Saturday, 7 January 2012

An Obsession With Language

In political discourse, as in communication in general, the choice of words is paramount. In addition to the simple meaning of words there are anciliary associations and implications which the wordsmith uses to reinforce the desired message.

The above is intended to be a statement of the obvious, as a prologue to noting the use of the word 'obsession' with regard to the beliefs and opinions of one's political adversaries. This particular one is often leveled at people like myself, who hold views which are not endorsed by the so-called mainstream. The aim is to convey the idea that the object is something unwholesome, or that the belief or interest in the thing stems not from a rational decision of the intellect, but from an impulse originating in the basal ganglia or some other primitive part of the brain.

Here is exhibit A:
What Is “Austrian Economics”? And why is Ron Paul obsessed with it?
The meaning of obsession from the Free Dictionary is thus:
1. Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
2. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.
So, is Ron Paul obsessed with Austrian Economics? If, when you asked him if he wanted a cup of tea, he grabbed your lapels and, with a faraway look in his eyes, uttered:
There are certain unsettled questions in economic theory that have been handed down as a sort of legacy from one generation to another. The discussion of these questions is revived twenty or it may be a hundred times in the course of a decade, and each time the disputants exhaust their intellectual resources in the endeavor to impress their views upon their contemporaries. Not infrequently the discussion is carried far beyond the limits of weariness and satiety, so that it may well be regarded as an offence against good taste to again recur to so well-worn a theme. And yet these questions return again and again, like troubled spirits doomed restlessly to wander until the hour of their deliverance shall appear. It may be that since the last discussion of the question we have made some real or fancied discoveries in the science, and some may think that these throw new light upon the old question. Instantly the old strife breaks forth anew, with the same liveliness as if it possessed the charm of entire novelty, and so it continues year after year, and will continue, until the troubled spirit is at last set free. In this class we find the question -- What is the "ultimate standard of value"?
... then you may have reason to suggest that the Good Doctor is obsessed. As this is certainly not the case, and that, going by the thousands of Ron Paul clips on the internet, he is quite capable of confining his discussion of Austrian Economics to occasions when it is indeed relevant, we can safely surmise that the writer's use of the word 'obsessed' is rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

So, in order to encourage the correct use of the word 'obsession' I offer the following examples to Matthew Yglesias of poor and misleading usage:

If I like a book that you don't like, it does not follow that I am obsessed with the book.

If I like 'The Godfather' and you don't, it does not follow that I am obsessed with gangster movies.

If I come home and find you robbing my television, and I object, it does not follow that I am obsessed with private property or material possessions.

If a woman discovers you have stolen a pair of her high-heeled slippers and you are currently masturbating furiously to the point of ejaculation all over them, and she objects, it does not follow that she's obsessed with hygiene, or indeed preventing the perfidious sin of Onan.

I hope this helps.

Hat tip: Lew Rockwell's Political Theater.


will said...

To support the statist-quo and his own 'nothing to see here' anti Austrian argument Iglesias cites Bryan Caplan. I'm a big fan of Caplan's work and so have read his criticisms of Austrian theory (which I do not find convincing). However, the issues Caplan raises are in no way the fundamental opposition to the Austrian analysis of the business cycle that Iglesias implies. One anti intervention anarchist free market economist commenting on the work of other anti intervention free market economists hardly constitutes a refutation of such ideas.
Due to the anti establishment nature of Austrian/Anarcho-libertarianism there is a pervasive and perhaps international ignorance of the theory. The only fully informed in depth academic criticism of austrianism that I have come across is that of Bryan Caplan. I might go as far as to say that if a lazy hack were to Google 'criticisms of Austrian economics' Caplan's may be the only credible work to appear.
It is laughable that anyone would attempt to smear an anti state economic position by citing a self declared anarchist free market economist!
Plus iglesias makes the common blind assumption that state intervention prevents recessions despite centuries of evidence to the contrary!

Trooper Thompson said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info. I've not read any Bryan Caplan. Maybe I should. I don't shy away from things that contradict my own understanding.