March 18, 2009

Patterico and His %&$*#! Hypotheticals

Hatched by Dafydd

For the last few decades, Patterico has been posting hypothetical examinations of manners and meanings on his excellent blog, Patterico's Pontifications. The exercise began with the Rush Limbaugh pseudocontroversy (ginned up by the Left, thankyouverymuch), in which Limbaugh said that he hoped Barack Obama would fail.

I think most folks agreed (as eventually Limbaugh clarified) that he meant that he hoped that Obama's socialist policies would fail, or be perceived as failing, to rescue the economy... because if they were perceived as having saved us, then socialism would become irresistable. Limbaugh believes it's better for the country if the policies clearly and unambiguously fail, even if that means misery for some people who lose their jobs or take a major hit in their retirement income, because the consequences of a wave of leftism and socialism washing away the world's only capitalist republic are so much more dire.

But the discussion on PP has ranged far afield from that beginning; and in the most recent batch of hypotheticals, Patterico specifically tries to disentangle the questions from the Limbaugh controversy. He begins by saying:

This post is not about Rush Limbaugh. But it is about manners, political correctness, and the reactions of the audience to speech and actions.

...And ends thus:

Please, try not to bring up Rush Limbaugh in your answers. That controversy got me thinking about these questions, but at this point it’s a distraction because everyone’s view is set and nobody’s mind can be changed. The broader issues come up time and again and are worth discussion.

Pat wants us to post comments on his site; but he gets so many that anything I said would be lost in the shuffle -- as were the comments I gave in the previous round. So I'll post my thoughts here, where they may still get lost in the shuffle, but where my pagecount will benefit from readers wandering about trying to find their way back home.

The questions...

1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

Yes and no.

2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech (or 3. "acts") in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

Questions (2) and (3) are identical except that the former covers "speech," while the latter covers "acts."

Yes, speech or "speech" -- the latter including actions that the courts would call "speech" but which are nonverbal, such as nude protests -- is subject to social response like everything else; a sign referring to our former president as "BusHitler" and a riot and firebombing of synogogues are examples where society should disapprove of the methods used by speakers to protest George W. Bush's policies and by activists to express hatred of Israel.

I don't think it's ever "unfair" for ordinary people to disapprove of either a message or a way to deliver that message. What's unfair about it? If I have the right to protest your policies, haven't you the right to protest my protestations? But a way of expressing your disapproval of my protestations can, of course, be terribly unfair -- shooting me, for example, or getting hold of my credit-card numbers and publishing them.

It's never unfair to disapprove of me, but it may be unfair to use a particular tactic to disapprove of me, if you can follow that tortured syntax. And this leads us nicely into question (4), the question I really wanted to answer; I only answered the others because it wouldn't be fair to Patterico to ignore them:

4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

Yes, Virginia, political correctness and simple manners are two different axes on the classic, old "four-box matrix" so beloved by academe. And yes, Maryland, it's not difficult at all to distinguish them.

Manners govern how we demonstrate respect for other people and their opinions, beliefs, and ideology; manners are procedural, governing how one comports oneself in public; they say nothing about the substance of your argument. For example:

  • Don't interrupt;
  • Don't filibuster;
  • Don't insult or belittle;
  • Don't question a disputant's honor;
  • Don't threaten;
  • Don't disrupt the discussion by introducing externalities, either verbal (confusing non-sequiturs) or physical (an overpowering perfume or a distracting and irritating noise), and so forth.

(Obviously, these rules apply to ordinary civilized conversations, discussions, debates -- not, e.g., to interrogating a detainee in Gitmo.)

Note that none of these rules requires the mannered man to renounce his own position. But that is precisely what political correctness demands: To be politically correct, you must support the positions of a particular ideology, usually leftism; you must submerge your own contrary ideas and embrace those of your identification group:

  • Capitalism is heartless; we need government bureaucrats to regulate it so that the right people win.
  • Unions are good and vital and must be promoted even at the expense of the secret ballot.
  • Women are oppressed; men are pigs.
  • Whites have been holding blacks down in America for 300 years, and it's time we turned the tables. We need affirmative action, permanent racial voting-rights laws, and race-proportionate representation in Congress.
  • America is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country on Earth, and we should change to be more like Sweden.
  • Israel is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country on Earth -- even more than America! -- and we should support the Palestinians... who, after all, have actually lived there for hundreds of years, unlike the Jews, who never existed in the Middle East until 1948.
  • War is evil. All war is evil. There is no good reason ever to fight. Protecting your freedom is not worth the loss of a single life. Protecting the victim's life does not justify taking a murderer's life, because all human (and sometimes animal) life is infinitely -- hence equally -- valuable. [No, ethicists have never even heard of the Cantorian heirarchy of differenent infinities.]

...And on and on.

Political correctness is substantive and says nothing about how one proceeds to defend the politically correct position: Whether you defend affirmative action with quiet, respectful discussion or by beating your opponent over the head with your protest sign, that doesn't make affirmative action any more or less politically correct; it's inherently politically correct, whether you're polite or rude about it.

You need not be politically correct to be well mannered. It's quite possible to be polite while retaining and defending your positions. Likewise, you can be politically correct while still being a boorish bastard.

Summing up, then, political correctness requires the substance of your argument to conform to the mold, while manners speak only to the process by which you argue your case -- whatever it is.

Does that make sense?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 18, 2009, at the time of 7:00 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Yes, it makes perfect sense... that's actually a very clear way to express the idea in response to the last question.

I would like to see more explanation to your answers to question #1, though. I can imagine a briefing on the Military/Diplomatic situation in Iraq... the same speaker with the same data would offer up the information in different ways were he to be addressing a closed session of the DNC or RNC vs how he would present it to a PUBLIC meeting of either. Both groups would cheer or hiss in the public version for political posturing, where they might behave in a private meeting. Further, each group would get a different presentation that would make the information easier to assimilate through their two very different world views.

The same information would be given, but the reactions of both groups in either situation would be very different, and would require four different presentations.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2009 12:42 AM

The following hissed in response by: Karmi


I suspect that you are one of cowards that Attorney General Eric Holder was referring ‘kindly’ to when he said America is a “nation of cowards.” He could’ve easily called us a ‘Nation of Racists’ and been justified in doing so; however, after seeing what had happened to the righteous and honorable Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Attorney General Eric Holder apparently feared using the correct term ‘Nation of Racists.’

Of the roughly 12-million African slaves send to the “New World,” some 650-thousand (a whopping 5+%) of the unlucky ones ended up in Colonial America. The conditions for slaves were so bad in Colonial America that the British Gov’t had to ban the importation of them there. This ban eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

Forget about manners and so-called political correctness, it’s long past time that “White AmeriKKKa” finally just does what is right! This country was built upon the backs of those 650-thousand African slaves – and their descendants – and it still refuses to recognize that fact, as your post here reflects.

The above hissed in response by: Karmi [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2009 8:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Here's the funny thing...leftist political correctness is what makes us a "Nation of Cowards"! As I've said here before, when we all, equally, get to express our opinions regarding all racial issues, then perhaps a substantive conversation on race can begin.

You are correct, the left wants to mix up manners with politics. To the left, everything is political, even language.

What the left tries to do is really quite Orwellian. In normal communication, the speaker does his best to communicate his meaning, and the listener tries his best to determine meaning of the speaker. In political correctness, the speaker tries to define his meaning, the listener then tries to force the speaker to accept a different meaning.

Therefore I can say "I need a spade to dig a trench", and you can define that statement (and me) as a racist. I say, "but I meant a shovel, not an African American person!" Your response, under political correctness, is that I should have been more sensitive to your potential for misinterpretation of my own words, and for that reason, I'm still a racist!

Ever notice how the left is abusive and ill mannered, yet when certain words are spoken they turn to southern belles, dancing around on a chair, afraid of a mouse?

It is all theater and verbal thuggery, nothing more..

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2009 2:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E

I once had a real-world experience that illustrates your point, Geoman.

In my younger days, I was in a watering hole on a university campus, having a pleasant conversation with an African American on the next barstool. I made the fatal mistake of uttering the word. “boy.”

Now, I was born and raised in a northern city, and this conversation occurred in another northern city. The word “boy” exists in my vocabulary as a noun and as an interjection (the latter was the usage in this case). Never in my life have I used the word “boy” as a noun of direct address.

I was accused of calling this fellow “Boy.” No amount of explanation or protestation sufficed for him or for his friend on the next stool. I had to leave before tempers flared (not mine).

I went over that conversation in my mind many times and am convinced that it was their cultural insensitivity, not mine, that was the problem. Nonetheless, I have ever since essentially banished “boy” as an interjection from my vocabulary.

Moral: Never say “Boy, that was fun” to an African American. (Or if you do, be very careful about your inflection.)

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2009 3:25 PM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Boy oh boy I hope I never make that

Can anyone explain why African Americans get upset if someone says "you people"? I've never been able to understand that...

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 20, 2009 10:00 AM

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