Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thomas Sowell on Cheapening Language to Ensure Cheap Labor

Update below

There are exceptions but usually when someone dismisses an opposing viewpoint on the grounds that it's "just a matter of semantics," it's an indicator that they can't refute the substance of the argument. Consequently, they seek to persuade onlookers and listeners that what may sound like a strong case is actually illusory. Regretfully, in the age of the sound byte it's all too easy for cliche's, euphemisms, and slogans to pass for well-reasoned arguments. Rarely do people take the time to analyze language, especially when trying to squeeze thoughts in between commercial breaks.

Resisting the tendency to treat words as nothing more than instrumental means to desired ends, Thomas Sowell notes the role word twisting plays in the current immigration debate:

We can't even call illegal immigrants "illegal immigrants." The politically correct evasion is "undocumented workers."

Do American citizens go around carrying documents with them when they work or apply for work? Most Americans are undocumented workers but they are not illegal immigrants. There is a difference.

The Bush administration is pushing a program to legalize "guest workers." But what is a guest? Someone you have invited. People who force their way into your home without your permission are called gate crashers.

If truth-in-packaging laws applied to politics, the Bush guest worker program would have to be called a "gate-crasher worker" program. The President's proposal would solve the problem of illegal immigration by legalizing it after the fact.

Sowell points out what's wrong with the commonly touted claim that the American economy needs illegal immigrants in order to thrive and puts his finger on what the linguistic smoke and mirrors are designed to hide: "None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor."

(HT: The Pearcey Report)

UPDATE: When I posted this I didn't know Sowell's was a two-part commentary. Here's the link for Part II.

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PDS said...

Sowell is a highly underrated thinker. "A Conflict of Visions" is still one of the best contemporary books I have read.

read with open eyes said...

The key word in this article, it seems to me, is "sophistry." Not only about the immigration issue, but for most areas of public and private debate, we are back to the days before Socrates. Too bad for us.