Sunday, 16 May 2021

The Fine Blurred Line

Everybody's got their own standard as to what's acceptably connotative colloquy and what ain't. There are word books that catalog common use and some people will refer to one dictionary over another if they think the other's gone too far in jotting down what's meant by what's being said.
Forget that the lexicographer is not prescribing use; their act of including the dilettante's vernacular when it reaches a critical mass is pernicious enough. We can't give an inch on expressing understanding if it risks influencing what someone else we have no control over thinks. Know what I mean?

Take cancel culture. (I'd like to survey a large cross section of how that expression was interpreted just now without any greater context.)
It is not just political correctness run amok, as if to annihilate a possible future. It's also not just terminology, whose denotation aside has ironically become exclusionary through the eradication of the difference between whether or not something is what the term denotes, or at a minimum garners a "Yeah, but..." that'd die for deeper understanding. It's also a catchall phrase used whenever convenient by whomever finds it so. The term is applied for political expedience. It's kind of like "fake news".
The elusive middle ground itself — the place where people meet in common parlance — is the biggest "but" of them all, because there can never be an agreement within boundaries where the people making references are unaware of their reference points.
In this sense, the concept of consensus reality is about as useful as a theory on the location of consciousness. The philosophical breakdown of what constitutes consensus reality begins with the realist believing there is one objective reality and ends with the idealist thinking this can never be known. You can spot the occasional idealist by their belief that these are dueling misnomers that should be reversed.
How many times in your life have you had a disagreement with someone where you began to suspect that it wasn't a disagreement as much as a difference of your defining of terms? Well, if you know what I mean by that, then you've probably also experienced someone's digging in their heels against that idea because they'd rather win an argument than not lose one.
Then there's identity politics. There are a few different cohorts who have issues with its application (the kind of politics, not the term) for distinctly different reasons. White nationalists rail against it in denial of white privilege (that it exists, not that it wouldn't be virtuous if it did) yet find their white pride to be nothing of the sort; self-styled moderates, in courting as much of the white vote as they can, warn that it is divisive and costly at the polls; socialists also warn of its divisiveness, but as it relates to driving a wedge down the middle of the working poor, whose homogeneity in their subjugation by the owner class should unite them.

Now, I didn't need those two parenthetical pairs in the previous paragraph but used them to drive home the point about how easy it would be to misinterpret the use of "application" and "denial" without adequate modification. In the former case I might better have phrased it with a form of "engagement" instead of "application", given how commonly we apply language but engage in politics. In the other case, maybe, I'd've used the gerund with "denying that white privilege exists". But even here, there is resistance to the semantics.
I very well should have used quotation marks to make clear where I was referencing how something is used rather than the thing itself, but that, too, lends itself to ambiguity, not to mention the unfortunate aesthetics evident in the previous paragraph.
Everything there is is against our ever understanding each other.


There is a likelihood that a well-known personality holds more sway than the things they say, and what we have here is the feigning of understanding through which it appears the things they say hold sway.
Not that it can't be some mixture of both, as when, for example, things associated with familiar public figures repulse people, but the more strongly associated one figure becomes with a repulsive idea, the easier it is to just disassociate oneself with the figure without having to present coherent alternatives.
The mass media adhere to this dynamic. Any individual news organization can appear unbiased in its reporting by strongly disassociating itself in style from another biased brand of reporting.  If these competing organizations are owned by corporations who endeavor to shape public opinion, this relationship takes on a codependent quality. Or you could say they cooperate with each other. 
The American media, legacy and tabloid, but especially television news and entertainment, groomed potential followers of the previous president for generations, and the repercussions of his reign continue to shape current policy, and I'm not talking here of needed "course corrections", but rather about the reluctance to talk about inconvenient truths that might influence the opinion of a potential antagonist (like, they might think they'd won an argument, even if their interlocutor hadn't lost it), or an outright denial of possibilities (both denying that something is possible as well as preventing its outcome).
It's in resistance to the appearance of recency bias that I maintain this is a longstanding banality of the status quo. The dialectics are dissonant. It's like a synthesizing of political consent by way of a rapid fire thesis-anti-thesis table tennis match. It would take a pretty sharp gallery to explain the reasoning behind each move during the game. Instead, what we get from the adversarial media is a selective application of tough questioning, or kid gloves handling, depending on how well it fits their brand. How well it will land with their respective brand's base would be another way to put it, but once brand loyalty is established, that becomes decreasingly necessary.
Admittedly, I don't follow closely enough to know for sure that many people don't just like CNN ironically to return-troll the adversary, the most central of whom gave them his "fake news" stamp of disapproval. But one'd have to be pretty naive to believe that the network does not shape public opinion in service of itself. That is, primarily for the sake of the brand and the agenda behind it.
Hence, a host of policy remains on the table if for no other reason than who it is or is not associated with. This would be a perfect place for the application of "identity politics". Instead, my unscientific survey sees it taking on a more anti-advocate sense, being used to castigate campaigning for anything the castigator is against. Not too different from how "virtue signalling" means you should keep your mouth shut unless it's in support of something I like.
You might say it doesn't mean that at all. It means "a superficial public presentation of support in order to score moral points with a target group". And you'd be correct. And yet, if meaning follows the evolution of its common usage, it's always only a matter of time.
Of course cancel culture exists. Ask any imprisoned whistle-blower, or, if you prefer, enemy of the state. Somehow, however, it only became a thing worthy of that name when it affected the feelings of too many people. The thing itself came about by people ostensibly so offended by the language of others, or, more broadly, what those others represented to them that they engaged to restrict their influence, and it got its name when the ostensible offenders got offended by the ostensible outcome of the actions of the offended. How often that was the result of someone's having been cancelled is up for debate, a debate during which semantics would have to come into play.

Could it be the broadening of the application of certain terminology serves to immunize people to its use where it could count the most? I mean, once your desensitized to the throwing around of "fake news" and "cancel culture" to the extent that you have developed an unconscious mechanism to superficially contextualize each case use, agree or disagree with the accuracy of its application, thereby believe or disbelieve the presentation of a fact, and eventually either ignore it or obsess about it, might not skilled organizers of political logistics be able to, by target, quality, and order of action, get precisely the reactions they are looking for?