Sunday, June 28, 2020

I hear the dog-whistle

Or I suppose we could say, the context:

“I cherish the progress that we have made,” [Vice President Mike Pence] continued, “for African-Americans throughout our history. And I’ve aspired throughout my career to be a part of that ongoing work. It’s really a heart issue for me. And as a pro-life Americans, I also believe that all lives matter, born and the unborn.”
But honest-to-Pete, "unborn"?  Is that like "undead"?  Is that some reference to all the souls in waiting, anxious at their turn on this earth?  Is that some reference to our responsibility to "be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth"? (We'll argue the proper understanding of Genesis another day.)  Does "unborn" somehow mean the not yet brought to term because not yet pregnant duty of women to get pregnant and bring those souls into the world as babies?

Seriously.  At what point does terminology like this not just become madness and insanity?  "Unborn"?  What the hell is that?  "Born" has a distinct starting point, kind of liked "dead" had a distinct ending point.  Interestingly, "born" and "dead" are both rather transitive states, because birth is a process and death is a process, and "born" and "dead" stand at the conclusion of either, as appropriate, and means the condition established by one or the other.  But "unborn"?  What does that refer to?

Gore Vidal once said "the silent majority" was a term used by Homer to describe the dead.  I've never found the reference elsewhere, and haven't combed Homer to brush out that particular nit, but it's a sensible metaphor.   But Pence is not speaking metaphorically here, so what does the term mean?  It's kind of like "undead," which is a cute way of establishing a fantasticaly middle category between dead and alive, since Dracula (whom Stoker called "undead," the first usage of the word, AFAIK) as animate but not living.  Dead things are not animate.  But "unborn"?

I suppose my daughter was "unborn" the 9 months she was in utero, but I never thought of her that way.  I just thought of her as "not born yet."  "Unborn" sounds like something undone, like "untied" (or "uneducated," but that again would mean "not born").  Of course in that sense "unborn" is....dead.  "Unborn" should not carry the sense of "not born yet," because the prefix undoes what the noun/verb (depending on context!) says.  Or it should.

So, grammar aside (let's not get lost discussing what a noun turns into when it becomes a verb but can still be a noun, leave that to the 19th century Latin scholars), what the hell is "unborn"?  I mean, other than a dog-whistle.  Because it's clearly that; and it ain't much more.

As to why can't Mike Pence say "Black Lives Matter"?  The question answers itself, doesn't it?  I mean:

I cherish the progress that we have made for African-Americans throughout our history.

 just screams:  WHITE MAN'S BURDEN!  As well as:  "Doin' pretty good, ain't we?"  There's more than one reason Trump and Pence still get along.

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