Introduction To Discourse Analysis

In this post I discussed a paper by T. J. van Dijk, Ideology and Discourse Analysis, available here. focusing on his summary remarks on ideology. In this post I look at Discourse Analysis which is van Dijk’s specialty. Analyzing language is a common tool. Here’s an example from the New York Review of Books:

… On December 30 an editorial in London’s Sunday Times spluttered:

After more than four decades in the EU we are in danger of persuading ourselves that we have forgotten how to run the country by ourselves. A people who within living memory governed a quarter of the world’s land area and a fifth of its population is surely capable of governing itself without Brussels.

The many unanticipated problems with Brexit are diagnosed by the Sunday Times writer as a loss of confidence, perhaps accompanied by a faulty memory—something happening not just to people but to “a people.” The implication of the indefinite article, with its baggage of Romantic Nationalism, is clear. Britons, as Rule Britannia triumphantly puts it, “never, never, never shall be slaves.” The underside of nostalgia for an imperial past is a horror of finding the tables turned.

The writer, Hari Kunzru, picks apart the language to show the bias of the spluttering Sunday Times editorialists, and we who are not involved in Brexit can just as easily see Kunzru’s framework. Brexit has become an emblem of an ideological struggle between Leavers and Remainers, and the two writers come from different camps.

Two asides. First, neither writer acknowledges a fact central to the perspective of the Leave Camp: British rule over a quarter the world turned out really badly for millions of people. Kunzru’s failure to note this might indicate that he shares the perspective to some extent. Second, it’s really bizarre to think that the essential element of Brexit is self-government. Just think how efficient it is to spread the cost of rule-making across the EU instead of having to do it all yourself, from scratch. Also, given the actual results of regulation, mostly beneficial to the average citizen, it’s fair to see the Times position as preferring more money and power go to corporate interests for the benefit of the rich.

And here’s an example from the standpoint of a practitioner, Lee Atwater:

Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

These examples illustrate the points made by van Dijk. Ideologies are the beliefs, assumptions and knowledge shared by a community and used to talk and think about a set of social issues. The underlying beliefs, assumptions and knowledge are not discussed directly. Instead, the speaker operates with them as if his listeners share them so that acknowledgment is unnecessary.

Van Dijk identifies several formal aspects of analysis needed to decipher the texts. He starts with context. The language chosen by a writer for a text depends on the expected reader.

The second formal aspect is the meaning readers ascribed to the text. Readers’ understanding is influenced by their perception of the events and situations under discussion, the mental models they construct to handle data. These perceptions may also be colored by ideological bias.

Context and meaning are personal and subjective. The third formal aspect, knowledge, is not. Members of an ideological group share specific knowledge as a given. Inside the group, this knowledge is not perceived as ideological, rather as a fair picture of social or physical reality, and it’s uncontroversial.

For example, progressives know that climate change is caused by human activity, mostly the burning of fossil fuels. That knowledge is shared widely among progressives, so that failure to acknowledge it is disqualifying. That bit of knowledge reflects the tip of an iceberg of the kinds of things that progressives know, including on general acceptance of the way science is practiced today, reading they’ve done, and the acceptance of certain persons as authoritative. Progressives also do not trust the exploiters of fossil fuels to tell the truth about their product because they have actively concealed the results of their own studies for years. This forms the basis for the knowledge, rather than the underlying data but it is nevertheless knowledge of the sort van Dijk describes.

There is a vocal minority which includes a number of politicians who “know” that climate change is not caused by human activity, and is certainly not the result of burning fossil fuels. They have read different articles, they listen to other authoritative figures, including those in the pay of the fossil fuel industry, and many distrust the scientific method. This view constitutes knowledge in their community. They also know that the vast majority of scientists are liberal tools.

When these communities interact on the issue, they are not capable of working together. It’s particularly disturbing that meta-arguments, such as the precautionary principle (“… it is the responsibility of an activity-proponent to establish that the proposed activity will not (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm”), don’t solve the dilemma. The rationales offered by one camp simply do not register with the other.

The fourth formal aspect of discourse analysis is group beliefs. Van Dijk gives as an example a belief shared by racists, white superiority. Within a group of racists this belief becomes akin to knowledge. Attitudes are similar. They are part of a belief structure, but instead of totality, as “the white race is superior to all other races”, they are partial as “almost all white people are superior to people of other races”.

Each of these can be seen in the examples. UK Leavers have a shared knowledge of “sovereignty” that is not shared by the Remainers. The Times editorialist uses that knowledge to make indirect nostalgic arguments. If the writer had been forced to describe the nature of the sovereignty he wants, he would expose the problem with his position, and have to make completely different arguments. In light of the shared understanding of a historical Britain valiantly defying Hitler and saving the world and without acknowledging England’s horrifying colonial past, he gets the benefit of an emotional argument that makes it unnecessary to deal with the hard reality of Brexit.

Atwater makes this strategy clear. His readers know the codes and follow the racist argument. Those who follow him often hide their racism from themselves by cloaking themselves in some kind of shiny armor of economic righteousness.

I do not currently intend to take up discourse analysis in detail. For my purposes, it’s enough to describe a basic structure, to note that it is a reasonably well-known idea, and to remember that close reading is necessary to expose the ideological content of a text.

62 replies
  1. e.a.f. says:

    Back to that article where the comments were about popcorn and tomato soup, its a tad more fun, no offense. o.k……

  2. jaango says:

    I come at this discourse, from the standpoint that I am Yaqui/Apache/Chicano/Military Vet, from here in my wonderful Sonoran Desert.  And given my current history of this past 500 years, today, my America, must contend with the following stereotypes:

    1.  The Native American Stereotype is:  “He’s just another white man.”

    2.  The Latino Stereotype is:  “El gringo quere componer todo con su ‘I’m Sorry!'”

    3.  The European American Stereotype is:  “I don’t care…I’ll be dead…So, what’s your point?”

    And it’s from this obvious standpoint that is today’s toxicology of ‘distraction, denial and deflection’, we, as a nation will survive despite any inconsequential memes that are hell-bent of self-justification.  Consequently, Mama Sanita’s Common Sense remains pace-setting in “decency personified” and thusly, a challenge to all of us. 

    Of course, a tad of satire, will emblazon the Brexit fans, once the oncoming train of  an Indigenous Trade Agreement is established and ‘married’ to the European Zone.  And subsequently, the Brexit-Tears become the next economic orphan and which completes the public discourse, over the next twenty years. 

    And in closing, ‘reality’ found at the ballot box, is now being shared, when writer Victor Hanson describes my skill set for “minority privilege” or further, my detractors describe my ‘faux academics.’  And needless to say but I will, non-military vets describe me as a “second class citizen” due to my empathy for “I’ll rip your heart out and feed it to you” but then, and speaking for Chicano military vets, writ large, our political non-violence, as per the second tangent of COINTELPRO, has stood our America in good stead.  And of course, we don’t do “zero tolerance.” An yes, I do have access to the “eye on the wall” intelligence gathering service, and which is the Third Rail of COINTELPRO.

  3. Anvil Leucippus says:

    Now if only someone were smart enough to weaponize this method by leveraging the power of technology! Identify the sides of a conversation and the meatiest ways of talking about it, then take advantage of the nature of social media to get it in front of millions of people at once. I bet you could apply some sort of influence to the topic, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.

  4. Democritus says:

    I am loving this article, and the aspects of language it’s getting into, like code switching of a sort, but deeper…

    I had one issue this paragraph

    “For example, progressives know that climate change is caused by human activity, mostly the burning of fossil fuels. That knowledge is shared widely among progressives, so that failure to acknowledge it is disqualifying. That bit of knowledge reflects the tip of an iceberg of the kinds of things that progressives know, including on general acceptance of the way science is practiced today, reading they’ve done, and the acceptance of certain persons as authoritative. Progressives also do not trust the exploiters of fossil fuels to tell the truth about their product because they have actively concealed the results of their own studies for years. This forms the basis for the knowledge, rather than the underlying data but it is nevertheless knowledge of the sort van Dijk describes.”

    Hurt my Aspie brain.

    In that last sentence, this? This what? All of the examples above? If so shouldn’t that be these all, or All of these examples… otherwise it seems to only be referrencing progressives skepticism of Exxon

    Sorry it just threw my brain for a loop, like back in school when unspecific directions were given and everyone else understood, and I’m back going wait what did that mean ;-). (In other words this complaint may not hold true for nuerotypical people, so maybe not a big deal)

    Ignoring my quirk, wonderful article

    And also the comment above, Anvil, isn’t that what Cambridge Analytica psychographic profiles are for? And they have the info from Facebook?

      • Democritus says:

        Oh , you are very gracious and kind.  I’m sure the issue is me, but thanks for clarifying so I wasn’t left wondering if I had figured it out right or missed something.  I hate thinking I missed the point :)

        A wonderful post, I learned some new ideas and, even better, terminology to go look up when I’m inclined. Thanks!

  5. AitchD says:

    The rhetorical drift from the more or less original phrase, ‘global warming’, to the now-preferred ‘climate change’, appears to be more ideological than rhetorical. Or maybe I’m substituting ideological for science’s public relations issues.

    • Arj says:

      ’Global warming’ can be misleading, since the result is often exceptionally cold conditions – as was demonstrated by one of Trump’s tweets recently.  ‘Climate change’ has an unfortunate euphemistic tone though, as if we were just expecting some refreshingly different weather.

      • Tom says:

        I recall that “global warming” was the term that was originally used when this debate first entered the public realm as it best described what is actually happening–the Earth’s average temperature is increasing due to human activity.    Those people who denied the validity of the scientific evidence supporting global warming began using the term “climate change” as it sounded more innocuous and allowed them to claim that climate change is no big deal because Earth’s climate has always changed.   I prefer the description “global warming” because that’s what’s happening and all too quickly.

        • Arj says:

          There’s no disputing (well ja, there is, from certain quarters) the overall rise in temperature (warmer climate), though sometimes we get colder weather as a short-term effect; we know some folk are confused, or choose to be, by the apparent contradiction.  If there were any mileage in it for the ‘Pubs it would routinely be described as a ‘crisis’ now – which it surely is, unlike the touted assault on the southern border.

        • Rayne says:

          The term “climate change” was used in the mid-1960s but “global warming” was a more specific symptom which could be easily seen in data and addressed in part by focusing on greenhouse gases. Global warming is a subset of climate change since global warming refers to surface temperatures while climate change addresses all other effects of anthropogenic mechanisms, like acid rain and ocean acidification, shifts in jet stream above and thermohaline circulation below ocean surface, so on.

  6. jaango says:

    I offer my Tip of the Hat to you for bringing forth this “discourse analysis” thread.

    Take, for example, Facebook and other similarly situated entities on the Internet are “editorial” platforms via today’s technologies. And in this vein of thought, a graduate course in this subject area is important, and to the extent that I am hopeful that a Democrat will be elected in the next presidential cycle, is my hopeful exercise. And if so, will this president be politically astute for this Grand Behavior and where she will establish a Saturday Morning’s Bloggers Conference. If so, our discourse analysis will be much more enhanced and even more important, Thoughtfulness is the rue of the day for the Assorted Argumentations.

    Therefore, my consolation prize is on the is discourse analysis being performed at the Federalist Society, and all the follows from these legal manipulators while advocating on behalf of corporate America and for their ongoing Doctrine of Discovery platitudes.

  7. cfost says:

    Your two long quotations reminded me of their historical contexts. The ideologies leading up to the Brexit issue rose out of European colonialism, and the beliefs and knowledge that gave rise to it. Colonialism was essentially looting and pillaging of indigenous peoples, and without it Europe would not be wealthy— but that is not the nostalgic memory invoked by phrases like “British rule.”
    It is important to note that Atwater’s (and Nixon’s) Southern Strategy was a political response to LBJ’s voting and civil rights policies, which enraged many white southerners and caused the White Flight from the Democratic Party. A nudge is all those voters needed. If one adds a little economic difficulty, such as a recession or wage stagnation, then these voters are actively looking for an “other” to blame and act against.
    To me, these ideologies are like axioms: widely accepted and rarely questioned. But what, really, is “belief,” or “race,” or “knowledge?” We avoid such difficult inquiries at our peril. Otherwise, we find ourselves defending a lying, thieving President because we “believe God chose him.” Or we join our Northern Kentucky Catholic community in an annual trip to Washington DC to march against abortion because we are sure we are right, while simultaneously encouraging and teaching our children to be bigots and racists.
    Not that Europeans or Christians have a monopoly on such blindspot hypocrisy. It’s a human thing.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The spluttering of the Times of London is typical of its hard conservative bent.  In this case, it attempts to hide neoliberalism under the banner of nostalgia for lost imperial might.  The flip side of which the Times luxuriates in without mentioning, which is that its empire empowered the Brits to dictate terms of life to a quarter of the globe.  That’s not something that peculiar quarter of the globe wants to reinstate.  But reinstating it – through leaving the EU – is the unstated end of the Times’ piece.

    That’s a lie, the two have nothing to do with each other.  But the lie allows the Times to orchestrate support based on an emotional appeal, which it would use for another contemporary purpose.  Deception on a grand scale.

    The Times is not worried about the UK’s power to govern itself.  The UK is quite capable of that, although it would have to unseat the current government, which is mired in incompetence and frozen in disagreement.  No, the Times, like Trump in a different way, is attempting to achieve through Brexit priorities its patrons cannot achieve through normal governance.  It is trying to subvert that governance – to subvert government and the crown – to achieve its own ends.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, to succeed at revolt, the first thing we do is kill all the EU connections.

    The Times is merely borrowing a page from an old neoliberal playbook, one used throughout Latin America in the 1970s, as when the US violently unseated Chile’s Allende and imposed Pinochet in his stead.  To achieve its neoliberal priorities for the UK, which it cannot achieve through normal governance, it will happily have others endure over a decade of chaos and the misuse of hundreds of billions of pounds of scarce resources.  Its goal is to reinvent the legal, economic, political and social wheels on which the British Morris Minor now runs.  Small cost to pay for victory is what Kissinger would have said about Chile.

    • Valley girl says:

      EOH,  I was hoping you would comment here.  I have been trying to get a grip on Brexit, albeit on and off, since forever.  I remain totally confused as to where the truth is re: Brexit.  I doubt, in fact,  that there is a single “truth” that can it sum up.  Yes, there were nefarious actors in making the vote come about in the first place, e.g. Nigel Farrage, but I’ve read reports (correct or not) that his goal was to stir up trouble, and that he didn’t expect the Brexit vote to succeed.  Whatever.

      Apologies to Ed Walker, but I’m not convinced that the Times editorial is the sine qua non of the Brit Conservative position.  It’s way more complicated than that.

      Re: this

      Second, it’s really bizarre to think that the essential element of Brexit is self-government. 

      I actually don’t think that it’s bizarre to think that an element of Brexit is self-government.  But, I was just in England for a month, and this was the first time I learned about the perceived threat of becoming part of “a United States of Europe”.  It has a long history.

      This FT article is worth reading.

      Ed, re: this

      it’s fair to see the Times position as preferring more money and power go to corporate interests for the benefit of the rich

      However, this:

      A major area of support for remaining in the EU was centered on London. So-called Greater London comprises 7.5 million people and the greater metropolitan region has a population of approximately 21 million. The reach of the city extends into most of the South East part of the country and beyond.
      The city and its extended metropolitan dominate the nation. The wealthy, the influential, the movers and shakers live in the city; it is home to royalty, the political elites, those who control much of the making and moving of money. It is by far the most affluent part of Britain. London has emerged a global financial center attracting expertise and investment from across the globe and around Europe. London is hard-wired into the financial circuits of the EU and global economy

      After I get more thoughts together, I’ll add more. Hit the wall for now.

      • Rayne says:

        I think it’s incredibly important to look at Brexit and be aware of two things:
        — the population in the UK is very much like swing states in the U.S., polarized along key points, and
        — wedge issues (ex. race/ethnicity, national identity, economic anxiety) were manipulated out of sight by entities including Cambridge Analytica/SCL to increase polarization in a way that distorts perceptions within the UK and without.

        Farage deliberately lied about Brexit as did the rest of the Brexiteers in order to persuade the public to vote for an illegitimately-funded initiative.

        It really doesn’t matter what the many issues are different factions will offer as the reasons why the referendum flipped toward Brexit by a mere couple of percent.

        What matters is that the country is racing headlong into catastrophe, pushed there by the very same forces which propelled the US toward Trump’s presidency: Russian money and American resources backing theft of personal data used to target leaning voters to vote against their national interests.

        Only need to read the work of Carole Cadwalladr with the Guardian, CA/SCL whistle blower Christopher Wylie, Leave whistle blower Shahmir Sanni, and American academic David Carole to understand what happened. In doing so the methodology by which the same Russian money and American resources worked to make Trump president illegitimately become obvious.

        • Rayne says:

          Here’s Farage admitting the morning after the referendum that he lied to the UK’s public about the money the UK sent each year to the EU; he had claimed that the money would be put back into the NHS, beleaguered financially by excessive austerity.

          Here’s the bus he and Michael Gove and other Brexiteers used to parade around to make their fallacious claim:

          UK bus w/Leave campaign's false NHS money claim

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I think Rayne’s comments are exactly right, particularly regarding the illegal abuse of the process by rightwing pro-Brexiteers, and the vulnerability of a portion of the population that voted for leave in the mistaken belief that it would result in greater resources both being available and being spent to meet their needs. Neither will happen.  Brexit will drain Britain for two decades and cost hundreds of billions of pounds to reinvent the wheel, in part leading to the sale of public resources to vulture capitalists at fire sale values. Decades of pro-labor and pro-consumer regulation will be tossed into the dustbin.

        Two examples were Brexiteers’ promised greater funding for the NHS and schools.  Neither will happen.  Brexiteers want them privatized.  The normal playbook to achieve that is to underfund, induce complaints, dissatisfaction and failure, use the failure to justify privatization.  The usual results of that are more expensive but less health care and education, and fewer people involved in determining priorities (e.g., neutered unions).

        She is also spot on in identifying the critical work by Carole Cadwalladr at the Guardian/Observer, and in identifying the connection between those driving Brexit, Trump’s patrons, and the patrons of the hard right elsewhere, such as Hungary and Poland.  Nakedcapitalism and its commentators have been following this issue closely.

        Post-Brexit, the UK will be lucky to remain the union of England and Wales.  The Scots and Irish will be happy to use the experience to say a great big FY to the UK.

      • Ed Walker says:

        I do think it’s bizarre to put a mythical sovereignty of the nostalgic sort exploited by the Times editorialists and the entire Brexit community ahead of all other interests in today’s world. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I have always loved Herodotus’ story of the Kimmerians, Histories, Book IV, Sect. 11:

        There is however also another story, which is as follows, and to this I am most inclined myself. It is to the effect that the nomad Scythians dwelling in Asia, being hard pressed in war by the Massagetai, left their abode and crossing the river Araxes came towards the Kimmerian land (for the land which now is occupied by the Scythians is said to have been in former times the land of the Kimmerians); and the Kimmerians, when the Scythians were coming against them, took counsel together, seeing that a great host was coming to fight against them; and it proved that their opinions were divided, both opinions being vehemently maintained, but the better being that of their kings: for the opinion of the people was that it was necessary to depart and that they ought not to run the risk of fighting against so many, 14 but that of the kings was to fight for their land with those who came against them: and as neither the people were willing by means to agree to the counsel of the kings nor the kings to that of the people, the people planned to depart without fighting and to deliver up the land to the invaders, while the kings resolved to die and to be laid in their own land, and not to flee with the mass of the people, considering the many goods of fortune which they had enjoyed, and the many evils which it might be supposed would come upon them, if they fled from their native land. Having resolved upon this, they parted into two bodies, and making their numbers equal they fought with one another: and when these had all been killed by one another’s hands, then the people of the Kimmerians buried them by the bank of the river Tyras (where their burial-place is still to be seen), and having buried them, then they made their way out from the land, and the Scythians when they came upon it found the land deserted of its inhabitants.

  9. Semanticleo says:

    Forgive my effort to oversimplify this debate but can anyone relate a single example of human benefit to the place called Earth?

    Please include behaviors that separate humans from viral infections.

    • gadfly says:

      Michael Crichton writes all we need to know about our relationship to our God-given place on Earth. First the short version:

      ““You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity.”

      And the longer look-see that shows what tiny pissants we are in the scheme of things:

      “Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There’s been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away — all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. Do you think this is the first time that’s happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn’t have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we’re gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”

      • Rayne says:

        Nice to see you again, gadfly. Just an FYI: long unbroken expanses of text are difficult to read on mobile devices. Please consider breaking into smaller paragraphs — 100 words is optimum. In this case because it’s a long quote (441 words) and probably copyrighted material, breaking out smaller chunks to quote and evaluate will be easier to read and not violate copyright. Thanks.

    • Rayne says:

      Unless you believe an entity or consciousness created earth as its own entity and everything on it for earth’s or the entity/consciousness’ purpose, this is a moderately unique rock flying through space on which life has formed through a series of accidents.

      The conscious beings identifying themselves as humanity now have a choice to continue to live as they have and reach the limit of this rock’s ability to support them, or exercise their consciousness and restrain themselves to live within the limits this rock provides. The rock will continue to fly through space for millions of years until another accident like an asteroid or the sun’s mortal expansion, caring not if humanity remains in occupancy or not.

      • Semanticleo says:

        As George Carlin related Earth will be shed of humans like a head cold when necessary.  It will survive but so do viruses.😎

        • Tom says:

          And perhaps there are Others out in the vast emptiness of Space, possessing “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic.”

  10. BobCon says:

    The Atwater quote is telling, because he is not just talking about the understandings between a speaker and a listener. He’s also describing how arguments aren’t made in a vacuum, they are made in arenas, and the rules of the arena heavily influence the results.

    When it comes to Brexit or climate change, the rules of the playing field first dictate that they are even issues to be debated. The media doesn’t entertain debates on the existence of the US Navy or the Interstate Highway system. They are givens. And likewise, the media doesn’t entertain the possibility of a serious effort to address housing, education and jobs for the permanent underclass in the US.

    Why does Brexit get elevated to the level of debate-worthy, as opposed to something like a major new public housing program? Public housing has longstanding advocates, it’s a serious issue, and yet it gets no bandwidth from the media.

    Likewise, why is climate change considered debateable in the way the US Navy is not? Why aren’t climate change deniers starved of air the way people who might suggest cutting $100 billion a year from the US Navy are not even considered worth being at the table?

    When debates are aired in public arenas, it’s worth not only doing a close reading of the things speakers say. It’s worth asking what those things say about the rules of the arena — what they allow to be said, and why. And returning to Atwater, his argument revealed something about the rules of the arena then and now. The media doesn’t consider racism untenable as long as the language stays within certain boundaries.

  11. allison holland says:

    This is just a long article on newspeak about trigger words belonging to a group or subgroup that creates a wave of emotion rather than thought but then instantly translated to thought when speaking. I would just like to say that when I read about the wonderful way in which Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens blended and co joined and had babies together that as a woman i would like that to identified not as something intriguing and wonderful, even “amazing” that the two could love each other. I would like that to be acknowledged as most probably rape. Anthropology is as patriarchal as the judges in medford, oregon and frankly, my dears, that is saying a lot. I think a lot of these code words for promulgating group think are male dominated and should be seen as a constant call to adherence to one side in “powerful” defense for the strength of that unit rather than anything else in order to keep groups apart. Most mothers can cool a political debate by switching the subject to something in common.We have those code words and we use them, “recipe”, “sales”, dr. so and so’s hands… We switch because we want to. I dont think men have those code words. I love men. I find them to be more trustworthy maybe because they dont switch sides so easily.and say what they mean.

  12. OrionATL says:

    And if the “brexit” issues being debated heatedly in the nation have been generated, seeded, and grown within britain by a foreign power (the russian federation) inimical to britain, to its historical forms of government, to the economic well-being of its people,  and to its security/military alliances?

    In short, if a discussion is founded in propaganda intended to mislead?

  13. Tom says:

    @Allison at 4:05 pm above — I’m not being facetious but for a lot of men the code words are “hunting”, “fishing”, “NASCAR”, or any kind of sport or do-it-yourself project. And my experience has been that men are every bit as capable of avoiding unpleasant realities or inconvenient truths as anyone else.

  14. Chetnolian says:

    How amazingly patronising of you, Ed, to assume Hari Kunzru, whose parents were from Kashmir, doesn’t understand the history of the Empire. One might quite easily assume you to be guilty of what you are describing; in his case the usual American tendency to think you understand the British, which long experience of the USA and of this site convinces me is not quite as true as you think it is. Ask bmaz.

    • bmaz says:

      I can personally vouch for Chetnolian. And we have had numerous long discussions on the difference in perception on the two sides of the pond, on subjects from politics, culture, economics and even automobiles and the re=acing thereof. He knows his stuff across the board.

      And Chetnolian, I can also vouch for Ed, who I also know quite well, he knows his stuff too. He spends a fair amount of each year in France, so he too sees both sides of the pond.

    • Valley girl says:

      Hey Chetnolian,  I agree totally, without dissing Ed, about the American tendency to think think WE understand the British.  I lived in England for 10 years.  And I just spent a month with the extended family of dear friends, actually not so far from Chetnol.

      I have a comment awaiting moderation.  It may not meet with your approval, b/c I had a hard time writing it, but my underlying view is that the Brexit vote had a lot of dimensions to it, way more than a non-Brit can possibly understand.

  15. dwfreeman says:

    Quite honestly, I don’t find this extremely illuminating. From the beginning of language and written communication, humans have found ways necessary to communicate to each other in order to ensure support and survival. Coded language is the methodology used by all and it evolves as the need for message control and tolerance is altered by historical events and cultural change whether shaped directly by underlying state or authoritarian influence. The racial divide in our country was born at its founding by the economic underpinning of slavery and population subjugation as a method of enforcement. And we have never resolved that gnawing sin in the birth of our nation, but the language reflecting its maturing impact over time has shifted with the events that reshaped the manner in which we view that divide today. Our government, security agencies and politicians are arguably the greatest practitioners of coded language. And they use it to to control their message amongst themselves and their audience without translation. But we all do this in the communication to the people, groups and loved ones we connect with in our lives. And we all now how the process works regardless of how its interpreted.

  16. Chetnolian says:

    I stand by my view that Kunzru is the last man to fail to understand the evils of Empire. Probably the worst ongoing example of British arrogance still destroying lives is in Kashmir. Well perhaps except for Palestine! And I wholly accept Ed’s thesis. And I am not being entirely facetious when I say familiarity with French thinking is not necessarily a guarantee of understanding of what happens in Britain. Not least when confusing Britain with England. If I had a complete post I could explain! For those who don’t know me I am of course an extreme Remainer.

    • Valley girl says:

      See my comments above.

      And, totally agree and don’t see any facetiousness in your comment that understanding French thinking does not = understanding what happens in Britain.  They really are on different sides of the/a pond, albeit smaller, but significant nonetheless.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I heartily agree with the remain bit.  No matter how much the EU arrangement needs amending, it would be easy compared to maneuvering post-Brexit.  I also agree with the view that understanding France has SFA to do with understanding England or the UK (entirely different propositions).  Fog in Channel, Continent cut off, the wily oriental gentlemen begin at Calais and all that.

    • Ed Walker says:

      FWIW, I don’t claim to understand the politics of either France or England. I used that example beause Kunzru does an excellent job of dismantling the Times. I agree with EoH and Chetnolian that the consequences will be dire.

  17. Bobby Gladd says:

    @dwfreeman –

    I downloaded the referent paper. I will study it all fairly and closely (“Principle of Charity”), but, thus far I find it annoyingly obtuse. I can sling $50 words with the best of them, but, seriously? Not to assert that there isn’t a cogent core point — going to the difficulties in polemical interpretation of key words, phrases, and concepts. But, c’mon. A sentence. Or paragraph at most.

    Yeah, partisans tend to talk past each other and engage in dog-whistling. Got it.

    I trained in “argument analysis” (and legal reasoning/”construction”) in grad school, and then had the fun good fortune to teach “critical thinking” at my university. I know just a bit about “discourse.” (But, then, maybe I don’t truly know what the word means, lol.)

    The paper has a tone of “you just don’t get it” amid all the hifalutin’ foggery.

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Hari Kunzru piece Ed cites from the NYRB is excellent, if advanced criticism of Brexit.  Actually, I would call it Pre-Brexit, as in Before the Fall.  What comes after will make what came before appear to have been a Garden of Eden.  For a short time at least, I think the chaos will be of biblical proportions.  The fire and brimstone chaos disguised as muddling through will be used in a prototypical neoliberal way drawn virtually page-by-page from Naomi Klein and Philip Mirowski.

    An obvious underlying theme in Brexit, as in Trumpism, is racism.  I consider that both a motivator of disaffection and a way to dull the mind with hate, which will allow disaster capitalism to follow, outside the norms of normal governance. Pinochet without the bullets.  It’s not too late to stop Brexit – Yves Smith disagrees – but it will take nearly a miracle.  Best to try, though, as getting through unscathed the disaster capitalism Brexiteers are driving toward will take a miracle of a higher order of magnitude.

  19. Thomas says:

    Thanks very much for this exposition. Superbly done.

    This subject does get at the kind of analysis that I suggested should be done for the summaries of the 2016 email dumps on Wikileaks.

    IANA Linguist, but after reading those summaries, I strongly  suspected they were written by someone with a keen understanding of the messaging desired by the GOP during the election campaign.

    The emails and their summaries were curated to make them seem like an independent source had “unmasked” Clinton. The curation was also designed to fit Trump’s message.

    I say that the curation seemed to unmask Clinton because in fact, it did not. The underlying emails do not substantiate the claims in the summaries.

    Even where the emails seem to support the summaries, the underlying source cannot be trusted, because some of the emails were undoubtedly doctored (especially where they seem to put right wing talking points into Clinton’s mouth)

    It would require quite a lot of work (probably an algorithm) to search for strings in the summaries that coincide with right wing publications in order to narrow the likely author. However the kind of analysis you discuss here would undoubtedly be of service in creating such an algorithm. I do think the author has more credits.

    Aside from this content analysis, Ted Malloch stands out as a likely link in the chain of custody of the email cache. I say that because he had regular contact with Stone, Corsi and Nigel Farage AND because he is the author of the “Forensic analysis story,” about the DNC hack.

    He is the guy who concocted the (now debunked) analysis of the emails in which he claimed the files were not hacked but rather, downloaded to a flashdrive (the Seth Rich conspiracy).

    And why did he do that?

    There may be other intermediaries, but Malloch tried to peddle a story that was a cover for the Russian hack.

    My theory is that the GRU passed the email cache to an intermediary who curated the cache, wrote the summaries, and then passed it all to Wikileaks.

    I came to that conclusion reading the summaries and emails on Wikileaks. Again, IANA linguist, but I do not believe that Assange or the Russians wrote those summaries. The content suggests an intermediary.

    Given Assange’s fishbowl existence, I doubt he was the actual physical recipient. Other people work for Wikileaks.

  20. raginggranny says:

    This lurker says thanks for the discourse. Loved this post for many reasons. Not least because it recalls my shock and excitement when, in 1975, I left the trenches of social service and went back to school. There to find a fabulous sample semester of Systems Theory, Bergman’s Religious Films and Beginning Ballet. Tools and memes for understanding the larger world always welcome in my book.

    Speaking of which, may I recommend Jill Lepore’s new political history, THESE TRUTHS. Shows how slavery structures U.S. constitution and identity.

  21. Chetnolian says:

    Brexit is indeed complex and does involve some racism but actually more xenophobia. It is difficult to be racist against Poles, who are largely white and indistinguishable from Brits till they talk. But a very major element is the resurgence of Englhness, being exclusive of the rest of the UK, seen as numerically unimportant. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain.

    • Rayne says:

      Which is why I had said there were multiple wedge issues — including race/ethnicity, national identity, economic anxiety. Any of these issues about which 10-55% of the UK population outside Scotland and NI felt strongly, the Leave(dot)eu campaign and its sidekick BeLeave hammered on in messaging across all media, commercial and social, targeting those who had been identified as most susceptible to persuasion.

      As I’m sure you know (though most Americans don’t know), the amped-up xenophobia didn’t stop at recent non-English-speaking immigrants, persons of color, and refugees. The Windrush generation was targeted for deportation, breaking promises to them made decades ago, a policy both pointedly racist and on par with revoking DACA here in the U.S.

      What the Brexiteer monsters set loose has spilled over beyond merely leaving the EU. IMO, the UK hasn’t yet come to terms with the reason so many wealthy citizens supported Brexit — the promise of avoiding EU taxes, and parallel with the massive corporate tax cut passed this last year here in the U.S. They aren’t going to pay those taxes to the UK, either, and the NHS will continue to be starved of both its personnel by deportations and its funding. It’s the Shock Doctrine applied with Received Pronunciation.

      Our version will continue to sound like Trump. I wonder at what point the UK will recognize all the parallels between Trump’s policies and Brexit — more specifically, that Brexit is another form of wall, a moat shaped like a channel. This one will keep the EU out but starve the UK behind it.

  22. roberts robot double says:


    >> can anyone relate a single example of human benefit to the place called Earth?

    This entire universe, especially this beautiful Earth, is here for our use, but our level of self- and communal evolution determines whether we are using it wisely or destructively.

    >> Please include behaviors that separate humans from viral infections.

    To begin to understand this question one must approach it from our resemblance to our closest kin: the mammals. Our bodies are mammalian in nature, from our sexual structures to how our brains are organized. Only the outermost layer of our brains is uniquely human, which means that we have a great deal of mammalian tendencies to overcome, namely pack mentality and alpha-dominance tendencies. These traits can be seen in nearly all our problems: oppression of other groups (ethnicity, form of religion, sexual identity / preference, and political party), sexual aggression and misogyny, and backbiting, to name but a few. Luckily, the even deeper, lizardine (is that even a word?) structures of our brain are less commonly expressed, but they are the realm of the sociopaths and psychopaths who don’t even give a whit about any other human beings at all.

    That explains, in broad strokes, the nature of the pathologies that doom human beings to act as nothing more than intelligent, talented animals. To understand what separates us from the animals one must understand the capabilities and structures that differentiate us. The basic abilities include abstract thinking, communicating those abstract concepts, and advanced toolmaking and planning. The most important differentiator, however, is our in-built sense of morality and the free will to utilize our mental talents to choose according to that morality, or not. Our ability to choose the moral or amoral path is our greatest gift, as we are as free to behave as Hitler or Ted Bundy as we are to behave as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. Note that I’m only giving examples of the extremes of behavior, most people fall very close to the center of a bell curve where the person’s good traits are balanced by their bad traits, good being defined as selfless, compassionate tendencies and bad being defined as selfish, callous or hateful ones.

    Only with this fundamental understanding can our responsibility as a human being then begin to be grasped: to self-evolve ourselves into a perfect moral human being, to rise above our selfish mammalian and lizardine potentials and live for the benefit of the entire human society and the Earth itself. It is our collective lack of awareness and acceptance of this individual and collective responsibility that is both causing *ALL* our problematic personal and group dynamics, but is causing our societies themselves to be agents of mass misery and destruction, instead of the enlightened creators of worldwide happiness and prosperity. Note that the alphas of mammalian groups get the best food and most pleasure; due to our abstract reasoning ability, our packs are necessarily more abstract, like our wealth-based notion of class, not to mention the divisions I’ve already mentioned: ethnicity, form of religion, sexual preference / identity and political party.

    The fact is that our default individual setting is selfishness means that our groups default to the same. From another perspective, selflessness is the concern for others’ happiness above our own. Jesus’ prayer snippet “On Earth as it is in Heaven” is for the establishment of a mentality where everyone chooses to care about all others’ happiness as a direct part of living our lives. When that mentality is expanded beyond our living brethren, we then become caretakers of the Earth itself, eschewing our own endless greed for power and pleasure in the interest of preserving the Earth’s resources and environment for future generations.

    This all leads to the “Big Why” of it all, meaning our existence. The Creator of this magnificent creation is the Ultimate Loner, It being the Creator of time, space, dimension and the subtly mathematical laws that interrelate its perhaps two trillion ever-expanding galaxies. We are created with the ability to comprehend some small sliver of Its truly Unfathomable Nature, and the system we live within requires us to connect within to It to enable our full self-evolution. Sure, anyone can choose to live simply and for the benefit of others, but to really, physically transmute our inner vices into their corresponding virtues (there are 19 such pairs) we need to embark upon the inward spiritual path. Just as a human being’s physical body has a pattern of development from gestation to infancy to childhood to puberty to adulthood to decline and old age, we have a spiritual development path that has milestones along the way. The difference is that we must first accept the abstract concept of self-evolution via an inner connection with our Creator and then utilize our free will to consciously work towards selfless harmony with all of creation, a process that each form of religion facilitates (note that Scientology is not a religion, it is just a power structure borne of a liar’s manipulations, the truth of that statement being seen in its modus operandi and oppressive, destructive results).

    We are here to self-evolve ourselves such that we live to create happiness for others, and our all current problems are the proof of what happens when we live without this moral compass. As Wisdom says, “They are like the animals, only worse”, worse because they only use our unique abilities to wastefully acquire more selfish power for themselves and their groups. Blindly they thrash about, ever failing to fill that enormous void in their souls with pleasures when peace and happiness can only be gained by selflessly living for others.

    As we are the pinnacle of creation and are faced with the burden of helping *ALL* other human beings (who are not deliberately harming others) explore this mysterious universe in happiness alongside ourselves, we live under the most subtle of laws, the Law of Karma, that determines our happiness and unhappiness. We truly “reap what we sow” in that the inertia of our selflessness and selfishness determines our happiness and unhappiness. The universe’s system of karma is the feedback system it uses to nudge us towards human cooperation and away from animalistic competition. It is every person’s free choice to live in ignorance of this reality, but the abhorrent results of this worldwide ignorance are plain to see for those of us who have chosen to be educated and then consciously joined the fight against our own negative, selfish tendencies.

    Peace be with you all. I am at your service. This is a part of The Sufi Message of Unity and Compassion.

    “The Way goes in.” –Rumi
    “When you take one step towards God, God comes running.” –Sufi proverb

  23. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Re chetnolian, I don’t think skin color is a prerequisite to racism. The Germans displayed considerable anti-Slav racism in their day. But I agree with you that xenophobia more generally has been put to work by Brexiteers to fan the flames. As bad as that is, the promises of what dreams would follow Brexit are worse, as cynical as anything the so-called Christian right in the US has displayed in backing Trump to the hilt.

  24. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Yves Smith has been following Brexit from the start.  Here’s a good example of nakedcapitalismDOTcom’s work.  As commentator vlade put it at 05.26am:

    Since the whole premise of Brexit as it was sold to the electorate was based on impossible things, why stop now?

    Impossibilities, moreover, give politicians so much more freedom to invent stuff. Reality, as Alice’s Queen well knew, is so sooo booring and constraining.

  25. Cathy says:

    Illustrative examples well chosen! I found Atwater’s quote the most interesting. I interpret the framing of both the Brexit and the climate change items as examples of justifying or even hiding financial interests with language that invokes non-financial ideology.

    The Atwater quote appears to point to use of financial interest as a “cover” for a racist appeal in a larger discussion of political messaging. But what if the reference to “tax cuts,” apparently proposed as a coded message to euphemize race-baiting, signals a discussion of a deeper political influence operation: laundering an unpalatable aspect of actual tax cuts.

    If a majority of the electorate has no stomach for cutting taxes for wealthy political donors at their own expense, and polling indicates a significant portion of the electorate has race identity hang-ups, then efforts to equate tax cuts with maintaining racial superiority might encourage those voters to view ensuing tax cut legislation as a move that empowers them (rather than starving government services on which they may depend), conditioning them to accept the tax cut, which, after all, is only an “abstract” issue anyway.
    Convincing workers to identify with communities based on race/ethnicity instead of by economic class/interest has been a neoliberal go-to since before the term was coined. Atwater may be said to use both the knowledge and the beliefs (van Dijk’s formal aspects #3 and #4) of a group of voters to reinforce their perceived membership in a community that de-emphasizes political remedy for economic issues: assuring such listeners that even though the password to the club house has changed, they are still members. (“It’s just a password, Folks, no need to dwell on its literal meaning.”)

    In which case, all three examples may be using non-financial ideology justify / hide financial interests and it is neoliberalism that is the cuckoo in the nest.

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