Friday, December 21, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 8

At-tack verb
to act against (someone or something) aggressively in an attempt to injure or kill: criticize or oppose fiercely and publicly

On an online forum on theology I was participating in recently, someone posed the question: why are new converts more likely to "attack" anyone who questions their beliefs? I posted the following:

Please elaborate: what do you mean by "attack others"? Knock them down and beat them up? Scream at them to shut up? Disagree and try to convince them that their own beliefs are correct? If the latter, I reject your characterization of this as "attack" and I would argue that this attitude is an example of the contemporary redifinition of the word "tolerance" so common in today's parlance. Tolerance was formerly viewed as a sufferance of disagreable views--in other words, society didn't forcibly silence or punish the adherents. These days a disagreement or disparagement of another's views, or even the assertion of one's own views with any degree of moral certainty is viewed as, at the least, bad manners, and even more frequently, Cretinous intolerance.

Where upon I was soon accused myself of an attack. This highlighted several current tendencies in our culture.

The first I must give attribution to Dennis Prager for first bringing to my attention, and that is the proclivity to take offense at any statement with which one differs. Where in times past people would simply disagree--perhaps even heatedly--it now seems fashionable to act morally wounded at contrary views. He gives the example of the woman professor at Harvard who said she was so offended she became physically nauseated and had to leave the room when Lawrence Summers (the then president of the university) gave a speech in which he postulated that the reason his attempts at attracting more women professors into the hard sciences and mathematics had failed might be due to a natural tendency of the female sex to be less adept at those disciplines. The result of Summers' transgression of such sacred feminist orthodoxy was his forced resignation, even after a self-debasing apology.

Another is the compartmentalization of values--except for a very select few--to a private zone, censored from public discourse. A few values are allowed out of the box--equality, and inclusiveness--to name two, and given sanction for unlimited discussion, but anything suggesting judgmentalism or limitation of license must be silenced and kept in the private realm of the individual's inner life. Any violation of this is considered bigotry, or a form of "attack", or the favorite designation of cognoscenti--hate speech.

So the question arises, what does constitute an attack? Let me offer this criteria: when the derogatives are aimed at the individual rather than the idea, this is an attack. We have a perfectly good and time-honored phrase for this: ad hominem, which is Latin for "to the man", (i.e., directed to the man instead of to the argument). The irony is, this is an endeavor the Left engages in with depressing regularity. Criticize an idea, a policy, a social trend, or worst of all, a lifestyle injurious to the greater culture, and you will most likely find yourself labeled a bigot, a hater, or a just plain bad person.


cole1web said...

I noticed that i have started to take offense more often, but in my case it has been "makeing fun of liberals". Saying i "might be offended" is enough to get liberals to stop what they are doing. Its good fun but i keep listening to Dennis Prager and the like to make sure that I don't take my liberal act to seriously.
I used to live in Portland so i know you have more than your "fair share"
of offended at 1st glance folks.
Good Blog.

Don Mitchell said...

Thanks for reading and for your comments. Drop me a email if you have time.