Late to the party (I think I’m going to let that become my middle name), but just to add one thought on the Paul Ryan lovefest by the innumerate and/or the malign:
With this story, we’ve welcomed into English a new term of art. Just as “charm” to a physicist means something quite different than that evoked by memories of Fred Astaire…
…so “Serious” clearly has a meaning to Villagers and the political elite utterly distinct from anything the rest of us understand by the word.
As far as I can tell, it has become a modifier to describe any proposal that transfers a financial burden or the balance of life’s risk from society and or its best-off to middle and the poor. If a suggested change in the social contract doesn’t f*ck the poor, it can’t be serious.
Syryosly: the word has become code, several posts here have already pointed out. Its use signals that the weaker party to any bargain is about to get screwed. The claim that enduring others’ pain is “serious” is as archtypical an example of rhetorical deceit as one could hope to find.
Which thought leads me to two conclusions.
First, that as Dean Baker says via John, any pundit caught using the word has told you how to rate their opinion on anything.
Second, this disdain for language is one of the central fronts in the GOP and friend’s assault on the whole idea of a social contract. That”s the point in the debasement of language: to make it as near impossible as it can be to discuss the reality struggling to escape out from under a fog of meaning-denude verbiage.
There is no one better on this subject than George Orwell, whose 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has much to say to anyone interested in how to use and abuse language as a tool to convey experience.
In that essay, Orwell captures the modern GOP and its handmaidens — the Brookes, the Sullivans, the Slate contrarians and all the others — with perfect prescience:
…it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
Who can tell what drives people capable of better to rhetorical drink? But those “serious” writers who now find themselves writing both falsely and badly have drunk deep of some bad hooch, to the point where the hunger to cuddle up to the powerful has led them to spiel dreck despite what they know — or should — to be true.
Let me give (almost) the last word(s) to Orwell, here from the last sentences of the essay. It is, characteristically, a message of some succor.
…one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.
Amen, George, and amen.
Images: Publicity photograph of Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire in 1921.
James Henry Cafferty, Sidewalks of New York, or Rich Girl, Poor Girl, 1859
I’m gonna need a giant mallet if there’s one more post today about Paul Ryan.
OT- Interesting things maybe happening at Fermilab
I find Sullivan’s particular fixation on the man’s plans obvious. He’s a Thatcherite. He believes in ‘tough love’. It’s not love if it’s not abusive. It’s good governance BECAUSE someone is getting screwed. The alternative, that being generous and kind could have no downsides, is just incomprehensible.
I close this argument with the most obvious proof: He’s a gay Republican. Why? They treat gays with obvious hate and cruelty, which means Republicans really must be good people who love him.
David in NY
All “serious” means is that the GOP’er making the proposal plays the dog whistle too subtly for the writer to hear.
The thinking goes: “Unlike, say, Michelle Bachmann, this person is not babbling about black helicopters — thus, serious.”
David in NY
I at first read this as “obvious poof.” Not so far off, I guess.
I’ve been trying to find a good new name for the GOP, and you’ve given me a great one!!!
Before, I was saying POH – Party Of Hate
or POCAH – Party Of Cruelty And Hate
but, it can stay the GOP – the George Orwell Party!!!! No need to change the stationary.
As Orwell said, the future, just imagine a boot stomping on a face, forever.
J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford
What I think is hilarious is that Andrew Sullivan claims to idolize George Orwell but he can’t even recognize the Orwellian use of the word “serious” by the Ryan boosters. Sarah Palin used the word “serious” twice in her comment and Andrew Sullivan still couldn’t recognize what was so plainly in front of him.
@freelancer: Sorry for my part in the overRyanization. (Can I claim that the under celebration of Orwell around here lately offers some countervailing value?)
But really — thanks for the Fermilab link. That is beyond cool. I hope its true…
@David in NY:
You know, I… I disagree. I think we risk abusing our own understanding to simply assume the word they’re using is deliberately deceptive. For the Village Pundit, doesn’t supporting an insanely cruel proposal like this prove that he’s Serious? That is, doesn’t it prove (in a way only other shallow people like him could buy) that he’s willing to consider tough questions in a rational way and not get swept away by emotion? It’s a variant of contrarianism. They really DO think they’re being Serious. They’re maintaining a position that other people aren’t willing to hold. They’re just juvenile enough to assume that other people don’t hold it because of inferior sentimentality, when other people don’t hold it because it’s a jackass and stupid position that isn’t just cruel, it’s *needlessly* cruel.
Davis X. Machina
If That Man ever read The Road to Wigan Pier, I’m an Adelié penguin.
Brits, as a culture, don’t think win-win is realistic. They think that for someone to win, someone else must lose. They also do that the other way around. If someone is losing, that means that someone else must be winning. So yes, if people are getting screwed, it means there is a win somewhere else, and if you’re not part of the people getting screwed, you’re part of the winners. Lose-lose also doesn’t exist in this mindset.
Furthermore, I notice that Sullivan still hasn’t been moved to the “Blogs We Monitor And Mock As Needed” category.
@J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford:
Sullivan, as all other Republicans, thinks Orwell is a marvelous, although somewhat wordy, writer of instruction manuals.
Furthermore, I notice that Sullivan still hasn’t been moved to the “Blogs We Monitor And Mock As Needed” category.
I think that “Serious” is the Villager word for “this hurts you more than it does me”.
Villagers are the sober elite producerist daddies who must punish the unruly id-driven prole children in order to teach them self-restraint and living within the allowance that the elite producerist daddies provide. And that “hurts the daddies more than it does the children”. It’s “serious”.
Man, it sure will be great when the Republicans’ overreach allows Democrats to retake the House, win the presidency, and gain a supermajority in the Senate. Imagine all the wonderful things that will happen once, er, hang on…
Another word that means something else to the villagers than the rest of us, ascribed to Ryan is “brave”.
I keep hearing his plan and him described as brave.
What the fuck is brave about taking the same tired old Republican ‘fuck the poor’ policies, adding some bullshit numbers to it, and calling it a new plan?
There is nothing politically brave about this. There’s a certain amount of chutzpah, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.
Never gun happen.
You see, no matter how screamingly, agonizingly obvious it is to normal people that the man — notwithstanding being perhaps a “good writer” — is an insufferable elitist twat in matters of reality affecting actual human beings, John Cole just can’t quit him. He may post witty smackdowns of him like “As the Sully Turns” — but the bottom line is, he just. can’t. quit. him.
No prob. It’s mostly about the genius observations of Eric Blair, so that’s interesting. But I’m starting to develop an unsightly eye twitch whenever someone in my RSS feed mentions Ryan. Dammit, did it again!
Sean Carroll’s brief but detailed take on the physics news is over at his blog Cosmic Variance, and there might be more after the press conference in 20 minutes.
Cut defense, tax the rich.
Yeah, we could get a major health care reform that we’ve been trying to pass for an entire century, end the ghastly (but congressionally beloved) mess that was DADT, and a bunch of other goodies that don’t make front page news. Of course, we’d be treated to four years of endless shrieking from conservatives and the Serious Pundits who dominate the airwaves. It would be hard to even find out just how much good stuff happened during that time.
[“serious”] has become a modifier to describe any proposal that transfers a financial burden or the balance of life’s risk from society and or its best-off to middle and the poor.
My understanding of “serious” is broader and simpler than that, though it does entail that, given who’s saying it: “serious” means “agrees with my preconceptions.”
Davis X. Machina
Ryan, in any sane world, would have to be brave, insofar as volunteering for a visit from the tumbrel-, pitchfork-and-torches squad would require a certain level of bravery, and temerity.
Alas, we have had no domestic tumbrel-production capacity since it was offshored in the ‘80, and the pitchforks went to Mexico in 2005 when Ames True Temper shut its West Virginia plant.
On a more cheerful note, I am pretty sure we can still do torches.
Orwell really threw catch phrases under the bus there.
And Catholic. They aren’t so fond of him, either.
Serious = Uses numbers and makes wonky sounding policy proposals.
Seriouser = Said numbers and proposals affect the non-super rich.
Brave = Goes against Democratic plans or policy planks, because, y’know, the liberal media will tear you apart if you go against the Democratic groupthink that dominates this country.
At least, that’s how I interpret the way they’ve been using these words lately….
John - A Motley Moose
Thanks for this, Tom. I bought a Nook recently and one of the first things I put on it was this essay by Orwell. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but will move it up on my list based on this post. Project Gutenberg Australia also has a collection of 50 Orwell lectures available in text format. Apparently, the length of copyright protection is about 50 years in Australia.
Project Gutenberg Australia
Politics and the English Language
Fifty Orwell Lectures
Come on, don’t you read the NYTimes, they always take about the serious sacrifices our Galtian overlords have to take. I hear sometimes they don’t even get to gild their toilets in gold, or only have two week long european vacations. Some even have had to divest themselves of a home or two.
Use middle and lower class could never understand the burden of losing not only one, but TWO HOMES! Only Maria destroying ones cellphone could be as horrible.
The destruction of the language is the whole reason for Frank Luntz’s being.
It’s a gooper tradition, if you can’t win points on policy, then muddy the waters.
I want my language back!
And it does sound like it’s got a certain amount of common sense in it, because as we all know, life involves pain and sacrifice, you often have to put off or give up one thing in order to achieve another, etc. Thus, “tighten your belts” sounds serious to many average voters who think they’ve got to sacrifice for the country (referring more to moderates and independents than hardcore conservatives here).
What doesn’t occur to them is that their belt-tightening can barely make a dent in our current problems. The people who are both responsible for the current mess and most able to get us out of it are the only ones exempted completely from all this belt-tightening.
And for anyone who thinks you can squeeze any significant amount of money out of the bottom 80% of society as opposed to those above them, the pie charts a few paragraphs down on this page http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html are all I’ve got to say.
Alright then, since the gloves are off, lets speak some obvious and unpleasant truths: the They you are referring to above aren’t capable of better. They are paid liars working on behalf of murderers, thieves and traitors.
That would explain volumes, and it sounds just about right to me.
Since I really don’t have anything substantive to say (my brain has officially reached that point where it can’t take anymore), I just need to say…
Tom? SYRYOSLY? Someone’s played some Magicka :-P
Jacob Weisberg thinks it’s serious, too. he also thinks it’s “brave”, “radical” and “smart” and that, should they embrace this, the GOP could become an “intellectually serious party” with a “coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government”.
Fortunately, we are talking about a political system connected to a large group of people that have known relative comfort for generations now. Deceptive Political language can only take you so far, until the deprivations and failures begin to occur relative to the large group peoples recent experience. When their brains turn on from all it’s long atrophy, and they want some answers related to the truth.
I could be wrong, for sure, but in this particular country, actions speak louder than propaganda, and we come mostly from practical Euro stock, by and large, and those that didn’t originate from that continent, come from situations much worse with solid life experience of everything being or turning to shit. We generally call them minorities, and it is no accident, these experienced folks of cruel leaders and circumstances, by and large, flock to the dem party as voting citizens. And avoid the GOP like the plague.
I don’t support substituting false content of political speech for fighting our fight with the wingnuts that do support it. I do support fierce sustained messages from dems of what the right wing is up to and about, and none of us should rhetorically unilaterally disarm any word or term that is accurate, imo. And use of clear articulation that is sustained and fact based on possible solutions.
It is not easy crawling in the sewer to fight your opponent in this war of ideas, and not get your self covered in the same human waste. It is the oldest political bait and switch from the eons. Set up shop in the lowest possible denominator, drag your opponent in there with you. Then jump out of that low place and point a finger at the equal or greater depravity, of your opponent.
We have to fight them on the battlefields they have chosen, but we keep the truth as an ally, even when people won’t listen to it, or accept it, with the faith it will win out in the end. We can still call them lying sonsabitchs at every turn. And use their own actions against them without prejudice, nor sentimentality/
@ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. But it’s clear that when you are paying by the foolish and incoherent word, you’re going to get a lot of jibberish.
A personal favorite Orwellism:
“We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
The man was a prophet.
Gahaha, blind loyalty trap sprung! Your party started the current budget negotiations with the position “of course there must be cuts, big cuts, except for the military, and raising any tax is out of the question”. The Democratic Party, especially Barack Obama, is center-right. I have no idea how they could make that more clear.
Funny how compassion and sympathy are considered emotions that impair your judgment and that you’ve got to do away with, but revenge bloodlust (post-9/11 => Iraq War), envy (the hate for union workers), greed (see Wall Street), pride (the obsessive need for everything to be “really American”) and a whole host of other such emotions get a total pass no matter how many times they drive the car off the cliff.
Want to judge how serious someone is? First, ask what they think of flat tax rates.
Then ask what they think of speeding fines in places like Sweden and Finland where the amount of the fine is based in part on how fast you were going and in part on how much you earn. For a person that earns $20,000/yr, a $200 speeding ticket is more than half a week’s paycheck. If you add two zeroes onto the income, you’ll need to do the same for the fine to have the same deterrent effect. Someone who makes $2,000,000/ yr may pay a $20,000 ticket for speeding the same amount.
If they think “flat taxes” are great but flat fines aren’t, they are very serious indeed.
Precisely the truth.
And yet this blog continues to analyze, scrutinize, examine, poke, probe, turn upside down and shake, and otherwise fixate upon their every utterance, searching for…….what, exactly?
Serious proposal, brave alternated with courageous, pronounced the political elitists minutes after (and possibly before) Ryan unveiled his monstrosity. None had but the vaguest idea what it all entailed. They may have noticed it was screwing Medicare/Medicaid users but giving them another tax break. Alrighty then, we’re good to go.
@Pliny: What planet are you on? Obama suggested military cuts. The right’s been whining non-stop.
It’ll look cooler if you write it Late2tehPartay!
It’s like watching someone masturbate to tranny porn.
Bad enough that you’re abusing yourself to the image of perfection. But the damn thing is so fake and doctored – I mean anyone with two minutes of economic experience could tell you that Paul Ryan’s dolled up little beauty isn’t even a real girl!
@Chris: Oh yeah, completely agree. The speeding fines just came up in conversation the other day with someone I know is pro-flat tax.
(Some of my Swedish friends call me Mikka (after F1 driver Hakkinen) instead of Mike after I drove them from Telefonplan to Kista.)
“Serious” means pro-violence. It can be physical violence or economic violence, but someone relatively powerless is going to get hurt. Hard. Remember that all the “serious” pundits were for the Iraq invasion, too.
I’ve seen “courageous” a couple of times, too. Um, no.
I’m good with “pro-pain” as a more general phrase.
In international relations, those same guys call themselves “realists:” it allows them to suggest ugly and murderous courses of actions under the cloak of “oh, it must be done.” “Serious people” is just a broader version of that.
It is worth asking, what is the opposite of “Serious?” In what direction lies non-seriousness? Reading between the lines of our pundits it is quite clear that the opposite of Seriousness is Sentimentality, which consists of being too emotionally engaged with those who must endure pain for their own good to inflict on them what must be inflicted.
American pundits use the term “Serious” as a form of praise the same way Bolsheviks used the term “Iron”, which meant unflinching in their willingness to shed somebody else’s blood.
@Chris: Those were not emotions in the Christian Middle ages – those were mortal sins. Pride, envy, wrath, avarice, and the top of the list, too.
Those stupid peasants of the middle ageds had their heads screwed on right.
@MikeJ: The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges.
Barb (formerly Gex)
@MikeB: And invest in infrastructure and education. Long term seriouser.
@Chris: Those emotions are considered/coded stereotypically feminine. Hence, icky and wacky, not worthy of consideration when making rational decisions.
@catclub: Glorious quote. Should carve that one over the desk.
Seriously, this hurts you more than me. Sounds about right.
Interpreting republican/conservative/tea party and village code language gives me a headache. There’s always something stinky going on when people can’t talk straight.
@D. Mason: I saw what you did there :D.
@MikeTheZ: Nah. Just channeling the zeitgeist.
That’s almost always true, but this time, it’s true by a kind of ricochet. Pundits have an image in mind: politicians always say what they think you want to hear. Being “Serious” in the way the term gets used in politics means, IMHO, “willing to say something that you’re not going to like hearing.” Proposing to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security; those are Serious because everyone knows that those are the paradigmatic free goodies that politicians use to curry favor. Proposing to cut taxes: that’s actually not Serious, because there’s no downside.
Then again, when Jimmy Carter spoke about the need to rework energy policy–let alone Al Gore–did they get points for being Serious? Hell no!
Therefore Serious means “willing to cut social welfare programs,” and pundits reward politicians who act Serious because they still think that too many politicians make promises to dish out goodies. And that’s where the “sentiment” part comes back into play. You’re Serious if you’re not being like a 1968-era “bleeding-heart,” because, pundits think, that’s such a cheap and easy way to get yourself elected to something.
This is also why pundits fell for the Scott Walker crackdown on public employees.
Wake the fuck up, pundits. It’s not fucking 1968 anymore.
Oh man, Sullivan is just trolling Balloon Juice now:
“…the past fiscal recklessness makes some cruelty a mathematical necessity.”
The math simply demands cruelty!
A. “Brookses” and “Sullivans”, not “Brooks’s” and “Sullivan’s”
B. Is any of Fred Astaire’s tissue cryogenically preserved? Because we will be able to clone human beings one day, and please, please, please put him high on the list.
colleeniem beat me to it but, yes, in our culture, compassion and sympathy are girly and feminizing, but revenge, hate and envy are manly.
Even better, the “masculine” emotions don’t really count as emotions — they’re logical, reasoned responses. An “emotional response” is one of compassion or sympathy.
It’s so funny talking to right-wingers and seeing them insist that, for example, their desire for vengeance isn’t an emotional reaction, it’s totally logical and rational, and if you can’t see that, then you’re a fifth columnist who is trying to destroy America.
Nobody has yet mentioned another Serious term of praise heaped upon someone who promises “Cat Food For All”?
Nobody has mentioned the Orwellian warpage of “brutally honest” as used in modern politics?
Sort of expected more from this crowd.
Barb (formerly Gex)
If we throw out any preconceived ideas of what the opposite of serious is, by observing the people who use that word so much I can deduce the opposite of serious is SANE.
@greennotGreen: My mother the copyeditor sings your praises from beyond the grave.
I’ll fix. Thanks. I always get this one wrong, perhaps from a childhood love of apostrophe’s….;)
Serious: Cutting the top rate on all income over $100,000 to 25%, as a part of a deficit reduction plan. We have to shut down Medicare, Medicaid, and gut Social Security to fund massive tax breaks for the wealthiest.
Very, very serious.
@Barb (formerly Gex):
And don’t forget eliminating mortgage deductions.
Durned insightful. And what’s with the word fads? Like Orwell’s “hotspot, etc.,” freaking “serious” has lost any meaning for anyone, now that pundits like Sully use it for their own semantic reasons. At best, it’s now a generic modifier indicating the speaker’s approval of a conservative politician. Upthread, someone pointed out that Palin recently used it twice to refer to Ryan.
Makes me think of “gravitas.” Prior to 2000, no one used it or knew what it meant, but once introduced by the Bush/Cheney campaign to describe what Cheney supposedly added, the word got real popular real fast. Jon Steward did a good bit on it.
Similar thing happened with “mandate” in 2004. Now it’s the word “serious.” Anyone using it to describe a politician is a fad chaser, plain and simple.
Also, thanks for plugging my very favorite article on writing. There’s nothing like Orwell berating you to write better. (And thanks for heeding greennotGreen’s suggestion. The juxtaposition with Orwell’s essay was making me grit my teeth.:)
I kind of want to frame this.
I think the next part of the quote is just as good.
Great. Now I can’t edit my own writing mistakes. What’s up with that?
Are you somehow not part of “this crowd?”
Are you feeling it yet?
The Reconstructed Compassionate Glibertarians like Sully and EDK are going to cleverly disguise free market solutions as “Free Market Plus” or “New and Improved Free Market”… so they can get a do over.
Ryan is just running interference to make their positions look relatively sane.
That is the true meaning of “Serious Conservative Policy”….so radical it makes the other wingnuts look sane by comparison.
I’m surprised that the goopers haven’t discovered Herbert Spencer yet. He’s just the ticket for rationalizing any damn thing you want.
Oh wait. That site I linked to calls itself the Online Library of Liberty. Maybe the Kochs are just waiting for the right moment to spring this stuff on us.
And these are the same guys who will tell everyone that “but we are compassionate, we want to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and heal the sick and help the weak, we just don’t want the government to use our money to do it because, because, because (furiously looking for an excuse other than “because then we’d actually have to do it”).”
By the way, here’s a pretty good one:
Huh. They’d better hope the godless commies are right about there not being a God. Cause the one they say they worship has a few things he’d like to say to them.
Oh, fuck you, WP.
@Delia: FYI, “Online Library of Liberty” is in fact the project of a wingnutty publisher based in Indiana, “Liberty Fund.” They do a nice job preserving 18th-century moral and political philosophy, and selling nice-looking and cheap books, but the whole enterprise is essentially a loss-leader with the aim of reminding everyone about how much we all should cherish the Western traditions of Liberty.
Besides “serious”- implying that only dirty hippies giggling on The Pot could oppose destroying Medicare- how about, “We need to have an adult conversation”, or “a grown-up conversation”. It’s a similar hijacking of language, framing those who opposes the ongoing massacre of the middle class as spoiled, petulant children, wanting a pony. It’s so smug and snide and dismissive.
We’re all just selfish little horrors, like Veda in “Mildred Pierce”.
@Davis X. Machina: Well put. I come here for exactly that perfect pitch irony.
And may Sullivan rot in hell.
@Midnight Marauder: Well, I very include myself in this crowd. But you may not recognize me, as I have a high lurk rate. It’s natural when everything I want to say I usually find posted here before me. And usually said better. (Hell, I even got beat to the punch saying the above on the recent thread about the commenter community here.)
Looking at my original, I did manage to cross-post with Mnemosyne, a minute before me, An “emotional response” is one of compassion or sympathy. on much the same wavelength.
“Brutally honest” is the compliment paid to the Walkers and Ryans whose solutions to whatever financial issues we may have now are destroying something (bargaining rights, Medicare and SocSec, that weak sauce financial reform law) the effects of which are far-off, minuscule, counter-indicated, or totally unrelated. So, our Serious media have narrativized (is that a word) that right-wingers are brutally honest with facts, whereas all the graphs and charts in the world can’t make lefties do anything but “feel” with “emotions”.
It is now a perfectly Orwellian term, bereft of meaning.
Serious is code for bullshitter.
If they called out the crap that comes out of their mouths bullshit then everyone would know without having to think about it. It’s misdirection, just like a magician. Smoke and mirrors. IOW, Bullshit. They know it, we know it, they just hope enough people don’t catch a whiff before they get to set it on fire on your front porch.
@MikeJ: Obama has mentioned lots of things. He mentioned protection for whistleblowers, trying terrorist suspects in courts, and ending the civil liberties abuses of the Bush Administration. How have those turned out?