A particular hue spotted here and there among recent commentary has started to look to me like a common thread, and it may be that the only way to give it satisfactory description is to write it out. Writing things out, in this way, may be one of the under-appreciated benefits of blogging as a medium, perhaps for a reason closely related to my topic, here: As a society, we’re getting less and less able to interact with the (appropriate) sense that our objective should be to understand what another person actually intends to say, however it might come out, and then to understand what is correct in that person’s thoughts and where he or she starts to go astray, from our perspective.
We’re speaking on eggshells — sometimes reluctant even to move, intellectually — for fear that people will act as if every word we utter must be considered a fully considered expression of a conscious belief system bound up with our moral nature. The political Left has invested years and energy in making it impossible to express ideas that look like they may lead where the Left does not want us to go.
Let’s start, then, with a statement from Sarah Hoyt that forced me to pause a moment and reconcile two sometimes conflicting strains of my own moral nature:
I’m an odd duck. I’d prefer no enforcement of even the old morals. It makes most of us Odds distinctly uncomfortable, when any societal normal is rigidly enforced. And it makes it difficult for creativity and invention to flourish.
But that’s where we’re headed if we don’t rein in this semantic insanity, because a strong-man regime that’s closer aligned with the majority of people is better than what we have now, which is only aligned with the reality inside people’s heads. (Or at least the kakistocracy’s heads.) It will allow people to survive better.
Or we can turn back now, and try to think clearly and believe our lying eyes and not the pretty stuff we want to believe.
My discomfort with these sentences is that I strongly agree with the part about “rigid enforcement,” but think Hoyt is a little too loose in her phrase “no enforcement of even the old morals.” Not having access to her ear, I’ll have to assume charitably that by “no enforcement,” she really means something more like “rigid enforcement” — as in enforcement through some authority and directly coercive means.
I suspect she’d agree, for example, that there is an appropriate type of enforcement through good sense and sincere social reactions. If a person violates one of the “old morals” that exists for a good reason and everybody around him or her recoils in disgust and somebody explains to him or her what is wrong with the immoral behavior behavior, those interactions are a form of enforcement. Progressives certainly acknowledge that proposition every time they attack somebody for offering criticism as if there is no difference between criticizing and arresting.
Our problem in our time, which Hoyt’s title calls “the crazy years,” is that the Left has weaponized social reactions, such that the point is to harm somebody for some ulterior purpose, not to bring everybody to mutual understanding. I think, in this vein, of a tweet earlier today by Patrick Laverty, in which he asks “how” Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage is “still in office,” based on a tweet by “longtime Hillary Clinton aide” and DNC “general election team” member Adam Parkhomenko, who was passing along a statement from the Maine Democratic Party in which Chairman Phil Bartlett claimed LePage had “referred to racial minorities as ‘the enemy’ and suggested that they should be shot.”
“Governor LePage, after using a homophobic slur when threatening a sitting lawmaker, said he wanted to shoot Rep. Drew Gattine ‘right between his eyes,'” said Bartlett. “Then, at a press conference at which he attempted to justify his violent and homophobic remarks, LePage said that people of color are the ‘enemy’ and suggested that they, too, should be shot. This man is erratic, divisive and clearly unfit to lead our state. The governor’s toxic mix of violent, racist and homophobic language is dangerous and must stop now.”
It doesn’t take much effort to spot the game, here. Watch the full video of the governor’s press conference, and you’ll see that he repeatedly says race doesn’t matter. Just before the offending comment, he makes the point that the great majority of people arrested as drug users in Maine are white, because the population is overwhelmingly white. In context, his meaning was that you identify the enemy (in this case, out-of-state drug dealers) and you go after them — shoot at them, in LePage’s military metaphor. If the people in the opposing uniforms are overwhelmingly of a particular race, then you’re going to wind up hitting people of that race more often.
Now, it would be correct for people (especially LePage’s allies) to complain that he speaks carelessly, and arguments about racial profiling are more intricate than our current political atmosphere is able to accommodate. But that means we have to be more concerned about understanding what others are trying to say, not inclined to twist words around in order to blow artless statements out of proportion for political gain.
And we can’t just blame the activists; it also doesn’t take much effort to pick up on the techniques in the news media. Note, for one quick example, that the Guardian links to the word “video” as if it’s offering evidence, but there’s no video to be found at the linked story, and most of the video passed around is just a 30 second clip without context.
For a more enlightening example, turn to the video of an interview with the governor in the Portland Press Herald, in which a reporter actually engages in discussion as if he is trying to understand better, by asking:
Do you think that part of the reason for that racial composition, if you will, is that the cities where these drugs are coming from have a broader, diverse population than Maine does; just in general, there’s more people of color in Connecticut and New York than there are in Maine? I mean, is that just a proportional situation, or do you think that African Americans and Hispanics are somehow contributing more to drug crimes?
But here’s how he reports it in the article:
Asked if he believes blacks and Hispanics commit more drug crimes than white people, LePage said he doesn’t know.
“I don’t know and I don’t care, quite frankly, all I know is Maine people are dying,” LePage said. “That’s all I care about.”
So, the reporter set LePage up to answer one question (which he didn’t do very well, I’d acknowledge), but reports the answer as if the governor is ignorant of the numbers themselves.
Thousands of these anecdotes pile up in the public square to the point that they may very well define a central challenge of our era.