From John McWhorter’s piece in the February 3rd edition of The New Republic:
IN THE WAKE OF the tragedy in Tucson, numerous commentators have called for increased policing of inflammatory language. Not literal policing, of course; what these commentators seem to want is some recognition from the culture that certain kinds of political rhetoric are so extreme that they should be universally condemned and socially marginalized.
But McWhorter wonders if it’s “really possible to do something as quixotic and indefinable as policing incendiary political language.”
The problem, he says, is that language is a runaway train:
Language exists in two forms in modern times: speech and writing. Writing is an invention only some thousands of years old, produced and received more slowly than talk. It encourages reflection, objectivity, and extended argument–something almost impossible to convey amidst the overlapping chaos of conversation. Writing is, in the McLuhanesque sense, cool.
Except – not to get technical about it – Marshall McLuhan said that print is a hot medium, that is, a medium high in information, low in involvement. A cool medium, by contrast, is low in definition and high in involvement.
It’s the difference between a lecture (hot) and a seminar (cool).
Not to get technical about it.