Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 6

I recently read Words That Work by corporate consultant, political pollster and adviser to Republicans, Dr. Frank Luntz. In it he details his rules for crafting language that will resonate best with those to whom you are trying to sell a product or advance a policy. One example he gives in the book is his participation in characterizing what had once been called the inheritance tax as the "death tax."

In this series of blog posts I've dubbed "Wordsmithing," I've admittedly focused on the most blatant and dishonest examples of language distortion for political and ideological expediency by the left. But for the record, anyone making an argument or advocating a position will always make his case in the most favorable terms--and conversely the most unfavorable terms for his proponent's case. I'm not against the clever use of language; but I deplore the dishonest twisting and redefinition of words for political gain and ideological advantage.

To illustrate the difference, consider one of the most divisive issues of our age, and one that has engendered it own "happyspeak" lexicon: abortion. The defining terms, as we all know, are "pro life" and "pro choice." The advantages of characterizing one's position as "pro" *whatever* is self-evident, so the real question is the definition of the *whatever* the "pro" is modifying.

In the case of "pro life," the life part seems perfectly accurate and reasonable; a conclusion I easily reach since the "pro choice" side never seems to attack the term other than to assert the other side as "anti-choice," "denying women the right to choose," etc., or that "pro lifers" are hypocrites for claiming to be "pro life" for fetuses yet advocate capital punishment (an argument I've already dealt with in my blog post Moral Inversion).

The term "pro choice," however, is fundamentally dishonest; not in redefining the word "choice", but rather in its attempt to redefine that which the choice is ostensibly about: life.

In the run-up to the 2006 election I was called by what I presume was a Democratic pollster. One of the questions I was asked was, "do you believe in the fundamental right of a woman to choose what happens to her body?" I told the pollster that if his question was in reality regarding abortion, then the terms of the question were dishonest. "How so?" he asked. I explained it to him like this: to the question of, "should a woman have the right to choose what happens to her body?" the answer is, of course! But with the question of abortion, she's no longer choosing for her body--she's choosing life or death over someone else's body. For though that child--or fetus, or embryo, or zygote, or whatever other euphemistic obfuscating synonym you use--resides in the body of the woman--that child is a separate person.

And here's where we finally come to the real redefinition. A decade or so ago the pro-abortion lobby argued that the first trimester fetus didn't yet qualify as human life. Advances in biological science invalidated that argument, so we now hear a new terminology centered around a quasi-legal definition of "person," which goes something like this: yes, the first trimester fetus is human, but it's not yet a "person," and therefore it's okay to destroy it.

What we're talking about here is the redefinition of human life. The precepts of Judeo-Christian values and Christian moral truth that informed the founding documents and legal system of this country defined human life as invested with an intrinsic dignity and worth by virtue of the fact that we were created beings of God in his image, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life..." (emphasis mine). But with the abandonment of these precepts, and the adoption of a purely materialistic worldview, many are attempting to redefine the worth of human life with respect to its utility. A fetus has no utility (except perhaps as raw material for therapeutic process or experimentation) therefore it warrants no protection.

Please understand that if this redefinition is allowed to fully take root, it will transform American society in ways we can't yet imagine. The implications for issues such as genetic engineering, cloning, euthanasia, and a host of others, are the fuel of dystopian fiction writers. Just consider: when human worth is measured by its utility, what other conditions and stages of humanity, or degrees of impeded or damaged function will be devalued to the status of "non person?" The severely brain damaged? The terminally ill? The birth defective? The retarded? The old?