Monday, June 23, 2008

The Third Ear

The most recent column from George Will is titled "Liberalism likes victimization narratives." I don't know that this is an unfair characterization. If the guiding force of Conservatism is that: "The world is inherently fair, and it is primarily the interference of government that makes it unfair," the guiding principle of Liberalism would be that: "The world in inherently unfair, and the primary role of government is to redress that injustice." (For the record, I have trouble with both camps, believing that "fairness" neither occurs naturally, nor can be imposed by any human agency.) Personally, I have a hard time characterizing anyone who gets the short end of the stick as a "victim," but some folks do, and the stereotypical Conservative response is to mock them for it.

The column starts out with Will's contention that: "Listening to political talk requires a third ear that hears what is not said." Upon which basis, his column takes a sharp right turn into what are unfair characterizations. Apparently, hearing what is not said allows one to put words in the mouths of others - positive words when you want them, and negative words when you need to attack someone. Will creates a number of phantom strawmen, attributing them to things his ever-listening third ear heard Senator Obama say, and then hacking them to bits with a few deft tangerines-to-oranges comparisons. (Will is smart enough to avoid the far more obvious apples-to-oranges comparisons.)

Example: When I was in college, it was understood that more Black men went to jail than went to college. The 4-or-5 to one ratio of black women to black men at the college that I went to seemed proof enough of that. Will quotes Senator Obama as saying a year ago "more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities." Will counters with: "Actually, more than twice as many black men 18-24 are in college as there are in jail." But go back and read Will's snippet of Obama's speech again. Where does Obama say that there are more black men IN prison than IN college? You could just as easily read his point as that more young black men GO to prison than GO to college. It is Will's third ear, and a slightly altered parsing of a phrase, that creates a lie where perhaps none existed before.

This, I suspect, is part of the way that the next several months will go - on both sides of the political divide, with third ears carefully hearing what no-one has said, in the search for ammunition to use against political opponents.

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