Thursday, February 8, 2018

Decency

     “What is decent?” This three word query conceals a vast layer of unanswered questions.

     Not long ago I offered a criticism of a normative statement from Ben Shapiro:

     We all ought to behave with decency and truth.

     In that earlier essay, I argued that “ought to,” which is equivalent to “should,” is too slippery and too loaded for use in a discussion of politics and public policy. It occurs to me this morning that I shortchanged the subject by not approaching decency, another slippery, loaded word, with more rigor.

     The lack of rigor is what allows the Left to twist seemingly reasonable statements into weapons against us.


     The root of the English word decency is the Latin word decens, which means fitting. A particular statement or action cannot be evaluated as decent or indecent without reference to the context in which it occurred. The question “Was that decent?” should be translated to “Was it appropriate to the context?”

  • Who was present?
  • What were the circumstances?
  • What priorities pertained to those persons and circumstances?

     A moment’s thought should make it plain that what is entirely decent in one context would be shockingly indecent in another. Surgeons reviewing an operation would find it fitting to discuss the details in the hospital break room. Indeed, their conversation might result in lives saved in the future. However, the same discussion would be unacceptable at a family dinner table with children present – even if the head of the household were the surgeon who performed the operation.

     Even in seemingly comparable contexts, differences in certain details can render what’s fitting in one unacceptable in the other. Imagine four persons gathered for social purposes discussing their favorite strong beverages. On the surface it sounds decent enough. Little is thought of it when it happens at the neighborhood tavern. But were one of those persons an alcoholic, the decency of the subject would be dubious, to say the least. If the four were surgeons gathered around an overdose victim, collaborating in an operation, it would be in shockingly bad taste.

     “Wholly decent” and “wholly indecent” are poles between which lie a range of gradations. An early scene from the recent movie Doctor Strange provides a case study. The title character conducts a complex operation on a patient’s brain...while engaged in a contest of sorts over musical trivia. Perhaps such goings-on are commonplace in American operating theaters; I wouldn’t know. But I wouldn’t want to be the guy on the operating table with his skull open under those circumstances. I’d fear that my life was in the hands of someone, however good he might be, whose attention isn’t fully on his work.

     In judgments of decency, context is everything.


     The political Left has made capital out of abstractions we once held harmless by redefining the words used to refer to them. Decency is a good example, especially when we approach it through its negation. A very brief snippet of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s recent interview with Cathy Newman presents an example of the technique:

     When Newman speaks of “a right not to be offended,” she’s really saying that to refuse to address a transgender by his/her/its/their preferred pronoun is indecent. Moreover, she’s implying that the indecency is so extreme that to make conformance a matter of law, the violation of which would be subject to punishment, would be fitting. That’s inherent in the nature of an individual’s rights: to violate one is inherently unjust, and therefore is properly punishable by the State.

     The complete absence of context is just as staggering as Newman’s bald assertion. Dr. Peterson riposted gracefully, as he usually does -- see the complete interview for details -- but the interview context was an unsuitable one for addressing the larger problem: the Left’s use of linguistic kidnapping as a tactical ploy. It wouldn’t have been fitting even if Newman had permitted it.


     When we all agree on what we mean by the terms of a discussion, we can generally conduct it without rancor. Indeed, we can often resolve a debate at the start of which the sides disagree completely, merely by insisting that words be used according to their established public meanings. One side can be shown to have the better case, at which point the other would be expected to concede courteously.

     It doesn’t happen often these days, and often the reason for that is that the Left insists on a tendentious redefinition of a word for something the rest of us understand quite differently. The connotations of the word, including its traditional role in law and jurisprudence, are yoked to the Left’s arbitrarily imposed denotation. Decency, rights, and justice are important tokens in the Left’s game.

     It’s dirty pool being played for high stakes: the true individual rights we possess. They’ve been under attack in this fashion for so long that ninety-nine out of any hundred people would be unable to answer the critical question:

What is the difference between a right and a permission?

     Of course, if you were to pose that question to a Leftist, he’d immediately denounce it – and you – as “indecent.” But that’s a subject best left for another screed.

3 comments:

Ray Mota said...

Hrumph!


What did the Red Queen say about what words mean? (Alice in Wonderland)

As well as the verdict and sentence.


Hooo Boy!

The point of the story is something I have been trying to present for years (decades). When your words are hijacked without you knowing it, you should (as l Ron Hubbard points out - one of his few things worth remembering): Define the words in your opponents statements). When I do this with mental incompetents, sorry, liberals, they usually freeze - not understanding what they have said. In the same tactic, repeated back what I have heard them just say often completely stops the discussion - as they realize they have just "S*****D the pooch." Freezing the topic on exactly what they said is a freeze moment - almost always. No connection between brain and mouth. Tongue tie in a bow and send to - well, whoever. Once they freeze, I use my time tested and true method of attack: Go for the jugular, bite down as hard as you can, draw blood, repeat. I seem to remember a post you did on this, can't remember when, that Alinsky's Rules can be used in our battle as easily as in theirs. I start at the top and work the the rules as necessary to destroy any momentum they might think they have. I usually stop before rule 4 or 5. I have never had to go beyond 10. The "stupid burns" does it not? I show no mercy to those that have stated they want to kill me. Some people find this odd. I find it life saving. Prolly an idea for a column, anyway.


Best Regards,

Ray Mota

IlĂ­on said...

"When Newman speaks of “a right not to be offended,” she’s really saying that to refuse to address a transgender by his/her/its/their preferred pronoun is indecent."

But, the thing is, one doesn't address another person by those (third person) pronouns, either the real ones or the recently made-up ones; one address another person by name or by the (second person) pronoun 'you'.

Howard Nelson said...

Confucius encapsulates, propagates, and educates for responding in all contexts -- Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
This demands consideration of the situation's seriousness, alternatives for action, and probable and unlikely consequences.
No place here or there for cowardice or stinkin' thinkin'.