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Loving the great divide

One of the things that most amazes me about politics is how, sometimes, the most profound long-term consequences of a great political victory is linguistic; how it can literally reshape the language, the very way we speak.

I once read that the single greatest never-noticed change of the Civil War was in the way Americans referred to our country. Before the war, the common usage was "the United States are" -- it was a collection of individual states, with the accent on the plural. But after the war, it became "the United States is" -- a collective noun, expressed in the singular form.

In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan had a similar effect on the language. He, virtually single-handedly, turned the word "liberal" into a pejorative. (OK, he had a LOT of help from folks like Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.) Virtually overnight, the liberal label became something to run from, to avoid, to be ashamed of, as the majority of the American people decided that they didn't like the term and all it entailed. A few stood up against the movement, proudly, embracing the term and standing resolutely against the avalanche -- and were crushed. It took years before the fight back against that movement began to show any progress, and even today it's considered a very bad thing, politically, to be labelled a liberal.

But the left, seeing a powerful tactic in action, has apparently decided to try their own hand at it. "Religious Right" didn't resonate with the American people as a scare word, despite their best efforts to make that the new boogeyman. So they went a bit more subtle.

The word they're using now: "divisive."

Anything that the right favors is now "divisive." Even if the Left can't quite articulate what it is that's so bad about it, it's still "divisive." The war in Iraq is divisive. Bush's nominees -- Roberts, Alito, Bolton -- are all divisive. Bush's social security reform program was divisive. I am half-convinced that if we found out that Bush routinely puts his pants on right-leg first, the left would denounce that as "divisive," and demand that he alternate daily which leg he dresses first so as to be properly "inclusive." (And at least once a week he'd have to wear a skirt, so the non-pants-wearing public wouldn't feel alienated.)

Sometimes, they get so wrapped up in this theme that they can't recognize irony when it walks up and bites them on the ass. In Massachusetts, gay marriage was ratified by a four-to-three vote in their Supreme Court. That wasn't divisive, despite splitting the court almost perfectly right down the middle. But when opponents to that decision gather well in excess of twice as many signatures as legally required to put the matter to a vote before the entire populace in the form of a referendum, that -- according to Congressman Barney Frank -- is divisive. A ruling that affects over six million people in Massachusetts -- and, potentially, thanks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, the entire nation -- should be settled by four of seven unelected judges, and not by the will of the people, because we know they'll just screw it up.

(Brief aside -- yes, I still support the recognition of gay marriage, or at least of civil unions. But the way it was done in Massachusetts was not only wrong, but stupid. It will most likely be a pyrrhic victory, as the public backlash is still building, and I believe will eventually lead to its overturning and be a long-term setback for the cause. The opponents of gay marriage are righteously pissed at the four members of the Supreme Judicial Court for ruling on the matter, and the legislature for avoiding the issue despite countless efforts and warnings, and I think will eventually lead to a major shakeup in Massachusetts -- and a lot of the folks responsible for the current status quo will be tossed out on their asses.)

But on a simpler level, I don't see "divisive" as a bad word. Any good issue should be divisive, not unifying. It should bring out strong feelings on people of both sides. I have an innate distrust of collectivism, and when too many people all agree with something, I worry that the issue will not be properly debated. It's only through vigorous debate and discusssion that issues are fully explored.

The Catholic Church recognized the dangers of such events, and for the process by which saints were canonized established one of the most valuable concepts in thought I've ever seen -- the advocatus diaboli, or the devil's advocate.

The idea is simple: when an issue is being discussed, one person is assigned to oppose it. Regardless of their own personal feelings or beliefs, this individual has to make the absolutely best possible argument against it. Their duty is to test every bit of evidence, every reason, why the idea is a good one -- discovering flaws and weaknesses in an idea before it is implemented.

That's a very divisive role. In fact, it's whole purpose is to be divisive -- to draw up a second position, deliberately contrary, and to attempt to defeat the original idea.

But I'm a big believer in Darwinism and competition. It's only when we are challenged that we rise to our greatest heights. President Kennedy would never have announced our intention of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 60's had the Soviets not beaten us to every other landmark in the space race. George W. Bush was well on his way to an utterly mediocre, unremarkable presidency until 9/11 happened. And the US auto industry was well on its way to death by complacency in the 70's until the Japanese started doing all sorts of things right.

Divisiveness leads to competition and conflict. But competition and conflict lead to excellence.

Pressure is a wonderful thing, some times. It's pressure and heat that separates plain old coal from diamonds.

So let's embrace divisiveness. It makes us better thinkers, more secure in our beliefs, if we have them routinely challenged. Let's not let the Left turn this into a bad word.

(And one last thought: once an issue is pretty much settled publicly, and the people have spoken, aren't those who insist on continually bringing it up over and over, re-hashing the same old arguments, being far more divisive than those who consider the matter settled? The 2004 and 2000 presidential elections are over, and those who want to continually re-argue them really, really need to MoveOn.)


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Comments (12)

Liberals aren't liberal any... (Below threshold)

Liberals aren't liberal anymore, they are progressives,the funniest term they've ever managed to twist. Progress is advocating a system that has been ruining Europe for 40 years, based on a system that ruined Russia for 85 years. Progress, it turns out, is retrying what keeps on failing everywhere it's tried thinking that you are smarter than everyone who tried it before and therefore can make it work. That's also just an extension of a commonly accepted definition of insanity. Benjamin Franklin said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Not only is "divisive" a mi... (Below threshold)

Not only is "divisive" a misnomer, but they came up with the name "progressive" for themselves?

What I would consider to be divisive is the manner in which they respond to everything from voting to child rearing. If the right takes a stance on any issue, many on the left think they must, absolutely must, take the extreme opposite. Often for no other reason than to keep a respectable distance. Many have it in their head that the right is "bad" and they must disagree -- even if they agree.

Competition (or crisis as 9... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

Competition (or crisis as 9/11) can indeed make the creme rise to the top. Why do you thin many on the left hate competition/capitalism? If you can't compete you can't win, hence the push for socialist agendas where you insure everyone is only capable of being as mediocre as the lowest common denominator.

As a Louisiana native (Avoyelles Parish, Paul) Katrina showed what happens when people not capable of handling a crisis are in charge. Instead of solving problems they take 24 hours to assign blame.

The other day, some lefty t... (Below threshold)
Bostonian:

The other day, some lefty tried to call GWB a "flip-flopper" on grounds that his post-9/11 policy differs from what he ran on in 2000.

Likewise, I've seen lefties try to use the phrase "political correctness" to describe the Right's attempt to preserve space for religion.

Today's progessives 1) notice that the US reacts negatively to certain words, and then 2) looks desperately for a way to accuse their enemies using those words--regardless of what they actually mean.

It's a cargo-cult mentality.

Quite simply, that was a gr... (Below threshold)
CZ:

Quite simply, that was a great post.

That last point of yours (i... (Below threshold)
dodgeman:

That last point of yours (in italics) needs to be strongly endorsed. Back in the late 80's early 90's about the only politics I followed were gun rights. Talk about divisive. What we saw is that any settled position today simply became tomorrow's starting point. That's when a lot of us finally said no more agreements, no more compromises, no more common solutions. That's about the only way to handle someone working against the common good.

Hmmm.Frankly what ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Frankly what I still don't fully understand is the relative inability for so many liberals to properly debate a subject. Of course this doesn't cover all liberals, quite a few are exceptionally good at debating, but so many are clearly incapable of debating at all.

Regarding your closing pare... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

Regarding your closing parenthetical comment, what constitutes "settled?" Going to an extreme, both in time and policy, how long was slavery "settled" before it was eliminated?

To take a more recent example, a woman's inalienable right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy has been around for decades. Is that not "settled?"

I think one's opinion on what's settled and what isn't depends on whether or not you agree with the "settled" policy.

Just playing advocatus diaboli here. ;)

Hmmmm.To ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

To take a more recent example, a woman's inalienable right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy has been around for decades. Is that not "settled?"

Consider then that women were barred from abortions for the previous 2,000 years. Was that not "settled"?

If the length of time a particular ruling or law has been effect is a major determining point of it's validity, then there's no question that abortion law has been "settled" and not in the current ruling's favor.

Just playing Devil's Advocate myself.

You're not playing Devil's ... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

You're not playing Devil's Advocate, Ed, you're just proving my point.

In today's political climate, "settled" means something one likes, so one wants to keep it. "Not settled" means something one doesn't like, so one wants to change it.

Sorry for the awkward-sounding third-person usage above, but when I wrote it originally in the second-person, it sounded accusatory, so I opted for non-confrontational awkwardness.

Dang! Bullwinkle hit "post... (Below threshold)

Dang! Bullwinkle hit "post" before I did.

progressive is just a euphe... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

progressive is just a euphemism for communist.
it's only progressive in the sense like a terminal malignancy.
and as for the comparisons of abortion and slavery as to whether abortion is a settled issue, that frankly is snarky and silly. it took a civil war to settle the slavery issue. thirty years after the war no one was advocating for the re-institution of slavery although there was the matter of legalized segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks. in other words there was no demand to repeal the emancipation proclamation, the 14th amendment and the return to the pre-civil war status of chattel slavery.
thirty years after Roe vs Wade a very large part of society is against what they perceive as legalized infanticide and wants to repeal that ruling.
choice another euphemism for abortion which to a very large part of the country is another euphemism for infanticide.
to the left, the only divisiveness's is when you oppose them.




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