Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Uses for Euphemism

It seems to me that if you want to do something nasty to another person, the easiest way to justify yourself is to not think about it at all. If your conscience starts to nag you, don't fight with it; just ignore it. Give it a zennish dismissal; tell yourself, "I'll have to think about that ... but later."

Of course, you can't always get away with this. Sometimes, obnoxious people will show up and ask you pointed questions about the nasty things you want to do. In this event, you can salvage your blissful ignorance by speaking abstractly. For a good example of this technique at work, listen to the following interview with Representative Thomas Tancredo (R-CO).


Tancredo thinks that we should pursue a stricter immigration strategy. First, we need to seal our southern border, and second, we need to deport the nearly 2 million illegal the illegal immigrants now living in the U.S. Wait, did I say 2 million? I meant 20 million. We need to deport the nearly 20 milion illegal immigrants now living in the U.S. Of course, Tancredo wisely avoids describing the situation this way:

ALEX CHADWICK: But aren't there millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in this country? What are you going to do with all those people?

REP. TANCREDO: The most conservative estimate I have ever heard is 13 million, but I, I think it's much closer to even 20 million people who are here illegally. And what are you going to do? You're going to enforce the law.

Pure genius! What sleight of hand! Notice how deftly Tancredo points us toward the black-and-white world of legality, drawing our attention away from the ethical messiness that we might otherwise have to deal with. Obviously, says Tancredo, the only question here is whether or not the law should be enforced. And of course the law should be enforced! Case closed!

But Chadwick was asking about about people. And while it's easy to agree with a generic "we should enforce the laws", it's a bit more difficult to agree with, "we should hunt down 20 million people, uproot them from their homes and send them back to whichever third-world nation they came from." It's even more difficult to say, "we should arrest my neighbor Joe and his wife Alma, evict them from their house, and ship their entire family back to Panama." Therefore, if you want to protect the borders of the United States of America, you shouldn't start thinking about these real people. Instead, speak in abstractions. It's much easier that way.

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