I have, upon occasion, introduced myself to my university students as a doctor of philosophy and not as a spin doctor.
I make this distinction with some degree of humility since the latter is better paid, has wider influence and is warmly embraced by the masses.
George Lakoff, a linguist and a spin-meister from the University of California at Berkeley, has advised abortion activists, according to Newsweek, to adopt a new rhetoric. He believes the word “choice,” now showing signs of losing its cutting edge, comes from a “consumerist” vocabulary, while “life” denotes a moral one. We think of “choice cuts,” of meat, “President’s Choice,” “Sam’s Choice,” “Your Choice Video,” Burger King’s “Have It Your Way,” and so on. Apparently, abortion activists had not heeded the words Jean Bethke Elshtain’s uttered many years ago likening the abortion society to “a marketplace where we choose what we want, goaded by consumerism.”
The impact of Pope John Paul II’s project of promoting a “Culture of Life” has abortion activists concerned.
Lakoff, wanting to trade a consumerist term for one that has moral resonance, recommends “personal freedom” and “reducing unwanted pregnancies.”
NARAL has been quick and eager to adopt Lakoff’s suggestions and has introduced its new advertising strategy as, building a “culture of freedom and responsibility,” feeling that this approach soundly beats “culture of life.”
Spin doctors, of course, being more interested in rhetoric than reality, comfortably locate themselves on the outskirts of reality. Lakoff, regarded as the “unofficial guru for beleaguered Democrats,” is not interested in whether the position of the Democratic Party is simply wrong (or even immoral), but how language can verbally mesmerize opponents into agreeing with them. We do not have “drive-by shootings” here in Canada.
Oh heavens no! We are far more civilized than our neighbors to the south. We do have, however, the occasional “metropolitan hunting accident.” Needless to say, from the perspective of the victim, he is really dead, no matter what words are used to describe his demise.
Has it taken until now for abortion activists to realize that “choice” is not a moral term, but one borrowed from the tainted world of consumerism?
Has it dawned on them only lately that their linguistic strategies derive not from great literature but from commercial advertising? When will they figure out that “personal freedom” is broad enough to embrace immoral as well as moral actions?
And how long will it take for them to understand that the real winner in a debate is not necessarily the one who has hired the best spin doctor, but the one who is aligned with truth?
Abortion is about killing unborn children. That is the truth of the matter plain and simple.
The so-called “abortion debate” is not really a debate at all. Rather, it is a cover-up. The gruesome reality of abortion is too unpalatable for its promoter to acknowledge. If they want to live with it, they must, through clever verbal engineering, learn to see it for what it is not.
Thus, they blind themselves in the glare of lofty abstractions such as “freedom” and “responsibility,” trying desperately to forget that — to cite Lady Macbeth’s dilemma — “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
The “word” is not reality itself, but when properly used, it is conveyer, messenger and conduit. The honest person aligns words with truth.
This is the office of the philosopher. But the sophist, the false philosophy, dissembler, spin doctor, gives words a different function. For him, like the ancient sophist Gorgias, the purpose of words is not to enlighten but to persuade. And this kind of rhetorical act of persuasion is practiced most effectively “among the ignorant” who are “in a crowd.”
Today’s “masses” constitute a “crowd,” people eager to be trendy, with it, in step with the times. They are the sitting ducks for spin doctors and various typed of rhetoricians whose objective is to spin words until they become agreeable to the masses. The vulnerable and the unscrupulous make a deadly tandem.
It takes a great deal of courage to live and learn within the framework of reality. Yet, reality remains escape-proof. It may present formidable challenges, but it is the only agency that confers meaning and joy to our embattled lives.
Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor of
philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.