Close reading of RedState (sorry)
The anniversary of Roe v Wade is a big deal for both the supporters and detractors of the belief that women are people, as I’m sure you’re aware. RedState.com decided to commemorate the anniversary by competing for the first prize in the contest of who could write the most tasteless, ignorant, and offensive post ever in support of forced childbirth. I think you’ll agree that what they came up with is a contender in what is a crowded field. It’s a post that manages to assert that embryos are people, but women are nothing more than “physical locations”. It suggests that black people have equal claim to be considered persons as multi-celled entities that, unlike black people (or women, or children, or gay people, or whoever else conservatives care less about than the initial evidence that a male orgasm has definitely occurred in the recent past in a bona fide vagina), do not have brains, emotions, rationality, consciousness, relationships, desires or ambitions. They tried to gross you out in lieu of making a real argument. They compared themselves to abolitionists while also trying to trumpet the Confederates as noble insurrectionists against federal tyranny.
But all these things are par for the course when it comes to wingnuttery. What really made this post stand out was this passage:
Here at RedState, we too have drawn a line. We will not endorse any candidate who will not reject the judicial usurpation of Roe v. Wade and affirm that the unborn are no less entitled to a right to live simply because of their size or their physical location. Those who wish to write on the front page of RedState must make the same pledge. The reason for this is simple: once before, our nation was forced to repudiate the Supreme Court with mass bloodshed. We remain steadfast in our belief that this will not be necessary again, but only if those committed to justice do not waiver or compromise, and send a clear and unmistakable signal to their elected officials of what must be necessary to earn our support.
Yep, they threatened armed revolt if they don’t get their way on this. I guess they figured that Gabrielle Giffords was being moved from the hospital to rehab, so it was okay to loosen the tie a little and get back to business. This was pretty stunning all the same, so I did what I’m accustomed to doing in these situations, which is leaping to Twitter to make fun of these golf pants-wearing nimrods with fantasies of armed revolution in their heads. This was not, as you can imagine, well-received by said wingnuts. Josh Trevino, especially, decided to start arguing with me in that tone that’s unique to very stupid men who have bought into the cultural lie that their penises make them smarter than all women. It was kind of entertaining for awhile to argue with him (particularly asking questions he refused to answer, mostly in terms of who actually started the Civil War by seceding in defense of slavery, and whether or not people who shoot abortion doctors feel strongly on the subject of banning abortion), but I did hit my fool-suffering limit and dropped out after awhile. There are Brussels sprouts to roast and toilets to clean, you know For all I know, he’s still ranting about how I’m illiterate because I believe the insurrection that started the Civil War was in defense of slavery.
Nonetheless, I’m always up for a challenge, and Josh challenged my ability to read English, so I figured we’d have some fun doing what those of us with degrees in English lit call a “close reading” of the passage above. For funsies. Also, because I, you know, take domestic terrorism very seriously and don’t think it’s all that cool for RedState to deliberately provoke would-be anti-abortion terrorists. And I like believing that my four years of college gave me a useful skill beyond obsessive pop culture list-making. We’ll start with “The reason for this”, because that’s where shit gets really interesting.
The reason for this is simple: once before, our nation was forced to repudiate the Supreme Court with mass bloodshed.
It’s clear from both the wording of this and the squawking on Twitter that this passage is supposed to be ambiguous enough to both allow the readers to read whatever they want into it, and create plausible deniability for the editors at RedState. The Supreme Court decision that’s being referenced is the favorite one of anti-choicers, which is the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that held that slaves or even free people whose ancestors were slaves could not be considered U.S. citizens. As part of the offensive project of comparing black people to literally brainless clumps of cells that could become people but are not yet people, anti-choicers really like to linger on this one. They also like to compare themselves to abolitionists, even though abolitionists by and large thought black people had more claim to personhood than brainless clumps of cells.
The problem with borrowing the abolitionist legacy is not just that it was a liberal, progressive movement (that gave birth to the anti-racist movement and the feminist movement) is that conservative sympathies usually run not towards the Union, but towards the Confederacy, which gave them the “states rights” arguments they’re so fond of and a flag they often like to use for decorative purposes. Also, with all this Tea Party talk of insurrection, the Confederacy—the largest and most successful (in the sense that it took four years to put it down) insurrection in American history—is a natural precedent to look towards. And that’s what they’re doing here, drawing on a previous insurrection that was, as they note, national in scope. Indeed, over half a million people died in this particular insurrection.
Of course, the problem here is that the insurrectionists actually sided with the Dred Scott decision. RedState hopes to kind of skip over this by saying, in essence, “Slavery just happened to cause this big war, let’s not look at the particulars or anything. Let’s just say revolting is good and slavery is bad, and not dwell on those inconvenient questions of who actually started the fight over slavery and why they started it.” And this, my friends, is a pretty stupid thing to glide over, because even the biggest Dixie flag-waving Confederate apologist has to admit that the side that seceded was also the side that had slaves.
Thus, we’re left with a passage that ends up strongly implying the South seceded in order to reject slavery, when the opposite is true. But said so in ambiguous language that allows the reader to walk away with that impression without you saying so directly. But the attempt to get away with this is unsuccessful, because the “nation” did not violently revolt against the Supreme Court. The South violently revolted against what they perceived as impending emancipation.
In sum, it’s ridiculous to say the nation went to war to reject the Dred Scott decision, since the people who started the war supported the Dred Scott decision.
We remain steadfast in our belief that this will not be necessary again,
Again, I think the hope may be that there’s enough ambiguity in the word “this” as to create plausible deniability. But it’s clear from the fact that this sentence immediately follows the other one that “this” is referencing “mass bloodshed” in rejection of a Supreme Court decision. That the mass bloodshed was actually caused by a defense of said Supreme Court decision has been established, so let’s set that aside for now. The use of the word “necessary” here establishes the idea that mass bloodshed to reject a Supreme Court decision—which is clearly Roe v Wade—is defensible in some circumstances.
What’s interesting here is that there’s another falsehood in play, and this time it’s not just misdirection through implication, as with the neo-Confederate abolitionist weirdness above. This sentence implies that violence in protest of abortion rights is a theoretical concept, something that could happen in the future, but hasn’t happened yet. But, in fact, insurrectionist/terrorist violence in protest of abortion has been an ongoing problem, and many lives have been taken, the most recent being in 2009. This is a good indicator of how we’re more in a fantasy than in a world where people are talking about reality and the things that actually happen in it. Unfortunately, there are people out there who take seriously this fantasy land where the existence of abortion is some grave moral crisis that needs to be addressed with violence, and they actually do kill people.
but only if
This conjunction is a common one, and it’s used pretty much exclusively to indicate that an exception is going to be made to whatever was said before. So, before they said they didn’t believe violence was necessary, and so they’re going to make an exception now. And that exception will be an explanation of what will make violence “necessary”. And by “necessary”, they mean that it will have to happen.
If this is confusing, let me use another, less vitriolic example of the same kind of phrasing: “I remain steadfast in my belief that cleaning up cat puke is not necessary, but only if the cats continue to not puke on my floor.” Granted, my understanding of English has been questioned, but I think most reasonable people would understand that I’m using unnecessarily flowery language to say that there’s no cat puke on the floor, but if cat puke were to be ejected from my cat onto the floor, I’d clean it up. You could even say I was threatening to keep the floor clean of cat puke.
As one would expect after a “but only if”, there are conditions:
those committed to justice do not waiver or compromise,
I think we can safely say the term “justice” is a reference to the belief that women don’t deserve full human rights. This kind of deliberate use of terms to mean the opposite of what they usually mean is common in wingnut speak, such as when they use the term “race-baiting” when what they mean is “criticizing race-baiters for race-baiting”. Also, I think—though again, my English skills are poor, so back me up on this, folks—that they meant “waver” instead of “waiver” there. Though that’s an understandable mistake, though kind of amusing, since the only waivering they demand is to waiver the rights of women.
and send a clear and unmistakable signal to their elected officials of what must be necessary to earn our support.
What they want is a ban on abortion, and, for many/most of them, serious access restrictions to contraception. Technically speaking, they’re saying as long as anti-choicers continue to be belligerent assholes, they won’t be forced to shoot anyone. But I think the implication runs much more deeply than that. After all, the concern is that elected officials won’t earn their support by continuing to chip away at women’s basic human rights. If elected officials don’t take serious action to ban abortion, or at least run it underground so that more women find themselves turning to back alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell, then what? They’ve lost their support, and people who are sending a signal tend to waver when that signal isn’t getting any results. And once the wavering has commenced, by their own measures, it’s time to engage in necessary violence to revolt against abortion rights.
I dunno. Sounds like a threat to me. The nauseatingly bad prose just adds insult to injury. I realize there’s a lot of pseudo-intellectuals banging around RedState, but if I may make one small request? When you threaten people, guys, could you do with straightforward, direct prose? Threatening people in flowery language makes me think of horror movie serial killers. Say what you will about the threats being issued against Frances Piven, but you can’t fault them for their all-American directness.