"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Jan 17, 2011

From Beneath A Cowled Eye

Could the leftist insistence on recreating priestly language explain some of the failure to gain the respect, or even awareness, of the American working class?

Whether its economic jargon, or the manipulation of language to generate "cross-intersectional analysis of the dialectic of social injustice," or Zizekian flights of milky self-aggrandizement - the American leftist discussion distances its adherents from those it purports to serve.

Americans are religious, but not even the American papists are publicly priestly in their choice of words. American idiom is relatively free of the technical jargon which plagues German and French, and the English mimicry of the same. This is not to suggest that it is necessarily more honest or transparent, because that is not the case. We use language emotionally, with a preponderance of mediated symbolic catch phrases employed as markers of fealty and conformity: country, faith, family, values,  family values, American way, pro-life, pro-choice, gun rights, family way, cheat, urban, douchebag, faggot, sissy, pussy, gay, girly, troops, the troops, support the troops - et cetera.

And while I'm not suggesting that leftists embrace the vulgar markers of conformity, I do wonder if this sort of misuse of language - priestly in its self-separation, in its claims to its own enlightenment - serves the interests of power more than almost any other indirect concession to its reality:

"In the creation of non-linguistic institutional facts we use meaning, the systematic powers of language, to create a set of deontic powers that go beyond the semantic powers."

"In sum, for perception and memory we represent how things really are and thus achieve mind-to-world direction of fit only in virtue of world-to-mind direction of causation. For prior intentions and intentions-in-action, we get a match between how we intend things to be and how they actually are, and thus achieve world-to-mind direction of fit, only in virtue of mind-to-world direction of causation." 

"...similar to what Searle sees to be the result of Status Function Declarations that relate networks of presupposed, mostly unconscious intentional states of various persons, also a background of abilities and capacities and dispositions, to conscious intentions, intentions-in-action, performative and declarative utterances, status functions that carry deontologies that bind persons, all in social spaces that impact non-linguistic reality.

The institutional reality is based upon Status Function Declarations, which are a certain kind of utterance (as formulated originally by J.L. Austin) whose performance has a certain form.

Basically, a person or persons counts an X as a Y in situation C. In so doing, they actually make an X into a Y in situation C by representing it as being a Y in C. The utterance is connected to prior intentions, formalized business plans, an office space, et cetera. The utterance has conditions of satisfaction, and the organization of persons through deontological Status Functions makes the institutional facts reach into and alter non-linguistic brains and spaces."


This is not language used to reach out to persons. This is language employed in a priestly manner. It isolates its speakers from their objects. It is employed to elevate its users above those they address, in their own eyes (at least as I see it). It allows its users to believe in their own special validity, a priestly possession of divine knowledge and secret keys.

Well, that's my opinion.

So does it work that way, in fact?

Does it isolate its users in pockets of self-satisfaction, while alienating those it purports to address? Does "the left" continue its abject history of comedic failure, especially in the States, because its self-appointed leadership uses priestly jargon?* Because its users sound a whole lot like the practitioners of the contractual legalese of the "bankers and lawyers and merchants of grief"?

I ask this on MLK day, in part, because the genius of the civil rights movement rests in its embrace of the vernacular, the common, even the faith terms of ordinary Americans. It offered a genuine, frightening, effective threat to power, if only for a historical moment, because it was not uttered from beneath a cowled eye. It was not communicated in the priestly language of bosses and bankers, lawyers, and capitalist academia:


* - not exclusively, of course...


peter ward said...

In light of this, I'd say our famous redneck antiintellectualism is a virtue.

Michael- said...

Hey Jack, can I post this response in the original thread at Archive Fire? I think you make very important points.

Jack Crow said...


Of course. Thanks for asking.


In certain circumstances, maybe. Although I'm personally wary of the equation of ordinary language with anti-intellectualism.

Will Shetterly said...

I've been thinking about this a lot. The reds who were effective for a while in the US, Debs and the Wobblies, understood that folks needed to be talked with as folks. Private school grads love terms that sound like they're badly translated from German or French, and it just puts people off. I've been toying with the notion of translating the Communist Manifesto into American, into something like the Sharing Declaration, and talking about workers instead of proletariat and marketers or corporatists instead of capitalists.

I also think it's a mistake to give up the language of Christianity in a country that considers itself primarily Christian, even though its leaders happily ignore everything Jesus said about sharing and war.

Anyway, I do think we need a lot more redneck reds if we're going to get anywhere good. I'm finally reading Baigent's Deer Hunting With Jesus, which just makes me madder and madder at the rich liberals who gave up on the working class.

Michael- said...

I think 'embracing the vernacular' is a good strategy in some contexts, but I also think more rigorous (formal, technical) theory is also important. If we fall into taking common words and semantic associations only at face value, or only in terms of how they are deployed in wider culture circumstances, we risk the chance of becoming slaves to colloquialisms, ideology and dominant rhetorics. We must carefully analyze language and sometimes become highly technical in our descriptions. Specificity matters, especially with academic claims to adequately describe reality.

I think there is time and space for both forms of discourse/practice. Jack's comments were less technical but more accessible, more contentious (and thus more politically useful), whereas Cameron's comments were more technical and formal (and perhaps more ‘scientifically’ useful).

besides anti-intellectualism leads to Pol Pot and Stalin. There is room for a lot of different kinds of language in a world deprived of critical thinking.

Jack Crow said...

Will, Michael -

Sorry for the delay. Holiday, followed by a snow day. Kids home, and all that.


I'm really inflexible on this subject. If it's jargon, I assume someone is trying to snow me and everyone else.

I'm not referring to the mathematically precise language which is useful for planning and building bridges, or distribution networks, or the undertaking of cooperative material labor. I'm not taking aim at whatever it is trained physicists, chemists and engineers do with symbols in order to map and predict complex physical events.

I'm just wary of the idea of "precision" in an allegedly "scientific" language describing ordinary human interaction, since it tends to serve as a cover for very imprecise, mushy and ultimately informal musings about social realities which are themselves difficult to define as strictly social, or strictly personal.

And I'm just going to repeat my fondness for Rose L's rejection of most theory and all philosophy. "Philosophy" is a ruling class past time, for which I have zero tolerance, and considerable animosity. Since most "theory" falls under philosophy, that sort of takes care of it for me.

To wit, if it cannot be said in ordinary language, to persons doing ordinary labor, I don't trust it. Theory doesn't get us a revolution. It gets people who want to lead revolutions, and then take over afterward, excited about their own place in an imagined vanguard. It allows people who have isolated themselves as professional revolutionaries to communicate with each other in a special, secretive idiom - in short, a priestly tongue.

That doesn't mean I have any animosity towards those who prefer that sort of discourse. I just don't trust the words themselves. I had a ruling class education, before I bottomed out and went homeless in Boston - and when I finally decided to "grow up" and give up on being a writer, I put in the better part of several decades as a managerial mercenary for the ruling class, and its political castes. The language employed in those environments (campaign politics, business) resembles the academic language of theory and philosophy, because it serves a similar purpose - to elevate its users above those they intend to rule, or continue to rule...

Jack Crow said...

Errands and chores; wife to free from work and snow.

More later. Thanks for the patience.


Anonymous said...

The very fact that the puffed-up polysyllabic prose of the "professional" poseur rankles me --and not in a good way, as it turns my attention elsewhere-- indicates it doesn't aim to connect. Nor to inform.

It could seek to rankle as would a gadfly, but then that'd be clear evidence that it wasn't coming from Progressives, Liberals, or other Democrats.