Thursday, December 7, 2017

They Said, They Said

“This is a spiritual battle we’re fighting,” they say.
“As Christians, we believe in second chances,” they say.
There’s Biblical precedent, they say—just look at Mary and Joseph!
'You Need to Think About It Like a War'

[Mark Ford,] The head of the county Republican Party called the election “a spiritual battle we’re fighting.”
“Even if the allegations are true, as Christians we believe in second chances,” said Pat Hartline, who lives in neighboring Cherokee County and was also in attendance.
This is a Spiritual Battle We’re Fighting

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner.
Alabama state official defends Roy Moore, citing Joseph and Mary: ‘They became parents of Jesus’
"They" is typically taken to be a plural. It when you have some combination of hes, shes and/or its. It is sometimes used a singular, generally in referring to someone where the person's gender is unknown or unimportant - "it" usually being reserved for inanimate objects at at least non-human ones. You might get away with calling a dog "it." Calling a person "it" will typically get one into trouble.

The problem that often arises with "they" is that it's a convenient weasel word. The sort of thing that's used to say something, when a certain amount of ambiguity is desired, even when ambiguity isn't called for. In 'You Need to Think About It Like a War,' McKay Coppins opens with the idea that the "God-fearing supporters" of Roy Moore have thrown their commitment to personal morality out of the window, with things that "they" say in Mr. Moore's defense. But he links to the sources of what "they" say, and in each case "they" turns out be a single, specific, individual.

Of course, this is secondary to the point. Mr. Coppins is right about the fact that the "Christian right" has decided that someone who shares their politics is a better fit as their representative than someone who doesn't, and maintaining a standard of personal moral purity isn't worth losing a valuable legislative seat. But that's not a very good reason to imply that individual voices are a chorus. because it's unnecessary. Attributing each speaker's words to the individual who said them would have still backed up Mr. Coppins' point that in the service of putting someone whose politics matched their own into the United States Senate, Roy Moore's supporters are willing to look the other way at his behavior. He simply would have had to speak of those individuals, rather than generalizing their words.

The whole article uses "conservative values voters" and "they" interchangeably, dealing in broad generalizations, when really the only people who count are the ones who actively decide to vote for someone they would otherwise find to be reprehensible. And in a nation where turning out to vote isn't a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, an active minority can carry the day. It's a safe bet that whomever wins the Alabama Senate race, they're going to carry the day with a minority of registered voters. It's possible that Mr. Moore could win with a minority of conservative values voters making it to the polls. After all, he doesn't need all them to show up - only a statistically significant number more than the number of people who are motivated enough to vote for Doug Jones. Whether that constitutes a majority, I have no idea. But it's entirely possible that there are still large numbers of conservative values voters who have no intention of backing Roy Moore. It's just that the group of them, in total, votes rarely enough that politically, they don't exist. And so the media pays no attention to them, either.

Institutional hypocrisy, my name for the linking of two people who share a characteristic and calling them out for not sharing enough groupthink, is a pointless exercise. Conservative Christians don't have to think about personal purity and political office any more than two people from Rhode Island or any two Latinas have to. Generalizations in support of it don't do anything useful, either.

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