More and more, I read and hear people ridiculing a cluster of “postmodern” ideas: that “reality is socially constructed,” that “language is a political power-play,” that rhetoric molds passionate intensity and conviction along with it.

Denying the socially-constructed quality of social reality, and the element of power-play in the meaning of words, seems to have become a “conservative” mantra. If the terms “conservative” and “liberal” actually have any meaning any more, which I’m beginning to doubt.

This has been striking me as ironic for some time, but the irony is deeper than I realized.

Newt Gingrich, himself a “conservative,” championed intentionally applying “the rhetorical construction of reality” (or, “messaging” or “spin”) to US political engagement. This isn’t technically “news,”[*] although it was news to me.

Maybe I was asleep during the 90s.

Oh, no, wait, I was working in advertising.

Where the possibilities inherent in the socially constructed nature of social reality and in the use of language to mold perception were the foundation of all our work. Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice this alleged “shift” in public discourse at the time.

It just seemed like “business as usual.”


[*] The memo “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” made big news when it was leaked, but the rhetorical approach it outlines is ancient, and straightforward. The news seems to have been the specific vocabulary it recommended. [This is an example of what focus groups are good for.] The GOPAC instructional tapes it references have been in the Library of Congress since 2010. GOPAC itself is still a going concern, with its own Wikipedia entry. Thanks to Gordon Stewart at Views From the Edge for bringing the memo to my attention.


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