Mike the Mad Biologist

Words As Weapons: The Slacktivist Edition

I’ve posted many times about how the theopolitical right and movement conservatives use words as weapons. They are not supposed to be taken at face value, but rather are meant to manipulate others. A good, although old, example is “evolution is just a theory.” Any professional creationist who says that knows this is false–in fact, he is probably so familiar with the rebuttal, he could repeat it for you. The Slacktivist, a former anti-abortion activist, notes the same phenomenon regarding the rhetoric surrounding abortion:

If you’re confronted with an evil equal in magnitude to that of Adolf Hitler — as all these groups insisted was the case — then surely one is obliged to do more than vote Republican every four years in the hopes of one day appointing enough judges to change the law of the land. Confronted with what all of these groups assured him was the Holocaust, he decided to become Claus von Stauffenberg.

Yet when Hill repeated their own argument and their own rhetoric back to them, these groups all recoiled. They all claimed to share Hill’s premise, but not to share his conclusion. That won’t work. Hill’s violent conclusion arose logically from that shared premise. If he was a madman to be condemned — as all those groups suddenly insisted he was — it was because of the madness of that premise. So how was it possible they could repudiate him without also repudiating that rhetoric that compelled him to act?

What I realized then, in 1994, as I watched these groups line up to condemn violence against “mass-murderers” and to renounce armed opposition to “the Holocaust,” was that these folks didn’t really mean any of it. They were horrified by the spectacle of someone taking their own rhetoric and arguments seriously. “We don’t really mean anything we say,” these groups rushed to announce. “We don’t really believe any of that.”

…Didn’t Scott Roeder realize that it was all just a game? Didn’t he appreciate that all this talk of Holocaust was just a gimmick to get his fellow Kansans to support a repeal of the estate tax? Didn’t he understand the difference between really believing that abortion is “mass-murder” and just indulging in the smug posturing of self-righteousness that makes the members of the Anti Kitten-Burning Coalition feel a little better about themselves?

The other problem is that once someone begins to not mean what they say, they assume everyone else does the same. They are then unable to accept that someone else might mean what they say.

And that–the legitimization of lying–is how any notion of public discourse dies.

Comments

  1. #1 phisrow
    June 20, 2009

    The alternative, equally unpleasant, is that they do, in fact, mean exactly what they say; but they realize that admitting it under the circumstances could threaten their own positions.

    Why, after all, would you expose yourself to potential loss of broader legitimacy, and civil or criminal penalties, when you can avoid all that and still inspire enough true believers to do your hatchet jobs for you?

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 21, 2009

    The leaders of these movements probably don’t believe that abortion is a “holocaust”, but I suspect that many of the followers do. And I think that *all* of them are lying when they say that they are horrified when one of them commits murder for “the cause”; they are really pleased as punch by righteous murder.