A while back I noted a recurring feature of liberal discourse – one that appears most distinctly in the sociolect of semi-erudite liberal gamers:
Just as they’ve invented mostly absurd theories of “sealioning”…these people have also hijacked all kinds of legitimate concepts and critiques in some of the most ridiculous ways imaginable. For instance, gaslighting…This is an indefensible (and frankly disgusting) appropriation of a concept created to protect people who are subject to serious, often life-threatening abuse…[but] The flamewars of Gamergate were, for many…the worst thing they have and will ever experience, even when they were not actually subjected to anything actually qualifying as harassment…
Recently, this popped up on my radar once again when I came across their latest innovation:
“We’ve compared Twitter trolling to harassment and domestic violence, but that isn’t offensive enough. Where can we go from here?” pic.twitter.com/bZLeGjyCxK
— Carl Frankenbeijery (@CarlBeijer) October 9, 2016
A close variation of this appeared earlier today on CNN’s State of the Union, when former Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer attempted to defend Donald Trump from accusations of sexual assault:
Well…he’s been waterboarded by these issues. It seems like it’s been somewhat of a put-up impression on Donald Trump from all these people lining up. It’s just unbelievable.
Conceptually, this rhetoric is pretty straightforward: both speakers complain about what they feel are unfair attacks from a large group of people, and both compare this experience to being tortured by waterboarding. And in both cases, the move is identical with what we saw before:
- This language and way of talking is directly rooted in history: it expresses the lived experiences of the powerless, which are often quite painful and horrendous.
- For the powerful, the ability that powerless people have to talk about their shared experiences is extremely threatening.
Language loses its historical connection to real oppression and exploitation; it becomes abstracted into something less threatening to the bourgeoisie, who then deny the word’s history and insist that it naturally always meant something like its new meaning.
- People tend to use language in ways that they find personally convenient.
- The people who are inclined to use language in a way that isn’t threatening to the bourgeoisie are the people who happen to have the most influence in how our language is used. These are the people who write our books and produce our digital media, or who at the very least consume most of it. Together, both of these facts create a systematic tendency of our culture to neutralize language, to make it less threatening to the powerful and less emancipatory for the powerless.