Saturday, March 21, 2009

From "Poly" meaning "many"...

If you haven't been following this debate between Jeff Goldstein and Patterico, and you care about language, truth, education and how all those play into politics, you should.

In one corner, we have the guy who has dedicated himself to pantsing the Los Angeles Times, one of the worst papers that ever was or will be.

In the other corner, we have a stalwart defender of language and meaning, and a bad ass catch-wrestler who could probably beat you up. He's got footnotes and links back to some pretty hefty essays on this whole argument, which is his blogging raison d'etre.

The recent flare-up was the Rush Limbaugh brouhaha staged by the White House.

A lot of the conservative response was, "Well, Rush is inflammatory and he should take care to not be so provocative." This is Patterico's side.

Goldstein's response is basically that when the speaker's intention to communicate is subordinate to the listener's intention to impute meaning, the game is already lost.

The fact that the whole thing was staged by the White House as a distraction, and that the entire context of Rush's talk proves his intention was exactly the non-controversial sentiment that the "be more cautious" crowd would have preferred him to express, demonstrates that Goldstein is correct.

If you don't believe that, cast your mind back to the election, when Sarah Palin was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her house. Which, of course, she never even said. Or look at Jindal, who was ridiculed for walking up to a podium. Now cast your mind forward to all the apologists of Obama's recent "Special Olympics" comment: How many of those people defending him attacked others for similar behavior?

Patterico's reasonable-ness is his downfall. He sounds a bit like the abused wife who's just sure that if she just minds her Ps and Qs, she won't get hit again. And in the case of conservatives trying to gain some kind of fair hearing in the current environment, it's a seductive argument: We can tailor our messages in a way that they won't distort them. (Or at least that there is as "reasonable segment" of them who won't.)

But the truth is a lot harder: If we're ever to have honest debate in the world again, we have to break the stranglehold on the media. We have to insist on being taken on what we mean, not grovel when bad actors impute villanous motives to us. We have to change the educational system so that people learn to respect communication and are able to destroy the rhetorical sleights-of-hand engaged in by would-be totlitarians.

In other words, I think Patterico doesn't really see how bad things are, or how big the problem really is. But I can understand: It really is bad, and the problem is huge. It'd be nice if we could actually make ground just by being reasonable.

But the unfortunate reality is that "reasonable" people never make ground. Because there's always a "good reason" why they can't.


  1. That's why I try to make reasonable points in entirely unreasonable ways.

    (which might be part of Limbaugh's success, his excess, and talent)

    Reason is highly overrated. All fascists and communists have had their reasons, while seems like most libertarians have been painted as being entirely unreasonable by the well reasoned liberal press.

    (in Ron Paul's case, they had a point, unfortunately)

  2. People don't seem to get that the beauty of limited government is that it matters that much less who's in it.

    I'm not sure what Ron Paul got stuck with, but somehow I doubt it was much worse than we could've found with McCain, Obama, Clinton, or most of the other "reasonable" candidates.

  3. Instapundit quotes Jerry Pournelle on your topic, "it matters much less who's in it" but cuts the quote short. At greater length, it's

    Rush Limbaugh had a pretty good diatribe today: we survived Johnson, we survived Carter. We survived Watergate. This election was closer than many. Of course I have said that since election night.

    It's very clear: a better ground game would have won for the Republicans in the election. A better ground game getting out more non-Republican conservative votes for other parties would have made it easier to build a more conservative Republican Party; but the opportunity is here. The country club has discredited itself. The efforts that built the Reagan revolution will work again. The opportunity is there.

    "But we did that! And the country clubbers snuck in and stole the party!"

    Yes. Of course. Who ever thought that one need not guard Fort Knox after defeating an attack on it. We have always known that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It's worse now, because capture of government is so much more important than it once was. There was a time when there was enough freedom that it hardly mattered which brand of crooks ran government. That has not been true for a long time -- not during most of your lifetimes, and for much of mine -- and it will probably never be true again.

    The nation needs a strong two party system. At the moment those who really don't believe in freedom are in ascendancy. We face Depression. This is hardly the time to give up; nor is it the time to say, well, we will never take control of the Republican Party and keep it. The country club elites who feel entitled will always be there, ready --

    Exactly. They will always be there, ready to compromise any principle to keep power.

    But we rebuilt after Watergate. We can rebuild now.

    Bold added by me.

    I want Obama's policies to fail. I want the United States to succeed. I think that the first is the necessary condition for the second.

    I haven't been watching this Goldstein-Patterico kerfuffle. Which is why I have not said anything about either of them here. Spent the time watching Althouse looking radiant on Bloggingheads, and thought that was a better use of the time.


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