Monday, March 12, 2012

This Means War

War is in the air. Liberals are rushing down to the recruiting office to join up as the Republican divisions mobilize for the War on Women. Meanwhile, conservatives are manning the watchtowers and calling up the militia for the coming Class War. Corporate America’s brutal War on Children has driven the little tykes into their bunkers. And the bishops and the TV evangelists are strapping on their helmets as Obama calls the generals to the sandbagged White House to plot the War on Religion.

The lamps are going out...

Fortunately, none of these is a real war. They’re just more of a type of fevered, unhinged attempt to hijack your sympathies that seems to be increasingly fashionable. And you can thank whatever you believe in for that, because real wars don’t get won on the cable news channels. If the War on Reason were a real war we’d be camping out among smoking ruins, because we lost.

The word war applied to anything other than a real war is hysteria, nothing else. It’s an irresponsible attempt to short-circuit rational debate and mobilize emotion. And that’s not how intelligent public policy gets made. The first effect of war is to dehumanize the enemy, and if you don’t consider somebody to be human, you’re going to have a hard time sitting down with him to cut a deal on complex issues which involve tensions between competing legitimate interests.

Anger is a great performance enhancer in a real fight, but it’s a really lousy quality to bring to the table when you have to sort out fact from fiction, weigh competing interests, evaluate precedents, estimate consequences and negotiate compromises. Bringing anger to a discussion of social or economic policy is like driving drunk.

It’s too bad we can’t license the term. Properly administered, the system would charge you to to label something a War, unless you’ve been in a real shooting war. If you lost your legs to an IED or saw your family incinerated by a napalm strike, we’ll let you use the word, because you’ll probably be reluctant to toss it around. Otherwise, you have to pay. The fees go into a fund to promote education in responsible rhetoric.

It’s time for a moratorium on the use of the word war applied to political or social trends you don’t like. When a real war comes, you’ll know it, and you’ll wish more people had kept their heads and tempered their rhetoric when discussing public policy issues.

Sam Reaves

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