Monday, September 3, 2012

Speak Carefully Near A Pregnant Woman

I hope everyone has enjoyed their Labor Day holiday as much as I have. Every year for the last two decades I've gone camping Up North with the same circle of friends. In the intervening years all of our children have grown up. This year one of our friends' daughters was there and she is with child. She's due near Thanksgiving. We had a delightful time and tonight my wife disclosed a worry she'd had: that someone would say something that she could construe negatively. Happily, no one had and everyone was happy.

My wife, who understands these things better than I, pointed out that some times people are more inclined to react negatively than other times.

Now is such a time. This country is being seized with a peculiar form of quadrennial madness. Those worst afflicted have been reacting to "dog-whistles." A dog-whistle is a device that creates an ultrasonic signal that humans cannot hear, but that dogs can. This is a metaphor for racist code-speak that only certain sensitive induhviduals can hear. E.g. If I say, "things look darkest before the dawn," the metaphorical reference to diurnal illumination variation can be construed as dog-whistle-racist.

No, that's a metaphorical reference. As Sigmund Freud once said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

While promoting my anthology, Finding Time, I used this quote: "My friend was raised by savages in the Americas who do not believe evil exists."

In my story, a time traveler from 2370 named Schlomo Davidson is introducing his companion, a time traveler from 2280 named Nell Playfair, to a Victorian street preacher. Schlomo says this as a dig at Nell's society, the Terran Empire of which he thoroughly disapproves.

Yet, this remark has been misconstrued on at least two occasions. Nobody's gotten mad or yelled at me. Yet. But I'm a little anxious to make things clear:

1) I am not referring to American indigenous people (i.e. Indians). American Indians were well aware of evil having been victimized by atrocities perpetrated by the Federal Government such as the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee Massacre. The savages in 2280 Ann Arbor, are not Indians.

2) I am not referring to Democrats. They have demonstrated an acute awareness of evil and one has gone so far as to define sin as "Being out of alignment with my values." I'm confident neither the GOP nor the Democrats will survive to the year 2280. Go Whigs!
But suppose if I weren't some lonely Whig scribbling away in obscurity, but instead I were of those madmen who seek to rule by gaining elected office? Who knows what would be construed of my words?

I've said elsewhere that what our words are not judged by what we intend, but by how they are received. Yet, when you hear words construed in the most tortuous ways to mean things no sane politician would ever intend, can you characterize it as anything other than madness or dishonesty? Ergo, let me amend that a little. 
Our words are not judged by what we intend, but by how SANE, HONEST PEOPLE receive them.

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