I’m not sure it’s anything new, so I’ll just say there’s a particular effective but pernicious ploy in popular argumentation that I’m going to call ‘code-calling’. For example, during the 2016 Presidential campaign Americans were told that accusing so-and-so of holding “New York values” is code for Jewish values, and so calling out one’s use of the code is an accusation of anti-Semitism. Likewise we’re told that ‘family values’ is code for homophobia, or that intelligent design is code for creationism, and so on.

Claiming that asking a question about the Holocaust is code for Holocaust denial is effective because it’s self-sealing. It’s self-sealing because even to question whether asking a question about the Holocaust is Holocaust denial is itself Holocaust denial. And it’s pernicious because it makes it impossible to ask a question about the Holocaust.

Moreover, once you’ve played your code-calling card, I can’t challenge it without betraying my ignorance of what you’re claiming everyone knows except me. So it functions as a species of intellectual intimidation, not unlike, “Anyone who knows anything about such-and-such agrees that …” So if I don’t agree, I’ve just conceded I know nothing about such-and such.

To be fair, if no end-runs around calling a spade a spade were permitted, communication could get pretty brutal. I’m offering to set you up for a blind date. “Is she pretty?” you ask. “She has a wonderful personality,” I answer. A student asks me, “Should I take a course from Professor X next term?”, to which I answer, “Professors Y and Z are both offering very interesting courses.” This kind of coded speech is just social lubrication. But the kind of code-calling I’m talking about here does what it’s designed to do. It shuts down dissent.

There’s one and only one way to combat code-calling, and that’s to call the code-caller out on it. The next time you’re accused of using code for a position you don’t hold, just announce that you don’t give uptake to the code, and do it in the most indecorous manner possible. Try it now. Practice it, so that it flows off your tongue with seamless abandon. “No, you feckless fuck, when I ask a question about the Holocaust, I’m asking a question about it!”

The ‘feckless fuck’ infix isn’t gratuitous. Think of code-calling as equivalent to using ‘nigger’ or ‘kike’. If you want to discourage it, treat it as such.

Categories: Critical Thinking

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1 reply

  1. Questioning Al Gore’s views on climate change will get you called a climate denier. Therefore you either have to agree with him or be tarred with the brush of idiocy, if not evil. After all, what even halfway same person would insist that the climate never changes. So call him out and explain that the only thing you deny is that he is always right.


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