The left in America keeps fighting on the semantic battlefield, and somehow continues to win real wars even though their weapons are just sophomoric word games. It’s as though your enemy was fighting with cardboard guns and shouting “Bang!” and you chose to collapse and die, maybe to avoid the embarrassment of calling out his charade.
The latest iteration of this dynamic is in the struggle over the mandatory instruction of Critical Race Theory in schools. Overnight, it seems, this stodgy and transparently stupid premise, which holds that American society today is totally defined by the racial attitudes of a South Carolina plantation circa 1830, since which the nation has made only superficial and trivial progress, has been lifted out of the faculty lounges of third-rate Ed schools and transplanted into the body of every body of learning, major corporation, newsroom, and church in the nation.
Opposition to the indoctrination of children into the new doctrine of racial blood guilt has been met with sneers from the bien-pensants, who insist that the lowbrow critics are speaking from ignorance. “You don’t understand what it means!” they cry. Here, they offer, read these books, and then we can talk…
The same sophistry is on display with calls to “Defund the police.” We heard this chanted around the country all last year, and some cities actually moved to implement the principle. When others hesitated and wondered if the strategy would work—either in terms of public safety or politically—the left threw its hands up in despair at the thickskulled literal-mindedness of the critics. “We don’t mean DEFUND the police.” The real meaning, you understand, is that the money will be INVESTED in other ways of preventing crime.
Note, by the way, that when leftists talk about “investment” they really mean “spending.” Investment means that you are putting money into an enterprise that will provide a return on capital. Spending on social programs may be valuable or necessary, but it isn’t investment.
“Black lives matter” is another leftist game of gotcha. When observers ask why we don’t expand the phrase to include all lives—which would capture black people in its general meaning, and indicate a respect for all humanity—they are told to shut up. Black lives, it seems, have been routinely devalued, so it is essential that everyone agree loudly that they matter, uniquely. When pressed, advocates will acknowledge that other lives may matter, too, but the urgency of the expression is secondary. Again, the game is to say one thing as emphatically as possible, while dismissing any quibbling as an attack on progress.
“Trans women are women” is now repeated as a basic statement of fact, like saying “Dogs are canines.” It’s almost more foundational than that, actually: trans activists hesitate to accept that there is any way in which transexual men are not precisely the same as human adult females. One key bit of evidence for this assertion is the term “trans women.” How can you claim that trans women are not women, when you use the description “trans women,” which includes the word “women”?
This is as pure a semantic game as one could hope to devise. It’s like saying “Seahorses are horses,” or “Yellowcake (uranium ore) is cake.” This is the sort of thing we used to call “bad faith.”
Another example is Antifa. A group of bandits and thugs declares themselves opposed to fascism; thus they are antifascists, shortened to Antifa. Anyone who does not like Antifa is thus, definitionally, a fascist. It doesn’t matter how Antifa defines “fascism.” We must accept their own self-identity as reality and bend the knee to their truth. QED.
The point is we have to refuse to play the Left’s language games, which are all the equivalent of proving that 0=1 by dividing by zero, or asking “Why?” to every answer, or demanding that everyone respect that today is Opposite Day. When they play childish games, treat them like children.
Seth Barron (@SethBarronNYC) is managing editor of The American Mind.