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Thursday, May 28, 2009

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I read somewhere that one of the reasons why outrage (or faux outrage) is now our most commonly expressed political emotion is that most intelligent people have already made up their minds which of the two corporate-sponsored parties to support (or have made up their minds to support neither of them), and so the only people who can actually be moved by political rhetoric are idiots, and so political rhetoric must be idiotic, and must attempt to tap into our most reptile-brained impulses.

And, if "You're disrespecting my tribe!" doesn't quite get us into the reptile brain, it's pretty damn close.

Although I'm not sure that things are really getting worse in this respect. Right now, I'm reading Lawrence Goodwyn's "The Populist Moment", about the creation and destruction of the late-19th-century Populist movement and People's Party, and I'm at the part about the 1896 presidential campaign (which was when the Republican Party established a lock on patriotism as their issue, and a tool with which to beat up on the Democrats) and the level of stupidity of that campaign rivals anything I've seen in my lifetime.

John's post reminds me of the ongoing mini-controversy where hog farmers object to the use of the word "Pork" to describe wasteful government spending.

SteveB: the only people who can actually be moved by political rhetoric are idiots, and so political rhetoric must be idiotic...

... Guess what?? It has arrived 500 years early.

But really what we're talking about is just a tactic from the novel 1984. It's like a SLAPP suit. Take away the words and nobody will be able to criticize the practice itself. If we banish all thought that there might be socially accepted limits on where the Corporate gets its money from, then there can't be any objection to tossing corporations $12 Trillion in bailouts to fix their self-created disaster. (Governor Gibbons ought to try that slogan on for size: "Bail out Las Vegas!! At least we don't lose money when we gamble!")

Orwell thought that government lackeys would subtract words from our language for ideological and political reasons. He simply didn't have the foresight to envision two political lackeys fighting over words about who serves almighty Capital the best.

Hay caramba means "There is caramba." I don't know what "caramba" is, cabron. I think you meant Ay, caramba!

SteveB: ...and the level of stupidity of that campaign rivals anything I've seen in my lifetime.

Hay caramba. I can hardly imagine, given what we've seen in our lifetimes.

Duncan: I don't know what "caramba" is, cabron.

Me neither, pendejo.

Considering that Obama is perfectly willing to issue his own outrageous stupidities, e.g. Iran has a nuclear weapons program or Israel was engaged in self-defense in their murderous campaign against Gaza, I don't even feel a nanosecond of sympathy for him when his political enemies engage in such inanities, but I do feel a large amount of sympathy for us, who have to live with this insanely vapid political culture and the many concrete harms it results in.

I have to qualify the above comment with the observation that the stupidity of our political culture at least affords a chuckle or two at times. Like the recent right-blogger outrage that the Chrysler dealers being closed are overwhelmingly Republican donors. "Why, why, it's an Obama hit-list!" they breathlessly cry, never bothering to consider whether it's possible that car dealers are overwhelmingly Republican.

I got a chuckle out of that.

Yeah, agreed on your first point. I knew I'd end up feeling like a dope for feeling even a nanosecond of sympathy for him; next time I'll try to keep it under a picosecond.

Though I also agree with your qualification. Sometimes it's worth setting aside the studied left analysis and just taking our political system on its own terms for a moment, if only for the near-infinite amusement it provides. That was basically what was going on in the first half of this posting; as much as I slam the Democrats, I'm continually dumbfounded by the depths of inane hysteria and open corruption the Republicans can reach, and this was a good example.

Sympathize with BHO ? That's what appears to be CD wanting us to do yet again. They just axed Thomas More. TM was a great guy and despite a lot of our disagreements with him, CD had no right or basis to ban him. And yet, they have the nerve to keep harassing Obamabots such as "Nebraska Nathan1" on. NN has been the worst Obamabot on CD and he's harassing Sioux Rose all the time and making a mental case threat out of it trying to make SR fear that she will end up in the hospital like another user JenniferBedingfield or some shit like that. CD has a blatant set of double standards on who to keep and who to ban. But one of these days, CD will wake up and ban "Nebraska Nathan1" just like they banned JoeHope.

Thomas Daulton is so right about the 1984 tactic. It's amazing how the language has been twisted, broken, bastardized, and shat on by the political hacks and media whores. It's difficult to reason and debate when cliches and euphemisms are so widely accepted--maybe especially where the hired killers known as the military are concerned.

I don't know what "caramba" is, cabron.

Me neither, pendejo.

Whatever it is, hay mucha caramba around here today.

I have a feeling you all know what "caramba" is and just aren't telling me.

They just axed Thomas More. TM was a great guy and despite a lot of our disagreements with him, CD had no right or basis to ban him. And yet, they have the nerve to keep harassing Obamabots such as "Nebraska Nathan1" on. NN has been the worst Obamabot on CD and he's harassing Sioux Rose all the time and making a mental case threat out of it trying to make SR fear that she will end up in the hospital like another user JenniferBedingfield or some shit like that. CD has a blatant set of double standards on who to keep and who to ban. But one of these days, CD will wake up and ban "Nebraska Nathan1" just like they banned JoeHope.

Maybe it's time to spend a few days away from the computer?

Well, that's how we Mezkins are, Donald. We talk to each other in our furrin secret-code "language" so we can make fun of you gringos without your knowing it. ;)

Steve B may be onto something, although I'm inclined to think the ridiculousness of political rhetoric is mostly due to the need for the 2 parties to demonstrate they're somehow different from each other, and as top-level democrats go out of their way to prove they're republicans, republicans in turn are driven to prove themselves still nuttier.

Duncan:Just start using tildes gratuitously, and don't forget the upside-down exclamation point when you get excited.

... I'm inclined to think the ridiculousness of political rhetoric is mostly due to the need for the 2 parties to demonstrate they're somehow different from each other...

There's definitely some of that to it, and that's certainly what's so galling about it—that they elevate these trivialities into nuclear-scale food fights. Like this, for instance. And take a look at this one quote from that article (about Sotomayor's "racism"):

"It's not as if I think Obama's incapable of nominating someone who is more adventurous and more activist by nature," said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. "Maybe we should save the all-out blast for when he nominates that one."
Yeah, it might be a mistake to blow all the overblown theatrical outrage on the first nomination. (Though I think Olson underestimates his fellow conservatives' ability to equal or exceed previous "all-out blasts", whatever the facts may be.)

Unfortunately I'm about 13,000 miles away from my copy of Harvey A. Daniels's Famous Last Words, and will be for another two weeks, so I can't quote his neat demolition of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." But Orwell was wrong. One of the reasons he's wrong is evident in Rosemary Molloy's claim that "the language has been twisted, broken, bastardized, and shat on by the political hacks and media whores." Language has no purity or impurity, and there never was a pristine English (or any other language) that was straight, intact, legitimate, and free of shit. The idea that "ordinary" language, untouched by the political hacks and media whores, is a clear, transparent medium for discussion and debate, free of ideology and bias, is absurd to anyone who's ever worked with language. Or should be.

I can quote Jim Quinn's English Tongue and Cheek, however. He dismisses Orwell's essay, rightly:

"One of the most sacred of all the sacred cows of pop grammar is its insistence that there is a connection between clear thinking and good grammar – that bad thinking, and especially bad political thinking, produces bad writing. This proposition was stated with much pop certitude in George Orwell’s essay 'Politics and the English Language.' But it goes back even further, at least as far as 1927, when Ezra Pound wrote,

The individual cannot think and communicate his thought, the governor cannot act effectively or frame his laws, without words, and the solidity and validity of these words is in the care of the damned and despised literati. When their work goes rotten – by that I do not mean when they express indecorous thoughts – but when their very medium, the very essence of their work, the application of the word to think goes rotten, i.e., becomes slushy or inexact, or excessive or bloated, the whole machinery of social and of individual thought and order goes to pot.

"This is brilliant pop grammar writing – the simple declaration of the connection is itself so well written that we believe it immediately. But it’s not true.
"And I can demonstrate that it’s not true with a simple list of writers who never let their work go rotten, who were never slushy or inexact, or excessive or bloated: Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis … all of these writers had more or less open flirtations with fascism, which is arguably the most indecent form of social organization ever proposed....
"If it were not possible to lie in English, and to disguise your thoughts, and put bad meanings in a better light, then we would have to have another language, because one of the functions of language is deceit. English does not belong to people with virtue, or people with talent, or people who can remember very clearly the difference between a gerund and a gerundive, or people who have succeeded in imitating the affected unregional accents and measured sentences of television announcer. English belongs to everybody – the liars, the fuzzy thinkers, the dishonest ad writer, the crooks, the presidents of the United States …"

Thanks for the lengthy comment, Duncan. I'm not impressed with the Quinn quote, though, which is riddled with fallacies and seems to miss the point by a mile. And I agree wholeheartedly with Rosemary's statement that "It's difficult to reason and debate when cliches and euphemisms are so widely accepted", which I think you're misconstruing (as Quinn is misconstruing the purpose of Orwell's essay).

Setting aside any debate, though, it'd be a shame if you actually did scare anyone off from Orwell's essay, which should be required reading for writers. I encourage everyone to read it and decided if it's got something worthwhile to say.

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