How we become political, and the cheapening of political language



Our own political leanings and those of others–especially students, including student protesters–have a thing in common: both are tribal and pathological.

Two intellectual individuals can discuss, say, ten topics, agreeing precisely on nine of the topics.  But when it comes to the tenth, on the topic of politics, they diverge widely.  That is because rationality ends and pathologies and passions kick in.  They look at, say, 20 facts, then argue backwards—that is, the liberal focuses on 10 liberal facts, to the exclusion of conservative facts, and the conservative focuses on 10 conservative facts, to the exclusion of liberal facts.  Each side thinks it’s fair and objective.  That’s why John Stuart Mill was brilliant in stating that truth can only be arrived at by the “violent collision of adverse opinions.”  It is virtually impossible to find an individual who is entirely objective.  E. B. White writes, “I have never seen a piece of writing, political or nonpolitical, that doesn’t have a slant.  It slants the way a writer leans, and no man is perpendicular.”

As E. B. White said, I too have a bias; I know what it is and why. I teach a class to senior citizens entitled, “Current Controversial Issues of the Constitution,” and announce, right up front, my bias.  It is easy for me to read the biases of these senior students, though some declare that they are “objective.”  No, they’re not.

In the political world of the present, the terms “hate speech,” “racist,” and “fascist” have become too loosely used, becoming virtually worthless.  Senator John Cornyn was disinvited to give his scheduled commencement address at a university in Texas because protesters charged him with racist hate speech.  The protesters’ charges were baseless.  But the university feared violence and let the threat of violence, like blackmail, triumph. Similarly, State Representative Briscoe Cain was disinvited to speak at the same university for hate speech, though he was already on campus in the lecture hall to which to which he been invited by the chairman on the law school.  Cain is a strong conservative, but he’s no hate-speaker.  And we all know that Charles Murray, Ben Shapiro, Heather McDonald and many others were placed in the same sinking boat.

Even the National Anthem has now been declared racist hate speech in California.  The Constitution was initially racist, declaring blacks as “three fifths of a person,” but that was long ago amended. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have already been condemned. I won’t really be surprised if someday the Bible is charged with racist hate speech, fascism, white supremacy—the clichés rolling out like the ooze of oil.

This denigration of language has also moved in another related direction.  I received my alumni magazine from the University of Michigan focused on the subject “Diversity.”  I noticed what was missing in that magazine and so wrote the editor, saying, “Why do you focus on diversity that is only from the skin out, but not from the skin in?” Why not intellectual diversity, too? This editor actually called me, saying (no kidding), “You make a valid point, but we do not get government grants for intellectual diversity.”  As Willie Sutton, the bank robber, said, “That’s where the money is.”  Even the federal government is complicit in narrow minded myopia.

John Stuart Mill put the matter of political biases and free speech perfectly:

“If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion, for aught we can certainly know, be true.  To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth, and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”

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