The Difference Between a Dog Whistle and a History Book
Friday, January 11, 2008
For those of you who participated in last night's Institutional Memory Quiz, the answer is: Adolph Hitler.
One commenter noted: "I didn't want to go there, as the whole Republican=Nazi narrative is insulting to many, but if I am correct I may just weep."
I agree that any sane person would be insulted to be compared to the founder of the Third Reich, and personally, I hate it when terms like "feminazi" and "fascist" get thrown around with abandon (and without any substantiating, factual evidence to back such characterizations) -- and that, my friends, is the difference between a "dog-whistle" and a history book.
You may have seen/heard the term "dog-whistle" quite a bit lately -- it generally refers to the use of a coded phrase which allows the speaker to "signal" a certain meaning to a targeted population which understands this meaning, while maintaining plausible deniability if they are called out.
I'd like to talk about what I call the "pavlovian dog whistle", which is the use of a word or phrase that touches on pre-existing enculturated fears and biases -- I believe that we see a lot of these in the news, and in political speech today.
I believe that this is why the phrase "Homosexual Agenda" works so well to inflame the radical Right.
The word "Homosexual", all on its lonesome, seems to engender a visceral response in those who have been trained, from birth, to believe that homosexuality is Teh Evil (yes, even in me, a die-hard queer).
Quite honestly, I've always found"homosexual" a fairly unpleasant word, in both sound and structure. It has too many syllables, for one thing, yet the first part of it simply cannot roll off the tongue in the light and lilting manner that the greater-syllabled "hetero-" seems to do.
Add to this the fact that, in order to pronounce "homosexual", you have to say the word "homo", which lingers in most English-speaking brains as the most withering school-yard taunt possible -- a word so awful that children had to point out that their milk was "homo"genized, and then dare each other to drink it. Yuk. Yuk.
Take this nasty, dreadful word and tack on the word "Agenda", and Voila! -- you summon the image of meetings, plans, organized action, and the dire plottings of the kids you terrorized on the playground by calling them a "homo", now bent en masse on exacting their revenge.
Now that's scary.
The thing is: There has never, in the history of civilization, been a mass take-over of any country by "homosexuals". Never. Homosexuals have never instigated executions of heterosexuals, or closed down heterosexual night-clubs, or made laws that prohibited heterosexuals from enjoying sex or marriage with their chosen partners. Never. Not once.
There are all sorts of pavlovian dog-whistles out there these days, rousing the hounds who consciously want to continue racism, sexism, antisemitism, and xenophobia -- and worse, evoking responses in people who don't consciously embrace such views, but who may be unaware that certain deeply enculturated biases are being stimulated in them.
I hear them all the time -- the most prominent being: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
This meme saturates the "news"-media. It doesn't really matter what "they" say, or imply, you "should" be afraid of -- the big black guy, the money-grubbing jew, the conniving woman, the homo who wants to molest your kids, the Muslim terrorist, the illegal-alien -- it just matters that you're afraid.
Some could argue that, by posting my Institutional Memory Quiz, I'm blowing a Bush=Hitler dog-whistle -- however, to me there is a difference, and that difference rests in what I'm asking you to do with the information. I'm asking you to take a look at documented actions of one individual, and compare them to documented actions of another individual -- not so that you will be afraid, not so that you will demonize that individual, but so that you will critically consider those actions, and draw your own correlations and conclusions.
We, as a species, within living memory, have seen actions like these before. Our parents and grandparents can speak to us about the likely consequences of such actions. They can tell us where these roads lead, so that we can take a different path.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~ George Santayana
Insanity: Doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:45 PM