Sunday, December 22, 2019

Portentous Phrase Pugilism

     I managed to misplace this Angelo Codevilla piece when it first appeared – possibly because of my travails with the Brave browser – but thanks to Mike Hendrix it’s come back to mind.

     As with all Codevilla’s essays it’s a worthy read from first to last, but there are two segments I feel compelled to cite in particular. The first one:

     William Webster, the only person ever to have headed both FBI and CIA, seized that opportunity with an op-ed in the New York Times, in which he claims both agencies acted to protect “the rule of law,” and that they should continue to do so. That claim abstracts from the undeniable—and undenied—clash between the FBI and CIA’s anti-Trump campaign and current law.

     Hold on tight to that well-focused little paragraph, because it’s “one” of a one-two punch. Codevilla trashes Webster’s claim in a few nicely pointed sentences, and arrives here:

     In short, Webster’s “rule of law” amounts to the assertion that he and people like himself are the law. Hence, to criticize them is to criticize the rule of law.

     Got you right on the chin, didn’t it? Codevilla’s argument is simplicity itself. The Supreme Law – the Fourth Amendment – requires probable cause for a search warrant of any sort. Even if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) permitted the use of unverified, slanderous allegations as adequate grounding for surveillance – it doesn’t – it does not override the Fourth Amendment requirements. It can’t.

     Ergo, Webster’s claim about “the rule of law” is a complete falsehood: one hundred eighty degrees from the truth. Anyone with the vaguest acquaintance with the Bill of Rights should see it at once. So why did he make it?

     Heh, heh, heh!

     Allow me a seeming tangent. The genuinely excellent movie God’s Not Dead contains two scenes of striking relevance here. In the first of these, a college freshman struggling to defend the tenability of his belief in God to a philosophy class confronts a statement by physicist Stephen Hawking:

     In the second, the student counter-thrusts against Hawking’s statement with a reciprocal logical technique:

     In the first scene, the snooty Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo), submits an argument from authority: that is, he invokes Stephen Hawking’s prestige in physics as the basis for his thrust. He even attempts to amplify it by calling Hawking “the greatest genius in history,” which he was not. In the second clip, freshman Josh Wheaton (played by Shane Harper) counter-thrusts with a second authority of greater relevance – John Lennox, a professor of mathematics and philosophy – setting Professor Radisson’s “argument” at naught.

     An “argument from authority” is not an argument. It’s an implicit claim that the question under discussion has been definitively answered, but it is not an answer. You’d think the difference “should” be “obvious.” Yet to many people, it isn’t obvious at all.

     William Webster was (at separate times) the head of two prestigious federal agencies. That’s the source of whatever “authority” he wields. Yet neither of those posts has any bearing on “the rule of law.” That phrase has been bruited about by the Democrats in Congress as if it were a complete argument for their crusade against President Trump. Yet it is nothing of the sort. It is, however, what R. A. Lafferty once called “a good round thumping phrase:” the sort that can be used as a bludgeon against those who react to such formulations without thinking.

     The careless slinging of portentous phrases has done a great deal of harm to public discourse. “The rule of law,” which is merely shorthand for the principle that no one shall be deemed exempt from the law’s requirements simply because of who he is or what stature he may have achieved, is one such phrase. Another, which I’ve already torn to shreds, is “national security.” Neither phrase is an argument of any kind, no matter whose mouth pours it forth.

     If you’re an habituĂ© of the talking-head shows, I suggest you start a little journal. Include in it, as far as possible, all the instances you encounter of portentous phrases being submitted as arguments. Note who did so, what sort of “authority” he claims, and which edge of his axe he was trying to grind. Take special note of the use of one portentous phrase to counter another; such occasions can provide amusement of a unique variety. After a week keeping track of these things, you’ll be an authority of a sort yourself: on the vacuity of discourse as practiced by partisans and would-be “experts.” Who knows? A dissertation on the subject might get your authority officially recognized...especially if you contrive to include as many “good round thumping phrases” as the subjects of your analysis.

     What’s that? You think I should undertake this effort? Sorry, I have a novel to finish. But do have a nice day. (:-)


Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Thought provoking as usual. Thank you Fran.

Kye said...

That may be my next effort however, now I am tracking the rising trend of gays and blacks in TV advertising and TV shows. Currently from my observations about 75% of main characters portrayed on TV are black, about 20% white and the rest a mix of Asian and Hispanic with Mohammadans slowly creeping in.

Simultaneously about 85% of all races represented are female leaving 15% male. The wise, thoughtful, responsible, and well positioned (doctors, judges, scientists and academics) are usually portrayed by black women. The fools, idiots, screw-ups and generally insidious "house husbands" notwithstanding.

Also the number of mixed black and white couples as well as the essential "kiss" between two homosexuals of either persuasion has risen to levels far out representing either in real-life American society.

Do you think someone is trying to absolutely normalize the not normal to a point where it becomes normal? Gee, say it ain't so. BTW, almost every new TV program from comedies to dramas this season features either a "strong, brilliant black woman" or a "mixed" family of sundry geniuses of mixed colors and sexual proclivities. Oh, and don't forget "the kiss" in every gay/lesbian profile.

After I document this "anomaly" I would love to explore these portentous phrases and the a-holes that use them. Wanna bet there are more on the left than the right?

You do make me think Francis, even when it hurts.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I've taken note of all those things as well, Kye. Yes, the broadcasters and advertisers are deliberately casting in defiance of racial, gender, ethnic, religious, and sexual norms -- but it might not be because they actively desire to do so. It might be because the activist groups that claim to represent blacks, feminists, homosexuals, and Muslims are far more likely to make trouble for them over "under-representation" than are persons outside those demographic cohorts.

Now, as it happens I watch very little television. My "shows" of choice are Yankee baseball and NY Ranger hockey. At one time I'd have imagined that sports-telecast sponsors would be less concerned with the activists. Sadly, it's not so; the norm-defying casting patterns are there in comparable strength to everywhere else in telecast entertainment.

It started some time ago, and relatively gently. Today it's everywhere, and too blatant to miss. And I have no idea whether anything can or should be done about it.

Linda Fox said...

I mostly watch TV because my husband does (he loves the Hallmark Channel, of all things, as well as PIXL and UP). Even on generally family-friendly channels, the pro-gay, anti-White bias is clear. So obvious, that my husband has noticed, and commented on unfavorably.

He never misses Wheel of Fortune. On almost every show (perhaps 5 out of 6), there is at least ONE contestant who makes reference to their same-sex spouse/partner. This would give viewers the misguided impression that roughly 30% of the population is gay. Even on the Hallmark Channel, there are characters who swish around, giving fashion advice. Again, by percentage, many more than I've ever encountered in the working world or my neighborhood.