Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Right-Wing Language Deconstruction Fleet

I'm a armchair linguist, and I enjoy studying linguistics and the way language is used. One of the things I find most fascinating is how language is used on the Political Right - to the causal observer it can seem like they're speaking English, but to anyone who pays attention, it becomes apparent quickly they're not.

I've said that they derive a great deal of what they do from postmodernism. This is no different; in fact, this is an example of them using postmodernism without even realizing it (their leaders do, I'm almost certain of it, but the average sheep on the street doesn't have a clue that they're using postmodernism. It makes the irony all the more delicious because they rail against postmodernism as sinful, whereas if it weren't for postmodernism, they wouldn't have the muddled, crippled thinking they suffer from).

Once upon a time, there was a fellow named Jacques Derrida. Now, Derrida is famous because he devised deconstruction; deconstruction in literature is basically where you look at the text and try to suss out what the text is saying in between the lines. It's not what the text says that you want to pay attention too - it's what the text isn't saying that you're looking for. Not surprisingly, deconstruction can take on the form of Socratic Irony, often leading to question after question until you've utterly dismantled the entire text and gotten at the heart of it by reading between the lines.

Does that sound confusing? Deconstruction only really works if you're not entirely sure how to use it (which is why the Right is so damn good at it; they don't have a clue how to use it but they're using it anyway). That's why I often pick on postmodernism by calling it the "philosophy where everything is uncertain, including the previous statement."

Replay that in your head for a minute: you read between the lines and, often times, use Socratic Irony to undermine the text and get at what's said between the lines:

"And thus, through radiometric dating of rocks, we know that the Earth is at least 4 billion years old."
"Oh yeah? Where you there?"
"Then how do you know?"

That's how you do deconstruction. Admittedly, it's a poor example because facts aren't anything at all like a text; facts are facts are facts are facts; facts are the heart of the matter. You can't deconstruct the fact that if you jump off of a building, you'll go splat at the bottom. Note: that didn't stop some postmodernists from trying (no unfortunately, they didn't jump. But they do suggest that you can take that attitude and apply it to reality and facts, and suggest that there's more than one way to interpret that gravity will pull you down, and you will go splat at the end of the fall). When they tried, this resulted in what they called the Science Wars. You can Google to learn more, but the Science Wars were a brief scuffle in the early 90s between postmodern relativists and the Left and scientists in the hard science fields. The postmodernists/leftists tried to apply postmodernist and modernist ideologies on the hard sciences, like physics, biology, chemistry, and the rest, suggesting that there's more than one way to interpret two atoms bonding with one another, and that what science called "logic" and "reasoning" was actually a very narrow way to view the world, and just one of many ways to understand it. The result was that the Political Right took notes, failed to understand (like usual), and put we are where we are today with people firmly believing the Earth is only 6,000 years old and Global Warming isn't real.

Which brings me right back to my main point about the Right and language. The Political Right, but the Religious Right especially, uses more deconstruction techniques in their arguments and language than they're probably comfortable acknowledging. See, you can also apply deconstruction to words too. It only makes sense; after all, what about "table" says that it's something with four legs and a flat surface? The truth: nothing. There is nothing that means a "table" is a table in that word itself. Shakespeare played around with this in his famous "a rose by any other name" line from Romeo and Juliet. If you were to substitute "rose" for "table", would they lose any intrinsic values? No; one would still smell good and the other would still need cleaning. Language is based off of metaphor and symbolism; these metaphors and symbols compromise almost all of language, and they have no intrinsic value whatsoever (save for onomatopoeia; those are words that are designed to replicate sounds; thus, they do have some intrinsic value beyond the language; but even then, they're metaphors and symbols still). The only thing that gives words meaning is the environment in which we're raised; if I raised a few generations of children to think that a table was red, had thorns, bloomed during the summer and smelled good, those children would grow up thinking that a table was red, had thorns, and bloomed during the summer while smelling really good.

Which is exactly what the Right has done.

These children, raised in these insular communities separated from the outside world, are raised to believe certain things with radically different meanings than what we out here in the real world understand. This is because the Right has taken and deconstructed certain words and phrases: "Bully", "Victim", "Persecution", and numerous other words that it appears they continually misuse. They're not misusing those words - this is how they were taught. Language has no intrinsic meaning; it's meaning is whatever meaning that the larger society ascribes to it. When you have insular communities, or communities that reinforce certain negative traits with certain words and twist the what the larger society means when they use those words, then the improper (by the standards of the larger society) use of those words becomes more prominent. This is postmodernism at work.This is also what the Right has done: A "bully" becomes someone who won't let you pick on other people. A "victim" becomes you, because you're "persecuted" (i.e., you can't cram your beliefs down other people's throats) by the larger media and society. This deconstruction of language is so precise that they can simultaneously make claims about how the majority of America sides with them while treating themselves as a "persecuted minority," because those two terms, majority and minority, are shifting targets with their values and meanings ascribed to depend upon the context of the sentence and the situation.

Dig this: back in the 1950s, almost everyone accepted the theory of evolution as the scientific truth it is. Evolution has more evidence supporting it, more observations supporting it, and more scientific laws supporting it, than any other theory including gravity. Then along came a specter - his name was the Religious Right - and this specter started to pull its children out of the larger society and indoctrinate them (another word the RR has twisted to mean something totally different). Science became synonymous with "evil" and "wrong" because it was an "anti-Biblical worldview (their favorite word)". They trained their children to accept these words as they meant something else - they raised their children to believe that a table blooms twice in the summer, smells pretty, and is red.

And today, we're seeing the end result of that. Global warming is a myth (with a total understanding of what the word "myth" means, applied in the absolutely wrong context), Science is a lie (lie is another word they've twisted; it's another moving target like "minority" or "majority"), and humanism, atheism, and Satan worship are all the same thing. Our exegesis of the Bible, our literal hermeneutic, is neither literal nor has much to do with the Bible at all, but that's okay - "literal" has been twisted to mean whatever my pastor told me it meant (hence so many sects claiming a "literal" interpretation that makes it seem like they've never even read the Book they're claiming to interpret literally.)

This is a strange case. Postmodernism does have a lot to blame for this, but at the same time, a good part of me has to accept that they discovered this on their own and I can't totally blame a philosophy (nor should I want to). However, I can use that philosophy, and so can you, to understand where they're coming from and deconstruct their deconstruction of language. It won't do any good because there are other factors at play, but the better you understand your enemy, the more adept you can be when it comes to eviscerating them in the market place of ideas. You're not after them; you're after the undecided people. Win those people over with logic and sound reasoning while deconstructing their argument piece by piece. The best minds of the Enlightenment are behind us.


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  2. *edited due to an awkward typo in the first incarnation*

    Uh, didn't the Scopes trial predate the 50's? My understanding was that the religious establishment, at least fairly early on, wasn't too kind to evolution via natural selection, although the arguments had more to do with "scientific racism" than psuedogeology/biology.

  3. Scopes did predate the 1950s. But, even after the "Monkey trial," there was a lot of resistance to evolution. That resistance was almost gone by the 1950s. And you're right, a lot of the problems with evolution could be summed up as "scientific racism," although "psuedobiology" was still an issue (mostly of the "It's God's Domain, not Science's" argument.)

    It wasn't until Falwell took the helm that the pseudobiology/geology became the driving issue among the religious right. Falwell didn't form the RR until the 1970s (as a reaction of what was happening in the 1960s), so the 1950s were still a time when evolution was pretty widely accepted, taught without controversy in public schools, and saw for truth (even though there was a lot of hold out). That was also the era when science had a lot of popularity with the public - atomic theory was big back then, along with lots of other theories, there was general interest in the future (all of the future-parks sprang up during this time), and then there was the space race and such (although that was late 1950s, early 60s).

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