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Thursday, 22 October 2009

I don't stomp on puppies, but I'm not a hard-liner, or anything....

When do we use the word "hard-liner"?

The Wall Street Journal, in the person of someone named Stacy Meichtry, tells us, "Long regarded as a hard-liner on religious doctrine, Pope Benedict XVI also is emerging as the pontiff of interchurch, or ecumenical, relations."

What do they mean by "hard-liner", do you suppose?

Oh, I know what it means, someone for whom something is, or nearly, non-negotiable.

But let's be honest, there are implications beyond that, and they are pejorative, the connotation is of an uncompassionate rigidity.

The word is part of the official journalists lexicon of adjectives and nouns to be used to describe the current Pope.

But in the context of "religious doctrine" the word is ludicrous, almost meaningless -- religious doctrine is about revealed truth and the practice of virtue, how could truth and the practice of virtue not be non-negotiable for any Pope, almost any believer?
One, well..... believes one's religious beliefs.

(Excepting always those people who stand up every Sunday and say "We believe.....," but it's not like we really believe it and stuff, ya know?)

Would a journalist use the word "hard-liner" to describe those who hold to other kinds of truth, or believe in other virtues?

Do people IRL describe those with whom they agree thusly?

Are those of us who believe the earth is more or less spherical considered "hard-liners" in our dealings with flat-earthers?

Would a woman ever say, I think it would be wrong to sleep with my sisters' husbands, but I'm not a hard-liner about it?

Of course, those who hold some positions would never be referred to as hard-liners because they don't hold them very strongly, or publicly, or exhibit any zeal to convert others to their positions.

But I think we can agree that marquee-name atheist Christopher Hitchens is not one such, no? neither waffler nor shrinking violet he.

I wonder how often Hitchens is described as a "hard-liner"? or the president of NOW?

To quote the elder sister, Let's look it up, SHALL we?

Let's go a-googling.

The word "hard-liner" itself gets 128,000 hits.

Christopher Hitchens gets 1,300,000; Christopher Hitchens and the expression "hard-liner" gets 810. (1 in 1605)
Benedict XVI gets 3,630,000 hits, add in "hard-liner" and you get 5,720, 1 in every 635.

What does this reflect? that we expect an atheist to have the courage of his convictions, but we are so used to religious leaders who don't that we need to tag those who actually do?

Bringing up the president of NOW turns out to be embarrassing, as I had the wrong name in mind. It was Kim Gandy until recently, now it's Terry O Neill.

Gandy gets 40, 600 hits, + "hard-liner" and you get 194; O'Neil get 47,400, + "hard-liner" gets you 1990.

Of course, just because the phrase appears on a page about a given subject it doesn't follow that it is applied to the subject.

The Dalai Lama, for instance, gets eight and a half million hits, and adding "hard-liner" gets you down to 1,460, but for the first I don't know how many pages, it is always the Chinese Communists or their policies that are described so.

I'd bet no one has ever called the Dalai Lama a hard-liner.

So, does "hard-liner" mean someone who won't budge on a position I don't like, or my editor does not hold, with which a majority of people disagree, or which is politically errant?

A little experiment, one more set of stats, googling for an exact phrase this time, so that we won't pick up pages that refer to someone's opponents as hard-liners, an issue on which we as a nation are almost evenly divided, and the partisans on both sides of which, no one would deny, are passionately convicted:
"pro-abortion hard-liner" 2
"pro-choice hard-liner" 2
"pro-life hard-liner" 2
[Okay, pretty even-handed, wouldn't you say? and then...]
"anti-abortion hard-liner" 87
I'm just sayin'...

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