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Red-Flag Rhetoric

In the pursuit of wordology, I offer the following rhetorical warnings that serve as a kind of lie detector in discussing politics.
 
 
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Why do I care about words and language, especially when they are used in politics? That's what readers ask me from time to time.

Simple answer: Self-preservation and freedom.

In order to survive, you have to understand your surroundings and the various threats contained therein. Analyzing words is a useful tool for that, given that language is the dress of thought. And thought, mostly unconscious, precedes action.

Defending true freedom (of the mind) requires we engage in intellectual self-defense -- warding off half-truths, reeling in red herrings, discerning the difference between primary facts and secondary facts, exposing half-baked arguments and full-throated lies.

So, in the trivial pursuit of wordology, I offer the following rhetorical red flags that can serve as a kind of lie detector in discussing politics:

When you hear someone pontificating and they preface their conclusion with: ''If I understand it correctly…'' or ''if memory serves…,'' 90 percent of the time the person talking doesn't have a clue what they're talking about. You'll find many examples on popular talk radio, which serves as an echo chamber for minds that haven't had oxygen in quite a while.

When you hear someone say: ''I don't understand how anyone could do that,'' it's a verbal cue that the person has no moral imagination, is subject to deluding themselves on a regular basis, and has a very limited sense of human empathy -- probably the single most important trait for the human species to cultivate in order to avoid extinction.

At least 90 percent of all perceived political disagreements are not disagreements at all but misunderstandings, which come about because the ''debaters'' are not truly listening to each other.

And when an individual's identity is invested in a particular ideology, which can't possibly be the whole truth, pride won't let them acknowledge even the smallest nugget of truth in what someone else is saying.

I think that's why the book of Proverbs says that pride goeth before a fall. Because even if you recognize you're on the wrong path, pride won't let you admit it. So, on we go down the path, angry that the ''flip-floppers'' are heading in the opposite direction. Eventually, you come to the end of road and fall off the cliff.

When someone says ''this is the best country in the world'' in a debate about U.S. foreign policy, there's a good chance that person has never set foot out of their home state, let alone had their alleged passports stamped.

A monolingual American who stays in resort hotels and visits popular foreign tourist attractions is in no position to make a comparative cultural analysis. And what do you make of this country's high incidence of homicide, suicide, chronic depression, stress-related health disorders, the largest prison population in the industrialized world, and countless millions using Prozac and illicit mind-numbing drugs?

Because this is the land of my birth, and everyone, and everything I have ever loved, is in this country, I think America is the best country in the world for ME to live in -- though I was enchanted by the lush green hills and street markets of Nazareth, where I celebrated my 30th birthday.

One last red flag warning: If you're driving down some interstate and you see an exit sign with one of those food and gas symbols on it, there's a 50 percent chance you'll have to drive through three dark rural towns, cross a bridge, cross railroad tracks, pass several tumble weeds before you can find someone to ask: where in the hell is a McDonald's?

The stranger looks at you and says: ''I wouldn't get there from here, that's for sure.''

As a matter of fact, if I ever run for office, I'm campaigning on the promise to rid America's highways of misleading signage. But don't take my word for any of this. Check it out for yourself.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.