Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shackles of terminology: Clinton hoist with her own petard

Recently, I detailed how Hillary Clinton attempted to give the impression that Marco Rubio's use of the phase "radical Islam" was somehow a reference to Islam or all Muslims in general. She was ably assisted in her dishonesty by both Jonathan Chait and Peter Beinart, who happily wrote articles that misrepresented Rubio's position in service to their own partisanship.

The whole incident reflects an obsession with terminology by many people on the Left, and—to be fair—some on the Right. This obsession has led to a steady expansion of the theory of "microaggressions," to the extent that any sort of reference that can be linked to the dominant social group is labeled a micrsoaggression almost as a matter of course by people obsessed with these things.

Supposedly, microaggresions are seemingly banal statements or actions taken by the socially dominant group (i.e., white males) that actually insult or otherwise degrade a member of a marginalized group. Many of the examples of microaggressions one finds on the 'net really aren't microaggresions at all, with respect to the actual theory, though. They're obvious instances of disparaging or ignorant statements (or actions). It's the ones that aren't so obvious that actually fit the definition. Here's a handy-dandy chart of microaggressions. Again, I think some of the examples really don't fit the bill, as they're not "micro" at all, insofar as they are obviously intended to belittle. But others, well that's where the argument really exists.

But the problem with this theory is that it lacks any means of verification. One can posit that a microagression has occurred, but this is just not empirically verifiable, mostly because the evidence for a microagression is all in the victim's head, nowhere else. Consider the example from the above chart, "There is only one race, the human race." Supposedly, that's a microaggression because of how it makes someone feel when it is said to them. But suppose it doesn't bother a particular someone at all, even though they are a member of a marginalized race, because they feel the same way? Thus, the theory falls apart, since there is no "aggression" to speak of. Or suppose a member of a marginalized race says the same thing to a member of the dominant race. Again, the theory falls apart, since it lacks any sort of consistency.

But even without the hokum of microaggression theory, this obsession with terminology still reveals itself, as various special interest groups make a point of complaining about terminology that they find offensive and members of the media latch on to terminology to "expose" on thing ot another. On the Right, there was the nonsense of "homicide bombers," and of "freedom fries," lame attempts to undo clearly understood terminology for no good reason.

On the Left, there is the constant preoccupation with terminology that references racial/ethnic groups; some terms are acceptable one minute, then not acceptable in the next, simply because someone divined a "problem." Then there are instances like the above, where a clearly understood term—radical Islam—is intentionally misrepresented for political purposes. And politicians like Clinton are happy to make use of these things, as a matter of course.

Then came yesterday, wherein Hillary Clinton caved in to pressure from some far Left groups and apologized for her use of the term "illegal immigrants" at a recent campaign event.

Wait, what?

What's wrong with "illegal immigrant"? For point of reference, here is Clinton's use of the term in context:
Well, look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders. But I think that it’s also true that we need to do more to try to number one, deal with the people who are already here, many of whom have been here for decades. Because it is just never going to happen that we’re going to round-up and deport 11 or 12 million. I don’t care how tall the wall is or how big the door is, that is never going to happen. And I think it is an unnecessarily provocative thing to say. We need to secure our borders, I’m for it, I voted for it, I believe in it, and we also need to deal with the families, the workers who are here, who have made contributions, and their children.
Note that her use of the term was strictly in reference to people attempting to enter the United States illegally. She doesn't use the term in reference to so-called "dreamers" (children born to undocumented immigrants), nor even to illegal immigrants who have been living and working here for some period of time. She only used it in reference to people actively seeking to skirt the immigration process.

Millions upon millions of people have entered the United States through the proper immigration channels. Such people are or were immigrants, as a matter of definition. But with respect to how they entered, what term better captures this than "legal immigration"? None. Because there's a contrasting means of getting into the country, where one does not use the proper channels. And what better term captures this than "illegal immigration"? Legal immigrants versus illegal immigrants, this is a rather simple dichotomy, no different than legal driver versus illegal driver, legal drug versus illegal drug, legal bookmaker versus illegal bookmaker, etc.

Yet somehow, the use of the word illegal in reference to immigrants is unacceptable. From the above piece:
Not just activists but immigrants in general see the term 'illegal' as a pejorative ... it's meant to dehumanize people," she [Astrid Silva] said. "That is why news organizations like AP and CNN have added to their style manual guidance against using the terminology."
It's true, the AP has limited the use of the term "illegal immigrant." Here's the relevant guideline (as of 2013):
illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
If I read that guideline correctly, people who entered the country illegally engaged in illegal immigration, but are not illegal immigrants, I guess in the same way that someone who robbed a bank engaged in criminal behavior but is not actually a criminal? Ridiculous. Are we no longer adults? Do words no longer mean what they actually mean?

And Hillary Clinton has kowtowed to the pressure, has apologized for speaking in plain English, for using a clearly understood term that disparages no one, that is simply definitional, nothing more. That's leadership...

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