Losing the language

Michael Brenner tackles a tough topic at the Huffington Post, the decay and distortion of the language within a society and its politics. He gets it abysmally wrong on a few points, but the general topic is an important one (and a fascinating one, if you’re a word person). A few of the highlights:

“Language has become a victim of our debased public discourse. It is cause and reinforced effect of speech being used for self-affirmation rather than communication. Public personalities emote more than they express viewpoints.”

“The radical right in the United States effectively took control of the term liberal and all its variants so as to tar it with strongly negative connotations.”

I’ll agree in part with Brenner on this one. I don’t know who or what he means by “radical” right (perhaps anybody or thing on the right is “radical” to him), but I will lament that we have lost the ability to use the words “liberal” and “conservative” with much clarity these days. In terms of being open to new experiences, accepting of others, and being generally forward-looking, I have long been liberal and in some ways am even increasingly so. I’ll call that attitudinal liberalism. Politically, I’m staunchly conservative. But it’s a label that’s hard to wear, because we’ve confused the terms so much.

“There is nothing conservative about modern day Republicans … They are at once reactionaries … and radicals… Their socio-economic thinking in rooted in 19th century social Darwinism, their reference point the ‘Gilded Age’ of the 1890s. Rolling back the New Deal and everything associated with it is objective number one. So-called ‘conservatives,’ once in power, also aim to fortify the arbitrary powers of the Executive, at the expense of the principle of ‘checks and balances’ etched in the Constitution, in a manner never before experienced in the United States. Internationally, they are dedicated to building a world according to American specifications through generous application of American military power. This package is diametrically different from all that has been meant by conservatism.”

I agree that “conservatism,” both the term itself and the modern political agenda as such, has been too rigidly defined to necessarily include a more aggressively engaged/or even interventionist mindset when it comes to foreign policy. I don’t think the true test of “conservatism” ought to be whether one supports military intervention in the next country, or next country, or next country, etc. Though, of course, a valid test of conservatism might be whether one believes America has an exceptional and constructive role to play and can be a great political force for good in the world.

“Nowadays, the promotion of any social change is labeled reform — whether or not its objects will find their situation improved.”

Agreed. And both sides do this. It’s way too easy, and the media needs to start calling people on it.

Unfortunately, Brenner himself tortures language in this screed against tortured language. For example, he continually refers to an understanding of human behavior and acceptance of economic freedom as “fundamentalism.” His attempt – and we’re seeing this increasingly from the left (I suspect they love the aesthetic appeal of cleverly insulting free market types and religious people in the same breath) – is to assert that free market capitalism is founded more on faith than fact, and is utterly irrational.

Anyway, like I said, good topic, and some decent points of analysis here, despite its many other flaws. Worthy reading.

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Filed under Education, Media, Philosophy and Ethics, The Left, The Right

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