Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A battle tactic of modern political rhetoric: "moving the goalposts"

Modern political rhetoric has a number of tactics that one can employ to confound one's enemies and bolster one's allies. "Moving the goalposts" refers to a rhetoric of subtly altering to one's benefit some key definition used in political debate. This works on the assumption that the mob mentality of a mass audience is in a perpetual state of being "born yesterday", in the sense that nobody of any political influence within that audience can be bothered to keep track of the shifting terms of a debate conducted in a public forum.

The run-up to the Iraq war was a good example of this. The Bush administration at the time was unloading data about Saddham Hussein's weapons programs on the public and making a vigorous case for an invasion of Iraq. Operating under the impression, whether rightly or wrongly, that the Bush administration's case for war was strengthing, the Democratic opposition to the war gradually moved the goalposts away from the administrations case. The reason for non-invasion gradually shifted from the future success of the inspections regime to the lack of evidence that Saddham Hussein had been developing nuclear weapons (as opposed to, say, chemical weapons), then to the lack of evidence that Saddham Hussein had test detonated a nuclear weapon, and then to the lack of evidence that Saddham Hussein's future nuclear arsenal was not deterrable by the United States' arsenal.

Here's another nice example referring to the debate over the meaning of the word "Islamofascist". Christopher Hitchens makes a good but imperfect attempt at a definition with:
The most obvious points of comparison [between fascism and Bin Ladinism] would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
According to Vox Day, this comparison is abysmally stupid. In his opinion, there are no Islamofascists because they do not advocate the political and social program of Benito Mussolini (author's hyperlink and emphasis):
There is virtually NO similarity between the historical Fascist program and the Islamic Jihad. One is nationalistic, the other international in scope. One is utterly indifferent to questions of morality, the other is obsessed with it. One is heavily based on economics and politics, the other is almost entirely concerned with religion.

Read Benito Mussolini's Fascist Manifesto. There is not a SINGLE ONE of the seventeen policies that would apply to radical Islam. Not one! I highly doubt any radical Muslim wants the secular state to seize all the possessions of the Islamic clergy or to grant women's suffrage; radical Islam is closer to the complete opposite of fascism than it is to being a form of it.
Osama Bin Ladin isn't fighting for the universal eight-hour work day? Oops, I guess he's not an Islamofascist after all.

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