Monday, November 21, 2005

The Logopathology of the Left

It is corrupting to hear or read the words of men who do not believe in truth. It is yet more corrupting to receive, in place of truth, mere learning and scholarship which, if they are presented as ends in themselves, are no more than parodies of the truth they were meant to serve, no more than a facade behind which there is no substance. --Father Seraphim Rose

The moral and intellectual pathology of the left revolves around its misuse of language. It is not so much that leftist thought consists of lies, as that it is based on a primordial Lie that causes it to enter a parallel universe where, even if they say something that is technically true, they aren’t saying it because it’s true, which makes all the difference.

The primordial lie is the nullification of the covenant between language and reality, so that language is used for its effect rather than as a tool to convey truth. For the left, good language is effective language, whether it means ridiculously exaggerating the danger of heterosexual AIDS in order to increase funding, brazenly lying about George Bush supposedly lying about WMD, or blaming hurricaine Katrina on Bush's environmental policies.

Of late, the left has come under the influence of a new guru, Berkeley professor George Lakoff, who argues that the reason the left’s ideas are so unpopular among Americans is that they simply fail to frame them properly. Conversely, the right is successful simply because they trick people into endorsing things that are against their own self interest by framing ideas in a deceptive way.

If you listen, you can hear Lakoff’s influence in action all the time. For example, you now hear the left trying to frame issues in terms of “values,” since that is something that people seem to care about. Therefore, Howard Dean’s new mantra is that Democrats care about morality more than the Republicans do, because, unlike Republicans, their values do not include making children go to bed hungry at night or forcing people go without health insurance.

In fact, George Lakoff’s analysis of the problems of the left is exactly backwards, because the left is actually incapable of simply presenting their ideas without framing them in a deceptive way. Nor are they able to discuss conservative ideas without mischaracterizing them in a deeply misleading, condescending, and generally insulting way.

The argument about conservatives actually wanting children to go to bed hungry is a case in point. There is not even the pretense of engaging with the merits of the conservative argument on how best to combat poverty. Rather, before the argument can even begin, conservatives are tarred as inherently evil people who enjoy making children suffer. Why even argue with such a sadistic person?

We saw the same phenomenon last Friday evening, in the debate over the Murtha proposal to immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq. Interestingly, on Friday morning liberals were ecstatic about Murtha’s proposal, which was headlined in all of the large liberal papers (not to mention al Jazeera) in its completely naked, “unframed” manner. For example, in the Los Angeles Times, the headline read “War Hawk Calls for Immediate Withdrawal of Troops From Iraq.”

Naively believing that language refers to reality and means what it means, Republicans decided to call the Democrats bluff, and arranged for a vote on the matter. Sensing a trap -- the trap being having their stupid and dangerous idea actually taken seriously -- the Democrats immediately called upon their shape-shifting relationship to language, and magically reframed the debate. This wasn’t about Murtha’s proposal. This was simply about an attack on the patriotism of an American hero! The "swift-boating" of another brave veteran! (The presumption being that the Swifties had engaged in the first degree Murthing of Kerry.)

And of course, the press played along. This is because, as I have argued before, the Democratic party has been reduced to the political action wing of the MSM, which actually speaks for the Democratic party, sets its agenda, and covers its backside in situations such as this. The MSM, which is supposed to be comprised of people called “journalists” who have a more secure relationship to language, turns out to be a research and development lab for leftist experiments against reality.

On Friday morning, for example, my local paper carried the headline “House Combat Vet Urges Pullout,” accurately stating in the first paragraph that Murtha had “called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.” But Saturday’s headline was “House Divided Against itself Over Iraq War,” despite the fact that Murtha’s proposal was defeated nearly unanimously. And the paper characterized the resolution as a stunt by Republicans that mischaracterized Murtha’s call for withdrawal, saying that it wasn’t really a call for immediate withdrawal.

In short, immediate meant immediate when it suited the agenda of the MSM, but no longer meant immediate when it appeared that immediate withdrawal might not go over too well with the public, the vast majority of whom are not leftists.

Conservatives will just have to learn to live with being framed by the MSM and their Democratic operatives. If you are for low taxes on principle, you really just favor tax cuts for the rich. If you want to have control over your own retirement, you really just want to enrich large mutual fund companies. If you are for the liberation of Iraq, you are really just a colonialist who wants to steal their oil. If you want judges to interpret and not make law, you really want to destroy civil rights and return to the days of Jim Crow. If you are against affirmative action, it can’t be because you think it’s harmful and insulting to blacks, but because you are a racist. If you are uncomfortable with redefining marriage, it can’t be because you actually think that a child does best with a mother and father, but because you hate homosexuals.

You will also note that, when these sorts of accusations come from the left, the media will never make any effort to determine whether or not they are true. Rather, they will preface their story with “Democrats say,” as in “Democrats say George Bush lied about pre-war intelligence.” It wasn’t too long ago that the job of the press was to actually determine whether such statements were true before irresponsibly transmitting them to millions of citizens. In this case, it wouldn’t be difficult for a motivated press to establish the charge as a baseless slur, or, for that matter, to establish the fact that Joe Wilson is an inveterate liar with no claim to credibility.

And of course, this is why controlling the courts is of such vital importance to advancing the leftist agenda, because they need people “on the inside” who don’t believe that words mean what they mean. In the film Devil’s Advocate, there is a scene in which the Keanu Reeves character asks Al Pacino why satan would incarnate as a lawyer. I can only paraphrase Pacino, but he thunders something to the effect of, “because lawyers have a hand in everything!”

In the case of activist Supreme Court justices, it is like having linguistic termites at the constitutional foundation of the country, eating away at its meaning. By reframing the words of the Framers, they can unmoor the language of the constitution from its plain meaning, and thereby create a country based upon the rules of power and expedience. For when language cannot make an appeal to truth, it simply becomes a mask for power.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

Bob...with the holidays approaching and we are suddenly tossed like a salad in the mix of liberals and conservatives with a splash of fence sitters and God only knows the anti war cousin that might show up....could you do a little post on table manners with these lefties? How about advice on how to get the drumstick when "aunt liberal" wants it or How to avoid prewar intelligence during dessert....or how to handle cocktail hour with uncle so and so that after two drinks is going to start shouting, "Bush lied to us...Bush lied to us" .......come on us out....give us some power pointers for etiquette through the holidays with family that we love but sometimes wonder if they were adopted from aliens! With all the political correctness going on...offending family that might have more law degrees than most can be a bit unnerving. LOL Oh I can read the headlines the after the New Year..."Investigation to probe real ingredients"..."family tricked into dessert" "Offended over pumpkin pie! All spice is more multicultured than nutmeg because there wasn't any cinnamon to be found"

Bryan said...

The logophobia of the left truly is fascinating, particularly since it really does appear motivated by something much more fundamental than the desire to deceive voters. Nor is it restricted to the American left (cf. Derrida). I remember often being astonished in my conversations with my leftist friends in graduate school (and almost all of them were leftist), when they would make some claim, and I would challenge it, and then they would immediately retreat into taking the position that there is no truth, or that language is unstable, or that meaning is meaningless. Or my leftist friends would start out with the assertions that truth and meaning are illusions and then would try to derive leftist political positions from those assertions. And I would be left with my jaw on the floor over how an educated and intelligent person could indulge in such a trashy nihilism and involve himself in such an obvious performative contradiction. It was also fascinating to watch the contortions of intellectual leftists who followed Heidegger in their rejection of reason after the revelations of Heidegger's Nazi past became public knowledge, although most leftists simply refused to allow themselves to become aware of how deeply they were influenced by Heidegger. There must be something in this kind of nihilism that speaks very deeply to some very strong desires of a lot of people, despite the fact that I cannot understand it at all. I can understand why one might want to be free of the limitations of human nature or economics or gender, but why would one experience meaning itself as fascist?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! You've articualted the best arguement I have seen explaining just how the left distorts truths and facts (and then is rareley, if ever, called on it.) Loved your essay...should be required reading!!

Donna said...

Bob, all your essays are brilliant, but this one is especially spot on. Your analysis of the left and their neuroses is very helpful in understanding how they operate, but how about some helpful suggestions as to what we can do!!!! It's so discouraging to hear all this nonsense day in and day out. Do you see some improvement on the horizon?

Gagdad Bob said...

--could you do a little post on table manners with these lefties?

Bring a long spoon, and keep your extremities close to your body, so thay can't be bitten.

Actually, it is probably best to stay as calm as possible, and to use the Socratic method to show how their ideas eventually lead them over the abyss if taken to their logical conclusion. Calmness and logic are the keys.

Even so, don't expect to get anywhere, because they won't stay calm or logical. Probably the best you can do is what Dennis Prager advises. That is, tell them up front that you are not trying to convince them of anything or change their mind, but that you just want to clarify your differences as sharply as possible--find out why they think what they think, and at opportune moments, explain why you don't think that.

--but why would one experience meaning itself as fascist?

That's a very good question. Language is a double-edged sword. Although it is what rescues us from being engulfed in the senses--think of the liberation Helen Keller felt when she first learned the sign for water--language can also be experienced as a new kind of prison. Most people do not speak language, but are spoken by it, and thereby experience it as a restriction on their infantile omnipotence. Think of it as analogous to the collpase of the wave function in quantum physics, from infinite potential to particularized being. If you are something, you can no longer be everything.

I'm going to give it some more thought, because there is definitely an element of what in psychoanalysis is called an "envious" attack on language. Probably something to do with the father, who symbolically enforces the "law" of language.

--how about some helpful suggestions as to what we can do!!!!

Another good question. I try to look at things from the widest possible cosmic angle. In so doing, one can see this conflict as the latest installment of something that has been going on since the dawn of man. It's just an ongoing struggle. In the middle ages, it was between the nominalists, who believed that words only referred to specific things, vs. the realists, who believed that words referred to transcendent ideas that were real. In other words, nominalists would say that only the individual horse is real, whereas the realist would say that the individual horse is just an example of the category of horseness.

This question deserves a full post, that is, not just on the battle of ideas that are expressed through language, but the deeper battle from time immemorial on the nature of language. It would probably illuminate a lot of different conflicts.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Thanks Bob...I will take my long spoon and sit at the "kiddy table" so I can corrupt the youth.

*thinking how to avoid the hemlock*

Goesh said...

Ya' can't win with the rabid Left. We may have to simply regroup and designate cerain folks to be martyrs, that in the course of rational discussion with a Lefty, the martyr simply states that he agrees then kicks him/her in the groin and says, " I hate it when I learn that I am wrong". This play on words with any serious Lefty most likely would reduce the chance of being charged with assault.

gumshoe1 said...

you're onna roll with the
attack on language" thing,Bob.

"For when language cannot make an appeal to truth, it simply becomes a mask for power."

this is something most of us have experienced at a gut level.

i would cite the
feminist "quest for 'Equality'" as an example.
allowances made for human frailty,
it was only a (short)matter
of time before the feminist project would become a naked quest for power.
'Equality' hasn't been a part of the picture for some time now,or women would be campaigning for Father's my knowledge,
not many women are.

at a gut level,
it is also the source of
the maddening pointlessness
of holding conversations with
those who claim to venerate "ideas",
yet can't bring themselves to define terms or be consitent about them,or be consistent about the views they hold....they hug the surface...
depth frightens them,perhaps.

it also explains the tremendous shallowness of the left's
"memory hole".

they re-write history at a furious pace nowdays.

and their prononcements
are,by their own definiton
meaningless and not worth remembering,regadless of how passionate they are about them at the time.

the conversation becomes a circular vapor....and ends up back where it started without discovering anything new:their *feelings*.

perhaps that's the
"magic pill" liquidlifehacker needs...whatever they're hysterical about at the dinner table at 5:18pm,
they will have forgotten all about it at 5:33pm....

the consolation
to LLH being that it wasn't significant in the first place...
nod sagely and smile,like listening to a child explain the Magic Mountain ride at Disney World, and move on to the pumpkin pie.

dilys said...

"Most people do not speak language, but are spoken by it, and thereby experience it as a restriction on their infantile omnipotence."

I don't have the technical psych. to describe this...

At a family wedding in the DC suburbs, we were regaled by a high-level civil servant (probably State Department) with all the Leftist "Bush lied" stuff. It seemed to me he was not adversary to language, but was in an instrumental relationship to both it and facts. They were in rapid-fire use, in service to repetitively downloading some state or pattern of mind -- anxiety, superiority, agitation, primal fear, resentment, rage, etc. Almost like an animal marking its territory, since the subject came up apropos of very little.

The envy was directed to his (BDS) subject matter, and perhaps his less-agitated listeners; his use of language was transparent to infantile and deranged agendas.

On the other side of infantile, liquidlifehacker can only have a better time at la table des enfants, particularly if he takes a good book with the long spoon. That's a delightful reversal -- the best people fighting to sit at the kids' table. Isn't preferring the company of children a characteristic of saints and creative geniuses?