Monday, February 22, 2010

War of Rhetoric

So much of politics is perception and public relations. If you truly believe in whatever your political goals are, then you have to try to make them sound pleasant, or desirable to other people in order to achieve those goals. When one's case is unconvincing and undesirable on it's own merits, people often turn to deceptive methods of convincing others, such as propaganda and rhetoric.

How does an 'illegal immigrant' become an 'undocumented worker'? How does 'global warming' become 'climate change'? How does the 'War on Terror' become an 'overseas contingency operation' (seriously?)? Heavy polling.

'Illegal immigrant' or 'alien' has a strong negative connotation, for one example. But we have a negative reaction for good reason; we don't like breaking the law, or those who do it. Conservatives are unafraid of a truthful, but negative, connotation. Since it's in a liberal's best interests for people not to react negatively to this concept, they deceptively employ the use of rhetoric to soften the 'illegal immigrant' and make him an 'undocumented worker'.

When did 'man-made global warming' suddenly up and turn into 'climate change'? Not coincidentally, right in the midst of heavy criticism from many scientists around the world who claimed that the science behind 'man-made global warming' is at best inconclusive, and at worst fraudulent. So, right as the cry 'global warming is a hoax!' starts to roar, the environmental left quickly detatches themselves from global warming and instead turns to 'climate change'. Conveniently, climate can change in any direction, may or may not be due to man's activity, AND doesn't have the negative stigma that's attached to 'global warming'. While it still essentially represents the same front for the same movement, the rhetorical shift allows them to proceed without the baggage. Or at least, they hope that's what it will do.

The most egregious, and comical, of the examples I've chosen to illustrate the left's deceptive use of rhetoric is the Obama administration's failed attempt at renaming the 'War on Terror' the 'overseas contingency operation'. This is a flagrant example of Orwellian newspeak, laughable on it's face. But the intent should be obvious here; the perception that the War on Terror is real is politically treacherous for the left. They hope renaming it to some vague, amorphous operation will take focus off of it at home, and perhaps soften views of America abroad. Both of those goals being stupid and dangerous.

Since Conservatives are unafraid of the truth, even when the truth is difficult, you won't find us resorting to such blatant rhetorical shifts in order to make our case, or to distance ourself from something that has become politically unpopular. If we want to convince someone of our position we need only articulate it to them in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner. And if that doesn't work then we just chalk that up to what Masta Killa called "some savage people that are lost beyond reach."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Obama: As Radical as Ever

Many people see Obama's failings to date as a president, and his inability to achieve real, progressive change as evidence that he actually isn't a radical leftist, as many people believed him to be during his campaign. I would argue that his values haven't changed much, if at all, from the time when he was the most liberal member of the Senate. The realities of the Constitution and this nation's (blessed) dispersal of powers, our checks and balances, are that they can prevent a radical socialist from changing the country's foundations even when he occupies the most powerful position in the land.

So what's the danger of having a radical ideologue as president then? Well, even though Obama has proven to be impotent, thanks to the other branches of government, and a (blessedly) stubborn, uncooperative opposition party (as well as some moderate members of his own party), things still hang in the balance. He's perilously close to being able to do literally anything that he wants. And if he could, please believe that he would. Progressives calling for him to simply take charge and ram his agenda through are being naive. Don't you believe he wants to do exactly that? It just isn't that simple. On health care reform, triangulation is absolutely necessary to get literally anything done at all. He has to compromise to get it through Congress. It's just a cold reality that he has to deal with. But do you think if our system was such that he could just sign an executive order and get it into law right now, despite opposition from the majority of the country, he wouldn't do it? When you see him threatening to effectively overturn decisions of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address, in front of the entire nation, with the Court seated in the audience as his guests, it should be quite obvious he has little respect for other branches of government, or for our system as a whole.

This is why our Constitution is the greatest political document ever written. It can take a radical progressive, put him in the nation's highest office, and turn him into an ineffectual pragmatist. God bless America's founding fathers and founding document.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Environmentalism & Savvy Sports Fans

Who could possibly be anti-conservation? Who could possibly be pro-pollution? How could anyone be in favor of destroying the environment when we need the environment to live? Indeed, it would be difficult to find anyone blatantly, unapologetically in favor of the positions. And because the environmental, 'green' movement makes these benign, uncontroversial positions the keystones of their PR campaign they believe they can do so with the appearance of apolitical neutrality. Why then was there a backlash to ESPN's recent coverage of a college basketball game which was promoted as "the Green Game"? Here's the story:

• The Green Game: Taking advantage of a captive audience is tempting, but it's a really bad habit.

On Dec. 19, the Kansas-Michigan college basketball telecast was billed by ESPN as the "Green Game." According to Williamson, the event was "aimed at reminding viewers to be more eco-friendly."

After a cute open with Kermit the Frog and a beautifully edited piece featuring nature and pollution that told us we should "fear for our future," host Dave O'Brien intoned "The Green Game … the sports fan's guide to eco-friendly tips for your everyday life … to help spread awareness of a green lifestyle and to help make a better place for our future."

An inordinate number of viewers were not impressed. "Stick to sports and stop preaching how we should live our lives" … "Spare me the eco-editorializing" … "I was so angry I turned off the TV" … "I come to ESPN to retreat from the problems of the day" … "ESPN is not the place for political commentary."

Regarding the last comment, Williamson responded, "I'm not sure when conserving resources and diminishing pollution became political."

Of course, we live in a world in which nearly everything is perceived as having a political overtone. And to many, environmentalism has become synonymous with the global warming debate, which recent polls show is a deeply divisive issue.

The "green" elements in the telecast largely were limited to vignettes and tips about how to conserve energy and decrease pollution. They were used as elements going into and out of commercials during the game as well as at halftime. The timeouts were expanded to accommodate the pieces, resulting in longer pauses in the action, but they were not intrusive.

I would never accuse the general public of having supreme powers of discernment, but they know when they're being preached to, and they know disingenuous political propaganda when they see it... occasionally at least. The fact that the actual 'message' being pushed is not that controversial is irrelevant. Certainly any political movement wants to make their agenda as appealing to the masses as possible, so it's not as if the environmental left is going to go around with a megaphone announcing their anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-human eco-Marxism.

Just because the front for their agenda consists of positive, merely pro-conservation platitudes doesn't mean there aren't ulterior motives at work. There are all types of propaganda, from all types of insidious organizations, that, if you were to take it on face value, actually isn't even negative. It's only negative because of the agenda behind the propaganda, or because the propaganda is only telling half-truths. Like many of the fans watching this game, my stomach turns, and I shift in my chair and groan whenever a 'live green' promo flashes across my screen. And 98% of the time I don't have any problem whatsoever with what the content of the promo, but rather have very serious problems with the movement as a whole and it's associations and true intentions.

No, there's nothing wrong with conservation. Yes, it's a good thing to attempt to reduce pollution. The problems with these things arise when there's a trade-off. If you treat conservation and anti-pollution, as not only positive in general, but as moral imperatives at any cost, then you are willing to make everything else secondary. That is, if at a certain point reducing pollution, and conserving resources, were to result in increases in human suffering (which isn't far-fetched) then that is OK, because the interests of humanity must take a backseat to the interests of the environment as whole.

Even when the trade-off isn't as dire as immediate human suffering, it still often isn't in humanity's short term best interests. Honest environmentalists will admit that this trade-off exists, but argue that the short-term sacrifices will result in long-term benefits that are worth the trade-off. That is they argue that while 'going green' might reduce national GDP, and thereby standards of living (which it must, necessarily), that is OK since it will make our environment cleaner, and more able to sustain human life for much longer etc. The problem with this is that the science on this contingent matter is highly speculative and doesn't necessarily back them up here. Given the inability of humans to greatly affect the environment in either the negative or the positive, and given the planet's own amazing ability to accomodate and adapt to it's inhabitants, the short-term sacrifices may well result in little or no long-term net benefits.

So, in conclusion, just because your promos feature cheery, apolitical sloganeering, doesn't mean you can expect viewers to divorce themselves from their own associations with your movement, many of which are negative, and deservedly so.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On Objectivism (the Philosophy of Ayn Rand)

For those of you familiar with her philosophy, you can skip the next part, but for the rest of you here's a servicable summary/overview taken from wikipedia:

Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness; that individual persons are in direct contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic; that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.

Reading this, especially the bolded portion, it should be apparent than I'm not an objectivist myself. I am a fan of Rand's work, and of some of the principles of her philosophy, but mostly only as they apply to macro-scale systems like economic or political systems. On that level her philosophy is coherent and potent. Rational self-interest, it turns out, is an excellent principle to build an economic or political system around. It results in preserving the most autonomy and liberty for the individual, and results in creating wealth, prosperity and relatively high standards of living for all who engage in the system. Such a system also encourages human ingenuity, and results in life-bettering technological advancements in a variety of fields. Her philosophy as it applies to these macro-scale systems is not just theoretical, but has been tested historically. The success of laissez-faire capitalism in tandem with a representative democracy is a matter of historical record.

However, when you attempt to apply these principles on a micro-scale i.e. to personal morality, her philosophy breaks down. When you take it to it's logical conclusion, which Rand does quite literally and unapologetically, it results in declaring altruism an evil, and selfishness morally right. Though this strikes most people as self-evidently wrong, and it is wrong, the reason why it's wrong is not because the principles of her philosophy have no merit. They just don't apply to personal morality.

The way that she attempts to rationalize this position is essentially just semantics. That is, she doesn't actually think altruism is evil. She declares the subversion of one's own will for the sake of another individual's will, or a collective will, as evil. She doesn't really think self-sacrifice is evil, when you press her on it. Because if you feel it is right to sacrifice something for someone else, well then, that sacrifice is coming from your own will, and that doesn't qualify as altruism to her. So even in this I have sympathy for her position, and it does make sense to a large extent. The will of the individual should not cede to other individuals or other collective wills. Which I believe is true. Of course, as a Christian, I believe in sacrificing one's will to a greater will, but not to the will of another person, government or institution. Which is what she's essentially advocating against.

footnote: For those unfamiliar with her, her most popular, full presentations of her philosophy are found in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.