Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Untruth on Down The Line

Via Althouse, this tweet from Joe Biden: The fact is systemic racism touches every facet of American life, and everyone — no matter your race or ethnicity — benefits when we build a more equitable America

It's not a fact, it's an opinion.  The use of "The fact is" in English as an intensifier, an emphasiser, is common, and people of all political and non-political persuasions use it all the time. The fact that it is not literally true is not the worst of offenses. However, to describe an opinion as fact often has the intent of bullying, of strangling dissent in its cradle.

"Systemic racism" we have covered before.  Insofar as it has a meaning at all beyond its shock value, it means "widespread, and it will require government intervention to make people fix it."

"every facet" and "everyone" is hyperbole. 

"no matter your race or ethnicity" is an extension of the previous and subject to its weaknesses.  It is mostly gas, expressing the opinion that his vision is not targeted toward helping one or a few groups but is good for everyone. Experience says this is false, as racial interventions invariably try to help one or a few groups - that's the point - but can be given some credit of intent  that 1) this is more fair and 2) it is probably better in the long run that we live in a fairer society. Those are both opinions, not facts, but they have something going for them.

"benefits" As above.  Opinion. Possible.

"we build" If he means "the American people as a whole, including government," I don't object.  Experiences teaches that he means "the government is going to make you do things, and we are going to call that building." Some of those may even be good things.  But a lot gets slipped in that has consequences later.

"a more equitable America." Equitable seems to have come to mean "equal in outcome," having migrated from the earlier meaning of "even-handed, just." Insofar as his new meaning is intended, it is a true statement. However, because the emotional value of equitable is meant to suggest that earlier meaning and the other equivalents of "equality, equal treatment" I have to declare it deceptive. He is tapping into the great store of emotional approval built up over centuries for words that begin with "equ-" that cause a quickening of spirit and bring tears to the eyes, but there is a bait-and-switch going on.

For some reason this reminded me of the prediction that conservatives keep making that Martin Luther King, Jr will prove unsustainable as a figure of veneration because his most-remembered racial views are closer to what conservatives now think than what even liberals now believe, let along radicals.  There are also dire warnings that his sexism, approval of rape, and even more affairs than thought would bring him off the pedestal (still might in 2027, I suppose) with women's groups and the black church, at least.  But that isn't going to happen.  He exists as a symbol, and the actual events and beliefs of his life are no irrelevant. 

Words and symbols are being used instrumentally, and may I say very effectively, rather than denotatively. I don't see that changing. The trend has been continuous at least since the invention of radio and movies, only accelerating with television and the internet to hack into the responses humans developed over thousands of years for belief and trust. Social media is only the next step, and as we have proved generally helpless against the previous hacks, I don't see how we will do better at the improved ones. Conservatives rail against how the mainstream media unfairly steers the great mass of humanity without even considering how the secondary media does the same thing with them.

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