Wednesday, January 12, 2011

language, narrative and use of the pejoritve

One of the fascinating features of on-line discussion is the propensity for advocates of differing perspectives to talk past one another while contemplating ideas and their meanings.  A key feature of this dialogue is the use of the pejorative to define, describe and dismiss the contrary perspective and thus frame the narrative in a manner that best serves the forthright assertion of the perspective being advocated.  In short, language is used not to illuminate differences and nuance, but, rather, to restrict and confine consideration of variations of meaning: dialogue has as its purpose the constriction of discussion, that obviates values and asserts prevailing dogma, rather than a means to examine, explore and parse meanings, intent and consequences.

This restriction is most evident when issues of presumed scientific character, such as ecomyths, are discussed by scientists who must perforce consider the politics that interplay with their preferred science only framing of the problem and its potential remedy.  In particular, political perspectives tend to be understood in terms characterized by the media and largely reduced to caricature in the process.   Thus, political perspectives. values and ideas are subject to considerable confusion and diminution, especially when the media caricature is used to define the pejoritive characterization that serves as its dismissal by those of a differing suasion.

Samizdata recently posted this quote of the day:
  • I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force and fraud). Competition plays mean, nasty corporations off against each other in a contest to serve us. Yes, they still have power, but its negative effects are lessened. It is when corporations can use the state to rig the rules in their favor that the negative effects of their power become magnified, precisely because it has the force of the state behind it. The current mess shows this as well as anything ever has, once you realize just what a large role the state played. If you really want to reduce the power of corporations, don't give them access to the state by expanding the state's regulatory powers. 
  • It doesn't matter which party is captaining the ship: regulations come with unintended consequences and will always tend to be captured by the private interests with the most at stake. And history is full of cases where those with a moral or ideological agenda find themselves in political fellowship with those whose material interests are on the line, even if the two groups are usually on opposite sides.
What differentiates dynamism from stasism, is the desire for state control versus the preservation of individual freedom.  There are only two basic perspectives in politics, as the quote from Heinlein used on this blog summarizes:
  • Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. 
Perhaps the construct most subject to selective, pejorative interpretation and definition is capitalism.  Peter Foster provides this succinct discussion on capitalism, its essential characteristics and its selective mis-interpretation by stasists:

  • Kremlinism, statism, and cronyism are all in fact negations of capitalism, which is a system based on private property and the rule of law. Government is needed to protect the system, but that does not mean that it is compatible with anything that government chooses to do.
  • Unless people understand what rightly defined capitalism is — as opposed to the demonic parody of greed and exploitation crafted by Marx and more recently gussied up with accusations of environmental fecklessness — it becomes impossible to defend or promote.
  • Many people understandably fail to grasp that capitalism is not necessarily what is either practised or preached by capitalists. Capitalism is an ideal, but unlike the socialism of state control it is an attainable, and moral, one. A system in which private business must co-operate with authoritarian government is called fascism. Historically, fascism and Communism were both rooted in hatred of capitalism. “Kremlin capitalism” is an Orwellian contradiction.
There are few true polymaths: people with extended expertise and genius in multiple fields.  On-line discussions provide a forum wherein people can (often anonymously) indulge in their pretensions of intellectual omnipotence, cast aspersions on the values of others and. most conspicuously, frame the narrative in a manner that is self-serving to their own pretensions, ideology and prejudices.

Are we seeking first to understand others, and then to be understood ourselves:? Or are we seeking a venue to assert of own sense of "the truth"?  The former sees education as a process of self-actualization, discussion and personal growth.  The latter sees education as being  synonymous with training people through an elitist indoctrination of approved dogma. 

It has been my experience that it is easy to distinguish the two: one is civil, ridden with self-deprecation and humour.  The other is loud, brassy and boorish.  One is respectful and complementary in its consideration of alternate perspectives: the other is abusive, insulting and disparaging. 

People of integrity expect to be believed, and when they are not, they let time prove them right.