Friday, January 20, 2012

Toles for Top Code Breaker

“Relative linguistics” is a subset of the larger field of study of linguistics. When I discovered this in college long ago, I was entranced by Benjamin Whorf, who made it a big deal. He wasn’t a scholar and was mostly rejected by the guardians of academia, but he has earned a place. His theory was simple, but difficult to prove: Language determines worldview and culture. One of his examples was that the Hopi have no language for breaking time into increments, resulting in a worldview and religion that conceives of time as a single thing, another element of life like the air we breathe.

Two who have learned from Whorf are George Lakoff and Frank Luntz. George is a leftist who explains to those like himself why people are conservative or liberal. Very briefly it is this: Conservatives want a strong Father; liberals value a nurturing Mother. Frank is a conservative and tells his friends what words to use to push the right buttons and pull the right strings of the public.  E.g., re: OWS – replace talk of “capitalism” with “economic freedom” or “free market.”

Wouldn’t you like to know what Frank tells the GOP about race? I imagine: “Don’t say ‘nigger,” say ‘foodstamp president.’” We have another subset of linguistics called “racial code language.” These code words have rained on us since Obama announced his candidacy for president. They are words that have their own meaning but are understood to mean or reference something else. “State’s rights” can mean legalized racial discrimination. “Family values” can stand in for legalized gender discrimination. The kicker is that if we call someone on using this code language, they deny it and turn on you, accusing you of racism or immorality.

The political cartoons in the Washington Post are consistently on target and concise. Ann Telnaes does these clever animations (She has a video showing how she does it), but Tom Toles really finds the kernel of reality and twists it with a wondrous sense of humor.
I am stealing one of his copyrighted ‘toons in order to promote him and to let him express what I have found so difficult to explain. The point is that there has been a lot of coded racist talk about Obama these past 4 years and most people who use get away with it. Note that the cartoonist in the lower right is also calling the applause for Newt as racist. I think the problem is that this is still mostly subconscious, so let’s keep at this naming what we hear and see. The more people who are aware of it, the better.

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