Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Is there a more meaningless cliche than “fabric of our nation”? I can’t think of one. It’s a perfect little piece of empty rhetoric, repeated ad nauseum without anyone bothering to ask what on earth it means. It just seems to be a phrase that people trot out when they’re against something but they can’t come up with a tangible, concrete reason why they’re against it. So they say that it “destroys the fabric of our nation” and everyone who agrees with them nods in agreement, not having a clue what it actually means but knowing it sounds good. The perfectly pointless rhetorical flourish.

This phrase tends to be used more often by conservatives and the list of things that have been accused of “destroying” this fabric is long – flag burning, abortion, separation of church and state, drugs, divorce, moral relativism, and of course, gay marriage. Sometimes these things are said not to destroy the fabric but merely to “stain” the fabric. You know, you’d think with a nearly $2 trillion budget, we could afford to Scotchguard the fabric of the nation.

Comments

  1. #1 Lynnie
    April 27, 2004

    I have never until now given this a thought Ed. But as you say, this phrase is used for most anything from letting your dog run around unleashed to the spewing of trash by our current two candidates running for president.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2004

    But as much as I hate both major parties, I’d vote for someone if he actually promised to Scotchguard the fabric of our nation.

  3. #3 Lynnie
    April 27, 2004

    I would too, but it would take a hell of a lot of Scotchguard

  4. #4 flatlander100
    April 27, 2004

    Good lord, Ed, if you are going to take a couple of paragraphs to go after every fuzzy feel good phrase that infests what passes for oratory these days, you won’t have room for anything else.

    My personal favorite is “family values” which again starts everyone nodding in agreement ["If elected I will protect the family values that made our nation strong!"] Then try to get some across-cultural or across-religious lines agreement on just what “family values” means. Lotsa luck. [I particularly enjoy Sister Wives explaining how important family values are in their polygamous families hereabouts.]

    Hell, “fabric of our nation” and “family values” are almost as good examples of obfuscatory blather as “weapons of mass destruction program related activities.”

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2004

    Good lord, Ed, if you are going to take a couple of paragraphs to go after every fuzzy feel good phrase that infests what passes for oratory these days, you won’t have room for anything else.

    LOL. Well I can’t take them all on, I’ll just have to go after the ones that are particularly annoying to me at any given time.

    My personal favorite is “family values” which again starts everyone nodding in agreement ["If elected I will protect the family values that made our nation strong!"] Then try to get some across-cultural or across-religious lines agreement on just what “family values” means. Lotsa luck. [I particularly enjoy Sister Wives explaining how important family values are in their polygamous families hereabouts.]

    Family values is an excellent example, as though every family shared the same values. How ridiculous. It’s really just a buzzphrase and in most cases what it really means is “get the fags”.

    I’ve also found it fascinating to watch the evolution of the religious right’s favorite bugaboos. In the 80s, their favorite term for “everything we hate” was secular humanist. In the last few years, they seem to prefer pagan.

  6. #6 eon
    April 27, 2004

    My vote is for “patriotism.” In our current political climate, I have no idea what the word means.

  7. #7 degustibus
    April 28, 2004

    I heard that patriotism had something to do with scoundrels.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    April 28, 2004

    My vote is for “patriotism.” In our current political climate, I have no idea what the word means.

    About 11 years ago, when I first stopped doing stand-up, I wrote a monthly column with the same name as this blog, for a little independent magazine called The Bard. One of the columns I wrote back then was on the question, “Don’t you love your country?”, which I heard quite often. My counter-question was, what do you mean by “country”? Is a country a chunk of land with borders? In that case, I think this is a diverse and beautiful chunk of land, but there are lots of others just as delightful. Is a country the government? No one loves their government, especially me. Is a country the citizens? Well, I’ve met perhaps 20,000 Americans in my life, and found most of them to be useless and void (as I’m sure I’d find any other group of people – it seems to be the nature of people, as a whole). So what exactly am I to love?

    I certainly hold very strongly to a few basic principles that were strongly tied to America at one point, even if unevenly applied. But I find my country in violation of those principles as often as it supports them. America is a hodge podge. As Leonard Cohen called it, the cradle of the best and of the worst. Either way, love just doesn’t enter the equation for me. I reserve love for individuals.

  9. #9 DonM
    April 28, 2004

    Hi Ed,

    Back to “humanist” and “pagan”.
    What’s really annoying is that these special interest groups.. OK, the fundies, use a lot of code words. I get in a discussion with someone and I think that we are talking about some topic only to find that the other person is arguing what that phrase “means to them”.

    Don

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    April 28, 2004

    What’s really annoying is that these special interest groups.. OK, the fundies, use a lot of code words. I get in a discussion with someone and I think that we are talking about some topic only to find that the other person is arguing what that phrase “means to them”.

    There is a much wider problem, of course, the debasement of language. In an age dominated by public relations, it seems no one speaks clearly anymore. There are a million examples that have been pointed out by others. Shell shock becomes post-traumatic stress disorder, deaths becomes casualties becomes collateral damage, drunkenness becomes the “disease” of alcoholism. And most recently, of course, chemical weapons becomes weapons of mass destruction becomes weapons of mass destruction related program activities. One of the most basic rules of language, I think, is that redundancies to make a phrase longer, someone’s trying to sell you something that stinks. And if you don’t believe, try eating some potted meat food product.

  11. #11 Lynnie
    April 28, 2004

    This is interesting, written by John Bottoms:

    http://www.strike-the-root.com/columns/Bottoms/bottoms29.html

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