February 23, 2005

Give me reasons

I agree with Jesse, although permit me to express my reaction to 'framing' in the terminology of a philosopher:

Framing is sophistry. Sophistry is the sort of thing ad executives, the worst sort of lawyers, and patronizing political hacks do: wrap up whatever they're hocking (usually crap) in a bright shiny bow so they can force it down your throat before you even think to ask whether it's what you really want. Okay, got my metaphor's a little mixed, but I think you get the idea.

The term 'sophistry' comes from the ancient Athenian school of rhetoric, the sophists. If you were a politician or other prominent Athenian, you would go to their school and they would teach you how to impress people with your fancy vocabulary and compelling and vacuous arguments. Think of a modern day forensics club. Or trashy law school. Or a marketing degree. The sophists were the rivals of the great Athenian philosophers, who prized not popularity or political success but truth and virtue.

The thing that pisses me off so much about the conservative movement in this country is not that I find their positions short-sighted and bigoted. If that were all, presumably we could come together in various fora, share our points of view and possibly even come up with new policies all could agree as beneficial. No, the thing that really pisses me off is that every single one of these people is engaged in pure sophistry to defend these crappy ideas and avoid engaging their ideological opponents in genuine debate.

Should the Democratic party follow suit and become such masters of framing that Karl Rove breaks down and cries at it all, that is the day it will truly have lost what little appeal it still has for me at this point. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist, articulated a revolutionary strategy very much like framing. But Gramsci said this was not a matter of propaganda but of education, a means of breaking the workers out of their false capitalist consciousness. Communism itself was still a philosophical position to be defended and justified.

Contemporary progressivism, in order to truly be democratic, must walk a fine line between energetic advocacy and defense of its positions, and sinking into the sophistic slime the conservative movement wallows in.

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