Friday, August 26, 2011

"Inflationary Hearing"

This is one of those “know it all” posts, which you can skip, if you don’t care for that kind of thing, at the risk, of course, of missing out on some startlingly transformative insight. It’s up to you.

One of my all-time favorite comedians is Victor Borge. Borge emigrated from Denmark and, as he said in his act,

“There was a time, after I’d been in America for a while, when I’d forgotten all my Danish, but I hadn’t learned any English.”

For me, that sets the standard for surreal and breathtakingly original comedy.

Borge continually interrupted his intention to play the piano with humorous observations and “set piece” comedy bits, among them, a comedy routine he called, “Inflationary Language.”

The premise of “Inflationary Language” was that, as a result of inflation, the price of everything had gone up. Borge believed that our language had not kept pace with this reality, and as a result, the words we used required commensurate inflating.

He demonstrated how this would work with a rather dry reading, during which he reformulated words by “inflating” their numerical components. “Forehead” now became “five-head.” “Wonderful” became “two-derful.” And “Anyone for tennis” was inflated to “Any two five eleven-is.” (He actually said, “Any two for eleven-is”, sacrificing accuracy for clarity.)

Time now for my illuminating analogy.

I think about how the two sides of the political spectrum’s antipathy towards each other makes them entirely unable to work together. On anything. Some of their refusal to cooperate is clearly strategic. If you don’t help the ruling side, they will fail, get voted out, and the non-cooperators, being the only available alternative, will inevitably take power.

Conversely, if you exploit the most extreme pronouncements of the opposition, they will remain marginalized, and, by virtue of your comparative reasonableness, you will have a better chance of remaining in charge.

It’s simply politics. Though it’s politics that places “partisan victory” over everything else, most significantly, the best interests of the country.

But there’s also another thing going on that invalidates cooperation as a viable option. Taking a cue from Victor Borge, I call it “Inflationary Hearing.”

It almost seems natural. People representing one side of an issue hear their ideological opponents say something and instantly, something happens in their brains that causes them to “inflate” the threatening quality of what they’ve just been told. Not merely, as in “Inflationary Language”, upping the ante by a single digit – “before” becoming “be-five” – but taking some relatively modßest proposal and ratcheting it to “Code Red!”

A “Gun Control” advocate proposes, “We want to pass a law limiting the number of bullets in gun magazines to ten.” To the proverbial “reasonable person”, this is hardly an outrageous suggestion. Yet, to an NRA member, it is.

Why? Not because they’re inflexible, I suggest. It’s because the NRA member doesn’t hear, “We want to pass a law limiting the number of bullets in gun magazines to ten.” Engaging in “Inflationary Hearing”, what the NRA member hears is,

“We want to take away all your guns.”

The “Gun Control” advocate may, deep in their hearts, want to take away all the guns. But they realize that, in this country, with its Second Amendment to the Constitution – as least as it’s been interpreted by the current Supreme Court – this is entirely unrealistic. Instead, they, sincerely and in most people’s views, reasonably, suggest an idea that will make things marginally safer. And they immediately – you should pardon the expression – get shot down.

The “Gun Control” advocates’ response to the outright rejection of this reasonable proposal?

“Those ‘Gun Guys’ are crazy!”

They’re not crazy. They are merely victims of “Inflationary Hearing.”

It works both ways. Abortion opponents propose that if a minor wants to get an abortion, parental notification should be required. Enter “Inflationary Hearing”, and what do “Pro Choice” advocates hear?

“We want to outlaw all abortions.”

Despite passionate opposition, the reality is that abortion rights are legal, their legality having been decided by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade (1973), and subsequently affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The question is, acknowledging the possibility of extreme situations where the parents are scary and/or dangerous, for which legal remedies could be devised, again, applying the ”reasonable person” standard, is “parental notification”, in itself, such an unreasonable proposition?

Absolutely. If you consider the “Inflated Hearing” version of the proposal.

Causing the anti-abortionists to complain,

“Those people are simply stubborn!” “And by the way, Godless!”

There is no question that people have good reason to be suspicious of “foot in the door” incrementalism, there being incontrovertible historical precedent for such concerns. An income tax was originally proposed specifically to defray the enormous expenses of the Civil War. Though the Civil War has been over for a hundred a forty-six years, we continue paying income taxes.

It happens.

Pinpointed legislation becomes a permanent arrangement. You do not have to be paranoid to be concerned.


“Hearing what has not been said” is not a healthy way to live. And it certainly doesn’t help get things done that, in one way or another, desperately need doing,

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a matter of trust. In believing that the things people say are precisely what they mean, rather than succumbing to the feverish exaggerations our brains reflexively turn them into.

People believe different things. That’s troublesome enough to deal with. But tackling difficult issues becomes totally unworkable, when “Inflationary Hearing” interprets sensible suggestions as “all or nothing” demands, making compromise, or simply listening, feel like traitorous surrender.

(If I’m “over-the-top” there, chalk it up to “Inflationary Writing.”)


Lord Lillis said...

These are what I call your "Crotchety Alter-Cocker" pieces. Personally, I don't care for them. But I wonder: should you do more of them so you get better (at the risk of losing readers like myself) or do less (because they aren't your forté and they don't kill like your camping pieces).

Well, look at it this way, maybe you could write a post about "when the audience doesn't know what it wants".

Anonymous said...

Earl, please do write more of these "think pieces". Not because you need to improve your writing of them, but because they're a welcome component of the wide spectrum of ways in which you share yourself with your readers. Thanks, Karen(not really anonymous after all)

JED said...

I, too, enjoy this type of post on your blog. In fact, I think we need more of this type of piece in general - on TV, in the papers and certainly on the radio and the Internet. I consider myself a centrist and appreciate it when the article I am reading is not screaming in my ears that the opposition the article is complaining about are evil, hateful, unpatriotic - whatever.

I agree with you that political discourse has become each side not looking at the others side's statements but looking at what the situation would become in five years if this "trend" continues. So, raising taxes becomes turning our nation into a Communist state while making deep budget cuts becomes destroying the poor.

Thank you for today's post.

Jim Dodd

allan r. said...

Earl, I loved this piece because it touched on some of the real "hot buttons" we all live with today in a way that was illuminating. Even as a "pro choice" person, it "deflated" my hearing somewhat.

Allan R.

pumpkinhead said...

Makes me think of when they crusaded to put warning labels on rock albums and said, "no, we're not trying to ban them; we just want parents to be forewarned about the contents of the albums." Then, once the labels were on the albums, it became, " okay, so now lets work on getting the stores to stop selling the albums with the labels on them."

Speaking of taxes, the verification word for this comment is "taxidis."

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I think that your average psychiatrist will have a name for this all to human tendency to interpret anything that is said to them as an attack.

SAllen said...

As one from Ohio (another piece), I, too, think Borge was hilarious. Not only do folks not hear what you are saying when your position is not one they oppose, then they attribute to you a position that is NOT yours and argue against it (you)! Drives me crazy!

отели в барселоне said...

This won't really have success, I feel like this.