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Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Great National Nightmare of Obfusition

Today I decided to create a new word for the English language: OBFUSITION.  It is a term for a debating technique that is deliberately deeply offensive.  Those who use this technique think it's okay, because everyone is being deeply offensive.  If it's not deeply offensive, it's un-American.

Obfusition is a portmanteau of obfuscation and opposition. 
    render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.
    resistance or dissent, expressed in action or argument.

Simply put, Obfusition is the use of obfuscation rather than an actual response to oppose an argument.

Note I used obfuscation, and not obscuration, because fewer people know the word obfuscation and thus it is ever so much more clever and pretentious-sounding.

Obfusition is a superset of an old concept called a "straw man argument."  According to Wikipedia, "A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent."  If your opponent says something to which you don't have a response, you say or imply they said something else, and respond to that.  If you succeed, they respond to your straw man and defend the position they never actually took, rather than sticking to their original point, so you win.

Obfusition is easier than a full straw man.  In it's simplest form, you hang a loud and offensive label on your opponent's argument -- or on your opponent.  If that label, that meme, is loud enough and offensive enough, your opponent may not be able to respond at all, being so deeply angered and offended. 

Further, many of the labels commonly used in obfusition tend to cause knee-jerk, devisive reactions from your audience.  Your supporters and those of your opponent start screeching and throwing poo at each other, unless they didn't actually bring poo to the debate, then they just screech.  Often, no more words are necessary; they won't be understood in any case.  There are no longer any English speakers in the room.

Obfusitions can be unreasonably powerful, because the use of some obfusitions implies your opponent is not allowed to respond, and for that matter, may not be allowed to be offended.  Many obfusitions are taken as true on face value, so emotionally fraught with connotations that the audience believes they must be absolutely true because they've been stated.  Then the obfusitionist need only offer reasons why one ought to agree with the obfusition.  Your opponent's original statement is not, and often can not be, intelligently discussed any further.

It should also be noted that the word "obfusition" is recursive.  Calling an argument an obfusition may be an obfusition.

Also, many obfusitions are abuses of clever and trendy words, phrases and memes that previously had a very specific meaning, referring to one and only one sort of behavior.  Use the obfusition for any given behavior, and It Must Be True, because the word or phrase is familiar and clever-sounding, even if the original meaning is forgotten and has nothing to do with what actually happened.  "But he liked so well having thought of it, he says again, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors."

One reason, I believe, that obfusitions are so impactful, is that they trigger something fundamental in the "lizard brain."  Humans are genetically still those wild creatures that ran naked on the plains, or in the jungles, mountains or forests, chasing down and clubbing other creatures to death with sticks and stones and eating their flesh raw, peeing and pooing wherever they happen to be.

One concept from the lizard brain we follow at a level long before thought, is "Us and Them."  We detect others of Us by sight, smell, actions and rarely speech.  Someone said somewhere that the name every tribe has for itself translates literally as "The People."  It follows that if we are People, they are not People.  Essentially every war is begun by convincing Us that They are not Like Us.  They are not Human.  Therefore, killing them is okay, and may even be required.

Our storytellers have vast influence, harkening back to the early Shaman who told the stories of The People, demonstrating by example what We do and how We do it.  If you don't do what we do according to the stories, You are not one of Us.  We should kill you.  Even if a storyteller intends some entirely different message, the Story impacts how we perceive the normal behavior of The People.  Some homework for you.  Consider horror stories in this context.

An effective obfusition applied to you makes you Them, not Us, not one of the People, not a Human.  We should not listen to you. If you keep talking, we should shout you down and chase you away.  Taken further, perhaps we should injure or kill you.

Again, we have never stopped being those wild, naked, vicious creatures.  Our children are born as exactly those creatures, and only those creatures.  Look closely, and you will see exactly that behavior in kids, Us versus Them, fighting to be the King of the Mountain, the Alpha.  We have learned over the millenia, and learned to teach our children, to refrain from those lizard responses.  It is not remarkable, in my opinion, that some of our children become killers.  It is truly miraculous that most children do not.  Somehow we make that happen.  Mostly.

So.  Obfusition.  I truly hesitate at a visceral level to use any examples.  Doubtless some of my audience will start screeching and throwing poo at each other.

Elitist.  Intellectual. Idiot. Liberal.  Conservative.  Communist.  Fascist. Nazi.  Racist. Insert here all the racist epithets you can remember, there are a lot of them.  Paranoid. Atheist.   Further expanding the list is left as an exercise for the Reader.

And just for fun, let me offer a derivative obfusition.  "Mansplanation."  It has a specific meaning, you can Google it for yourself.  And is clever sounding.  If what you're opposing is not that specific phenomenon, even if it is in fact a man offering an explanation, even if one or more of the audience are female... it's an obfusition.  And yes, I am male, last time I checked.

Here, you can have your poo back.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: I thought of a related term, "Obfumation."  Affirmation via Obfuscation. Make your position sound like something positive by naming it something that doesn't reflect what you're actually saying, e.g., "Alt Right."

Further Deponent Sayeth Not.

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