Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rationale vs. Rationalization: or "making shit up to score political points?"

Merriam-Webster: 
Rationale: (1) an explanation of controlling principles of opinion, belief, practice or phenomena. (2). an underlying reason. 
Rationalize: "to think about or describe something (such as bad behavior) in a way that explains it and makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc." 
Paul Brian's Common Errors in English Usage: 
Rationale/rationalization:  When you’re explaining the reasoning behind your position, you’re presenting your rationale. But if you’re just making up some lame excuse to make your position appear better—whether to yourself or others—you’re engaging in rationalization.
In the political wars, it's sometimes convenient to confuse the two on purpose.

Four days after the November 13, 2015 horrific mass shootings in Paris, John Kerry made remarks  to staff and family of the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Kerry suggested that he could see a rationale in the Charlie Hebdo attack last January (the terror attack on the Franch satirical magazine, which repeatedly lampooned Mohammad) but that the most recent attacks in Paris seemed to him to be "absolutely indiscriminate."

Here is an excerpt of Kerry's remarks:
[W]e are deeply appreciative for your commitment to helping us to help people to share the values and the interests that we are all working to protect. In the last days, obviously,   that has been particularly put to the test. There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. .... And it’s indiscriminate. They kill Shia. They kill Yezidis. They kill Christians. They kill Druze. They kill Ismaili. They kill anybody who isn’t them and doesn’t pledge to be that. And they carry with them the greatest public display of misogyny that I’ve ever seen, not to mention a false claim regarding Islam. It has nothing to do with Islam; it has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism – I mean, you name it. [Emphasis added]
Right wing media outlets and columnists [e.g. CNS,  Breitbart, Jennifer Rubin] have been all up in arms misrepresenting Kerry as rationalizing terrorist attacks. Jennifer Rubin reports that Jeb bush, at a campaign rally:  "got fired up, reading Kerry's remarks and declaring, 'There is no rationale for barbaric Islamic fundamentalists who want to destroy Western civilization.'" Donniel Hartman accuses Kerry of engaging in "political correctness."

Some errors in usage, of course, are deliberate because they are convenient.

Of course we can see a rationale in a Muslim terrorist attack on the intentionally provocative Charlie Hebdo; and to acknowledge this rationale is not to rationalize the attack.

If Bush and the horde of right wing troglodytes breathing heavily about Kerry's remarks mean to say they can see no underlying rationale for the Charlie Hebdo attack, then they are being dense and they are guilty of a common error in the English language. If they are saying there can be no rationalization for this attack, then they are correct. And so was Kerry.


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