Monday, May 01, 2006


I was reading another vitriolic piece on the opinion page, this time about the vigilantes (oh, now there's a slanted word for you) patrolling the Mexican border. About three lines in the term "racist" was used, and it suddenly clicked that there were words which, when used, never led to a productive argument. I started searching my brain for these words, and came up with a partial list: homophobe, abortionist, racist, Islamofascist, sexist, hate (in various forms). I then began wondering, why do people continue to use words which are almost guaranteed discussion stoppers? It's not because they want to persuade their opponents, because they have a clear, immediate, and opposite effect, yet the terms do not qualify as run of the mill insults, because specific words are strongly linked to specific sides of the political arena.

I believe that these words are triggers, used to stop discussion. Trigger words seem to be a signal to the members of a group to stop listening to what the other side is saying. When the opinion makers want to stop a discussion from continuing, branding the other side with a trigger word effectively tells the opinion-takers that continued discussion is pointless.

Why should this be? In my experience, more of these words appear on the left-wing side of the debate. Much of that influence could be from my own right-wing tendencies, so I am blind to the vitriol of my side, however, trigger words could be the result of Engel's doctrine of false consciousness still permeating the left of the political spectrum. False consciousness, for a short summary, means that people can be so permeated by their ideology that they can no longer see that it is an ideology and reason intelligently. Thus the right, which has no doctrine declaring the perpetual irrationality of its opponents, cannot so easily close discussion.

Whether my theory of the origins of trigger words is accurate or not, watch the opinion pages and letters to the editor for trigger words. You'll find them everywhere.


Blogger Noumenon said...

Article today about Iraqis fleeing Baghdad. A Sunni found written on her wall in red: REJECTIONIST. That is what the Shiite extremists call them. The label has a denotation, but what it means is, "You are my enemy." Argument over.

I agree that the left uses harsher labels, with the exception of "traitor" (but you should see Quick Takes' "Rush Limbaugh Digest" some time). I think this is because the left wins ground by accusing their opponents of being malicious, while the right attacks the left for being weak. Both effective tactics, but one uses more acid.

9:13 AM  

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