I have become more and more flummoxed recently with the alt-left and the alt-right literally changing the meaning of words either purposefully or out of ignorance; so that they can seem to “win” or so that their point will be accepted by more folks. Makes consensus a little difficult when everyone is confused.
It would be easy to go all intellectually superior and say that there are too many ignorant people out there who will fall victim to this tactic (I mean, we all have, over and over again). But if that’s true, then what is the point? Can democracy function even if the general populace is not extremely well educated – cause when are we going to be? Why are we arguing the same stuff over and over again? Do we really only want to “win” the debate and do we not really care about our fellow humans?
The first thing I am going to say is most people who debate politics give a f**king shit. They care. At their core, they are loving humans who passionately believe there is a right and wrong way to live. There, take that right wing friends! Caught you caring!
The second thing that comes to mind is language (especially and mostly English) is all wriggly and squirrel-y. Humans like to play and language is one thing we adore playing with: with sound, with meaning. It’s fun. (Kind-a irritating when marketers get their sticky little fingers on it but, that’s just me. And I am guilty as any snake-y little marketing pro.) As a result, language morphs and changes, small groups adopt their own slang to keep out the rest of the world, words take on and then lose meaning over time; we’re all swimming in the same ocean, eh? Mostly, we understand each other.
And to crash and burn the idea that a ton of book learnin’ solves the problem of language and imprecise meaning, remember that many essays in university (especially, you know, in the squirmy-wormy world of English criticism) start with a definition of terms. A section in which the writer proposes a bunch of words as base concepts in the essay and explains their meaning as they see it, so that the gentle reader is more likely to understand it. Note, I said, ‘more likely’ not guaranteed.
Take the term ‘income equality’. I used that term just recently in conversation and one of the folks I was talking to decided that he thought I meant that everybody aughta have the same income. That’s not what I was talking about cause I just don’t think equal incomes would work at all. We are all selfish enough to need a bit of incentive to get out there and get shit done. Here’s what I was talking about (video from Polizane on Youtube) and, because it’s such a standard item in discussion of wealth generation, mobility, and fairness in society, I figured my very passionate friend knew about it. Nope. Not even a little.
So, here’s the thing. Our squirmy-wormy language can actually be a barrier to our consensus. The alt-left and the alt-right are never going to agree. Boo hoo. Dudes, the alt-left and the alt-right are never going to agree. Never. Never ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. There is no thread across this ocean except our own humanity that binds us.
Okay, so now what?
I would guess that most folks in the world are not alt anything. They don’t like the edge of the cliff. They don’t stick their necks out and they do not take risks. Ever. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever.
Soooooo, we never hear from them. They are at home and (from what I hear from my friends) reading all the things but they aren’t commenting. They aren’t saying anything. What if there is a reasonable consensus and we just don’t know it. What if we think there’s a problem BECAUSE WE ARE THE ONES SHOUTING!!!!
And perhaps there maybe needs to be no consensus between the extremes because the extremes are necessary to allow the rest of the population to make up its own damn mind, thank you very much. I include me. I am left wing but about as alt as a white picket fence (well, maybe my fence is fuschia) and I would like to make up my own damn mind.
So we get back to my point about language. I guess I am not as worried about folks who make mistakes but, more, about folks who will say anything to get people to believe them. People who should know better and deliberately manipulate. Falsify scientific findings, exaggerate events. There’s probably a place in a hell I don’t believe in for folks like Kellyanne Conway who carefully, carefully lie through their teeth. Maybe there should be repercussions. A black belt in karate might be considered a deadly weapon and the individual responsible for their own restraint, so, too, should the sophists be recognized as extreme manipulators of language and be held responsible for their own transgressions. Could that even be a thing? How long did Andrew Wakefield spend in jail.
Now, before you all lose your minds, I am not against free speech. Quite the opposite! Fill yer boots! I am just thinking that with free speech comes responsibility and if one regularly lies like, oh, prezo-presto-forty-five does, then there should be repercussions.
Debaters could leave the language alone, leave the theatrics to the theatre (where we are the professional liars, I will have you know; get off my lawn) and just explain their position on any given issue. I am not saying that all alts are sophists, mind. I am just saying that if you have to intentionally twist the language so your point looks better to the world, then maybe your position isn’t really that strong and you should stfu.