A Turn Of The Phrase

As someone whose primary interests in philosophy are in the area of epistemology, I am often greatly intrigued by matters of word use, especially in the way that the language of people often reveals hidden assumptions and a lack of reciprocity and fairness in the way that they deal with other people [1]. One of the online courses I take, that is almost finished, is a course on globalization, which is taught by an English-born Trotskyite [2] professor who is a tenured professor at a university in a neighboring state. Normally, I would not consider the politics of someone to be particularly relevant, however different they may be to my own, except that in this particular case, the self-serving hypocrisy of the professor is so blatant that it requires commentary, not least because it demonstrates a rhetorical dishonesty and corruption that runs rampant in our time.

The particular instance of the rhetorical dishonesty of the professor related to his lecture on the relationship of globalization and health. For most of the course, the professor has railed over and over again about the dominant narratives relating to free trade and the reduction of expenditures that corrupt socialist governments engage in and that invariably cannot afford (it should be noted that this includes the United States, as the debt-induced destruction of our own social entitlement programs is nearly inevitable). With a strident and often irrational tone, the professor has pleaded for consideration of those voices he supports who strongly critique the way of the world and that appeal for larger government roles and an opposition to free trade and lowered regulatory burdens because of an immense hostility to those engaged in business. However, in this past lecture, the professor commented equally stridently against freedom of expression for those who doubt the dominant narrative of global warming, largely because environmental agencies view global warming as a way to oppose the activity of businesses in exchange for burdensome government regulations that are designed to be hostile to the well-being of ordinary people because of alleged anthropomorphic (that is, man-made) climate change. Only, the professor calls the dominant narrative of global warming a scientific consensus.

What is the difference between a dominant narrative and a scientific consensus? Only words, and where one stands in relationship to the narrative. In point of fact, the truth or error of a proposition does not depend at all on the amount of people who are in support or opposition to it. There are points in which almost all of us stand within massive local or global majorities about a given issue, and where we stand as part of small minorities against large majorities. When we stand with large majorities, we tend to view what are essentially questions of politics as a global consensus, to attempt to delegitimize those who speak against our view. When we stand against large majorities, we decry such politics as being the result of a dominant and self-serving narrative and speak out as voices crying out in the wilderness against what we see as attempts to silence unpopular truths. The only difference often tends to be which side we are in, not any kind of consistent approach to wrestling with political questions.

In fairness, the professor is not the only one who is caught up in this sort of self-serving and hypocritical use of language. This is a much more common problem. For example, the only difference between a freedom fighter or patriot, a partisan, or a terrorist is often whose side they are on. The context of where we stand in relationship to their violent efforts at destabilizing governments determines what language we use to describe those who are responsible for the violence. Those leaders who lead efforts that we support we tend to consider as freedom fighters. Those whose causes we are indifferent or ambivalent to we might name with the ambiguous term partisan, and those whose causes we are hostile to we would label as rebels or terrorists or some other term of disapproval and contempt. Our language about the behavior of others, in other words, depends more on the political context than it does the actual reality of their behaviors. None of us are immune to this tendency to label terms by political identity rather than actual reality and morality.

What are we to do about it? There are certain steps we can take to avoid being hypocritical about our use of language. For one, we can seek to ensure that we use language that focuses on standards and moral behavior (or the lack thereof) regardless of who is involved or their political worldview. If we wish to maintain the moral high ground, we have to be willing to face the difficulties of consistency, even if that means pointing fingers at our close allies or ourselves. We cannot in good conscience condemn others for conduct that we approve of in our friends or ourselves, for we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge others. Additionally, we can be open and honest about our own political worldviews, to the extent that other people will be able to recognize the potential for bias in our judgments and take appropriate measures themselves, so that we can preserve our reputation for being honorable in public discourse, however passionately we may hold to our beliefs. For it would be a shame to rail against someone for that which we do ourselves, after all.

[1] See, for example:





[2] Trotskyism is a form of Communism that is named after Leon Trotsky, who was an early leader within the Russian Communist regime who ran afoul of Josef Stalin and was killed in exile in Mexico in 1940. Trotskyites officially claim to oppose large government interaction, but their political beliefs would tend to require the coercion that they hate in order to obtain what they seek.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Turn Of The Phrase

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: An Inconvenience Rightly Viewed | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: On Epistemology And The Problem Of Revealed Knowledge And Authority | Edge Induced Cohesion

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