By Robert S. Becker July 21, '10
If Palin were aware of the world outside her head, she'd have quit on "refudiate" before committing a more serious theological blunder. Unless attention and celebrity solely define your notion of brassy cleverness or career advancement.
There's something to be said, aside from "you can't fix stupid," about marching backwards but never retreating. It's a calamity William Osler summarized some years ago, "The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism."
Palin was stuck, hesitant to admit only a typo turned "repudiate" into "refudiate." She had used the same non-word on FOX when attacking the president regarding NAACP charges of Tea Party racism. But when you stridently defend a howler, invoking no lesser being than Shakespeare, you make things worse. Adults then think your "mistakes" are not about spelling but intelligence or literacy, the ability to use a dictionary, even basic communication etiquette, more damning than any typo.
The inability to admit even tiny errors raises the worst case of all: the total inability to admit error, thus defaulting to delusions of infallability. Yes, yes, I know, living saints don't make errors so they don't have to admit what never happens.
Undermining Biblical Literalism
But now, she's really done it, coming with up a viable theory of language that, when implications come forth, should cause an evangelical firestorm. By positing English is a "living language," doesn't Palin "refudiate" the core assumption on which fundamentalist literalism depends, the key to her quaint version of distorted Christianity? Whether unconscious or oblivious subversion, admitting language is living, especially in the trivial pursuit of being defensive, is not where any born-again charismatic wants to go.
If language is "living," then sinful speakers continually distort the pure original. Then, as language evolves, what gets created dooms literalist notions: ambiguity that mandate periodic interpretations. That elevates the enemy of linguistic literalism: history and context, which every linguist worth his/her salt acknowledges informs ultimate meaning, intention, and function.
So, now, we have both a language and religious free-for-all: everyone can make it up as they go along. No word, no blunder, no confusion is against the rules, for there aren't any. Even if bodily dangers result. Any cop devoted to Palinese, having stopped you for a missing back light, yells, "Don't move or I'll shoot," when he simply means, "Don't mope or I'll scoot." Practically the same notions.
I tell you: make Palinese the national language and civilization will truly descend, even faster than were she to become president. Project her White House instructions during wartime: "don't shoot if you see the whites of their skin," or is that "kin" or is that "shoot up." Or "don't sh*t . . . " whatever. If it's good enough for Palin's "living English," it's everyone for herself.
Freedom Can Be Overdone
Further, is English the only "living language" for Palin how about the Aramaic Jesus spoke, or the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that carried the history of the Jews (and the Gospel) into her inspired Biblical English? If the Bible is the literal word of God, then it is the perfect word of God, thus immune from personal whims and vagaries. Or is the language of the Bible not "alive," some special museum variety fixed like ancient monuments (though these still get re-interpreted every generation)?
Of course, no one who studies language ever divorces actual texts, even in translation, from the source, the context, the history and people who create them to communicate. Here, Palin endorses the book-learned know-it-alls she regularly impugns. Literalism is impossible, whether in analyzing yesterday's chatter or holy books, mocking the nature of language, from farcical gestures or pig Latin to church Latin. Only those justifying their faith with absurdly fixated language theories believe any single word has one and only one meaning, that context and circumstance do not matter. Even numbers, fairly unambiguous symbols, mean more than one thing.
Belligerent Ignorance, The Rogue Model
So, badly-educated, contemptuous Sarah tosses off her defensive joke that she's following in Shakespeare's footsteps but in fact undermines the very key assumptions that drive her rightwing intolerance and ignorance. It couldn't happen to a nicer girl or a more absurd belief system. I mean, in no time I bet, fundamentalists will predict some force descending to earth, embracing his faithful and whisking them rapturously to Heaven without a moment to say goodbye to pets. Just imagine.
Not only can't you "fix stupid," as Ron White joked, but brashly unapologetic, chin-thrusting ignorance smashes its blunt cudgel against those who know more and know better. What if every sixth grader responded to their own bonehead errors the way Palin does: "I didn't break any rules because there aren't any: I only imitated Shakespeare, our greatest writer, and Sarah Palin, our greatest missionary-patriot."
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