The Silence is Deafening, but not Illuminating
Okay, don’t worry: this post is not about Rush Limbaugh or birth control pills. Alas! That stories so voluminously begun as the Chronicle of Limbaughpalooza 2012 (or Slutpocalypse Now) should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion. And yet, what kept popping up here in the course of that kerfuffle was an argument that strikes me as residing in the same rhetorical zoo as “when did you stop beating your wife?”- namely, the “silence is deafening” argument. So, let’s pick at that scab, shall we? Now, there probably is a bigger lesson here, in that Liberals seem to have a free-floating belief about the misogyny of Conservatives that they’re more than willing to extrapolate from one example to the whole bloody lot of them; while Conservatives have the same belief in the hypocritical intolerance of Liberals that they’re more than willing to extrapolate from one to the whole. Political philosophies were once about convictions, instead of suspicions, right? Maybe not. Henry Adams defined politics as “the systematic organization of hatreds” about a hundred years ago and that line might even be topped someday.
Admittedly, my own silence was deafening on Limbaugh until I had any idea what the hell people were talking about. Not having a television connection, my silence is probably deafening on any number of issues; I have no clue who “Snooki” is, for example. At any rate, the ‘silence is deafening’ argument has generally struck me as illogical, if not plain humbuggery, when it’s applied to individuals, which it quite frequently has been here. Now, by all means, it is a valid argument when applied to the inconsistency of political parties, public officials, or news outlets. But, when private individuals are expected to respond in the same way, it just seems like surrealism to me. Let me try to articulate why that is.
This, as I see it, is a logical inference:
1. Person A tells us they despise a certain behavior for its own sake on an occasion when they see it coming from members of the other side of the political aisle + 2. A fellow member of their side of the aisle exhibits that behavior in a public forum + 3. we know that Person A is fully aware of the behavior+ 4. when pressed on the issue, we know that Person A willfully chooses to ignore the behavior because it is coming from their side of the aisle, and thus 5. Person A says nothing about the behavior from their side of the aisle= thus, Person A is hypocritical when it comes to this issue.
Here is what I do not see as a logical inference:
1. Person A says they despise a certain behavior for its own sake when they see coming from members of the other side of the political aisle + 2. Another member of their side of the aisle exhibits that behavior in a public forum + 5. Person A says nothing about the behavior from their side of the aisle= thus, person A is hypocritical when it comes to this issue.
Obviously, #3 and #4 are important pieces of information, but the “silence is deafening” argument pretends they’re not. It doesn’t matter if Person A said nothing because they had no knowledge of the behavior, nor if they said nothing because the behavior was so heinous they assumed it was just understood that they found it offensive, nor even if their opinion wasn’t of interest to anyone else; instead, it assumes whatever we want for steps three and four. This is why I’ve said that a fair question would be: “Have you heard about this offensive thing someone else from your side of the aisle did or said recently? Well, what do you think about it?” That seems reasonable to me. What’s not fair, and what we’ve seen much more often here, is to just equate someone’s “silence” with consent or agreement (i.e. “you said this now, but your silence was deafening back then, unless you can prove it wasn’t”) because the logical extension of that principle is something like, “I’ve never heard you say that you don’t think Asian people are an inferior subspecies of humanity and I’m offended that you would think something like that”. This sort of game can go on all day.
It shouldn’t go on all day. Liberals and Conservatives are starting to remind me of an old married couple that seeks constant reinforcement of their worst suspicions about each other. It’s clearer to me what they think of each other than about anything else. Nevertheless, if you want to know what other people think about a particular issue, ask them. Most likely, you’ll be surprised. If not, you can then excoriate them.