King of the Word People

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
HOTSPUR:Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

(Shakespeare, King Henry the Fourth)

Yesterday, Andrew Klavan put up a post titled Just Words?, in which he describes Obama in these terms:

The president, in short, has a problem with his mouth: words keep coming out of it that have nothing to do with the truth. He doesn’t even speak plainly. In matters that might be controversial or unpopular, he almost never calls anything by its proper name. He talks about “cutting spending in the tax code” when he means raising taxes; about “making investments” when he means more government spending. And the parts of what he says that can be clearly understood almost never describe his true intentions or his ultimate actions.


During Hillary Clinton’s losing nomination fight against Obama, the Clinton camp famously charged that while Obama’s speeches were impressive, his record was virtually non-existent. “When all is said and done, words aren’t action. They are just words,” the Clintonistas said.


Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to care what his words mean, only how they sound, only what they get him. The answer, then, is yes, when this president speaks, it really is just words.

As I’ve previously observed, a large and increasing proportion of Americans earn their living through the manipulation of words and images–lawyers, writers, entertainers, journalists, professors outside the hard sciences, certain types of consultants. For people in these professions, there is a constant temptation to over-value their own and related activities such that they wind up implicitly believing that nothing really matters but words/images and their deployment; that all other forms of human endeavor are trivial in comparison. Not all people in these fields fall prey to this fallacy (Klavan, after all, is himself a writer) but many do. Obama is the avatar of such people.

Indeed, Obama has never really previously been in a position in which he had individual and un-deflectable responsibility for action. He has always been able to deploy words to get him what he wants. Despite his reputation as an intellectual, there is nothing in him of the analyst and problem-solver; he is not the sort of man who thinks through practical situations deeply and creatively, and he has little experience with the complexity and intransigence of the real world. It is all about the fine Glendower, he still believes that if he gets them just right, the spirits from the vasty deep will really appear. And he has been very careful to avoid having in his inner circle any Hotspurs who might tell him otherwise.

47 thoughts on “King of the Word People”

  1. sorry to double post..

    obama is like a little child; when one set of words doesn’t get them what they want, they try some other tack– but they have no intention of fulfilling any obligations or actually doing what they are supposed to.

  2. “lawyers, writers, entertainers, journalists, professors”

    Speaking as a lawyer, I can assure you that all day, every day lawyers in private practice are acutely aware that our words have real world consequences — someone pays more or less, someone goes to prison for a shorter or longer time, someone gets to build the apartment building or not. Often lawyers in private practice are closely involved in the business decisions of their clients.

    We are perhaps standing between the two worlds, but we are facing the tangible world.

  3. “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” – George Orwell

    My wife gets a kick out of my rants concerning the misuse and abuse of language I see daily in all media and in our political and intellectual discourse.
    To add to Cjm’s point, Obama then is the first (hopefully last) post-modernist president.

  4. LG…a lawyer in private practice, or a corporate lawyer, does indeed get forced to face reality to a greater extent than some of the other professions, via the closing of the feedback loop. The same is true for some kinds of sales…if you’re selling locomotives for GE, or routers for CISCO, and you use your verbal skills to glamorize the product a little too much, it will not be good for your career when the CEO of the customer’s company calls your VP and says it didn’t work as promised.

    Still, for both lawyers and salespeople, the fundamental tool is words and I think there is a temptation of overrate the universal efficacy of them. For example, I was once talking to a lawyer at a social gathering and we were for some reason discussing the Nixon White House…I was wondering what would have really happened had Nixon tried a coup. The lawyer got very, very upset and said this was impossible because it would have been illegal!…The concept that legality is enforced only because it is respected by the men with guns was utterly beyond his grasp. An extreme case, I’m sure…

  5. The real problem may be that Obama is telling the truth, but it’s truth from the fantasy world of the shared Socialist delusion.

  6. John Wolfsberger, Jr.,

    The real problem may be that Obama is telling the truth, but it’s truth from the fantasy world of the shared Socialist delusion.

    This is the most dangerous state of affairs. We all to often tend tell ourselves that our competitors/enemies secretly share our world view but that they consciously make what that world-view says is the “wrong” choices our of selfishness or evil.

    The truth is worse: People make different decisions because they have a wholly different model of the way the world works. The Nazis really did believe that the German people were the target of a vast historical Jewish conspiracy. They based major strategy on the idea and expended enormous resources on trying to wipe out Jews, resources that could have well won them war. Stalin, Mao and other communist sincerely believed in marxist concepts like historical inevitability and based national policy on them even in the face of immediate practical loss.

    Obama really does believe that all good things come from government. We can endlessly speculate why he believes that but I don’t think there is any doubt that he does.

  7. David, your post is amazing in its timing. Just yesterday, while seeking respite from listening to Obama speek on TV I scrolled through blogroll and read Klavahn’s entry.
    And speaking of “chattering classes in power” and their disconnect from reality – a day before while talking online to somebody in Europe I brought video of Glenn Beck as an example to something I was saying; a commenter (from US) interrupted with “Only people with no common sense are listening to Beck and watch Fox altogether! If one has had a college education at all he’d not”.

  8. Obama is simply a true believer, as in Eric Hoffer’s classic definition. Alienated, disaffected, a misfit, he finds his self-worth in the rhetoric he embraces, that ‘better world’ out there in the future. Like projected spending cuts, it never materializes, and that is where the useful corporate jets flown by Jews, or whatever, come in.
    The Obama phenomenon is a product of the Cook County Democratic Party’s unholy alliance of left wing zealots and machine pols. The left wants a bigger state and the pols know there is money in that.
    Keep in mind Tom and Dan Hynes were the first to plump for an Obama presidency (You wacky south-siders!). It was a great way to get him up and out of Chicago politics. The left swooned and signed up, providing money and muscle. The machine provided the know-how.
    Obama speechifies, droning on and on. He thinks he’s actually accomplishing something by running his mouth. validation through cant. It is what he has always been rewarded for in the past. While encouraging him, the Daley crowd gets down to making some real money. Obama has no clue what going on in the country, or right behind his back.

  9. One of the great attractions of surgery as a profession, held in common with other workers who earn a living with their hands, is the fact that words mean almost nothing. Yes, we have to explain risks and benefits to the patient but, once that is done, it is up to the skill of the surgeon and the resilience of the patient. A veterinarian friend of mine used to say, “Now it is up to the old dog.”

    Vascular surgery is even more demanding than many other forms. As Denton Cooley once said, an advantage of general surgeons is that “sh*t doesn’t clot.” The success or failure of the surgeon’s efforts is apparent to everyone concerned. There is no hiding from failure. Another friend of mine, in surgery practice in Fort Myers Florida, said that being a surgeon in a small town means you see your former patients every day and your failures are there for everyone to know about.

    I had the same experience in a small city in Orange County. It is very rewarding and threatening at the same time. You have only your own efforts with your own hands to make your way or fail. I do not envy those, like Obama, who think success can be won with talk. Even if they are right, I don’t envy them.

  10. Several years ago, Michael Barone published a book called Hard America, Soft America, suggesting that the country is divided between those who must meet hard criteria in their jobs and those who face no such requirement, but basically can stay employed merely by showing up. I think it’s pretty clear that soft-America people are drawn toward the Obamian worldview more than are the hard-America people.

    This factor can usefully be added to the word-person factor, creating a 2-dimensional matrix, with (in my hypothesis) soft-criteria word-people being most likely to support Obama, etc, and hard-criteria people whose work is not primarily word/image-oriented being least likely. Hard-criteria word-people and soft-criteria non-word people would fall in the middle.

  11. Nothing new, in the year of my birth, Zechariah Chafee, Jr. published an article in the Columbia Law Review that described the semantic fallacy known as utraquisitic subterfuge – the ambiguity of using interchangeably the same words or phrases with different means in the context of same discourse. The Disorderly Conduct of Words 41 Columbia Law Review 381.

  12. Billy,

    If you think the Post-modernists scream at your generalizations, try mine: Post modernism is nothing more than a cynical justification for blatant lying.

  13. Some of what you say may be behind the decreasing share of college students that are male. I helped my daughter in some of her classes at the U of Arizona, a pretty well regarded state school. I was appalled at what I saw and even contacted a dean and a vice-president of the university about it. In my last e-mail exchange with the dean, he agreed with me and suggested another school. She was being taught things that are not true.

    Outside of the sciences, I see less and less justification for a college degree for men these days. I hate to say it as I have three but I can see why they are staying away from the four year schools. I doubt the difference is as great in community colleges although I don’t have numbers.

  14. Lexington Green,

    Speaking as a lawyer, I can assure you that all day, every day lawyers in private practice are acutely aware that our words have real world consequences

    Yes, but the incentive structure in the profession has little to do with such an awareness. Lawyers personally do not succeed or fail in their careers based on the usefulness of the actions that people take as a result of court cases. Instead, lawyers succeed or fail based on their ability to win cases. Winning cases in turn means being persuasive.

    John Edwards or any number of trial lawyers who made themselves rich suing based on junk science would be the canonical example. Edwards’ entire success was based on nonsense and his court victories raised medical cost for everyone but he success was judge by the people of his state to be a qualification for the senate.

    Most lawyers are cognizant of the consequences of their work but the incentive structure of the field does not enforce that awareness. the subculture of a profession will eventually evolve around its incentive structure. Therefore, lawyers as a group, as a professional subculture develop the intuition that persuasiveness is the most important attribute a person can have. Likewise, they soon begin to confuse a persuasive argument with a true argument. They do so because we all migrate towards, “good for me means true, bad for me means false.”

  15. I once worked at large San Francisco-based corporation that sent one of its middle managers to an excutive MBA program at Stanford.

    Upon his return, and promotion to my boss, I asked him, what was the most important thing he learned at Stanford.

    His reply was that “perception is reality.” As an engineer, I was aghast at this statement. Actually, I’d call it a metaphysical misstatement.

    Later in his career, he was caught doctoring environmental reports to the federal government which resulted in the largest single corporate fine to date and to his own removal from further employment.

    “You can change the perception of some of the people all of the time and all of the people all the time….”

  16. John Edwards career is not “canonical” it is extremely unusual.

    Knowledge of the law is the most important thing.

    Persuasiveness is directed to clients, the other side, and especially judges, based on that.

    Your description bears no resemblance to what I have seen in 17 years of practice.

    You may have a deep knowledge of lawyers and their work from some source I don’t know about.

    But it sounds like you are just making stuff up based on perceptions derived from reading blogs and newspapers.

  17. The fundamental failure of the collectivist mentality is in its denial of cause and effect. As the commenter above mentions, common, empirical, enlightenment rationality assumes that everyone understands and accepts the concept that certain actions have certain effects, and that those effects are inextricably linked to the action preceding them.

    The collectivist mind, which is really all the “post-modern” label actually means, disconnects these two critical elements of human action, or any action, for that matter, and asserts that effects desired can be willed into existence independently of any preceding actions.

    Until one understands that this “magical” form of thinking is occurring within the collectivist and statist camp, the thoughts and actions of collectivists are incomprehensible.

    It is an ancient desire of humans that they be able to influence and control events whose genesis they don’t understand. People are used to prayer and other appeals to unseen spirits as a means to overcome unwanted circumstances by having an agent who can act outside the rules bend things around to the desired end.

    The eclipse scene from the movie “Apocalypto” is a great example of this type of mentality.

    The rejection of cause and effect, and the reliance on magic to accomplish unreachable goals, is a characteristic of the mentality which has achieved ascendency in the west over the last century as collectivism has marched through the institutions of learning, culture, social interaction, and politics.

    We are seeing the fruit of that march now, as the economic and social systems of the west totter and fall under the weight of the unreality they have been subjected to for many decades. The regimes that more openly embraced the totality of collectivist mythology have already collapsed, much to the consternation of those who wish to embrace that form of thought here.

    They still can’t understand how something so very right could fail so spectacularly. And so they wish it all away, as if it hadn’t actually happened right before their eyes.

    Reality will not be denied. Ideas have very real consequences. A is A.

    The shambles you see all around us is the result of those basic elements of rationality having been abandoned, and replaced with meaningless cant and magical formulae.

    The world is not Hogwart’s School.

  18. This emphasis on redefinition of words and furtherance of “the narrative” they establish is the result of the influence of post-modern thought on the modern American left, and lots of baffled people on the right would do well to study post-modernism to better understand how those on the left can act this way with a straight face.

    Post-modernists will scream at my generalizations, but in my mind it comes down to this: post-modernists deny the concept of objective truth. To them, it’s all just opinion.

    Therefore manipulation of opinion implies manipulation of the (post-modern version of) truth. That’s what Obama is trying to do and why he seems so disconnected from reality. His idea of reality isn’t even the same as yours and mine.

    There are only a few rules in this game of post-modern rhetoric:

    1. The left is always right, by axiomatic assumption.

    2. As a corollary, the right is always wrong, because they oppose the left and thus violate the axiom in #1.

    3. Words mean whatever they need to mean to further #1. There is no independent objective meaning of words, and no need to be precise in speech. Rhetoric is not for discussion of some “outside” reality. It’s only to further a narrative which then becomes reality when it is widely accepted.

    4. There is no objective truth. Therefore any viewpoint is as good as anyone else’s. Therefore you cannot tell people flat out that they are wrong, unless they fall in the category of #2 above and deny the inherent rightness of leftism.

    This points up a major difficulty in today’s political debate. Those on the right are Enlightenment thinkers, and assume that everyone shares certain assumptions about debate and logic. But the left denies the fundamental tenet of the Enlightenment – that there is an objective reality we can measure things against.

    Since the other side is debating by completely different rules and assumptions, it’s literally impossible to come to agreement with them. Even if you think you did, they reserve the right to redefine terms as necessary to further their objectives.

    When they do these things, it’s important to understand that they don’t believe that they are lying. Since their concept of truth is different from those on the right, their concepts of dishonesty and deception are different too.

    The best single case I’ve ever seen of this post-modern redefinition of terms is the following video from Harry Reid, in which he insists that we have a voluntary tax system.

    The interviewer is plainly baffled by Reid’s insistence on his own definition of “voluntary”. Yet it’s clear to me from body language, etc., that Reid does not think he’s lying. He just thinks he trying to explain something that’s self-evident to him to a person who is being obtuse.

    Obama hews to these post-modern rules more than any major politician in American history. Just like Reid, he keeps explaining as if he’s talking to a mildly retarded child. Well, to those steeped in post-modern thoughts, we Enlightenment throwbacks are mildly retarded, because we are incapable of seeing the wonder and glory of post-modern leftism.

  19. Knowledge of the law is the most important thing.

    My oldest son is a lawyer whose practice is defense of construction firms, contractors and the like. He is very good at it. In one of his first trial cases some years ago, the opposing counsel, a guy he had known from childhood, was representing plaintiffs that were condo homeowners associations, as I recall. My son’s client was a cement maker who had little to do with the issue and Mike wanted to get him dismissed from the case. The plaintiffs wanted all the defendants to stay and, after a very grueling deposition series on a Friday, the Friday before the Notre Dame-USC game in South Bend for which Mike had tickets, the plaintiff counsel checked himself into a psych facility and told his clients he didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.

    When Mike went into the office Monday he was getting high fives from everyone. The plaintiffs dropped the case Tuesday.

    Edwards needed to have a really defense defense lawyer to keep him as honest as possible.

    It’s not just about the law. I’ve been an expert witness about 200 times in depositions and maybe 50 times in trials. The best lawyer wins.

  20. With all due respect to the ethical and conscientious lawyers I have met over the years, the lawyers’ guild is a major part of the problem we face.

    Lawyers are trained to seek legalistic solutions. It is only a short step for many to believe that any problem may be solved with the appropriate legal formulation.

    As Shannon has pointed out so well regarding the tendencies of the articulate elite, the tendency of the legal elite is to attempt to reduce every issue to something that can be legislated, regulated, or suppressed by the legal system.

    This mindset now dominates the legislative and executive branches of government, as well as its own natural area, the judiciary.

    One of the primary drivers of the growth of the intrusive, regulatory state is the legalistic belief that all issues are legal issues that can be dealt with within the legal framework.

    The two major results of this view are the endless intrusions of the law into every conceivable area of our life; and the accumulation of extreme political and cultural influence by a small, closed guild of legal practicioners who not only write the laws, but also enforce and adjudicate them.

    This massive and far-reaching conflict of interest is a significant element in the current explosion of state power and expense in the legalistic societies of the west, and especially the US.

  21. very retired, I was driving down to the harbor in Los Angeles one day with two of my daughters, one a lawyer and the other a college student. We passed one of those huge lots where thousands of Japanese cars were parked and the box-like ships came in twice a week to unload more. I told them that every every three days another ship came in and unloaded 1500 cars. I said we then loaded 1500 lawyers aboard and the ship went back to Japan.

    My lawyer daughter did not think that was funny at all.

  22. IIRC: “do not call up what you cannot put down” — Joesph Curwen ( H P Lovecraft)

    No mention of the transmutation of words into deeds and wealth: computer code?

  23. Why, we all know what Hotspur’s love of action accomplished for himself, right? Right?

    A better comparison might be between Falstaff and Hal. For Falstaff, words are a form of play—and Falstaff is able to play all day. Hal can play w/ words too, but they are a temporary pause in his action, or a else a distraction for both himself and his audience. His audience may think him a fool—

    Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
    Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
    To smother up his beauty from the world,
    That, when he please again to be himself,
    Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
    By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
    Of vapours that did seem to strangle him….

    ….I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
    Redeeming time when men think least I will.

    —but he’s merely waiting for the opportune time to act.

    I’m not sure what good will be accomplished by spinning words from Shakespeare to fit a modern, contemporary reality, however…..

    I do wonder: IF Obama is all words and nothing else, then why is he so terrifying or hated by his opponent? Surely mere wordy fluff could not inspire such opposition, right?

  24. I’m an engineer. My brother is a lawyer. We compare notes.

    As a lawyer, you can get what you want if only your words are persuasive enough because, in the end, you are trying to modify human behavior. Plus, wearing really nice clothes has an effect. But it’s all perception. And yes, then there are consequences. But there’s no hard and fast that limits the outcome.

    As an engineer, my arguments are with the laws of physics which tend to be rather implacable. They also don’t care about the stain on the tie I don’t wear.

  25. CGW….”IF Obama is all words and nothing else, then why is he so terrifying”

    Imagine that it was possible for a person to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot rating, and get hired by a major airline, purely by being sufficiently glib in the interviews. That’s basically the situation we’re in.

    Our Captain did very well in the interviews, and he once read a children’s book on “How to Fly Airplanes”…filled with partial truths and outright errors…which he clutches to his breast like a Bible. As the flight runs into more and more trouble, he talks incessantly…mostly about the great things he has done in the past and about the noble job he is doing now (despite the failings of those awful mechanics and weather forecasters) but occasionally to recite the Great Truths from his children’s book.

  26. The problem with my above analogy, of course, is that airline pilots do not carry parachutes. Obama does. No matter how much damage he does to the economy, he will spend the rest of his life as a very wealthy man.

  27. If Obama is all words and nothing else, then why is he so terrifying or hated by his opponent?

    I don’t think he is hated by many. Even though I knew from the start that he was a terrible candidate (Read the account of how he became a US Senator in the very revealing piece that was written very early in his campaign), I thought it was nice that a black man was a serious candidate and could even be elected. I didn’t think he would win until the financial collapse in September 2008.

    I was very unhappy with Bush during his whole presidency except I think he had very little option in Iraq and showed courage in sticking to his principles under terrible pressure.

    What makes people fear Obama is the fact that he has stuffed the executive branch with ideologues who share his ignorance of economics. Even Larry Summers nearly bankrupted Harvard University by placing interest rate swaps with the endowment and then going off to his government job and forgetting about it. The only rational explanation, aside from incompetence, was that he was punishing Harvard for firing him.

    The EPA and the various czars are the reason why people are afraid of Obama. Here he has the ability to badly damage the economy with no adult supervision. Even Jimmy Carter had competent advice, even if he didn’t take it.

  28. Also….it strikes me that if more people had proper education in logic and rhetoric (which were classical Liberal Arts), then sleazy lawyers of the John Edwards stamp would be much less successful…the lawyers who *would* succeed in front of juries would be those who could deploy actual reasoning, not just emotional manipulation.

  29. DF & MK:

    Who here would want the wordy scoundrel Falstaff to lead? Even Hal was sure to point out, and often, how Falstaff was full of bloat…Falstaff’s handling of responsibility for the State was less than stellar.

    There are interesting parallels to be made between Shakespeare’s play and current events. Hotspur’s faction could be compared to the Tea Party:

    1) They are rebels against the central government which was led by a usurper (I do not call Obama a usurper, although there are some in the TP who see him that way);

    2) The king, Henry IV had made many promises to gain his position, but the rebels are fully aware that those promises were just talk; none of the promises have materialized;

    3) Their plan is to first overthrow the king and then destroy the central government—England is rather to be divided into separate smaller regional powers with their own government/control over their own local affairs.

    Of course, if one wanted to go negative, additional considerations might be made: 4) Although the rebels ostensibly are against that usurper and the failed central governance, they really want more power for themselves, want to be Big Fish in the Smaller Ponds which will be made out of England after the usurper is overthrown.

    And naturally, comparing Obama to Henry IV may be inapt, if Falstaff or Hal are better suited for an analogy—these things might depend upon one’s political bias. My mind is running again to wondering: If Obama is a metaphorical Henry IV, then who is his heir, his Hal? Only person who now seems to vaguely fit that description might be Hilary; so this is to say, the metaphor has its limits.

  30. Taking that metaphor one step further: Pawlenty’s recent remarks against Bachmann—he may well agree with her speech, but she is all speech and no action—might be similar to Hotspur’s accusation against Glendower. I’m not sure how the metaphor plays out, in this regard, since, as most critics have agreed, Hotspur is full of his own fluff: adhering well to his principals, even admired by Henry IV for this, but all vainglorious ideologue & just as one-sided a character as some other wordsmiths. I’m more likely to compare Bachmann w/ Hotspur rather than comparing Pawlenty to Hotspur.

  31. “…then sleazy lawyers of the John Edwards stamp would be much less successful…”

    One thing that would help is making jury duty a serious obligation that all citizens have to submit to.

    If we had a jury pool that was truly representative, that would help. Right now we do not, or rarely do.

  32. Jury reforms would be a good idea but I’m not sure if making jury duty compulsory would be wise. We might end up with better people on juries who resented being there even more than jurors do now, and the legal system might have even less respect for their time than it does now. Case outcomes would not necessarily be better, and the jurors would eat all of the costs. A better alternative might combine 1) moving to an English-style jury-selection process, where most jurors called are actually seated on juries unless they have obvious conflicts and 2) paying jurors at high enough rates to make jury service less of a burden on intelligent people whose time is valuable and who, currently, reasonably tend to avoid jury duty.

  33. One of the great attractions of surgery as a profession, held in common with other workers who earn a living with their hands, is the fact that words mean almost nothing

    This for the win.

    I work with computers for a living. When all is said and done, things work, or don’t work, in a concrete way. There are rules and logic and you cannot use words to wish a problem away.

  34. I work with computers for a living. When all is said and done, things work, or don’t work, in a concrete way. There are rules and logic and you cannot use words to wish a problem away.

    Some financial fields are like that. You either make or lose money based on your market judgment and risk-control skills. If you lose money over time you are doing something wrong by definition.

  35. “I work with computers for a living. When all is said and done, things work, or don’t work, in a concrete way.”

    you haven’t used msft products then :)

  36. with “My Own Private Idaho” (the movie) in mind, obama would be prince Hal, and Frank Marshall would be Falstaff.

  37. Curtis Gale Weeks,

    I do wonder: IF Obama is all words and nothing else, then why is he so terrifying or hated by his opponent? Surely mere wordy fluff could not inspire such opposition, right?

    All words can do a lot of damage before nature proves the speaker wrong. As extreme cases, you could look at Fascism and Communism both based on hallucinatory world views and both of which collapsed when that delusional world view collided with reality. Less extreme look at the rise of eugenics in the liberal-democracies prior to the 1930s. Eugenics was based on a fallacious non-Darwinian concept of evolution yet it gained traction for decades.

    Word smiths can temporarily convince people that the world is other than it is. They can induce people take action based on a convincing delusion. Eventually, nature corrects all misconception but the damage the misconceptions can do before that correction occurs can be extraordinary.

  38. Shannon Love:

    Someone above linked the Kristol piece on Obama’s “Baby Talk.” What I find odd, is that many of the same ideologues, bloggers, commenters, politicians, and other concerned word smiths who would severely limit central contol—the powers of a centralized government—and restore control back to the people at the very same time appear to believe that the people are weak-minded sheep susceptible to mind control in the form of empty fluff and rhetoric pushing a particular world view.

    Indeed, the constant activity of these word smiths appears to imply that they do believe the multitude are mere sheep: In order to protect the sheep from Obama’s word smithing, a counter-word-smithing program is in order. Fair enough, I suppose.

    Now of course a different interpretation may exist: Yes, people are sheep, even presidents may be sheep, but it’s best to let the sheep decide for themselves how they will be misled; no need to set up one primacy dictating all. Perhaps in all this activity—word smithing and personal evaluation by each member of the population—”nature” will prove itself and the truth will arise. At the very least, the truth has a fighting chance.

    I am not altogether sure how these considerations fit into the present conversation. My best guess is that we are all of us operating on limited information all the time and some form of corrective, pragmatic & operative skepticism is healthy for a society. This skepticism appears from the cracks produced by the constant back-and-forth, the cracks constantly being produced by the inelegant flyting of word smiths operating at seeming cross-purposes. But to say that we are always operating with limited information all the time is not to say we are necessarily sheep easily misled by elected rhetoricians.

  39. Billy Hollis,

    I’d venture a bit further and assert that the taint of Marxism is what brought this ‘post-modernism’ on us. After all, one could be post-modern and not be a communist, far leftist or statist and believe that there is no truly objective truth.

    Kolakowski explains this edifice of ‘Marxist’ philosophy particularly well at times in his book(s) Currents of Marxism. As it were, if a certain class is the vessel of a historical force which will lead to a world where all things are reconciled to all other things, cats and dogs live together in harmony and work is no longer drudgery and any man can become the next Dostoevsky, then by necessity, all who oppose this class (and now just anyone who is a member of the “Party” which represents this historical process) are themselves wrong. And, in fact, the SOURCE of information DOES determine (for these nitwits) the truth of a statement.

    It’s why for decades the Left denied Stalin’s crimes or condemned something as “bourgeois” science but when Khruschev detailed Stalin’s crimes, their morale was shaken and many of the organized parties collapsed, never to fully recover or fell into revisionism (or cartoon-like slavishness to what’s left of Marxism like North Korea.)

    So, while post-modernism may have tracked the development of Marxist ‘philosophy’ and polemic, I think the continued association with the political global Left means that we’re really just dealing with the residuum of the world’s Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist moment. It’s not going to stop, by the way, because if the fall of the SU, the evil of North Korea and the like don’t convince enough people to make this a libertarian’s dream planet, I have a hard time believing that any amount of ‘evidence’ of history is going to make a big dent.

  40. Curtis Gale Weeks,

    …and restore control back to the people at the very same time appear to believe that the people are weak-minded sheep susceptible to mind control in the form of empty fluff and rhetoric pushing a particular world view.

    It’s not that people are sheep, it’s that they are wolves. They gain up on others and eat them.

    People are only sheep politically if you assume that they are acting for some nebulously defined greater good and that they are being brainwashed into believing something is for the greater good when it isn’t. In reality, people act selfishly, not for the greater good. People are quite rationale and objective about advancing their own self-interest, at least short-term. (<10 years) Claims about the greater good are just face saving

    Most people who support a big invasive government do so because it pays them personally short-term. Union members know that they receive above market wages and that if the government does not enforce a union monopoly then they will have to accept what others give them in voluntary trade just like the rest of us do. People who receive government benefits, contracts or paychecks know full well that the more tax money the government collects, the more they will get personally. People who have a emotional need to dominate and control others get great satisfaction from using government power to forcibly override the decisions of others. The whole "tax the rich" bit is just utter selfishness because what people really mean (and this has been experimentally verified) is "tax anyone who has more than me."

    Likewise, everyone thinks that the government needs to regulate the other guy but not them. People rather rationally understand that the government isn't smart enough to regulate whatever is that they do but they likewise understand that the only control they will have over others is through government force. Since some control is better than no control at all, they will create a pretext for regulation. So, regulation is a contest wherein everyone tries to regulate others while escaping regulation themselves.

    The rhetoric about people being lead astray by authority figures is really a form of face saving misdirection that allows us to try and change someone's mind without morally condemning them. "You not evil, just gullible!" It allows us to make political leaders the scapegoats we drive into the wilderness carrying our sins. It lets us pretend our neighbors weren't trying to screw us over at gunpoint.

  41. “I work with computers for a living. When all is said and done, things work, or don’t work, in a concrete way.”

    you haven’t used msft products then :)


    But … yes! Various flavors of Windows are about 1/2 of my inventory, 2/3 of of my workload.

    You can get at the bottom of a problem with Windows in a logical methodical way. Too often the quick-cheap method is to reinstall the OS.

  42. @Curtis Gale Weeks & Shannon Love:

    Part of the problem is that a lot of our populace is neither sheep nor wolves. They have been infantilized by the very government that we are talking about via innumerable “social security nets” and such. People, in general, act more irresponsibly in the contemporary US than they did, say, 100 years ago because there are so many government programs to fall back on (or into).

    It’s a real-world manifestation of the safety/risk paradox. I’m not convinced that it is an unintended consequence of progressive incrementalism.

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