Saturday, March 25, 2006

Wingnut and Moonbat

In the aftermath of the firing of Ben Domenech from the Washington Post, many people have been wondering how this relates to the role of partisanship in the current media environment.
As Glenn Greenwald put it:
It is a base, tribal mentality where group allegiance cleanses any and all wrongdoing and immunizes the individual from any accusations of wrongdoing. We have seen this play out over and over with every Bush scandal, where no conduct is too extreme and too facially wrong to be beyond their willingness to defend it away and justify it. If you support George Bush, you can do anything -- including stealing, like Domenech did repeatedly and extensively -- and still be defended, because your allegiance to the Leader means that anything you do is good, right and justifiable. That is the mentality that has been governing our country for five years now, and it is vividly apparent with this tawdry debacle.
Both sides are quick to discount the arguments of others, but I find that at DailyKos and on the liberal side, reasonable and non-inflammatory counters to opinions posted generally get addressed, whereas at RedState (which is a 527, gee that would be a nice thing for any blogger to have, right?):
Face the facts gentlemen By: synykyl
It was Ben's own behavior that brought him down, not the supposed incivility of his critics.

You are not welcome here. By: Erick
Just look at the two most partisan code words in current political dialogue: wingnut and moonbat. Always thought that would make a good name for a political cartoon(*hint*), but really the popularization of each of these terms among their respective political speech communities is indicative of the ways in which both groups have become polarized as to the epistemic value of other people's opinion.

As groups become more polarized towards certain ideas, in a sense, statements over time become more extreme in defense of those ideas. Moonbat and wingnut serve as shorthand terms for dismissing another's argument based purely on an encapsulation of their political philosophy. In short, they are the ad hominem kernel of the lexicon of partisanship. Have come to exclusively partisan denotation over time, they connotations of either word could be ascribed to people of varying political beliefs, as each remarks more about what each side thinks is the worst group condemnation of character that can be used to silence critics.

Moonbat, especially as originally used in the context of 'barking', implies through connotation that the speaker is a nocturnal flying rodent, connected to the moon, a classically feminine symbol of irrationality (lunacy) for its deceptive light (it just reflects the Sun, not producing light of its own) and capricious face. People who are eccentric (and thus more easily cast as the Other) are described as batty, or we say they have bats in the belfry. Thus people become creepy subhuman mammals, incapable of rational thought, forming vast lunar-worshipping swarms. The incoherence of 'barking' only adds to the perception that all of the arguments coming from a speaker with this label are inherently ill-formed. Thus their actions are likened to some primal reflex, like barking at the moon.

Wingnut has a polar set of connotations, but a parallel objective, the instant discrediting of a thought based upon an opinion of its source. A wingnut is a small metallic fastener designed to be capable of holding a bolt in place after being installed by hand, rather than by a tool. Unlike a bat, a wingnut is incapable of any thought, being a cold metallic inanimate object. It also serves as a contraction of "(right-)wing nut", nut being another word for a crazy person, however one with a more masculine (as in the allusion to the slang for testicles) implication. There is another, possibly related denotation for this term in the economic community, namely for someone predicting an immediate and catastrophic financial collapse.

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