Sunday, April 13, 2008


Stephen Hicks wrote in Explaining Postmodernism[pages 175-177]:
To the modernist, the "mask" metaphor is a recognition of the fact that words are not always to be taken literally or as directly stating a fact--that people largely use language elliptically, metaphorically, or to state falsehoods, that language can be textured with layers of meaning, and that it can be used to cover hypocrisies or to rationalize. Accordingly, unmasking means interpreting or investigating to a literal meaning or fact of the matter. The process of unmasking is cognitive, guided by objective standards, with the purpose of coming to an awareness of reality.

For the postmodernist, by contrast, interpretation and investigation never terminate with reality. Language connects only with more language, never with a non-linguistic reality....

For the postmodernist, language cannot be cognitive because it does not connect to reality, whether to an external nature or an underlying self. Language is not about being aware of the world, or about distinguishing the true from the false, or even about argument in the traditional sense of validity, soundness, and probability. Accordingly, postmodernism recasts the nature of rehtoric. Rhetoric is persasion in the absence of cognition....

Hicks goes on to note that:
Language is a tool of social interaction, and one's model of social interaction dictate what kind of tool language is used as....

And so given the conflict models of social relations that dominate postmodern discourse, it makes perfect sense that to most postmodernists language is primarily a weapon.

This explains the harsh nature of much postmodern rhetoric. The regualr deployments of ad hominem, the setting up of straw men, the regular attempts to silence opposing voices are all logical consequences of the postmodern epistemology of language. Stanley Fish, as noted in Chapter Four, calls all opponents of racial preferences bigots and lumps them in with the Ku Klux Klan. Andrea Dworking calls all heterosexual males rapists and repeatedly labels "Amerika" a fascist state. With such rhetoric, truth or falsity is not the issue: what matters primarily is the language's effectiveness.

If we now add to the postmodern epistemology of language the far Left politics of the leading postmodernists and their firsthand awareness of the cirses of socialist thought and practice, then the verbal weaponry has to become explosive.{emphasis mine]

Got all that? Now if you'd like to have a perfect example of how a slick leftist/ postmodernist uses language and rhetorical skill to manipulate and produce maximum effectiveness depending on his audience; and the way a modernist (i.e., someone connected to reality, truth, and reason) unmasks them and reconnects them with reality (whether they like it or not), then check out Victor Davis Hanson's deconstruction of Barack Obama's recent Orwellian forays.

After directly quoting Obama, Hanson then compares it to what Obama now says he said. Here's an excerpt, but read the whole:
1. Note how version #1's "cling" becomes version #2's "vote about" and "take comfort from"—as the condescending dismissal becomes empathetic understanding.

2. Note how version #1's "religion" and "antipathy to people who aren't like them" becomes version #2's "faith" and "their family and community" —as fundamentalist xenophobes now become beleaguered folks who band together against the unfairness.

3 Note how version #1's "anti-immigrant" becomes version #2's "mad about illegal immigrants" —as the nativist who opposes all immigrants, legal and illegal, now becomes understandably angry only about those coming here illegally.

4. Note how version #1's "as a way to explain their frustrations" becomes version #2's "they get frustrated about" as the misguided scape-goaters become those who react understandably to adversity.

What a difference the audience makes! Obama's original remarks are what he really thinks, told to an audience he could be sure thought the same way. With a different, more skeptical audience, his rhetoric morphs into more acceptable and slicker language designed to make his his original points more palatable.

UPDATE: Neoneocon has some further thoughts about the nonapology/clarification.

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