Obama attacks America’s most central belief (and a disquistion on the passive voice)
second plane hit the World Trade Center, everyone instantly knew that it was not an accident but a terrorist attack on America. When Obama for the second time in seven days leaves out the words “by their Creator” from his quotation of the phrase “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence, it becomes instantly clear that it is not a mistake but a liberal attack on America.
See Terence Jeffrey’s article at CNS News.
- end of initial entry -
Alan M. writes:
Again a leftist uses the passive voice (to hide agency when it doesn’t suit his purpose.
“And what was sustaining us was that sense that, that North Star, that sense that, you know what, if we stay true to our values, if we believe that all people are created equal and everybody is endowed with certain inalienable rights and we’re going to make those words live, and we’re going to give everybody opportunity, everybody a ladder into the middle class, every child able to go as far as their dreams will take them—if we stay true to that, then we’re going to be able to maintain the energy and the focus, the fight, the gumption to get stuff done.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Obama said at that event, “that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s what makes us unique.”
Their use of the passive voice is a trigger that should always cause us to pay attention. It is a “tell,” if you will. The passive voice hides agency, who or what is acting, and makes the expressed thoughts less clear.
I remember my English composition teachers pushing us to use the active voice when writing but I never really understood the true reason: thinking clearly and logically is helped by writing clearly and logically. Part of your mission, Lawrence, as I see it, is holding us to a higher standard of reason and not letting fuzzy thinking stand and that is why I think this is an important lesson to share.
A useful antidote for leftist thinking is to look for the passive voice and work to clarify the agent involved. What do you think would have happened if a reporter had an opportunity to ask Obama, “Who created the people?”, and, “Who endowed us with these rights?” The answer would be instructive. If Obama had answered it. For the true answer is hidden in his first statement above when he did use the active voice:
“And what was sustaining us was that sense that, that North Star, that sense that, you know what, if we stay true to our values, if we believe that all people are created equal and everybody is endowed with certain inalienable rights and we’re going to make those words live, and we’re going to give everybody opportunity, everybody a ladder into the middle class, every child able to go as far as their dreams will take them—if we stay true to that, then we’re going to be able to maintain the energy and the focus, the fight, the gumption to get stuff done,”
What Obama was saying was that God does not give life, “we” do. God does not give opportunity, “we” do. The clear implication is that “we” are God.
Their language is the key to understanding them. It can also be a weapon to disarm them.
But the original uses the passive voice too: “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator … ”
Alan M. replies:
Good point, though it does define the agent. I guess I have to define the issue better. Using the passive voice while hiding the agent?
Thanks for the quick response … as I pointed out—you are a very clear thinker and are helping everyone who will listen to think more clearly:-)
That’s interesting. There are two aspects that have to be separated out. One is the passive voice. The other is not identifying the agent.
The typical behind-covering sentence, “Mistakes were made,” has both the passive voice, and the non-identification of an agent. So that’s the worst.
The sentence, “Mistakes were made by the chief inspector,” has the passive voice, but does identify the agent.
So the main problem is not the passive voice, the main problem is the non-identification of the agent.
The problem with the passive voice is more a problem of style than of substance. Orwell said that the passive voice should never be used, but in my view that’s taking things too far. I don’t believe in such rigid rules.
The most horrendous use ever of passive voice plus non-identification of the agent was a crime story from Britain about a year ago. I don’t know if I can find it.
I found it, in one shot, by searching for
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 28, 2010 09:08 AM | Send
“passive voice” Britain bridge
at VFR. The entry was in June 2009. Somehow I remembered there was a bridge in the story and that helped. The whole thing is worth reading. Here I’m copying the first part of the entry:
Knives on crime spree across Britain
Now it’s not just “the passive voice” that’s going on here. That’s not a precise enough description. As Alan has shown us, it’s the combination of the passive voice with the non-identification of the agent which is the problem, plus, in this case, the much more audaciously PC step of turning the knife into the agent and removing the human agent from the scene altogether.
Another local British paper, This Is Nottingham, reported yesterday:
A 15-year-old boy was slashed across the chest with a blade as he walked to school.
The boy “was slashed across the chest with a blade.” He “was attacked.” Police confirmed that the attack “happened.”
The pupil at Nottingham Emmanuel School, in West Bridgford, was attacked as he walked from the Meadows area at 8.30am yesterday.
Police confirmed the attack happened in woodland near Main Road, Wilford, after the boy had crossed the Toll Bridge.
So, nobody slashed the boy, he “was slashed with a blade,” as though the blade did it. No one attacked him, he “was attacked.” There was no one who committed the attack, the attack “happened.”
The story continues:
Police are hunting for three black males in their late teens wearing black hooded tops. It’s not until the fifth paragraph of the article that an active agent, “they,” identified as “three black males,” enters the scene and is described actually committing the knife attack. But the reporter, as though shocked at his slip into the active voice, not to mention his racial description of the attackers, immediately reverts to an even more elaborate exercise in the passive voice:
They hit the boy over the head before slashing him as he tried to defend himself.
The boy told officers he saw a shiny blade and was slashed across the chest before escaping to his school nearby, bloodied and in shock.
He “saw the shiny blade and was slashed.” It’s as though the blade was just hanging there in the air by itself and committed the act of slashing on its own accord.
[end of excerpt of June 2009 entry]
The June 2009 entry continues with the knife of Macbeth’s “fatal vision” which like the knife in this story, commits crimes by itself, and then goes on to a re-writing of the assassination of Julius Caesar in the passive voice.