Friday, February 18, 2011

Wordfacts

Writing in the September, 1960 of The Atlantic Monthly, John Kenneth Galbraith described the advent of the "wordfact":
The wordfact makes words a precise substitute for reality.  This is an enormous convenience.  It means that to say something exists is a substitute for its existence.  And to say that something will happen is as good as having it happen.  The saving in energy is nearly total.
Galbraith describes a number of examples of the use of wordfacts in the last years of the Eisenhower administration, but any of us could substitute contemporary examples without ever raising a sweat.  Almost anything Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, or Bill O'Reilly says has the potential to fall into the "wordfact" category.  A great deal of the writing in America about Egypt over the past several weeks was published with the hope that the words, once in print, would become true in actuality: Peter Pan telling us to believe can bring Tinkerbell back to life.

Please.

But that's the heart of much of contemporary political discourse.  'I wouldn't have said it, if it weren't true.  I said it.  Therefore, it is true.'

Towards the end of his essay, Galbraith wrote:
We have come to suffer nonsense gladly, and pompous nonsense far too gladly.  Elaborate rationalizations of failure should not be met by bored silence or even by a fishy stare.  They should be greeted by loud and vulgar laughter.
Though Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have taken this to heart, the laughter still is not loud enough.  Supporters of the clowns still take them seriously rather than slinking away embarrassed, tails between their legs.

And we should not let people off too easily, when they have resorted to "wordfacts."  Galbraith ended his essay with this:
And while dealing kindly with all who confess honest error, we should make a special bipartisan onslaught on any man who defends his mistakes by saying that all the unintended was better than the intended and that it was really planned all along.
What's happening right now in Wisconsin is a case in point of "wordfact" usage.  The new governor, Scott Walker, who is using the "wordfact" of his statements that he is not about union busting while he goes about union busting, has also said that the demonstrations that have shut down Madison are "more about theatrics than anything else."

 We'll see... though I doubt saying it will make it true.  I hope his saying it will result, instead, in a loud, collective Wisconsin raspberry.

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