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When is the rhetoric too much?

Remember your audience. But Uncle, you’re preaching to the converted.

In the comments section at Crooked Timber, Doctor Slack takes me to task (and perhaps rightfully) for using rhetoric that is, uhm, over the top:

Now, it’s entirely possible that Nick is making unfair assumptions about you on that score. It’s very easy to misread ommon (sic) forms of hyperbole in people’s everyday discourse and come to mistaken conclusions about them as a result. Maybe you’re usage of that hyperbole comes tagged in your mind with all the necessary implied caveats about gun safety and moral rectitude and not actually blowing someone away for the hell of it.

Specifically, he took issue with this quote:

If you’re in my home uninvited rummaging through my belongings, I will lawfully assume that you mean me and my loved ones harm. You will be considered a hostile target. The only warning you will receive will be the 230 grain, jacketed hollow point piercing your flesh.

Yes, it is a bit heavy on the rhetoric. I write for me and for my audience who tend to share my views and knowledge of the gun issue, with some exceptions, of course. But he is correct that my language may overshadow my point in terms of preaching to the non-converted. In other words, a reference to popping a cap in someone’s ass isn’t going to convince a soccer mom that I’m correct. Sure, I could have flowered it up with a few ‘if, then’ statements or reference to ensuring the safety of loved ones or how if you’re in my home I would feel absolutely no obligation to allow you to justify your reason for being there or whatever else to make it more palatable to a more squeamish audience or passers-by from a comment thread elsewhere.

But we all engage in over the top or unfair rhetoric on some issues. For example, anti-choice, selected not elected, why do they hate America, stay out of my uterus, or [insert your convenient political catchphrase that fits on a bumper sticker] here. The power of language, and more specifically, rhetorical choices has an impact on the debate. It can lead to thought-provoking exchanges or complete disregard for someone who may otherwise make a decent point. After all, Doctor Slack probably would not have responded if I used less-offensive language. As a for instance (warning: foul, foul, potty mouthed language follows – click more at your own risk and expense):

I’ve made reference to a sodomy case in this country using a phrase to the effect of Court says buttfucking, cocksucking legal. Now, that would obviously turn someone off who has delicate sensibilities. And it’s probably why I don’t write headlines for newspapers. But I used that phrase specifically with the intent to underscore what the issue is about and that is that some people (for religious or other reasons) are just creeped out at the thought of two dude’s pounding ass (see, I did it again). And when you break it down, I can see no other reason why it’s an issue other than that. Over the top? Sure. Vulgar? Ayup. But that’s the point. To make the issue silly.

Or how about some non-vulgar rhetoric, such as Claire Wolf’s quote:

America is at that awkward stage. It’s too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.

Ok, it’s a bit vulgar. I forgot about the word bastards. Is it over the top? Yes. But it does effectively and unequivocally convey her point.

We gunnies use over the top rhetoric all the time under the assumption that other gunnies understand what we mean. And other politically aligned people do to. For instance, we gunnies use phrases like jack booted thugs, shit hits the fan, zombie killing rifles, hoplophobe, tobacco ninjas, etc. The list is huge. We use these terms for a variety of reasons. One is that it conveys what we mean to other gunnies without elaborating too much. Second, some of it is intended to poke fun at our opposition, after all, who really thinks you need a zombie gun? And some of it’s just funny.

Now, I have chided others for using what I felt was over the top rhetoric, though typically not the vulgar kind because that obviously doesn’t offend me. I do that when said rhetoric either oversimplifies or misrepresents a stated position. For example, I take issue with the phrase anti-choice. Not because it’s vulgar but because it misrepresents a pro-lifer’s position. And I say that as someone who thinks abortion should be legal.

Simply put, when I say:

The only warning you will receive will be the 230 grain, jacketed hollow point piercing your flesh

I mean it. Sure, if I were making that point at a PTA meeting or a local civics club or some dude at the office, I’d flower the sentiment up a bit to make it less offensive. But the sentiment stands.

BTW, I need to add Crooked Timber to the read list. The commenters there are engaging, reasonable, and, generally, nice. They makes me think, which makes my brain tingle.

Update: Kinda timely, Gunner says:

This is a “I remember when” post. Words have power but the abuse of words weaken that power, and even can change the meaning of words.

25 Responses to “When is the rhetoric too much?”

  1. chris Says:

    What is a hoplophobe?

    Do I need to buy one to protect myself?

  2. Standard Mischief Says:

    http://www.changethatsrightnow.com/problem_detail.asp?SDID=212:1603

  3. Bruce Says:

    “…who really thinks you need a zombie gun?”

    You mean I don’t????

  4. tgirsch Says:

    We gunnies use over the top rhetoric all the time under the assumption that other gunnies understand what we mean.

    Gee. Sounds almost like that “speaking in code” that you insist doesn’t actually exist. 🙂

  5. kris Says:

    but it’s your rhetoric, right? so what’s the problem?

  6. SayUncle Says:

    NOt a code in that meaning doesn’t mean what you think it means. Just an over the top way of saying things, as opposed to this alleged code you speak of that minimizes what’s meant.

  7. _Jon Says:

    Oddly, while I take issue with several of your statements and opinions, I didn’t find that statement over the top.

  8. Ron W Says:

    “But we all engage in over the top or unfair rhetoric on some issues. For example, anti-choice…”

    Almost evertime I hear “pro-choice” from some leftist on TV, I say outloud, “pro-choice to do what??” Obviously they only mean the choice to deny the right to life to an unborn child for any reason, YET I would venture to say that almost all of them support the government denying women the choice of weapons to defend themselves against rapists–although a pregnancy from rape is always one of their best reasons to kill an unborn child. These same people say “keep the government out of our bedrooms”, but they would be all for government agents with guns coming into bedrooms to take the guns–so they could FEEL safe.

  9. tgirsch Says:

    Ron W:

    Uh, they mean the choice to decide for one’s self whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. “Pro-choice” isn’t the best term, I’ll grant, but neither is “pro-abortion” terribly accurate. “Pro-legal-abortion,” maybe. And for what it’s worth, “pro-life” isn’t a terribly accurate term, either, given that many self-described “pro-lifers” openly support the death penalty, pre-emptive war, etc. Nonetheless, if you stick to “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about, and there’s something to be said for that.

    As to any correlation between support for abortion and opposition to gun rights, I don’t think you’re going to find that to be the case. For example, this site’s owner (a conservative-leaning libertarian type) supports both rights, as do I (a moderate liberal Democrat). For further evidence, according to a January 2006 Gallup poll, fully two-thirds of Americans oppose the overturn of Roe v. Wade, whereas a 2004 Gallup poll (the most recent I could find) shows a similar number of Americans opposing a ban on handgun sales.

    Now, even if you were to assume that every person who supports a ban on handgun sales also opposes overturning Roe v. Wade (not a safe assumption by any stretch), you’re still left with at minimum 30% of the population that supports both abortion rights and gun rights.

    And one of these days, I really need to get around to writing my blog post about how gun rights activists and abortion rights activists use slippery-slope rhetoric that’s virtually identical.

  10. tgirsch Says:

    Uncle:

    as opposed to this alleged code you speak of that minimizes what’s meant.

    Pop Quiz: Why did Bush mention Dred Scott in the presidential debates of 2004?

  11. _Jon Says:

    Well, I support abortion for early terms, don’t like the death penalty under any reason, and have – well, a lot of guns. Oh, and I curse in public. I’m a bad, bad man – I guess. 🙂

    This whole “I’m so against *this* that I *hate* anyone who supports it” is infuriating.
    And as I was writing this sentence, I recall someone telling me this situation is created by the MSM, in an attempt to “Divide and Control”. I didn’t really give the comment any thought, but it seems (at 1am) to have some validity. There certainly appears to be a concerted effort in the US to put people into “categories”, then play them against each other. And the rhetoric is ratcheting up. It reminds me of an old saying – “the tighter you squeeze, the more the pig squeals – and the more it slips out of your grasp”. meh thinks _somebody_ is losing control of their monopoly and they are willing to do *anthing* to retain their power.

    Ahab at his finest hour.

  12. Xrlq Says:

    I’m OK with the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” as long as one uses both terms. Using one to describe one’s own views while NOT using the other to describe the opponent’s (or worse, calling one’s opponent “anti-choice,” “anti-life” or “pro-death”) is unseemly, but using both seems like a fair description of the competing principles at work here. Assuming that everyone is pro-choice and pro-life at heart, the question is what to do when these two principles conflict. If you err on the side of protecting life, you’re pro-life. If you err on the side of choice, you’re pro-choice.

  13. Ron W Says:

    tgirsch,

    “Pro-choice” to terminate a pregnancy works morally and legally IF the unborn child is proven to be a non-human through due process of law. It would be similar to going back 150 years and say I’m “pro-choice” on slavery–“I wouldn’t own slaves, but I can’t impose on your right to own slaves because it’s a private matter”–unless the slave is a person under the Constitution (13th and 14ht Amendments).

    Ther is a clear right 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but a right to abortion is rather nebulous–nothing specific in the written law. I agree that we have a “right to privacy” based upion the 4th Amendment’s wording, however does that right give you a right to deny life or liberty to another? NOT!

    Being pro-life refers to protecting the right to life (5th Amendment) for ALL of us except when one is proven to be guilty of a crime in which, by law, the penalty takes away life, liberty or property. Your right to life is protected by law and is not subject to the “choice” of another who may deem you to be non or sub-human and thus not worthy of having your right to life protected by their individula choice. So pro-life is consistent in that it applies to all under the wording of the 5th Amendment. I was pointing out that often those who say they are pro-choice would restrict or take away a woman’r choice to armed self-defense (aganst a rapist for instance); which is clearly worded right in the Bill of Rights.

    I would NOT however want a Constitutional Amendment banning abortions. Instead I would favor one that included unborn children as persons under he Constitution based upon “innocent until proven guilty”. The onus of those wnating to deny the right to life to unborn children is proff that they are NOT human. This would allow laws to be made pursuant to that. Actually then, the 2nd Amendment would give a woman whose life was threatened by a pregnancy the implicit right to self-defense and so i would favor law that would allow a woman the choice to terminate and kill the unborn child to save her own life, just as the rest of us have right to kill in self-defense. But then there are many who would either restrict or deny the means to keep and carry the means thereof.

  14. tgirsch Says:

    Jon:

    There certainly appears to be a concerted effort in the US to put people into “categories”, then play them against each other.

    And there, in a nutshell, you’ve described the Rovian political strategy. For the past several years, it’s worked brilliantly. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to effectively counter it (at least, not without sinking even lower).

    Ron W:

    Please, not the abortion = slavery argument again.

    The question to me is not one of whether the developing fetus is “human” or “alive,” but of whether the fetus is self-aware, and of the conflict of interest between two lives — that of the woman and that of the fetus she carries. It’s not a question to me of whether the fetus is “alive,” but which of the two lives — woman and fetus — is more important. I’ll take the woman most of the time. But the point — and why we say “pro choice” — is that this is not my decision to make. Nor, for that matter, is it the government’s.

    From a constitutional perspective, I’ve never been a huge fan of the abortion-protected-because-of-right-to-privacy argument (which, I know, is what Roe asserts); to me, it’s not about privacy, but about personal autonomy. At what point can the state step in and tell a person what they can and cannot do with their own body? I think that bar needs to be very, very high. It’s for this same reason that I oppose the criminalization of drug possession and drug use. Drug sales are another matter, and doing things like operating motor vehicles or planes or heavy equipment under the influence of drugs — these are things that unnecessarily involve others, and that’s a bit different. But personal drug use is essentially not much different than abortion, in my book.

    For that matter, I’m not quite sure how the 5th amendment applies here — if the governmetn were forcing women to have abortions, you’d have a point, but that’s not happening as far as I’m aware.

    Bottom line is, prohibiting abortion might make you feel better, but evidence shows it wouldn’t accomplish much. Looking at worldwide figures, abortion rates are wholly independent of the legality of abortion. (Brazil, for example, has an abortion rate that’s double what it is in the US, despite the fact that abortions are illegal there.) If minimizing abortions is what you’re really after, I can get behind that (I really can!), but criminalization is not the way to accomplish this.

  15. Ron W Says:

    tgirsch,

    The government has and makes many laws that tell us what we do with our bodies. The law even imposes what many consider dangerous vaccines on children. Gun control laws render our bodies defenseless and easy prey for ciminals. Seat belt laws make me strap my body in my vehicle. Tax laws make me work my body to pay the government and impose a morality of providing for others…etc. etc.

    If “self-awareness” defines one as human, then the law should so state that based upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If that is so, then someone could say that it apply to babies after they were born and to you if you are rendered unconscious or in coma.

    I did say that the law should allow a woman to choose the implicit right of self-defense from the 2nd Amendment (and those non-enumerated ones –9th Amendment) if the unborn child threatened her life, just as that same woman should be able to choose that same right and the means thereof if a rapist or murderer threatened her life. My original point was that most leftists say the woman has a right to kill her unborn child (or have someone elses do it) for ANY reason while most leftists would also deny that same woman (and all of us) the choice to keep and carry the means to defend her own body against a rapist or murderer.

    The 5th Amendment applies because it mentions “the right to life” of which we cannot be deprived except through “due process of law” in which one is proven to be guilty of an offense for which the law prescribes the death penalty? In the case of abortion for any reason, that right is left to someone’s choice. Due process of life should have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the unborn child is not human before it’s right to life could be taken away–just as the law should have to prove that you or me is guilty of a capital offense to have have our life taken away.

    The abortion-slavery analogy is a good one because both slavery and abortion were and are kept “legal” because of an arbitrary decision to keep black people then and unborn children now as non-human. The 1857 Dred Scot U.S. Supreme Court decision kept black people as property subject to slavery until the law (13th and 14th Amendments) overturned it. And one of the judicial reasonings was that if black people were declared persons, then they would rightly have the 2nd Amendment right to go armed for personal defense–that they were deprived of the right to provide defense for their own bodies–just as many of the same ilk do today.

  16. Xrlq Says:

    Ron W., the Fifth Amendment, like the rest of the B of R, applies only to the federal government, not to the states, and really, really, really not to private individuals. So to the extent that abortion deprives a person of life for purposes of the Fifth Amendment, all this means is that the federal government (or, per the Fourteenth Amendment, the states) can’t abort anyone.

    Also, your argument that it should have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a fetus is not a person suggests you’re a bit confused on the basics. That’s the standard for criminal convictions, not for determining whether someone does or does not have the legal right to do something. If an abortion were prosecuted as a homicide, it would be up to the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was human, not up to the defendant to prove it was not.

  17. Ron W Says:

    Xlrq,

    Your comments are why it’s so dangerous when the government arbitrarily decides when someone isn’t worthy of having their rights protected. Your thinking would change if and when they get around to deciding that you’re not worthy or don’t have the status that gets protection of right to life.

    So if I choose that someone is not a human, then I can abort the person if they–just so I’m not a government agent?

  18. Xrlq Says:

    So if I choose that someone is not a human, then I can abort the person if they–just so I’m not a government agent?

    I never said it was OK for private citizens to kill people. I just said it has nothing to do with the Fifth Amendment, or any other part of the Constitution. As a general rule, the Constitution does not bind private individuals – at all. That doesn’t mean we’re not bound by other laws, such as the Penal Code.

  19. _Jon Says:

    Actually, citizens are not _bound_ by any laws – we just have to be willing to accept the consequences….

    tg: I have no idea what the “Rovian political strategy” is. If you have a link to a description, I’d appreciate it.

  20. Ron W Says:

    Xrlq,

    You say, “I never said it was OK for private citizens to kill people.”

    Well I suppose the whole argument hinges on who you say are people.

    Earlier you said referring to those who have their unborn children killed, “But the point — and why we say “pro choice” — is that this is not my decision to make. Nor, for that matter, is it the government’s.”

    But now you are making a decision that it isn’t OK for private citizens to kill people.”

    Well I suppose the whole argument hinges on who you say are people. But the government made that decision when it arbitrarily decided to withhold protection of the right to life to unborn children. When the government (Supreme Court) denies protection of a right, especially to life, they are making a decision.

    Our laws are all supposed to be pursuant to the Constitution so in the case of murder laws which protect your right to life, they are based upon that 5th Amendment right. I contend that unborn children should be included in that protected right just as the Preamble of the Constitution includes them to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and OUR POSTERITY.”

    Judicial decisions like Roe vs Wade should not ignore the right of life or liberty for anyone apart from facts ascertained through proof by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Judges, like Executive and Legislation officials are to be bound by the Law:

    This Constitution and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in
    Pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the
    Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land; and the
    Judges in every state SHALL BE BOUND THEREBY, any thing in the Constitution or
    Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.
    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the
    several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the
    United States and of the several States, SHALL BE BOUND by Oath or
    Affirmation, to support this Constitution… –Article VI, Sections 2 and 3, the U.S.
    Constitution

    Jon,

    I suppose we citizens are not bound by the law, but we may end up being bound by the consequences of breaking the law and incurring the penalty thereof; thus being deprived of life, liberty or property. Particularly, when one is deprived of liberty, we may say he is bound. 🙂

  21. Xrlq Says:

    Ron W.:

    Well I suppose the whole argument hinges on who you say are people.

    Not at all. It hinges on your fundamental misunderstanding of what the Constitution does and does not do. Owning a slave violates the 13th Amendment. Importing liquor into a dry state violates the 21st. Other than that, there’s no way you or I could violate the Constitution even if we wanted to. This is not a matter of opinion; it’s black letter law.

    Our laws are all supposed to be pursuant to the Constitution so in the case of murder laws which protect your right to life, they are based upon that 5th Amendment right.

    Hogwash. Laws against murder don’t have a f’n thing to do with the Fifth Amendment, or any other part of the Constitution, except in the sense that they cannot violate it.

    This Constitution and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in
    Pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the
    Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land; and the
    Judges in every state SHALL BE BOUND THEREBY, any thing in the Constitution or
    Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    Only federal laws are “laws of the United States” made “in pursuance” of the federal Constitution. There is no general federal law banning murder. To argue that there should be one banning abortion is to argue that the lives of the unborn are more valuable than the lives of the born. Is that your position?

  22. tgirsch Says:

    Ron W:

    The 1857 Dred Scot U.S. Supreme Court decision kept black people as property subject to slavery until the law (13th and 14th Amendments) overturned it.

    Well, at least here, you’ve answered the “pop quiz” I gave Uncle (which he ignored, but per his rules, this means nothing). Bush brought up Dred Scot because he was sending a message to certain abortion opponents (like you) who would immediately understand that he was also talking about Roe v. Wade; but he couldn’t actually say that he thought Roe was a bad decision that ought to be overturned, because to do so would have been political suicide. So instead, he used Dred Scot as a surrogate decision, to get his message to a certain constituency while at worst confusing most of the rest of the audience. In other words, he was speaking in code. He was saying “I support overturning Roe” without actually saying it.

  23. Xrlq Says:

    TGirsch, I’m not sure I understand your code theory. Bush has never made a secret of his opposition to Roe, yet managed somehow to survive these repeated political suicide attempts through two national elections and even two Supreme Court appointments. One can agree or disagree with his analogy to Dred Scott, but it ain’t “code” for anything. If it were, it would make exactly the opposite point of what the pro-lifers intend; after all, it took a constitutional amendment to overturn Dred Scott.

  24. Resistance is futile! Says:

    Carnival of Cordite #49

    Hello and welcome once again to the Carnival of Cordite! Just a few quick announcements before we begin: Next week, the Carnival of Cordite will be hosted by AnarchAngel. The following week, check out the Carnival of Cordite at The

  25. SayUncle » All this talk of Treason Says:

    […] But Uncle, you say, isn’t that maybe a little hypocritical of you? Ayup. But, I’ve been giving it some thought. And, since gun rights are at a crossroads, it’s probably best that I tone it down. Sure, I’ll tell the occasional person to fuck right off but that’s about it. […]