August 29, 2009

9/11 was a "tragedy"

...and Chappaquiddick was an "accident."

...An interesting essay might be written on the possession of an atheistic literary style. There is such a thing. The mark of it is that wherever anything is named or described, such words are chosen as suggest that a thing has not got a soul in it. Thus they will not talk of love or passion, which imply a purpose or desire. They talk of the "relations" of the sexes, as if they were simply related to each other in a certain way, like a chair and a table. Thus they will not talk of the waging of war (which implies a will), but of the outbreak of war — as if it were a sort of boil.

Thus they will not talk of masters paying more or less wages, which faintly suggests some moral responsibility in the masters: they will talk of the rise and fall of wages, as if the thing were automatic, like the tides of the sea. Thus they will not call progress an attempt to improve, but a tendency to improve. And thus, above all, they will not call the sympathy between oppressed nations sympathy; they will call it solidarity. For that suggests brick and coke, and clay and mud, and all the things they are fond of...

      — GK Chesterton, in the The Illustrated London News, 7 December 1912.

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

"An atheistic literary style." Boy, does that ever describe a lot of what we read and hear today! We should try to puncture such balloons whenever possible. Sarah's term "Death Panels" was a perfect puncturing, especially because of the way in large medical bureaucracies things just happen, with no clear responsibility. "Resources are allocated." "Costs are contained."

Of course there's always a certain double standard. "Bombs explode" in Jerusalem, as if they were as impersonal as volcanos. "Rockets fall" on Ashkelon. BUT, "Israeli troops open fire on Palestinians." That's never soul-less.

Same with America. If Americans do something that can be construed as bad, then suddenly the language gets intensely alive and pejorative. I remember a particularly muddle-headed person being filled with passionate indignation because some Americans in Iraq were apparently referring to Iraqis using "Hajis" as a nickname. Crocodile tears poured forth. Our nation had forfeited all honor and moral credibility, wahr wahr wahr! However, if al-Qaeda blows up a pet market in Baghdad, shredding children and little animals....that just... happens. Impersonally. "A bomb exploded." "Violence erupted."

Posted by John Weidner at August 29, 2009 11:29 AM
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