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Saturday, January 1, 2011

By their words ye shall know them

Ever since the lugubrious events recounted in Judges 12:1-15 -- having to do with the pronunciation of the Hebrew word "shibboleth" -- it has been understood that, at least under certain circumstance, your words will give you away.

Take the unfortunate little publication sent abroad by the University of Toronto; you know, the one with "hegemonic" in its title. In its 108 pages of text and notes, it uses the word "hegemonic" fifty-two times. Once and once only in these fifty-two instances is there an attempt at definition:
Here I am defining hegemonic Holocaust education as projects that are sponsored by the Israeli government and/or mainstream Jewish organizations. These projects also tend to have the support of Western governments and institutions.
Clear ? Not to the uninitiated who might think that "hegemonic" has something to do with the ordinary dictionary take on the word: domination over others. Now if that is what the author means to say -- domination over others -- why not just put it that way ? Because, in context, it can be seen (by those schooled in the politics of neo-Marxist groupuscules) that the author has something much broader in mind: a general policy of racism, imperialism, anti-"queer" crimes, and many, many other bad things besides. "Hegemony" in something like this meaning was introduced by the dissident Bolshevik Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and then became more and more of an all-purpose cuss word for latter-day Gramscists. In British Columbia, for instance, one writer who opposed the Social Credit Party found that party to be "hegemonic," urging his readers to become "counter-hegemonic."

"Hegemonic" is an example of what I have called the esoteric language of fringe groups. An old article of mine deals with Communist usages of the words "provocation" and "red-baiting," usages that I found strange, illogical, and self-defeating as political arguments. Those unfortunates in Judges 12 gave themselves away as foreigners by their language. The U. of T. author here, similarly, gives herself away as a cultist, removed from the common sense.

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