Monday, December 6, 2010

Straight talk: an example (8) – Joseph Sobran

For educational purposes, we writers should occasionally read or listen to an example of straight talk. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with the statements – what matters is the way the statements are expressed. Reading or hearing straight talk can help make us more aware of the evasive diction that besets us every day, so we won’t unconsciously imitate it.

An example of straight talk

The American columnist Joseph Sobran (1946-2010) was a man of straight talk.

For example, here are the first four paragraphs of his March 7, 2002 column, titled “How Might Makes Right.”

“Whatever they may say, most people assume that might makes right. Abstractly, they may consider this is shocking and cynical doctrine; yet in practice they live by it. In plain language, they go with the winners.

“They take it for granted, for example, that the Civil War proved that the North was right and the South wrong: no state may constitutionally secede from the Union. All the war really proved was what wise men knew at the outset: that Northern industrial superiority was overwhelming. (If the South had won, most people would, with equal illogic, accept that as proof that the South was right.)

“In ratifying the Constitution, the states voluntarily joined a confederated Union; they didn’t give up the “sovereignty, freedom, and independence” they had retained under the Articles of Confederation. Such a radical change would have had to be explicit.

“If secession was to be unconstitutional, the Constitution would have had to forbid it. It would also have had to provide some method of dealing with it if a state seceded anyway. It did neither.”

The Takeaway: Many of us are startled when we read or hear straight talk. We react this way because we have been habituated to euphemistical, effete, evasive diction. I advise you to occasionally read or listen to some straight talk. By contrast, it will help you remain consciously aware of evasiveness – and therefore less likely to unconsciously absorb and imitate evasive diction.

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