Sunday, April 27, 2008

Speech acts: Ur doin them wrong too

A couple days back, a visitor wondered what exactly was the problem with putting a hed like "Myrick takes aim at terrorism" over a tale in which a duly elected solon announces her 10-point anti-terror program. With apologies for not answering sooner, let me offer a hed that illustrates the same point: the failure to distinguish which sort of facts arise from what candidates proclaim about themselves, each other, and the issues that are supposed to be pertinent to voters.

Brief detour. Probably the simplest way of thinking about speech acts is as "performative" speech. Somebody with the right level of authority says something, and the thing comes about: I declare that a state of war exists, I pronounce you spouse and spouse, I dub thee Brave Sir Robin, I bet my money on the bobtail nag (assuming you're standing in front of the betting window). The idea has been modified and hedged a lot since its introduction, to account for changed minds, broken promises, or the tendency of higher authorities to decide that the marriage you've just solemnized is invalid, owing to whatever theological or biological issues are on the authorities' minds that week. But it's still a handy way of telling stuff that's independently true or false, like "it's raining outside," from stuff that can be made true merely by being said.

See the distinction between "Myrick announces 10-point plan" and "Myrick fights terrorism"? The first one's either true or false, independent of what's in the 10-point plan. The second requires that the plan include something other than "rotate your tires" -- or that Myrick has special powers to declare what is and isn't part of the Global War On Newts Terror.

As in the example above. The hed declares "a question of civil rights" (it's expletive, in the same way "pain at the pump" means "[there is] pain at the pump"). Is there such a question? Or is this just sort of the press-conference equivalent of e-mailing 400,000 of your closest friends to see if anyone wants to help you split the contents of the Freedonian treasury?

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue's record on civil rights came under criticism again Friday from her opponent for the Democratic nomination for governor, State Treasurer Richard Moore.

Oh, really?

The flashpoints this time were beer bottle koozies and a legislative maneuver by Perdue in 1989 that the then-chairman of the legislative black caucus called "a slap in the face of black people."

Giving us the idea that the writer doesn't necessarily take this too seriously. Which, while appropriate, is also a bit unfortunate, because there's always the possibility that (a) your subtle wit will miss a reader or two and (b) somebody might actually believe that a story hedded "A question of civil rights" is about -- who knows, maybe a question of civil rights?

Well, you be the judge. One part of the "question" is a short-lived dispute two decades ago about how far below a majority the level for avoiding a runoff should be set. Another is the discovery of Confederate-flag-type garb at stop-n-robs (in another state) owned by a company chaired by the candidate's husband. But because we decided to label it a "question of civil rights," rather than a "garden-variety late-primary political attack," we've managed to elevate sartorial asshattery to somewhere near the level of the Voting Rights Act.

Handing the terms of the debate over to the inmates is a basic failure of the "mediating" function of media. There's a slightly bigger issue as well. The "securitization" approach conceives of security as a speech act: Politicians want to be able to call "security" on an issue, because when you get to define security, you get to say how far outside the norm a "security" issue is. Or, among other things, which civil rights you'd like to take away and how long it'll be before you consider giving any of them back. So it's more than just, um, whistling Dixie when the likes of Sue Myrick is allowed to call security on "terrorism."

There isn't a lot to the Wake Up America Act: A little guilt-by-association, a demand to keep an eye on Those Damn Arabic Translators,* a few dabs of irrelevance mixed with racism, and basically nothing at all related to detecting and stopping substate political violence, whether against Americans or anyone else. So it'd be nice if the media would do a little better at checking IDs. It's our job to report what these folks are up to; if they want to wrap themselves in a particular mantle, they can buy an ad.

* You think maybe Sue Myrick, Sweetheart of the Seventh Commandment, would be OK with not throwing translators overboard just because of their sexual orientation?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muslims Against Sharia Urge Support for Sue Myrick's "Wake Up America" Initiative

Wake Up America

1. Investigate all military chaplains endorsed by Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was imprisoned for funding a terrorist organization.

2. Investigate all prison chaplains endorsed by Alamoudi.

3. Investigate the selection process of Arabic translators working for the Pentagon and the FBI.

4. Examine the non-profit status of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

5. Make it an act of sedition or solicitation of treason to preach or publish materials that call for the deaths of Americans.

6. Audit sovereign wealth funds in the United States.

7. Cancel scholarship student visa program with Saudi Arabia until they reform their text books, which she claims preach hatred and violence against non-Muslims.

8. Restrict religious visas for imams who come from countries that don't allow reciprocal visits by non-Muslim clergy.

9. Cancel contracts to train Saudi police and security in U.S. counterterrorism tactics.

10. Block the sale of sensitive military munitions to Saudi Arabia.

Muslims Against Sharia urge every American to send a letter of support to Congresswoman Myrick. Sample letter is provided below.


The Honorable Sue Myrick
230 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-1976
Fax: (202) 225-3389

Dear Congresswoman Myrick,

As an American who is concerned with the issue of terrorism, I applaud your efforts to prevent radical Islam from infiltrating American society. I wholeheartedly support your "Wake Up America" plan, as well as other initiatives of the Anti-Terrorism Caucus. You bring honor to the title of United States Representative.

Groups in America such as CAIR and MAS and groups overseas like Hamas and Al-Qaeda need to be shut down for their support and/or perpetration of terrorism. We hope that people recognize this threat to our society, and as well, recognize what you are doing to stop it.


Contact info (optional)


Please print out, sign, and mail or fax this letter to Congresswoman Myrick at the address / fax above. Feel free to modify the letter as you see fit.

8:46 PM, April 27, 2008  

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