Friday, September 15, 2006

"it is unacceptable to think..."

I know that there's more to that statement. I know that it was a slip of the tongue, an unfortunate pause. And yet...

Could it get any more Freudian? Not only regarding the Mangler in Chief of the English language, but for our society at large? At this point, I believe that nothing scares our nation more than the idea that they might have to actually engage their brains and, you know, think.

I 'm aware that America has never been a real fountainhead of intellectual profundity. That push westward didn't allow lots of time for reflection, and America is still a young country by the measure of history. Still, we seem to have turned our backs on even the most rudimentary standards of critical thought.

Take the torture question. The hammer that the pro-torture position always wields is the old "it's one hour 'til a nucular bomb explodes and we've got a guy in custody who knows where it is. Now, are you tellin' me that you're such a pussy that you wouldn't hook the guy's nuts up to a car battery to save thousands of lives? Oh, and your mom's in the blast radius!"

First, the scenario assumes that we have the right man in custody. What if it turns out we just think we've got Ali ben Bommah in the clink? It might just be some guy who happens to look like, you know, one of them. Then there's the "one hour" canard. Let's say we decide to buzz Ali's testes with good ol' fashioned DC current. All Ali has to do is scream, "It's at 1234 Blue Balls Road!" when he knows that it's really at 4567 Numb Nuts Lane and there's your hour wasted. Boom ka-boom and torture did nothing. That scenario is a fraud.

Our language is empty and futile. Hackneyed phrases and wrung-out sentences that sound as if they mean something dominate our public discourse. I challenged someone to explain the phrase "we must fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" to me. They could not, but it sounded so strong, so substantial. Now, I agree that nuance chills the blood somewhat. It is hard to maintain a frothing patriotic rage when you're trying to actually quantify problems and test solutions.

I've been reading Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language." Now, I'm not an Orwell scholar, but you don't have to be a genius to see the bright straight line that connects Orwell's assertion that "
the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'" and our culture's use of words like "liberal." Frankly, liberal has no meaning today; it's a device for letting everyone know that a certain position need not be considered or debated. It's used the way others use "Nazi." No content, just code.

And it cuts both ways. I read many progressive blogs and I often find references (in the comments, not often in the blog) to "fundies" and "Christofascists." The term "fundie" is just as pejorative and dismissive as Rush Limbaugh's use of "liberal" and "feminazi." It betrays a worldview short on thought and long on knee-jerk. Many have written that there can be no such thing as "Islamofascism" and they are absolutely correct. There is also no such thing as "Christofascism." One of the few bloggers to deal with this sort of junk is maha over at the Mahablog. In the interest of full disclosure, I must say straight up that I am a Christian and, theologically, pretty evangelical/fundamental. It works itself out in my life a lot differently than in some of my acquaintances, but I'm still under that umbrella. It saddens me to see actions and stances credited to/blamed on religion when more often religion is used as a cover for base human nature. Do we really think that (for example) Eric Rudolph was fair-minded, rational, and respectful of other human beings until he went to church? Now, there are groups out there who will give people like Rudolph the material to build his own scaffold of justification, but the bile was in him.

We are not going to fix our problems, we're not even going to make any real progress, until we can begin to think. And making the mistakes we accuse others of making is no way to begin that process.

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