Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turning left

I have decided to become a Leftist. There really was no other choice. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

If you are publicly identified as a conservative, racist remarks will be invented for you, or homophobic views will be fabricated out of thin air, should you fail to provide the necessary evidence of your own depravity. That the accusations are false is utterly beside the question—no one will ever call foul—because, after all, the invented remarks and fabricated views are perfectly congruous with the image your opponents have of you. So much more fun to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the inventors and fabricators, who can revive McCarthyism—and from the Left this time around—without cost to themselves.

Count me in, then. I am now a proud member of the Left. Since conservatives do not attribute unstated views to those they oppose, I can write with a clear conscience from now on. Only what I actually say will be held against me. To be washed clean of all my secret unspoken racism and homophobia! I feel reborn!

I recommend that anyone else who stupidly remains on the Right, knowing he cannot even propose to make a cash investment without public outcry, join me in crossing over to the ranks of the righteous and inventive. From now on you know where to find me—on the Left.


R/T said...

Jonathan Swift would be impressed by your satirical swipe at the environment of political correctness.

Guy Pursey said...

Or just move to Britain? As the first article you linked to says, our libel laws mean these kinds of accusations aren't put around, or else are met with hefty fees if they are. (This has actually gotten so bad that journalists have had difficulty even reporting on parliament recently so no-one is reported as having said anything a lot of the time.) Plus, the Conservative government is probably about to win a landslide next year. Not that I'm too happy about it... And of course I imagine American conservatism is somewhat different to British Toryism.

Seriously though, I didn't know there was a Left left in America, not really. I suppose it must be a relative term?


PS. I assume throughout that you were being sarcastic. I thought I'd best mention that after taking your post about page breaks so literally.

PPS. While I'm mentioning previous posts and comments: I feel rather embarrassed to having now admitted to not having read Carver out of what you must surely see as some form of literary cowardice. I will borrow some of his short stories from the library soon.

Anonymous said...

"Only what I actually say will be held against me."

No. Even if shown on YouTube to be uttering something, you can still claim with a straight face that all four minutes and three instances you said it were taken out of context. And for some reason, CNN won't bother to fact-check you.

Jonathan said...

Dr. Meyers,

There are idiots who engage in hyperbole and rabble-rousing on both sides of the Left-Right divide. I think you do a disservice to the many on the Left who see Olberman and his ilk as an embarrassment. Just as I know that Glen Beck or Ted Haggard don't speak for all Conservatives, I would hope that you might recognize the inverse.

Additionally, for myself the word "conservative" (like "liberal") encompasses so much as to be essentially meaningless. Does Conservative mean Republican? Is one a Goldwater or a Gingrich Republican? Is one an economic or a moral conservative? So too with the left. If the labels we use to express our social or political views are so elastic, is it not surprising that both willful and unintentional misunderstandings of the opposing perspective will occur?

That Limbaugh is misrepresented by the "Left" is as fitting, I think, as when Olberman is misrepresented by the "Right". Both are public figures who earn their living pandering to a constituency by trafficking in base and crude mis-characterizations of each other.

I find that ignoring ideologues of all stripes does wonder for my sense of well-being.


D. G. Myers said...

Many thanks to Tim Davis, Guy Pursey, and the anonymous commentator who is tired of the out-of-context justification. (If there is no Left left in America, Guy, then I shall revive it!)


It is not “idiots who engage in hyperbole and rabble-rousing” who worry me.

What was done to a national radio personality who tried to bid for minority control of an NFL franchise—that is, to invent racist remarks and then to defend them, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D—Houston) did yesterday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, by saying that something like those accusations rings true “no matter what he wants to pretend to say on his radio station”—is violence in the form of discourse.

What will happen to the CNN personnel responsible for falsely attributing a racist comment to the radio talk-show host? Or to Professor Karen Hunter, who falsely attributed a racist comment to him on MSNBC?

Where are those not political allies of the radio man who have the courage to denounce this routine slander?

Where are the Leftists—besides me, I mean, and I am only a newly minted one—who want to dissociate the Left from arguing that slander is okay if it agrees with the impression a man’s enemies have of him?

This is neither hyperbole nor rabble-rousing, but an assault upon the very conditions of truth.

And I should know, because pretty much the same was done to me—and nobody (besides me) denounced it.

R/T said...

I'm not sure why I earned the "many thanks." I simply recognize Swiftian spirit when I see it. Your modest proposal that you are a newly minted Leftists ought to make dyed-in-the-wool Leftists more than a little nervous. Of course, they may not understand the irony. Harold Bloom argues that irony is often wasted on those who do not have the capacity to recognize it. I'll say no more.

D. G. Myers said...

But, Tim, I am not being ironic.

R/T said...

Then I am, I suppose, among those that Harold Bloom would indict. I now say nothing more other than this: I'll remain apparently dense while I stay tuned for further developments and attempt to understand what the hell is going on here.

Jonathan said...

Dr. Meyers,

I would only say that those on the Left who would remain silent at the invented and slanderous quotations, are most likely the very audience of Olberman et al who so gleefully ignore their own similarity to those on the Right they so breezily scorn.

Those who might, as you ask, disassociate the Left from defending such slander have probably already disassociated themselves from the Left. While perhaps detrimental to the civic conversation, it is often best to disassociate oneself from a movement (whether on the Right or the Left)that allows dishonest people to speak for it.

Guy Pursey said...

Where are the Leftists—besides me, I mean, and I am only a newly minted one—who want to dissociate the Left from arguing that slander is okay if it agrees with the impression a man’s enemies have of him?

It's entirely possible that I may have missed something here, so forgive me if this comes across as overly earnest or naïve or even patronising, but since when was the Left supposed to stand for truth? Even if we could define the Left today - and I would argue that it is not large or unified enough to constitute a significant political force in the U.S., which largeness and unification has traditionally been a part of its definition - since when did a fight against slander come into it? Both Left and Right are - or have - political agendas. They oppose each other on the grounds that they have different ideas about the way society should run (or be run, in the case of the traditional Left). In as far as they make such claims, both are capable of slander, hypocrisy, and of not doing much when those two things occur to their advantage.

To me what has happened to Rush Limbaugh is a result of either very sloppy or malicious journalism, which can be a product of supporters of either side of the aisle. To criticise "the Left" for not standing up for a "shock jock" who's often made some pretty wild claims himself seems hardly fair to me. Not standing up doesn't require any effort after all and if you have a purely Leftist agenda it's likely you feel compelled to pursue issues more relevant to your cause; it would hardly seem like the most pressing duty, saving Limbaugh's name.

It's Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee who sounds like the one who should be under scrutiny. To say that something "rings" true of someone when not only is there no evidence but when there is evidence against that someone having said said-thing, is hardly the kind of integrity we should expect of a representative and I would hope that unless there's a larger systemic problem that her statements would be dismissed by everyone as carrying no weight.

As much as people on both Left and Right are capable of deceit, slander, betrayal of their claims, etc, it's just as true that those people, on either side, can be decent and stand up for truth and against slander, no matter how "misguided" they might be in their political ideas. Where they are though, to come back to your original question, I have no idea.

D. G. Myers said...


Why shouldn’t political sides stand for the truth? If politics really is a contest of slander and hypocrisy—if it is merely a rhetorical skirmish having little or no contact with the actual world—then give me totalitarianism, a régime in which politics takes place behind closed doors.

But if you are saying that slander and hypocrisy are inevitable—not necessary to politics, but an ineluctable accompaniment to them—then it would seem to me that men of good will, on both sides of the political divide, should seek to reduce them to their absolute minima.

To say that slander of a “shock jock” is not particularly troubling, even though he is being slandered, not in his professional capacity, but as a private citizen who is seeking to make an investment, is to create political conditions in which some opponents are fair game for lies—as long as they occupy positions that we don’t respect. But once that is the case, anyone at all is susceptible to slander, because anyone’s profession can be called by an insulting name.

You say it is unfair to criticize the Left for not defending a radio personality “who’s often made some pretty wild claims himself.” And you’ll forgive me, Guy, but it is precisely this kind of reasoning that I am criticizing.

While you do not justify the slander of the “shock jock,” you imply that it is acceptable or at least understandable, given the “pretty wild claims” he himself has made. You don’t document any of these claims; you don’t show why they are “wild.” You take for granted that he is bad in some way or other—and even if the claims about him are also wild, he had it coming.

According to this rationale, it is not immoral to concoct quotations or manufacture views if they fit the image or general impression we have of a man.

It is that rationale that I am locating on the Left. Eager to have it available to me at last, I have made up my mind to join the Left.

Guy Pursey said...

Professor Myers,

Apologies for this late response - I have had limited Internet access of late and I also wanted to consider your comment properly.

Political sides, as I understand it, don't stand for "truth" as we have been discussing it here, ie. who actually said what. They have agendas and these agendas, I suggest, are set by priorities. An over-simplified example: the Left supposedly emphasise equality, the Right focus on freedom. Centrists I suppose believe the two things are both possible and of equal importance.

So let's take a more specific example to illustrate the point further: abortion. Allow me this generalisation: the Left are usually pro-choice, the Right generally pro-life. We can re-phrase by saying the former prioritise the freedom of the woman to make a choice about something in her body, the latter priortise defence of the basic human rights of the individual in utero. Perhaps the reason this debate is so heated and filled with controversy is because these positions are mutually exclusive. One either prioritises the choice of the woman or the rights of the child. Fence-sitting is a failure to engage in the debate, rather than a compromise.

To say this makes the positions sound arbitrary but it's about each side or individual's belief about morality. And because morality doesn't exist in the commonsense, "truth"-related way we have been discussing, that is, it is not a physical thing, in the material world, each side has to fumble with rhetoric. If we use the priorities as I've stated them above, we could say that the Left are wrong to call an unborn infant "something" as if it were reducible, no more a human being than an acorn is an oak tree (to paraphrase J. J. Thompson). We might also say that the Right should not refer to an embryo as an individual, as if it were entitled to the same rights as the mother.

And so, to return to Rush Limbaugh. If we agree that political sides have different priorities, then we can hardly expect the so-called Left to jump to the defense of someone who has been so overtly opposed to their ideas. It's not to their credit that they don't, of course, but nor is it particularly surprising. They simply have better things to do.

You say that I don't think slander is particularly troubling. I think it is and I even said that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee should be under scrutiny for endorsing it, by saying that the allegations of Mr. Limbaugh "rung true". That is troubling; the lack of Democrats (or people on the Left generally, apart from yourself now of course) springing up to point this out is not. But then I'm troubled by a lot of what I hear about American politics. So you can probably well imagine what kind of a fun guy I am here under Her Majesty's Government.

However, I'm willing to concede my view of American politics is coloured by images and impressions rather than pure fact, just as I am willing to concede that my perception of Rush Limbaugh has been so shaped. I hope to come away from this paying more attention to what he is actually saying rather than to the demonised image of him as presented in "the mainstream media".

However, when I see things like this I am not sure what to make of him:

Would you consider this a "wild claim"? I'd be interested to know.

Anyway, thank you for your time, for giving me an engaged (and engaging response), and, if you got this far, for putting up with my rather garbled attempts at rumination.