America the Beautiful (For English, Press One)

By Cyberquill 02/10/2014Leave a Comment

In order to engage in any meaningful debate—emphasis on meaningful—the contending parties must first determine exactly what is in dispute, i.e., identify the true heart of the controversy.

In classical rhetoric, the term stasis, which literally means a “point of rest,” refers to the fulcrum point a dispute revolves around—the point where neither force can proceed because the other force opposes it.

Unless the stasis of a given squabble is clarified, one invariable gets the sense that the disputants are talking past each other.

A typical case would be a situation where camp A keeps assailing camp B for a position the latter doesn’t actually espouse.

For instance, solely based on my professed dislike for steamed Brussels sprouts in my morning Frosties, it would be somewhat precipitous for you to call me an all-out vegetable hater. Sure, I might hate vegetables wholesale, but you cannot jump to that conclusion without ignoring the nuances in my statement.

Based on my statement alone, it is impossible to draw reliable inferences regarding my stance on vegetables in general. I may abhor all vegetables at all times, or I may shun only Brussels sprouts in my Frosties, and only in the morning, and only when they’re steamed rather than, say, stir-fried.

Inferences from the part to the whole are inductive rather than deductive.

To induce means to infer from the known to the unknown—i.e., the inference maker adds brand-new information—whereas to deduce is merely to state what has already been established and hence contains no new information.

If all girls are stupid, it follows that Jennifer, Heather, and Kathy are stupid. That’s a simple deduction, as I’ve added no new information. I’d already established that all girls were stupid, and since the word all, by definition, includes the three females I chose to single out, I might as well have stopped there.

In contrast, to conclude that because Jennifer, Heather, and Kathy are stupid, therefore all girls are stupid, is an inductive generalization. Now I’ve suddenly pulled plenty of new information out of thin air, namely that billions of females suffer from mental obtusion solely based on the fact that three specific ones do.

Likewise, if I said I hated vegetables, adding that I hated steamed Brussels sprouts in my Frosties would fail to provide new information not yet included in “I hate vegetables.”

But if I say I hate steamed Brussels sprouts in my Frosties, to infer that this must mean I hate all vegetables requires quite a leap of inductive speculation.

Thus, if I keep insisting I hate steamed Brussels sprouts in my Frosties, whereupon you keep lecturing me on the benefits of vegetables in the human diet as if mine encompassed none, our stases are hopelessly mismatched, as we have failed to identify the heart of our dispute. I’m not being overly clear, and you’re ascribing to me a position I may or may not hold.

Or I may put forth emphatically how much I love vegetables except for steamed Brussels sprouts in my Frosties, yet in your view, any stated dislike for one particular type of crucifer prepared a certain way and served with a given dish constitutes a telltale sign you’re dealing with an full-fledged vegetable hater, the thus accused individual’s overt protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Either way, our audience will get the sense that we’re barking up two different trees.

So Coca-Cola ran this ad during the Superbowl that featured “America the Beautiful” sung in several languages besides English.

Predictably, many conservatives went nuts, stating their preference that this particular song be performed in English only, whereupon, no less predictable, many liberals took to slamming these conservatives for allegedly freaking out in the face of a changing demographic in favor of “non-whites.”

On the face of it, what does a person’s ethnicity have to do with their ability or willingness to warble a given tune in English?

Nothing, obviously, or Bob Marley couldn’t have confessed to having plugged the sheriff in a language that local law enforcement would have understood.

So what if the Coke commercial had been the same except for these non-whites singing “America the Beautiful” in accented English rather than their native tongues? Would the same folks that lamented the song being translated into different languages be equally incensed, or would they instead applaud the ad for promoting the linguistic assimilation of non-English native speakers?

Hard to say, but it seems somewhat hasty, indeed non-sequiturous, to accuse of ethnicity-based xenophobia those that merely express concern over a perceived celebration of non-assimilation. To posit that to have a problem with this particular Coke commercial invariably betokens a dread of “non-white” immigration constitutes a veritable pole-vault of inductive speculation.

Difficult as it may be for some people to wrap their super-inclusive noggins around this concept, it is possible for a person to (a) be perfectly color-blind in the ethnicity department and (b) get annoyed at—or worry about—the ubiquitous prompt to press one for English. Chances are, this person would be similarly annoyed or worried if languages #2 and #3 were German and Swedish (generally spoken by whites) rather than Spanish and Chinese (generally spoken by non-whites).

Individuals like Jim Clancy from CNN, in hosting excruciatingly lopsided segments on the opposition to the Coke commercial in question, armed with graphs and stats on the ongoing shift in demographics that will some day result in whites assuming minority status in the U.S., a shift that allegedly sends shivers down the spines of those that “have not yet caught up to the fact that America is changing demographically,” thus tarring with one brush dyed-in-the-wool xenophobes and those who simply believe that promoting a unified language may help reinforce the “United” in “United States,” either don’t seem to realize, or don’t care about, the extent to which they are conflating two separate issues, namely (a) the fear of “non-whites” and (b) the desire that immigrants (of whatever color) assimilate in certain basics, like learning the language.

Thus, intentionally or otherwise, they muddle the whole debate, for as long as the two camps appear to be arguing different matters, the stasis—the fulcrum point—of the Coca-Cola controversy never has a chance to crystallize clearly.

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