Government Shutdown, And Other Empty Language

I’ve made reference to George Carlin in a number of my posts. I consider him to be one of the top two standup comedians of all time (the other is Richard Pryor). But more than a simply a comedian, George was a profound critic of American society, culture, and the economy. His take-down of contemporary economics and politics in “Why Education Sucks” is as insightful an analysis as I’ve heard.

Running through all his humor is a keen focus on how language is used and more commonly – misused. In particular, George had an aversion to the use of euphemisms to confuse and mislead. He makes frequent use of what “decent people” might call vulgarity. But as the nuns at his Catholic elementary school told his mother years later he was using vulgarity to make a point. Words themselves have no meaning – it’s all about context.

I was thinking about George – and wishing he was still with us – based on a couple of bits of recent news.

The first is the “government shutdown” – where Congress failed to vote to approve the budget, so apparently the Federal government shut down. After all, shutdown means a closure.

But was the Federal government shut down?

Congress is still in session, begging the question if they actually shut down who would be there to restart things? And to put a fine point on it – Congress is still paid during the “shutdown”. (They are required to be paid via Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution).

Many of the National Parks remain open – with no social media providing road information or friendly Rangers to help visitors. But what hurts most – the rest rooms are closed.

Social security checks still go out; even Congress isn’t stupid enough to piss off older people. The military is still out defending or expanding the empire. The TSA is still looking for 3.5 ounces or more of liquid in people’s carry-on baggage. And other government functions continue. All in all, about 60 percent of the Federal workforce continues working – even though they won’t be paid until the impasse is over.

If you think about it – the Federal government did not shut down. It stopped some functions of government and slowed down others. In the end everyone will get paid, even those who were furloughed.

But government shutdown sounds like scary shit. Slowdown more like a traffic problem. More empty language.

The other topic was based on a news story on CBS Sunday Morning concerning politically correct speech on college campuses. Apparently, you can’t sneeze wrong without someone taking offense. And speakers who promote non-politically acceptable viewpoints aren’t even allowed to speak – no matter how polite or thoughtful they might be.

Are the college kids that much different now? What happened to thinking more about sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Makes me wonder what world many of these kids think they’re heading into after their college career. More on that below.

In the news story I heard the politically correct term “people of color”. Apparently people of color is meant to signify those who are black or brown. I suspect “yellow people” aren’t included in the term.

People of color? Hmmm…is that another way of saying colored people? Colored people, when it was used in the past, was demeaning and used to refer to black Americans.

But isn’t everyone a colored person?

As George noted, white Americans are also people of color as their skin is typically pink, beige, or olive. And the yellow people certainly tend toward shades of olive. And people from India can be as dark as some black Americans – are they considered dark white Americans or people of color?

That black Americans suffer from a historic and seemingly intractable racism should be addressed. That brown Americans (primarily from points south of the southern border) are subject to changing and complex policies based on parochial concerns as well as cynical partisan politics is clear.

And by the way, the term is not undocumented worker – if you entered the country illegally you’re an illegal alien. It’s not a slur, it’s an accurate description.

I’ll also note as David Stockman did that not having a coherent immigration policy is idiotic. The increasing numbers of baby boomers drawing on Medicare and Social Security will require a large number of immigrants to pay taxes to sustain the social costs over the next 30 years. The domestic birth rate has not and will not keep up.

The problem it seems to me is one of boutique identity politics. It’s just another way for the owners to keep people trying to scratch each other’s eyes out rather than uniting to take down the people in charge.

That’s another whole discussion, but to get back to the college kids. Rather than worrying about safe spaces they should be raising hell about the predatory loans many of them have that will keep them indentured servants for many, many years of their working lives. Or maybe worry about having a career as a barista as their only option. I suppose either’s not as sexy – at least right now – as worrying about whatever it is they’re worried about.

Maybe I should have opened this post with a “trigger warming”. On the other hand, as George might have said – if you don’t like it, go to your safe space.

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