If I ask whether the blind date you’re setting me up with is good looking, and you answer that she has a wonderful personality, you’re not just saying something about her personality. Likewise, then, no one denies that all lives matter. But to say it, in the present context, is to say that black lives don’t. In fact it’s taken as a declaration of white supremacy. I get that. But this kind of looking-over-one’s-shoulder self-censorship does make it difficult to have any kind of fruitful conversation about race.

Some people worry that that’s the whole point. If there’s no way to speak without coming across as racist, or trans-phobic, or whatever, you’re effectively silenced. And you can’t appeal to the meaning of the words you’ve used, because you don’t get to decide what your words mean. They do.

Charging you with dogwhistling is a move in (what Wittgenstein called) a language game. But other than just not sitting down at the table in the first place, there are two counter-moves people seldom think to play. The first is to turn the accusation against the accuser. “What do you mean you didn’t know that black lives matter is code for kill the Chinks?!”

Provided you can say it with a straight face, what can your interlocutor say, other than, “No it’s not!” Well, of course it’s not. But as soon as she has to say “No it’s not!”, she leaves herself open to wondering whether all lives matter is really code for white supremacy. At the very least it alerts her to the silliness of the game she’s engaged in.

“‘Tis better to remain silent and be thought a [racist or trans-phobic or whatever] than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” But now that “Silence is violence!”, that’s no longer an option. So the second counter-move is to point out that so is compelled speech. Not unlike my first suggestion, this one stops the SJW in her tracks, if only for a few seconds. But long enough to realize that her game can’t be played without violence. But once she realizes that, she knowingly places herself in the moral company of the Brown Shirts and the Khmer Rouge.

Whichever of these two counter-cards are played, the common denominator is withdrawal of uptake to the moral authority of one’s interlocutor. And to seize that authority oneself by showing contempt for her presuming she holds it. It has to be done with panache. And it has to be done with finesse. But it can be done. It just takes a small Triumph of the Will.

Categories: Editorials, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

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1 reply

  1. I used to think that silence is silence and violence is violence. But now I’m told that silence is violence. This new equation evokes the law of unintended consequences..

    Silence is golden, we have been told for centuries. Therefore now, violence is also golden. Let’s hear it for violence! We need more of it!

    When you change the meaning of words you have to live with the consequences. If you change the meaning to equate something formerly good (silence) with something formerly bad (violence) not only is the good thing no longer good, the bad thing is no longer bad. Now what?


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