You know, I can’t think of either a good title for this post or a particularly good way of introducing it, but this is my blog and I refuse to be tyrannized by such considerations. I read the NY Times’ The Stone column today and was – as happens more and more lately – disappointed in the level of discourse. Written by Jason Stanley (who, as a professor of Philosophy at Rutgers, one would expect to know better), it makes the point – at once tired and overblown – that one can use words and images to effectively silence one’s opponents.
Aside from a fugitive reference to “pass[ing] a health care reform”, all the examples are of propaganda in service to the Right. One gets the impression that he is oblivious to this, but in any case his message ends up as “we can no-longer trust the Right’s speech, because it’s only used to deny to the Left the ability to be heard.”
As I read it I simply found it tendentious and conceptually loose, but on reflection it seems of a piece with the recent trend of leftist academics complaining “By attacking my positions my opponent is denying my academic freedom and trying to silence me; therefore, he should not be allowed to speak.” Somehow they say this without a trace of irony.
An interesting side point: Stanley’s point of departure is some papers from the ‘90s that claim that when women are portrayed as being insincere in their refusals of sexual advances, it essentially prevents those refusals from being “heard” – effectively silencing them. Without buying into the terminology (the papers were, after all, produced by academics of Gender… Hmm! Is that like “persons of Color”?), I found the argument compelling. Still, if we turn it around and ensure that No always means No, aren’t we robbing some women of the ability to flirt? We may decide that’s a worthwhile tradeoff, but shouldn’t it at least be mentioned?