A Simpler Explanation for the Use of Jargon, Buzzwords, etc.

As we know, Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language,” came down Puritanically hard on the use of jargon, “foreign phrases” (provincial much, George?), and academic-insider diction and vocabulary.  He virtually makes such usage a moral issue.

A simpler explanation, and one that fits our age of communication-deluge, is that how we learn language and, via language, how we learn to fit into families, schools, jobs, and so on, induce us to use “the latest words.”

I’ve seen this fitting-in phenomenon in academia frequently.  New terms will spread like a flu-bug during a large or small academic conference, and people reflexively start using them, not necessarily because of their efficacy but just because they are new and moving up the popular charts,  and people do not want to be perceived as being not fully current, not being part of the group that’s using this language.

It seems as if younger academics may be more susceptible to this anxious need to keep up on new lingo, but even if this is true, it doesn’t mean academics of every stage don’t do the same thing.  That said, there also seems to come a time in most academics’ careers when an opposing reflex kicks in: generally weary, and acutely weary of academia, many academics become hostile to new things and new words, and they become increasingly likely to dismiss the latter and align themselves epistemologically with the credo, “There’s nothing new under the sun!  Therefore, leave me alone!”

But it can happen anywhere–job sites of every kind, political groups, social groups.  The right-wing servicer, Frank Luntz, developed dozens of slippery phrases, to a) lie in a most “Orwellian”way, b) heap scorn on “liberals” (a term he never had to define), and c) further fortify White-Right political identity.  Members of the group, new and old, lap up the new cream like kittens, not least of all because they like that feeling of being righteous and accepted.  Of course the same thing goes on in virtually every kind of group.  I do think it’s pretty clear that, in the U.S., the Republicans have been much better at this language-game than the flat-footed, befuddled Democrats, who haven’t exactly put effective roadblocks in the way of right-wing flim-flammers from Reagan to the current bloated, narcissistic loon, Our President, who is too lazy, and too rewarded for his laziness, to use new language.  He sticks with words like terrible, sad, tremendous, bad, and good.  Before the end of his term(s), he may just start grunting at his rallies and in his press conferences, and a large percentage of White folks will cheer each nuanced sound effect. Animal Farm, indeed.

In any event, counteracting both the keeping-up-with-the jargon mania and the curmudgeonly hostility any new words and terms can be difficult because to do so with the former requires checking the impulse to fit in immediately, and to do so with the latter means checking your own desire to stop learning.  In other words, discernment and self-discipline are crucial.

After all, in whatever specialized group one may think of, new language will arise, and much of it will be appropriate and useful–a reasonable acknowledgement (if I do say so myself) that is tough to find in Orwell’s essay.

Simple forms of such discernment come in the shape of questions: “Why am I using this new word/term, exactly?”  “Am I sure I know what it means?”  “Why are ‘they’ using this new word/term, exactly?” “Are people using this term more or less unthinkingly, out of reflex, habit, or an anxious need to fit it?”

Discernment in vocabulary and diction, in writing, speaking, and reading/consuming: a good aptitude to develop, and one distinct from Orwell’s clumsy eradication-policy vis a vis (foreign phrase!) “jargon.”

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Processing Trump

So how are allegedly rational citizens supposed to process Trump’s political language?  I mean aside from responding with disgust, alarm, and grave concern for the nation and just about everyone in it?

I do think it’s fair, especially after the last couple of weeks, to question his sanity because attributing his speech and behavior to cynicism, creating a persona, appealing to the base, etc., seems insufficient.  Within this news-cycle, he has suggested that President Obama is literally working with what Trumps calls “Islamists [ISIS],” revoked the Washington Post‘s credentials, wondered why the U.S. can’t block ISIS’s use of radios, and called again for a ban on immigration of people who are Muslim.

We may have reached the limits of analysis, so that everyone who is not part of the Trump cult should, although keeping eyes and ears tuned to the campaign, simply concentrate on making sure he is not elected.  That is, why analyze when there’s crucial work to be done?  Of course, we don’t necessarily have to choose between the two.

Would it profit us to approach Trump as the filthy, disturbing outcome of GOP speech, behavior, legislation, and foreign policy?  I don’t know.  He displays the xenophobia, fear-mongering, and willingness to wipe out due process that characterized Joseph McCarthy. He displays the vile racism of George Wallace, not to mention the slightly less subtle racist strategies and tactics of countless other Republicans–Reagan, Atwater, Rove, both Bushes, governors, senators, and representatives. He exudes the religious bigotry of Ted Cruz. He obviously has a disturbed view of women and a reactionary view of most issues affecting them–again, not all that different from other members of the GOP.  Power seems to have warped him badly, as it did Dick Cheney. Like Nixon, he’s obsessed with the press.

But we could also go in a different direction and assert that Trump is different from these GOP predecessors because he knows almost no limits to repellent political language, outrageous policy-suggestions, infantile insults to other politicians, and ghastly mockery of a disabled man. He also encourages violence at his rallies.

At the moment, I’m stuck somewhere between the two approaches.  Since Dixiecrat days, the GOP has been a party of racism and race-baiting, and its economic and foreign policies have been disastrous. That said, I do recall relatively decent GOP lawmakers who reached across the aisle to forge adequate if not excellent legislation, and at least Reagan and Bush I had some decorum. It would be easier to give the GOP a break if current GOP leaders would denounce him, and that might even be not just the proper thing to do, not just the best thing to do for the country, but also the smart political move.

What would Orwell do?  Probably he would attack Trump with his writing and view him as a fascist, and Orwell knew a thing or two about fascists. In the process, he might continue to parse Trump’s political language. But for whom should we parse the language?  I doubt if Orwell or anyone could, by analyzing Trump’s speech,  convince Trumpsters not to support the man.  I plan to spend a lot more time trying to make sure Trump doesn’t become president (writing that part of the sentence makes me a little sick: “Trump . . . president”) than thinking about the phenomenon or studying the language.

The Pseudocracy Takes the “Com” Out of “Communication”

Yes, most of us will remember Marshal McLuan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” the message of which is there is no message except the experience of the medium.  More charming even than this dictum were two examples of it in popular culture: Henry Gibson’s utterance on Laugh In, “Marshal McLuan, what’re you doin’?” and, in a Woody Allen film, Allen’s character and another character in line to see a movie, chatting about McCluan, whereupon McCluan himself appears, as himself.

Electronic media and the pseudocracy, with regard to “political communication,” have . . . . what?  Expanded, perfected, refined (?) the mode McLuan characterized.

Thus, we experience what have been called “dog whistle politics.” Politicians, political machines (literally: computers), surrogates, and consultants utter, by various means, words, phrases, sentences, and memes meant solely to induce masses of people to react, non-rationally, immediately, reflexively. “Government takeover” is such a meme. “Heartless budget,” from the Dem side, is another. All Parties and various parties may seemly evoke panic with “time is running out,” “disaster [in an upcoming election] looms.” After the whistle is blown, we dogs are, in addition to reacting, click on the link to give money, or at least to remain in a state of perpetual, unreflective, simmering rage.

Thus, the “com” in “communication” has been removed. We are not being communicated with. We are being -municated to. Sometimes the phenomenon or mass-practice takes on paradoxical, parodic form. For example, a cable crooner (the political persuasion matters not) may ask “us” (it isn’t personal; it just seems that way) to weigh in on a “poll,” using our phone, which we carry around, more or less like a dog with a toy. “Tell us what YOU think.” Right. We use the phone to communicate with the floating image on a screen. As if!

Consider the extent to which you, as a political pet of one kind or another, are kept barking, are inundated constantly with -municative noises: questions, statements, phrases, words, pictures, “memos,” memes, “messages,” loud music, etc., all operating as jolts of electricity to make your mental tendons contract like one of Frankenstein’s-Monster’s limbs, as he lies on the slab. Please know, as I assume you already do, that no one wants to hear from you. It isn’t an exchange.

All Politics Are (Not) Local

Herein the blog asserts that Governor Chris Christie’s journey from New Jersey (where he is caught in the consequences of using the other kind of bully-pulpit to bully politicians who didn’t support him) to Las Vegas, where he must kiss the ring of a GOP Mega-Funder, is emblematic of the pseudocracy.

Such is the pseudocracy that ancient adages may be threatened.  Probably the adage, “You can’t beat something with nothing,” remains reliable, although didn’t John Ashcroft lose to a dead person in Missouri? Oh, well: the exception that tests the rule.

The blog believes (here I imitate Bill O’Reilly: “The Factor believes . . .”) that the adage “all politics is [are] local” is endangered. True, Chris Christie has his eye on the White House, so it is expected that he would suck up to a national Mega-Funder. That said, Mega-Funders such as the Koch Brothers pour money into House elections, flooding Congressional districts, and those elections frequently feature state officials wishing to climb, but they don’t climb based on how they brought farm-money home; they run on how well they conform to a nationalized Tea Party formula.

Moreover, the “issues” seem increasingly national. That is, if you associate with or want to please the Tea Party, you must be rabid about the budget in a Tea Party sort of way, viciously anti-Obama (not merely anti-Democratic), nativist, Randian, and NRA-friendly. You must, essentially, run on the implied promise of getting nothing done. “I will do nothing about immigration. I will do nothing about health-care, except oppose ways to deliver it. I will not work on the budget. I will work against it. I will not soil my hands with policy. I will vote regularly on symbolic ‘legislation.’ I will make government not work.”

And the idea of a New Jersey Governor flying to Vegas–Vegas: how perfect is that?–to perform for cash somehow captures what the Citizens United decision not so much did to politics in the U.S. but what it completed. The coup de grace.

Of course, candidates in both Parties must suck up to Big Funders, although it must be said that one way Obama and Democrats fought back against oligarchical money was to raise money online from “small” donors–three bucks a pop, even. Nonetheless, the Dems have their bundlers and Mega-Donors. In this sense, it is a one-Party system.

And even the online appeals to small donors have a national character, so that (for example) if a citizen gave money to Obama’s campaign, he or she will be asked every day to contribute to election-campaigns in a wide variety of states and Congressional districts, however far-flung.

There may come a time when Democratic candidates must fit themselves to a constrictive mold. For the moment, it seems as if only the GOP is functioning that way, so that experienced politicians (like Dick Lugar) get undercut by primary-challengers who have agreed to shape themselves according to assembly-line specifications. Model Tea Party.

Christie is in trouble because of painfully provincial, local, and stupid politics. Shutting down a bridge? Really? But he hopes to escape by doing a pole-dance (block that image) in our real national capital, Vegas. Viva, Chris Christie!

Meanwhile, the blog sentimentally longs for the old days of moderately corrupt pork-barreling, when at least we could count on incumbents to bring home money for roads, bridges, and buildings, and thereby (wait for it) put people to work. What a quaint idea. Horse-and-buggy thinking. Dear Blog: Grow up! Way too local and pragmatic for the pseudocracy, which, like our data, lives in a Cloud and cannot, must not, concern itself with what might be productive for a state, a district, a county, a city, or some people.

All politics are vaporously national. Does the assertion hold up? The Blog must ask some political scientists.

Squalid Scalia

An online definition of squalid goes as follows:

(of a place) Extremely dirty and unpleasant, esp. as a result of poverty or neglect.
Showing a contemptible lack of moral standards.

I apply it to Justice (ha!) Antonin Scalia, in general but with regard to today’s arguments concerning same-sex marriage.

Reportedly, Scalia asked Ted Olson, a conservative arguing in favor of supporting the overturning of Prop. 8 in California (thus arguing in favor, more broadly, of same-sex marriage), “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage?” (This is a paraphrase.) Then he offered a couple of dates when this might have (not) occurred. Olson’s answer was a question, “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit mixed race marriages?” Scalia’s answer was to tell Olson not to answer questions with a question. Ah, the highest court in the land. High on what, who knows?

Scalia positions himself as an “originalist.” He likes to go back to the original text of the C. itself, and to founders’ intent. Grudgingly, he agrees to look at amendments. By the way, wouldn’t founders’ intent require cloning? Yeah, sure, there are letters and the Federalist Papers, but still, those are incomplete. We’d have to have live cranial video of what the founders were thinking when they signed the C. Even cloning wouldn’t cut it because, for the sake of argument, let’s assume we could bring a Founder back to life. First question: How’s it going? Second question (for Jefferson): “What gives you the right to own slaves?” Third question:”What was your intent when you …?” So, Big Tom gives us an answer: “My intent was to . . .”. Why would we believe his account?

But of course one good rhetorical answer to Scalia’s question is not the question Olson asked but an imperative: “Show me when and where the Constitution explicitly prohibited same sex marriage.” Scalia would then have to talk about, well, obviously, back then, gay people didn’t get married, yadda, yadda. Yeah, fine, but show me where that gets us into the text of the Constitution, Moe. (He reminds of Moe in the Three Stooges.)

This is all a rhetorical (in the negative sense) exercise on my part because, in part, Scalia’s mind is squalid, not to mention made-up. It is dirty and unpleasant as a result of neglecting reason in favor of politics. He’s just a GOP hack. He shows a contemptible lack of moral standards. It is immoral to go on hunting trips with Cheney (also unwise) and then claim there is no conflict of interest when you hear (but not listen to) a case involving Cheney. Etc.

Please know I don’t think much of the rest of the Court, either. With the exception of Ginsburg, they all seem like robed clowns too much taken with themselves. And poor Justice Thomas has become a smoldering boulder of self-loathing. Breyer is a gasbag. So is Kagan. Kennedy sits his ass on the fence, guaranteeing no one respects him.

Still, Scalia is a cut below–especially with his lame “originalist” posturing.

David Brooks’ Faulty Reasoning About Why the GOP Lost

I give David Brooks credit. In looking for reasons why the GOP had a bad night, he’s not being as shameless as Karl Rove. I know that’s faint praise. The long-con-artist Rove is blaming a storm for his failure to deliver what billionaires paid him for. Here is Brooks’ take:

Growing beyond proper limits, government saps initiative, sucks resources, breeds a sense of entitlement and imposes a stifling uniformity on the diverse webs of local activity.

During the 2012 campaign, Republicans kept circling back to the spot where government expansion threatens personal initiative: you didn’t build that; makers versus takers; the supposed dependency of the 47 percent. Again and again, Republicans argued that the vital essence of the country is threatened by overweening government.

These economic values played well in places with a lot of Protestant dissenters and their cultural heirs. They struck chords with people whose imaginations are inspired by the frontier experience.

But, each year, there are more Americans whose cultural roots lie elsewhere. Each year, there are more people from different cultures, with different attitudes toward authority, different attitudes about individualism, different ideas about what makes people enterprising.

More important, people in these groups are facing problems not captured by the fundamental Republican equation: more government = less vitality.

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

* * *

As it happens, I’m an expert on part of what he says. I grew up “on the frontier”–in a High Sierra town of 200, once a Gold Rush town. And, culturally, part of me came from Sweden but that part was atheist, not Protestant. Also, I saw what the GI bill did for one of my uncles, who flew mission in a Flying Fortress. It allowed him to go to a state college and get a teaching degree. He taught and coached for the next 30+ years but never gave up on the “frontier” stuff like hunting, fishing, building your own cabin, and panning for gold.

My uncle’s values were not, in fact, different from those described in the Pew poll concerning these alleged “people from elsewhere.”

Everybody in the U.S. is from elsewhere, and why begin history with Protestant colonialists? Why not start it with the slaves who were brought here in 1619? Or the Spaniards out on that frontier? Or the French in the bayous? And so on? And why not mention that many of the early members of the federal and state governments owned slaved? That’s the ultimate “government intrusion” and extreme “attitude toward authority.”

So I assert that Brooks’ argument is based on a false, White-centered, nostalgic view of history. I also assert that the GOP had a bad night (but only narrowly, let us remember) because it has been begging for one. Look who speaks for them mostly loudly, hear how much hate is in the speech, and see how weird the stances are: abortion banned even in cases of rape; denying global warming; claiming “trickle down” economics is anything more than a long-con (70%+ of economic growth is driven by consumer–middle class spending, not by how much dough rich people get to keep); wanting government to intrude on two adults’ decision to spend their lives together (what’s more “American” than that?); and treating the first Black president like a you-know-what.

I also assert Brooks’ argument hinges on a false dichotomy: either government helps the economy or private enterprise does. They both do, and they both must. If these “new people from elsewhere” don’t work with the same fallacy as Brooks does, it may simply mean they are reasonable. Government can raise the taxes or sell the bonds necessary to build schools, bridges, sea-wall, an electric grid, and so on. Who does the work? Private contractors. So enough of that dodge, please.

If government has grown beyond proper limits, then why not question the proper limits of the defense budget, which is the most out of whack part of our budget when compared to all other countries?

Is a national health insurance program–operated by private insurance companies–and improper intrusion of government, or just something my practical uncle would see as necessary?

Barack Obama as Big Government Lefty is one of the larger straw men the GOP has built. On what issues is President Obama to the Left of Eisenhower or Truman?

I think the GOP decided to see how far right it could go on a range of issues, and so it went too far. I think it decided long ago to be a White party. Lindsay Graham has admitted as much, and we all know about the Southern Strategy, which is race-based. That’s the short version. There’s more to it than that, but it isn’t the more that Brooks cites.

How to Freak Out Politicians: Agree

Imagine, citizens, if there were a vast bi-wing and head-to-tail conspiracy among us to agree on a few things that politicians hope and pray we never agree on. To induce us to watch them, give them money, and vote for them, politicians need there to be at least the appearance of difference.

True, some politicians go out of their way(s) to convince us, that, all right, you really are different, Pal, and more is the pity: Akin in Missouri. Paul Rand Ryan. Roseanne Barr (she ran for governor).

Nonetheless, please allow me to forge on in this fantasy-of-agreement by listing some things on which we could agree if we just shifted our angles of perception slightly.

1. “Gay marriage,” so called. Let’s assume you oppose two gay persons’ being able to marry. You do so for religious reasons. Let us then assume that two gay persons get married and live in some part of your city. You will never see them, or, if you do, you won’t know they’re married. At the same time, they will have no effect on your religious beliefs, nor will the State, which may not, according to the Constitution, interfere with your place of worship. They will have no effect on your marriage, if you are married. You don’t have to approve of gay marriage, and you may oppose it in your church. You’ll never have to attend a gay marriage, nor will a married gay couple ever visit your church or come to your home. Now imagine that you regularly drive on a section of Interstate highway that is in terrible shape. Wouldn’t you rather that your representative(s) get that thing fixed than touching your “gay-marriage” nerve so they can get money out of you?

2. The deficit. I don’t know anyone in our wing-to-wing conspiracy who doesn’t want this thing fixed. The GOP will have you believe that President Obama is a profligate liberal, and the DEMS will have you believe that the GOP wants to push old women off cliffs. All of that is pure distraction. Obama is prudent to the point of being an Eisenhower Republican, and most of the GOP wants to fix the thing. What if we all agreed that we wanted some prudent cuts in federal spending, some mild increases in revenue (from the upper-brackets), and some practical, non-ideological adjustments to Social Security and Medicare? I’m talking about the kind of pragmatic approach to a budget that you and I have to practice every day in our lives. And what if we all “said” to our representatives: get it done.

3. Global warming. I suggest that if we accept scientific conclusions on other settled matters (smoking increases the likelihood of getting lung cancer), that we should accept the conclusions about global warming and humans’ contribution to it. If you can’t go so far as the latter (humans’ role it in), you can still probably agree that certain steps need to be taken. If you live in farm country, you need the government to help deal with a greater likelihood of droughts and flash-bloods. If you live in the path of hurricanes, you’re going to need more infrastructure, an efficient and effective FEMA, and so on. People are now building machines to suck the carbon out of the air. It doesn’t matter what their politics are. Also, we know we’re running of of oil, so it’s in all our interests to cultivate others sources. Again, our message should be, across the board, get it done.

Maybe you can think of additional and/or better examples of these. Meeting places. Common ground. Issues we can work out, problems we can define differently.

But mainly, just think of the extent to which the politicians would freak out, and just think how much they have it coming.

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