Friday, July 07, 2017

On Dog Whistles

A dog whistle, as I understand it, means an unspoken concept interpreted from words or phrases. As far as I can tell, there is no definitive lexicon for these, but their list is constantly growing.

For example, when Scott Brown was running for the Senate in Massachusetts, Howard Fineman found a dog whistle in Scott's truck.
Howard Fineman, the increasingly loopy editor of the increasingly doomed Newsweek, took it a step further. The truck wasn’t just any old prop but a very particular kind: “In some places, there are codes, there are images,” he told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. “You know, there are pickup trucks, you could say there was a racial aspect to it one way or another.”
With long time Internet and occasionally in person amigo WC Varones, I engaged in a conversation with a progressive on this topic today. I think I finally hit upon a way of discussing it that was disarming. I put myself in the position of the person hearing the dog whistle and the other guy as the one whose speech was being deconstructed beyond recognition.

The crucial questions:

  • Why should you have to live in fear of me assigning intentions, thoughts or attitudes towards you that aren't in what you spoke? 
  • If I am allowed to come up with my own, personal dictionary of dog whistles, how self-important do I have to be to think that you should learn my dictionary and you should care about it?
  • Why are you responsible for my emotional stability?
Maybe that's good enough to make the point without accusing or demeaning the other person.

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