Saturday, July 17, 2004

The hidden curse of projection.
by Phil Agre
Projection is insidious. 
Let us consider two analogous examples of the projection
that is hidden in the currently fashionable jargon.
(1) The phrase "politically correct" is a work of genius. 
Having been salvaged from "their" rhetoric,
it can be filled with all sorts of extra meanings
while still claiming to plumb the depths of "their" real thinking.
In everyday invective, the phrase "political correctness"
is used in two distinct ways: 
"Politically correct", version A. 
Every political, social, or  cultural idea
that is not conservative is labeled "politically  correct". 
"Politically correct", version B. 
The use of force, intimidation,  loud voices, protest tactics,
or moral indignation to impose  nonconservative ideas
or suppress conservative ones is labeled  "politically correct".
Notice what happens when the phrase "politically correct"
is used in both of these versions without any clear distinction
being drawn between them:
non-conservative ideas begin to begin to seem oppressive,
just for not being conservative. 
The idea is that every idea that is not conservative
is ipso facto something that is crammed down people's throats,
something artificial and imposed,
a divergence from the given order of things. 
Why is this an example of projection? 
Look at what's implied when non-conservative ideas,
as such,  are associated with intimidation and repression. 
Because intimidation and repression are illegitimate in a free society,
non-conservative ideas are associated with attacks on freedom,
and are thus labeled as having no legitimate place in a free society. 
So people who use the phrase "politically correct"
according to the current fashion
are trying to delegitimate non-conservative ideas
under the guise of accusing non-conservatives
of delegitimating their own ideas. 
That's projection.
The phrase "liberal media" is also used in two distinct ways: 
"Liberal media", version A. 
Journalistic institutions that abandon  the norms of objectivity
to favor liberals in a systematic way are  said to be the "liberal media". 
"Liberal media", version B. 
Anything that appears in the media
that  does not conform to the conservative party line of the day
is said  to be evidence of the "liberal media".
Notice what happens when the phrase "liberal media"
is used in both of these versions without any clear distinction
being drawn between them:
the very existence of any single non-conservative idea in the media,
or even a single phrase that does not convey a conservative spin,
is made to serve as evidence
that the media as a whole are biased against conservatives. 
In other words, "liberal media"
can mean "the media as a whole are liberal"
or "those parts of the media that are liberal",
and the phrase is used ambiguously
to blur the difference between these two ideas. 
So even when hundreds of conservative pundits appear in the media daily,
the slightest divergence from the conservative party line
is still evidence of the "liberal media". 
This systematic ambiguity
between different uses of the phrase "liberal media"
also makes it possible to argue for the existence of "the liberal media"
just by gathering lists of every non-conservative phrase
that appears in the media,
regardless of the number of conservative phrases
that might also have appeared.
Of course, the PR message about "liberal media bias" takes more forms than this,
and those other forms would make equally good objects of investigation. 
I am not claiming to disprove the (patently absurd) claims
that the media exhibit a liberal bias. 
My topic here is this one particular ambiguity and its consequences. 
And its consequences are another example of projection:
any nonconservative idea in the media is ipso facto portrayed
as an example of "liberal media bias",
and therefore as illegitimate. 
Under the guise of pretending that the media eliminate conservative views,
the jargon actually promotes the elimination of nonconservative views. 
This is not just theory, either. 
Any media outlet that runs a liberal cartoon or columnist
can expect to receive angry letters protesting the "blatantly liberal views"
that it has allowed to appear,
as if devoting space to any nonconservative at all were ipso facto illegitimate. 
This is not a way that rational and decent people think,
but it is altogether common right now.
Projection is an integral component of every example of aggression.
When one country invades another,
for example, it almost invariably stages an attack against itself
by the country it wishes to invade.
When men who batter their wives are compelled into therapy,
those few who ever become capable of explaining their feelings explain
that they felt, throughout their attacks, that in reality their wives were attacking them. 
The new jargon is not the moral equivalent of physical violence,
of course, but it exhibits the same structure:
attacks on "them" disguised as accusations that "they" are attacking"us". 
The more that the jargon develops
-- the more rhetorical devices it acquires
for engaging in projection --
the more primitive does the aggression become. 
Unless this irrationality is brought into the light
and shown for what it is,
it will only get worse. 
People who can be sent foaming at the mouth
against imagined enemies
are dangerous to everyone except the tiny elite
who get to imagine who the enemies are.


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