Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

A World in Need of a Word, Indeed

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Monday September 18, 2006 at 11:41 pm)

Encore une fois, chers lecteurs, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, humble handmaid to hale and hearty rhetoric. It is rare that either you or I find ourselves at a loss for words. So, under the circumstances, I thought it only right to call on my good friend, the Hard-Rimed Wonk, to indulge us all.

I noticed, recently, that the Wonk had described a certain spiritual leader’s remarks as hypocritical. Being somewhat hyper-critical of poor word use, I sat down to rack my adjective-riddled mind for a better choice. A cursory glance at the meaning of hypocrisy should explain the origins of my conundrum:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform; pretense.

Which is plainly inadequate to describe the real rhetorical sin in question:

Knowingly and falsely ascribing to another the fault which, in your act of ascription, you reveal yourself to have.

True, meine freunde, one engaged in such shameful dialogue may well be a hypocrite; but this is not necessarily true. After all, such a one has neither necessarily denied that the fault is a fault nor denied that they are faulty themselves.

While the focus of hypocrisy is self-conflicting behaviour, the focus here is on condemning others. What is more, in this scenario the claim is patently false and, consequentially, either fraudulent or foolish. A hypocrite need not say anything of others, nor is their professed standard necessarily false. It is that their behaviour is self-contradictory, which may arise from fraudulence or from forgetfulness; and the only party truly tainted is the hypocrite himself.

It is a thing of this sort that concerns me so:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said recent remarks by the Pope on Islam were in line with what he called a “crusade” against Muslims.
The background to the controversy, he said, was the “wish of powers whose survival depends on creating crises”.
. . .
Ayatollah Khamenei said the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI last Tuesday were the “latest link” in “the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade”.

The Pope’s remarks were ably referenced by the Wonk in the article I cited above. Since those remarks were in specific condemnation of all violence committed in the name of religion, claiming that they are part of a conspiracy to incite a religious war is a form of nonsense reasonable only to those who have not read the speech and those who wish to believe in spite of what they know. Augustine’s thought on the relationship between the two was different, and has so far proven the more durable approach.

The Ayatollah’s remarks were made by a religious leader who depends on the continued presence of external threats (the Shah, Iraq, and the Great Satan) to maintain an iron grip on political power and the ideology of his countrymen.

For all these reasons, hypocrisy does not suffice. Words, we cruelly see, fail us.

But we need not fail ourselves, and I turn to that for comfort. I suggest that the repeated appearance of this practice demands that it be named. For which, thanks to the Wonk, I have an avenue of hope.

I propose that we develop a word suitable for the purpose. “Projection”, a term used in psychology, is too neutral and closely bound up with personality to be truly useful for the purpose, but could serve as a useful base. So might hypocritical, if suitably “pimped”. A few preliminary thoughts:

Too cute at first, but is the adjectival “extrojerkic” not more satisfyingly technical?
It captures the sense of falsehood and projection, but does it trip lightly from the tongue?
Not without precedents, but should the word suggest that he was the progenitor?
Seldom can I play with Attic roots — Grazie, Wonk.
Why not?

Feel free, by way of the Wonk’s commentary facilities, to judge or add your own. I suspect that with your considerable skills, an answer lies close at hand. To comment, simply click the number to the right of this article’s title.

Until we meet again, O Readers of Wonkisms, bear in mind the words of Antonio Porchia:

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.*

*Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

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