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Author Topic: Empire - intent of the partisan language?
dogstyle
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Help me out with this if you can. I found the first chapter of Empire spell-binding. It was one of those moments where I know it will be hard to put a book down. However, after completing about half of it, I struggled increasingly not to put it away. It's rare, but I will stop reading a book if it's poorly written or boring. I started to find Empire tiresome after a while, but hung in until the end because I thought there might be some revelation.

Here's the thing: even though the author makes it clear in the afterward that he believes the language and logic of partisanship have severely hurt our country, he engages in it throughout the entire book. If, necessary I will do a complete survey, but it was quite clear to me that when referring to liberals, the language and attacks were very specific. Liberals were constantly called names, their character and philosophies were endlessly insulted, while any negative mention of conservatives was generic, passive, along the lines of "oh yeah, the view of the right on this isn't so great either". The numerous references to Bill O'Rielly and Fox news also perplexed me. I can understand why someone would be drawn to their particular and obvious brand of bias, but neither Fox news or Bill O'Rielly can by any stretch of the imagination be considered moderate , unbiased, or accommodating to a wide range if viewpoints.

Am I the only one who read it this way? What could possibly be the reason for this? At first I thought it might just be some aspect of character development, or that we (the reader) were being set up for some surprise, but it was relentless and in my mind never resolved.

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Christine
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quote:
Am I the only one who read it this way? What could possibly be the reason for this?
No, you're not the only one. The reason, I believe, is that the author himself is very conservative and doesn't seem to understand the liberal point of view. I do not believe he was properly able to put himself in the perspective of the liberal characters in this book, especially the wife.

[ February 02, 2007, 01:34 PM: Message edited by: Christine ]

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Geraine
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1) Orson Scott Card is a democrat

2) The story is told through a conservative point of view. The main characters are part of the military. The military is widely believed to be conservative

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Crocobar
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I feel the same way about the first chapters of the book (I haven't read past what's published here) but about most of the political writing of OSC too. I have even posted a topic about it here some months ago in response to one of the "war apologetics columns". I've asked directly if OSC writes in earnest or uses any argument and rethorical device he can master to convince people. I guess that's what one would call partisan. I suggested that the latter may be the case because the war, as OSC pictures it, seems to be going too well.

OSC replied, he didn't give the answer to the main question but made a joke that he sees himself as a doomsayer rather than an optimist. [Smile]

I have to add that I am not ready to pass judgment on either of the approaches. The war certainly seems an important enough issue to justify a lot of means.

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vonk
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While this has been discussed too many times for my taste, I will put in that I believe the rhetoric and specific derogatory references to the left where made by concervative characters. I think it would have been very unrealistic if Card's right wing characters were all concervative bashers and used neutral rhetoric. The book is told almost entirely from the perspective of concervative characters.

If a book had scientists at 80% of it's characters, would you complain that there was too much scientific jargon?

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Crocobar
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Vonk, you comment is slightly beside the point. Interesting is the cause. Might not OSC write the book the way it is written in order to be able to lay out all this partisan talk in front of a reader?
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vonk
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quote:
Vonk, you comment is slightly beside the point.
oh?

quote:
Here's the thing: even though the author makes it clear in the afterward that he believes the language and logic of partisanship have severely hurt our country, he engages in it throughout the entire book....it was quite clear to me that when referring to liberals, the language and attacks were very specific. Liberals were constantly called names, their character and philosophies were endlessly insulted, while any negative mention of conservatives was generic, passive, along the lines of "oh yeah, the view of the right on this isn't so great either".

...

What could possibly be the reason for this?

I said that I believe the reason for this is that most of the characters in the book are strongly conservative, so any negative liberal rhetoric "could possibly be the reason for this". So, if it was slightly beside the point, it was so slight as to be negligable.
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Crocobar
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Vonk, once again, I understand the logic of the book as it is. The question is if OSC has chosen to write the book this way because he wanted those partisan words on paper in front of a reader in the first place as part of his agenda, and the book and conservative characters is a kind of a disguise, a form to convey his political views that he obviously believes in and deems important.
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Survivor
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I've mentioned this before, but I found that the dialog (and a few actions) Card assigned to his military characters wasn't really all that plausible.

I'm sure that others who feel more aligned with liberals feel that the representation of liberals was also lacking. And of course conservatives should be incensed at quite a few things in the book, but aren't because...they're conservatives.

The book isn't written primarily to liberals, or conservatives, or to the military minded. It's written with a moderate audience in mind. If you post on this board, particuarly with a political opinion, then you most certainly aren't moderate. Which explains why you found the book inaccessible.

Of course Card wants to believe that most Americans are still moderates. He's dead wrong, there are liberals, "quiet" conservatives, arch-conservatives, and survivalists. I mention survivalists because they now outnumber moderates. That's how few moderates are left in this country.

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Reshpeckobiggle
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What's a survivalist (in this context)? I think I may be one, if it is what it sounds like. This because I find our situation hopeless.
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PrometheusBound
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"The main characters are part of the military. The military is widely believed to be conservative."

It may be believed to be so, but it is not necessarily true. I know many retired military officers and NCOs, some of whom are quite liberal or leftist. Current military members, I believe, are suposed to keep their political opinions fairly quiet.

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Samprimary
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quote:
I mention survivalists because they now outnumber moderates. That's how few moderates are left in this country.
This statement cannot be backed up with anything substantive. It's not true.
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dogstyle
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Survivor, I disagree that the book speaks to moderates. That was the whole point of my post. I felt the language and flavor of the book was clearly weighted heavily to one side, and that was a choice the author made, not a necessity.

1. The wife was not a conservative. As a primary character, she had plenty of opportunities to speak out --- to "balance" the rhetoric. If not to throw the nasty language and name calling back at the people who did so, then at least to speak credibly against the bias that went largely unopposed. She was adoring of her husband but largely mute otherwise when it came time to add to the pool of perspectives.

2. The author had a choice to include liberals if in fact the purpose of the book was to shed some light, or open a dialogue, not just preach to the audience. I felt the book was very preachy and the afterword felt disingenuous.

3. The military is not in fact all conservative, particularly when it comes to opinions about specific things, like the war in Iraq. Wasn't this one of the author's points? That we have lost the ability to look at the specifics of political questions? We join "teams" and throw away our individuality? Group-think is making us stupid and illogical?

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Survivor
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The point of the book wasn't to open a dialogue with liberals. It was to make "moderates" think. I'm not sure if Card is fully conscious of the real message of the book. It certainly isn't that liberals are all gutless weasels or anything like that, though.

The point is that if you genuinely saw the language of the book as divisive, you aren't a moderate. Real moderates think that both the right and left fully deserve everything bad that they say about each other (they aren't the only ones who feel this way). And Card even tones down the retoric far below what is commonly said in our public debate these days.

If you think that the book was only or even mainly insulting to liberals, then you are not a moderate, and thus it is hardly surprising that the book didn't speak to you.

The military is more conservative than liberal, particularly the men who volunteer for combat. Those guys have already declared their support for the war aims (Pakistan, apparently) with their boots. Of course they aren't so completely out of touch with the current zeitgeist as to deliberately brand themselves with such a hateful label, they'd much rather be thought "moderate", just like everyone else.

Much like Cecily Malich, who isn't supposed to be a liberal. Her assistance is requested because she has a history of being able to make contacts across the aisle, a characteristic of a political moderate (though of course liberals and conservatives both strive to imitate this ability).

The fact that various people claim to be moderates doesn't mean that they are. This is actually the premise of the original post, isn't it? Card probably isn't a moderate, but neither are any of the people criticizing him for being partisan (which he isn't).

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Reshpeckobiggle
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quote:
Originally posted by PrometheusBound:
"The main characters are part of the military. The military is widely believed to be conservative."

It may be believed to be so, but it is not necessarily true. I know many retired military officers and NCOs, some of whom are quite liberal or leftist. Current military members, I believe, are suposed to keep their political opinions fairly quiet.

Current military members are free to voice their opinions. The only real restriction is they are not permitted to attend political rallies in uniform.

The truth is, generally soldiers keep their opinions between themselves. And the majority opinion (of those that have them) concerning liberal democrats is that they speak out of both sides of their mouths and that they buy their votes at the expense of soldiers lives. This is why the military votes overwhelmingly Republican. Why do you think the democrats tried to block the absentee vote in Florida in 2000? Because they knew that the military made up the bulk of that vote and would swing heavily in the Republicans favor.

Also, a disproportionate number of soldiers come from the south.

[ February 06, 2007, 02:20 AM: Message edited by: Reshpeckobiggle ]

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Foust
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quote:
The story is told through a conservative point of view. The main characters are part of the military. The military is widely believed to be conservative
The baffling thing about the book is not the conservative tone. If a fan of OSC picks up Empire and is surprised by the tone, than they haven't read anything OSC's written since the late 80s or early 90s.

The baffling thing is that the book seems to believe its own tone to be "moderate," when in fact it's just an updated novelization ofRed Dawn

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Real moderates think that both the right and left fully deserve everything bad that they say about each other (they aren't the only ones who feel this way).
I disagree with your definition of "moderate." I think the word that more accurately describes someone who holds this belief is "misanthrope."
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Survivor
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If you don't feel that political extreemists are ruining America, and thus deserve all the namecalling they get, then you aren't moderate. "Moderate" doesn't mean "I want to give the world a hug", it means avoiding extremism. That's just what the word means. The general lack of any ability to understand this is why I say that there aren't many moderates around anymore.

Which makes it bizarre that everyone tries to adopt the "moderate" brand. Nobody is voting "moderate" anymore except for the old pols who haven't figured out that there's no moderate vote to get these days.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
If you don't feel that political extreemists are ruining America, and thus deserve all the namecalling they get, then you aren't moderate. "Moderate" doesn't mean "I want to give the world a hug", it means avoiding extremism.
You know, I don't think political extremists are ruining America, actually. I think people who think namecalling -- along with things like partisanship, personal attacks, etc. -- is an acceptable response to an opponent's position are "ruining" America.

In other words, it's not the extremism that's the problem. It's the passion behind it, the refusal to discuss the issue civilly while remembering that the person disagreeing with you is also human, the refusal to find compromise or common ground.

I think your argument boils down to the assertion that moderates should behave as uncivilly as extremists, because the principle of moderation itself is as important as extremists believe their principles are. Since I think the uncivil behavior of some extremists is more of a problem than their extremism itself, I cannot regard this as an improvement.

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dogstyle
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_________________________________________
The point of the book wasn't to open a dialogue with liberals. It was to make "moderates" think. I'm not sure if Card is fully conscious of the real message of the book. It certainly isn't that liberals are all gutless weasels or anything like that, though.
__________________________________________


Back to my original point: The book refers to liberals again and again in pointedly negative ways --- name calling, offhand and insulting references to what are represented as liberal viewpoints, while the negative references to conservative viewpoints are generic and passive. Also, there is no shortage of syrupy proclamations of the honorable nature of the conservative protagonists. Is it a brave and honorable thing when people fight and sometimes die for our country? Of course. But freedom is a multi-faceted thing and there are many ways we pay for it, a lot of which are written off as liberal commie nonsense by those same military and their families. Soldiers do not have a lock on the concepts of liberty and freedom and honor. The author ignores this. There is also a heavy handed defense of the "imaginary" president and his "imaginary" policies. Like we wouldn't have any idea that the author is drawing what he believes are parallels to real life. It isn’t moderate by any stretch of the imagination to paint George Bush and his actions in the light the author does. I don't have the time right now but I feel like I will need to survey the book and present statistics to get a response that either acknowledges or denies this specifically.


_____________________________________________
The point is that if you genuinely saw the language of the book as divisive, you aren't a moderate.
_____________________________________


What an unsubstantiated leap. I think you're wrong about the language of the book, and this reflects more on your interpretation than mine. See above.


_____________________________________
Real moderates think that both the right and left fully deserve everything bad that they say about each other (they aren't the only ones who feel this way). And Card even tones down the rhetoric far below what is commonly said in our public debate these days."
_____________________________________


I also disagree with your definition of moderate. I think a moderate embraces the possibility that a multitude of perspectives may have merit, whether they come from the right or the left. They then take those perspectives and try to formulate them into compromise based on the practical, and in most cases, the observable and reproducible. As far as the tone of the language being somewhat softer than some of the hot air that passes for political debate nowadays, that is true, but the language is in some cases pretty nasty. What about the numerous references to Bill O'Rielly? On what planet would he be considered a moderate by anyone but a conservative?

The author writes an extensive afterword, where he takes an ethical position that contradicts exactly what I think he has done in the book. The package just doesn’t make sense.

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TomDavidson
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You know, I consider O'Reilly a moderate. A partisan moderate, but a moderate nonetheless. His ideology is all over the map, but he's got a favorite team and sticks by it.

Of course, this also means he's often a hypocrite. But nowadays most of the people who actually call themselves "moderates" on the political stage appear to be occasional hypocrites, so that's okay. For a given value of "okay."

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MrSquicky
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I don't think that it can be rightly said that America or any "democracy" is threatened or damaged by extreme beliefs. What's dangerous is extremism in how beliefs are held and used. The enlightenment system we (theoretically) live in was set up specifically so that people who had opposing extreme views could live together in relative peace.

The solution to the hostile, polarized political climate we find ourselves in isn't to me a procrustean embrace of the middle, where "moderation" in beliefs is seen as a virtue, but rather an injection of responsibility for people's beliefs, words, and actions.

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Survivor
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I'm not arguing that political extremism is a serious problem, I'm an extremist (of sorts) myself. I'm simply pointing out that the simple meaning of "moderate" is such that moderates would necessarily believe that extremism is bad. If you don't agree that extremism is very bad, then you are not a moderate, and thus Card isn't trying to talk to you in Empire.

Empire, in both its overtly declared message and the rather more serious message that can be derived from the text, is aimed at real moderates and no one else. Moderates use slightly different, less demonizing, language for extremists than various extremists use for each other. But they do not like extremism of any stripe.

Such people are vanishingly rare in today's radically polarized political climate. That's why I say that there are very few of them, and find attempts to represent things as "moderate" for the term's supposed selling power rather ludicrous.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I'm simply pointing out that the simple meaning of "moderate" is such that moderates would necessarily believe that extremism is bad.
By "bad," do you just mean "less than optimal?" Because there I'd agree.

If by "bad" you mean "deserving of insult," then I have to disagree.

To be honest, I'm not sure why you consider yourself an authority on moderate political thought.

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Shan
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I have a saying in my office at work that I review frequently, and try my darndest to practice -- perhaps it could help.

We speak with passion. We listen with respect.

I suspect it's the "listening with respect" part that folks find hard to do anymore.

*shrugs*

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Survivor
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I'm not an expert on moderate political thought. But I do know what the term means.

As for listening with respect...I've always found speaking with passion to be more difficult, myself.

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dogstyle
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I think we're running into a problem distinguishing between political labels --- Liberals/Moderates/Conservatives vs moderate/extremist views and actions.

In the context of the post as I started it, and clearly within the framework of the author's message both in the story and his afterword, the issue is that of political labels and identification with those labels. How we have become a country which has abandoned rational dialogue for the adrenaline rush, self interest, and powerful physiological effects of identifying with a demographic --- of "belonging", and abandoned a commitment to logic, rational debate, and carefully considered and informed personal ideologies.

A conservative is capable of having specific beliefs that are liberal, as is a liberal capable of having specific conservative beliefs. It's the balance of views and claims of philosphy that typically sits someone in one camp or the other. Moderates draw fairly equally from both, or at least seek compromise that lies somewhere roughly in the middle, and purposefully reject identification with the far end of either camp. Moderates may reject "extremism" in the sense of violence and irational behaviour, but they do not reject ideas and philosophies that expand the way that something can be understood.

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Survivor
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Moderates avoid extremism. That's simply what the word "moderate" means. An extremist who nevertheless draws from multiple sources on both the political left and right doesn't count as a "moderate", or else that term would describe me.

Anyone think I'm a moderate?

Didn't think so.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
That's simply what the word "moderate" means.
I think you're operating from a definition which is not always universally correct within the context of political affiliation.
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Survivor
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I'm not saying that the definition I'm using is particularly useful in the modern context, but it is still correct.

Unless you allow extremists to call themselves moderates because they don't agree with either "wing" about everything, or perhaps even anything, you have to go with what is left, people who avoid every stripe of extremism.

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rjzeller
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"If you post on this board, particuarly with a political opinion, then you most certainly aren't moderate. Which explains why you found the book inaccessible.
"

I'd have to second that thought. And I'm sorry folks, but Survivor is right; the word 'moderate' as a nown distinctly means that said person avoids extreemism.

The extreemists (on both sides of the aisle) will have already made up their minds about the issues. Card clearly is trying to speak to the moderates.

As for O'Rielly only seeming liberal to a conservative, you may be right. But so what? Anyone who leans to the right of a liberl will look, to that liberal, like a conservative. And vice-versa. Is O'Rielly biased? Perhaps so...in fact, almost certainly so. Everyone is, and to claim otherwise is an outright lie. Are the reporters at Fox News biased? Most assuredly....

Just as are the reporters at CNN, MSNBC, and the other three-letter networks.

Frankly, if you find fault with only one or a few of those groups as being "biased", then I'd say you've revealed your own extreemism quite clearly....

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TomDavidson
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quote:

The extreemists (on both sides of the aisle) will have already made up their minds about the issues.

Why are you confident that the moderates haven't? For example, I can think of several issues on which I hold a "moderate" position, but hold it very firmly.
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rjzeller
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Okay, so you think you're a moderate....
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Survivor
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Technically, "moderation" is defined by what is extreme, not by core "moderate" positions.

You can't hold a "moderate" position "firmly", because that would make you an extremist about that topic, rather than a moderate.

I'm a "moderate" about some things, but just because I think the entire subject is something that it's silly to get worked up about. For instance, the legality (as opposed to morality) of abortion. I just don't think that the question of exactly which abortions are going to be legal is worth wrangling over. Only a few extreme types of abortion even could realistically be banned enforceably, and yet I hardly see what society has to gain by making abortions explicitly legal. I think that extremists on either side of that question are idiots, so I'm more likely to vote for someone who doesn't much care one way or the other on that subject.

My thoughts on the morality of abortion are rather abstruse. Mostly I think that it just goes to show that humans are one of the dumbest species in existance;) In no way are those thoughts "moderate", but they also don't align with any existing group's views, so I can hardly use them as a guide to voting for anyone, since everyone disagrees with me. So in practical terms I'm kinda moderate on the subject, I'd prefer to vote for a candidate who didn't make a big deal about the moral issues other than saying that abortion isn't such a good thing and there should be less of it.

Two examples of specific "moderation". Now, if a candidate came along who clearly and courageously expressed agreement with my moral stance on abortion, I'd drop my "moderation" in a second because I'd finally found someone who agreed with my own wacky views. On the other hand...if a candidate came up with a completely new idea that made the legality of abortion important to me, then I'd drop my moderation on that subject too.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

You can't hold a "moderate" position "firmly", because that would make you an extremist about that topic, rather than a moderate.

No, see, that's precisely the problem with your definition. Let's consider abortion as an example. There are two clearly-defined "extreme" positions: abortions for anyone who wants them, whenever they want during a pregnancy, and abortions for no-one, no matter what the reason. A "moderate" on this issue is typically described as someone who believes that some abortions should be allowed and some should not.

By YOUR definition, someone who believed that no abortions should ever be allowed, but simply didn't believe it very strongly, would be a "moderate" on the abortion issue.

By trying to apply the word "moderate" to anyone with a dissolute opinion, I think you're confusing the issue of passion with the issue of extremism. They're two very different things, and I think it would be very difficult to understand modern American politics without recognizing that.

Being diffident doesn't make someone a "moderate;" in the same way, being a zealot doesn't make someone an "extremist." You're defining the word "moderate" in a way that renders it useless for discourse.

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Survivor
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Yes. A person who believes that no abortions should ever be legal, but doesn't care enough to take an extreme position on the subject can be considered a moderate, because that person is far more ready to compromise than someone who believes it is of dire importance that abortion be allowed in some situations and be prohibited in others.

And the ability to compromise is the most important characteristic of political moderation. I don't think that there is another important characteristic.

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TomDavidson
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I'm highly uncomfortable with any attempt to make the word "moderate" synonymous with "reasonable."
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Survivor
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So am I. Which is why I said "ready to compromise" rather than "reasonable". The two aren't the same thing, after all.
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TomDavidson
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Shall we settle on "diffident?" Either way, asserting that political moderates are by definition diffident is IMO an attempt to divest the word of what is actually its more common usage in this context.

I'm not saying that it wouldn't be useful to have a word for people who just don't care all that much, but "moderate" isn't it.

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Survivor
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No, because there are other reasons for being ready to compromise on an issue. I'm not shy or timid about my opinions on abortion, the issue itself is just not that important to me. And a diffident individual would be less likely to openly disagree with an extremist anyway.

What is wrong with describing moderation as the position favoring compromise?

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TomDavidson
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For one thing, it winds up conflating an extreme political position with an unwillingness to compromise. Those are useful distinctions to maintain, and I figure we can continue to use the phrase "willing to compromise" to describe that condition.
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Richard Berg
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From my vantage point, Survivor won't concede this silly point only because he doesn't want to lose face to TomD. Why else sidetrack an interesting discussion of Empire with 20+ posts over semantics? The correct word for such passionate behavior is not "extremist" -- it's "immature" [Wink]
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Survivor
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Why should I be the one to concede?

Why should I even compromise, which is actually related to the issue of being a moderate? I'm not claiming to be a moderate about proper use of language, after all. Even though I don't like talking about language that much. What is "immature" about insisting that people not accept arguments based entirely on presumptive redefinition of a term that has a distinct and easily understood meaning?

I don't really know why anyone still finds the notion of a "moderate" attractive in this day and age. But that doesn't mean that I'm okay with people using it as a buzzword to sucker in believers.

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dogstyle
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______________________________________________

From my vantage point, Survivor won't concede this silly point only because he doesn't want to lose face to TomD. Why else sidetrack an interesting discussion of Empire with 20+ posts over semantics? The correct word for such passionate behavior is not "extremist" -- it's "immature"

________________________________________________


Good point. You don't mention however the arogant and highly presumptive tone of his posts. Again, if there's any chance of it this far along, put this in the context of political identity (liberal/moderate/conservative) and the question I originally posted. Survivor, why don't you take your thread somewhere else, perhaps to a survivalist rant room if it's so imortant to you. You are missing the mark and I suspect that to a certain extent it's having some affect on whether anyone will again address the original intent of the thread.

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pooka
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Is anyone trying to claim they are moderate, or just that they know what one is? I know elsewhere Tom has said a moderate is not a conservative who thinks it's wrong to call people f** and n****. I don't know why he thinks he has this ownership on the concept of moderate.

I think a moderate is just someone too inexperienced to take a stand- as I was when I was younger. But I don't demand that anyone agree with that.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I don't know why he thinks he has this ownership on the concept of moderate.
I don't. But I think the word is commonly used to mean at least two different things, neither of which are "a conservative who isn't a bigot" and "a person who doesn't care very strongly about an issue." It should be possible to establish what the common usage is intended to mean, and work with the word within that context.
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pooka
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It's also not a liberal who goes to church. And it's not that I lacked opinions when I was younger, I just didn't feel other people should be bound by them. To be non-moderate, I believe you have to feel strongly enough about your point of view that you care whether there are people who don't share it.
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ClaudiaTherese
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Welcome to Hatrack, dogstyle. I am enjoying your posts. [Smile]
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Chris Phoenix
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To get back to dogstyle's question:

I also found the book uncomfortable. I have read many Card books, including recent ones--several Shadow Of books. This one was different.

It didn't feel like Card to me. It actually felt ghost-written, generic. In the acknowledgements he says he watched lots of "24" to get in the "thriller" mode. That might explain it. Alvin, Ender, etc. weren't thrillers.

There were a couple of basic errors of workmanship--continuity (on adjacent pages!) and tense confusion--not up to Card's usual stratospheric standard. And some scenes seemed implausible, e.g. a couple of guys with a letter claiming to be signed by the President can talk their way through a checkpoint with guns based on... what? Their force of character?

The language and ideas seemed off-balance, to put it politely. He spent a lot more words describing progressives harshly than he did describing conservatives with even moderate criticism. "You're forgetting that nobody cares what Europeans think except a handful of American intellectuals who are every bit as anti-American as the French." So says the book's hero, p. 65. Find me one statment in that book, from any character, that's as harsh toward conservatives?

But none of this is why I almost stopped reading in the middle. It's because I discovered I was getting paranoid--I'd be driving, and catch myself eyeing the cars next to me half-expecting to see guns poking out. Whether it was the "24" style, or the paranoid plot, or the endless stream of invective, I don't know. I've read hundreds of science fiction books and never been so affected as far as I can remember. The other times it's happened was when I half-listened to talk radio for an hour (I've only done that once!), and when I spent a couple hours conversing with Objectivists. So I suspect it was the invective. I'd never seek out conversation with a person that unremittingly negative--why should I spend hours reading it?

In this case, I spent the hours because 1) it was Card, whose mind I respected (and will again, if he gets out of the paranoid mode), 2) I find it hard to put down any book, and 3) I wanted to study the mindset; Card is smart enough that it was like having a political conversation with a right-winger, without getting bogged down in useless argument like an interactive conversation would have done.

In the Afterward, Card asserts, "Instead of having an ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have become a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side." I'm reminded of the quote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I believe it is the passionate intensity that each side fears in the other. I also believe that Card has succumbed to passionate intensity--it screams all through the book, as well as his latest political essay.

Card argues strongly for symmetry--that each side is equally insane, but their view is equally asymmetrical: they see only what the other side is doing to them. Recent brain-scanning research confirms that people who pick a side become incapable of retaining information that would make their side look bad.

And yet... on the side of the Right, I see not only the insane passionate intensity, but an infrastructure that nurtures and promotes it. When I started this paragraph, I was going to write that I don't see any such infrastructure on the Left. But I managed to drag myself out of partisan blindness, remembering back to my days at a large private university, in which I learned to march while chanting "Hey Hey Ho Ho Western Culture's Got To Go" and "The People United Will Never Be Defeated." I didn't really know what the issues were or where the slogans came from--and in my case, it didn't stick--but I can't say they didn't try.

So now I have to point out that *both* sides have infrastructures for driving people toward a state of passionate intensity. We haven't drifted individually into this national mess. We have been led. In some cases, it's just the blind leading the blind in a vicious cycle.

One final thought. Those who are sane will not be comfortable listening to insanities from their own side. They will seek out other sane and thoughtful people, and sane and thoughtful sources of ideas, and mentally disown the wingnuts on their side. So they will come to see their side as being similar to themselves--sane and thoughtful.

In a moderate climate, they might know sane people on the other side as well. But there's a tipping point where they no longer seek out friends "across the aisle." After that, all they will see is the best of their side and the loudest (most passionate (worst)) of the other side. And that perception can drive them toward intensity themselves.

Will this explode into war? As long as acts of partisan violence are clearly defined as criminal, and vigorously policed by the state, then I think we will be willing to let the state protect us rather than turning vigilante. So I don't see a breaking point coming as soon as Card fears.

If necessary, the state may have to act against incitement to violence. That includes terrorist recruitment. If the Left prevents the state from silencing the most extreme clerics of _minority_ religions, or the Right prevents the state from silencing the most extreme clerics of _majority_ religions, then we may be in a bit more trouble.

Aside from terrorist recruitment, I really don't see most Americans getting crazy enough to do violence because two men they never met got "married" or because their kid was forced to listen to a prayer in school.

Paramilitary organizations that are not government-affiliated also don't seem to be a huge threat. The government has infiltrated and gelded both militias and extreme-environmentalist groups.

So what other threats are there? That our government will become abusive enough to inspire a coup? Perhaps--but our government is vastly better than a lot of corrupt populist "democratic" governments that haven't come close to falling.

Does that mean the situation is stable? Well, why not? Our lives are becoming increasingly virtualized. It's easy to ignore your neighbors. It's easy to sublimate your passions (just posting to blogs and forums can be cathartic). Are we really worse off with today's divisions and passions than we were a few decades ago, when people of one color could and did lynch people of another color with impunity?

Can we regain sanity? I don't know. I suspect that a significant fraction of the passion is deliberately manufactured. Sometimes for economic reasons. Sometimes to gain votes or parishioners. I don't know what would stop that, unless we just collectively get tired of it. Get tired of laboring in a constant state of manufactured fear. Realize that the national sky isn't falling after all, and probably won't. Decide we'd like to just get on with life. Perhaps even learn to find more meaningful issues to spend our energy on.

Chris

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