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Open Thread: Rhetoric that Shuts Down Conversation

August 4, 2009

In my last post I mentioned that uses of the phrases “big government” and “free market” tend to make me want to ignore you. In the comments, “reverse racism,” “political correctness,” “rings true of Jesus,” and “radically subversive” were added. So, I’d like you all to comment: what words or phrases would you add to this list, and why? Jon and Chris, can you begin by stating why you would add those phrases to this list?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2009 1:17 pm

    Liberal Values
    British Values

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 4, 2009 1:23 pm

    You’ve got to add WHY!

  3. August 4, 2009 1:40 pm

    I’ve got to? :p

    Well Democracy – I guess I really mean “democratic” and I mean it when it is used in the sense of “this is a self evident good in and of itself”. I don’t see why it should be seen that way and it generally tends to be used jingoistically without much thought for what it means or the way it actually works in society.

    Freedom – it’s just a buzz word. So vague it can mean anything. To one guy freedom means self determination for his tribe – including the right to force 6 year old girls to get married because its part of their culture. To another its the worse kind of individualism and the opportunty for every individual to trample all over the environment and other people and the culture to their hearts content. To a third it means freedom to do some specific thing. To a fourth it means not being subject to a superior. To a fifth it means only being subject to those superiors he chooses (even if he must choose one).

    Liberal Values – when people imply this is something inherent to western culture that is accepted by the populace at large or ought to be.

    British Values – when people talk about “British Values” what they mean is that the political ideals of “liberal democracy” are apparantly “British”. Why are they British? Do British people universally accept them? Does one cease to be British if one rejects them (or is that only for immigrants?) Did they originate here (no, although some would have you believe…). Its arrogant on the part of people who love these things to believe they are “British” and it is insulting to the many British people who don’t subscribe to them to imply they are inherent to Britishness.

    Fundamentalism – basically used in the sense of “anyone who takes their religion seriously even when it contradicts the mainstream ideology of society”. Fundamentalism actually means something but most people just use it in the same way as “extremist”.

    Extremists – again, its just a word for talking about people who dare to believe something different to policy makers and the BBC.

    Radicalised – its a way of dehumanising people again, who dare to step out of the mold of the mainstream ideology – saying that they can’t have formed these views for valid reasons – it must be that people (probably from abroad) brainwashed them into having terrible extremist and unbritish views. It’s in some ways a way of people who don’t want to believe they are racist against Pakistani’s justifying to themselves their racist activity against Pakistani’s by claiming that it’s not the targets of their activity who are the real bad guys but some distant evil group who are brainwashing the poor Pakistani youth of Britain.

  4. August 4, 2009 3:56 pm

    In historical Jesus works, a saying that “rings true” to Jesus just seems like a cop-out for inadequate evidence, as though there were already a clear enough picture of his ethos that we can be certain of such things.

    “radically subversive” is often a code-phrase for “sui generis,” the problems of which hardly need to be elaborated upon. Not to mention its fairly meaningless.

    I would put in a vote for the utility of “politically-correct” NOT in reference to feminist/postcolonial/queer/etc. viewpoints, but in terms of dominant politically-sanctioned viewpoints that make up your list: “I support the troops.” “Main street not Wall Street.” Basically anything that you would be considered a political nut-job for openly disagreeing with. I can’t recall who suggested this approach to “PC,” but it seems to undercut the dominant understanding of the phrase in a way that isn’t so reactionary.

  5. August 4, 2009 6:57 pm

    Whenever I heard “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” it just totally wrecks the conversation, IMO.

  6. August 9, 2009 4:40 am

    Hey, sorry to be late to the conversation:

    “Reverse racism” isn’t just a nonsense phrase; if one accepts that racism = privilege + power, there’s simply no way for a minority group to systemically oppress a dominant class. Instead, “reverse racism” seeks to equate any nominally anti-white position (whether it seeks to undo white supremacy or not) with the wholesale subjugation of non-white peoples, and thereby tarnish, say, affirmative action, with the brush of racism. It’s offensive to equate these two, as if a loss of white privilege were in any way equivalent to centuries of slavery and discrimination. To use this phrase seriously is to utterly disregard the historical reality of racism, generally in an attempt to foment white anger with the perception that whites are being discriminated against.

    “Political correctness” functions similarly. Any conversation about PC should, of course, acknowledge that it’s a totally meaningless phrase – the term was invented by white conservatives to denote a worrying trend: in particular, language that threatened to include a significant part of the population, rather than pretend that rich white men invented history. There isn’t any organized or coherent PC movement. If anything, the trend is like a wave of recognition of the existence of minority groups. The move to falsely officialize this wave in the term “political correctness” both misrepresents what it is and its purpose, which is useful for creating a target for white rage.

    I think my major realization that PC is BS was when my father tried to convince me how powerful and anti-free speech it was. His main evidence: a video of Keith Olbermann and Michael Musto mocking Carrie Prejean. He might theoretically have had a point, in that there is a tendency when women speak out for their voices to be summarily silenced, but it was a pretty far cry from the organized censorship campaign my dad imagined was the case.

    So, to sum up: “reverse racism” and “political correctness” are primarily strategic terms that falsely equate the real oppression that minority groups face with minor losses of white privilege. These cries of victimhood obscure the real issues at hand, and compartmentalize and shut out minority voices. Furthermore, they underhandedly radicalize white animus against minorities, which when properly stoked is disproportionately more destructive than minority anger against white abuses. We seem to harp a lot on the “code words” that we suppose minority groups use to communicate with their members, yet we overlook the “code words” employed by white people for far more sinister reasons.

  7. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 9, 2009 7:59 am

    Great stuff everyone.

    After Jon’s comment, I’m thinking about adding another term: “censorship.” That word had useful and legitimate traction for social criticism when it referred to when the state prohibited criticism of the state. Now, apparently I’m being censored if you disagree with me strongly, or if mainstream media doesn’t publish my voice. This use waters down the term almost to the point of meaninglessness.

    Criticisms of mainstream media for not including everyone’s voice misunderstand what’s going on there when they label it as analogous to fascist state censorship. It is better understood as part and parcel of a for-profit news system—that’s right, capitalist modes of production are to blame!

  8. August 28, 2009 4:48 pm

    “invisible hand”

    While the concept might be something I could have a conversation about, I loathe the way it’s used as an excuse for exploitation. Or, at the very least, ‘invisible hand’ is used to mask the way capitalism harms so many. It’s how whitey relinquishes responsibility.

    Also, I hate how it’s used not just as a neutral term, but even perhaps as a positive one. ‘The invisible hand will make everything work out just right.” Ugh.

    The invisible hand is giving most people the finger.

  9. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 29, 2009 10:23 am

    “The invisible hand is giving most people the finger.”

    That’s AWESOME.

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