anderson needn't fear that he will be driven in the direction of papal infallibility or Transubstantiation. In any case, Catholics don't own subsidiarity. In the ComBox to this excellent post, we find:
"SPHERE SOVEREIGNTY: A principle of Reformed Christian social ethics, usually associated with the thought of Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper*, that identifies a number of God- ordained creational spheres, which include the family, the state, culture, and the church. These spheres each have their own organizing and ruling ordinances, and each maintains a measure of authority relative to the others. Just social and political structures, therefore, should be ordered so that the authority of each sphere is preserved (see Limited Government and Subsidiarity, The Principle of)."
Subsidiarity also fits well wth federalism, a return to which is a prime desideratum and one more reason not to vote for Obama come November. By the way, 'federalism' is another one of those words that does not wear its meaning on its sleeve, and is likely to mislead. Federalism is not the view that all powers should be vested in the Federal or central government; it is the principle enshrined in the 10th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Permit me to coin 'malaptronym.' If an aptronym is a name that suits its bearer, then 'federalism' is a malaptronym, a name that not only does not suit its bearer, but misleads as to the nature of said bearer. And the same, of course, is true in spades of 'social justice.'
I say we consign it to the dreaded index verborum prohibitorum!
The following post from the old blog written 20 July 2005 makes a point that bears repeating.
John Nichols of the The Nation appeared on the hard-Left show, "Democracy Now," on the morning of 2 September 2004. Like many libs and lefties, he misused 'unilateral' to mean 'without United Nations support.' In this sense, coalition operations against Saddam Hussein's regime were 'unilateral' despite the the fact that said operations were precisely those of a coalition of some thirty countries.
The same willful mistake was made by his boss Victor Navasky on 17 July 2005 while being interviewed by David Frum on C-Span 2.
Words have established meanings. Intellectually honest people respect those meanings. Too many libs and lefties do not. Out to win at all costs, they will do anything to secure their ends, including hijacking the terms of a debate and piloting them to some Left-coast destination.
When they are not corrupting established words, they are inventing question-begging epithets such as 'homophobia,' and 'Islamophobia.' A phobia is an irrational fear. There is nothing irrational about fear of radical Islam. And there neeedn't be anything fearful or irrational about opposition to homosexual practices.