Monday, April 13, 2015

Rhetoric in the New Commanding Heights

If you don't get at least a little nervous hearing the word "epidemic," consider the possibility that you conform to one of the following descriptions:

  1. You are wealthy and comfortable enough to adequately insulate yourself from a contagious outbreak. You have the foresight and planning to make sure that you can enter self-imposed quarantine lasting 90 days.
  2. You are an ignoramus. You don't believe in germ theory, instead subscribing to medieval fancies like vapours or angry spirits or something. Or maybe you think that the marginal benefits of vaccines do not exceed the marginal costs.
  3. You have faith in modern medicine. Sure, contagious disease killed off untold hordes of our grubby ancestors, but we've got microscopes now! In the secular West, laboratory analysis has meant the end of a great many of the terrors of our dim past.
  4. You have faith in the benevolence of the divine. We are strong in our love of the Lord, and His might shall see us safely to the other side. If this describes you, bless your heart. If it doesn't, I'd wager you probably know someone it does describe.
  5. You are weary. You may dimly recall the first time you heard the word "epidemic" applied to obesity, or to smoking, or to trans fats, to to whatever choice-related bugbear happened to catch a scold's eye. Maybe you held a little funeral for the deceased word, scattered its ashes into the ocean. Probably not. But surely you're past lamenting its demise. 
According to the BLS, health care's share of total labor employment is 11.7%, up from 9.5% in 2002. They project that in 2022, it'll be 13.6%. The only rival for that kind of share is "state and local government." Heath care is big business and it appears to be getting bigger. When a sector of human activity repurposes an important bit of language as has happened to "epidemic," alert citizens might be wary of grabs for dominion. 

If it is true that the long conflicts in the culture war are waged with words, with rhetoric, then gaining the higher ground with plastic definitions of scary things is a strategy tailor-made for those that seek dominion over the teeming masses of their fellows.

Smoking isn't particularly euvoluntary. Neither is poor diet, lack of exercise, high fructose corn syrup, or any randomly selected hobgoblin of the medical elite. But if you're making a case for state-sponsored intervention in a non-euvoluntary transaction, just imagine how much easier your task is if you can couch your appeal in the same language used to describe an outbreak of the bubonic plague.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?