It grates on me every time we (once again) have a conversation about “Defund the Police”. Many would criticize it as a bit of rhetoric for its use of the word “Defund” which can mean “reduce funding somewhat” or “eliminate all funding”, rather like “Slash taxes!” might. Part of why it grates on me is that I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this argument, but (and this is a huge but) I’m not a rhetorician and I’m certainly not a sloganeer.
It may have come to the attention of one or both my readers that I’m actually somewhat longwinded at times. It turns out that this is a general trend for me. I fear speaking with insufficient precision for a number of reasons and my response is (often) to strive for hyperclarity, heedless of the prolix risks and results. As the Emperor of Austria might say, “Too many words.”
But it so happens that I have a modicum of self-awareness. While I can’t actually stop myself from writing a thousand word answer to a four word question, I can actually stop myself from writing slogans. I’m not good at them. I’m never going to be good at them. I’m content to have (and develop) other skills without ever shooting for a career in ad copy, headline writing, or sloganeering. I will always be uncomfortable with ACAB despite being fully aware that there’s some important truth there. Likewise I will always be uncomfortable with Defund the Police! It’s who I am.
So why is it grating to hear criticism of a slogan with which I, myself, am uncomfortable? Because the criticisms so often focus on exactly the subjects that I get wrong, time and again. A slogan doesn’t need to be precise or even accurate to have emotional resonance. Hey, Kool-Aid!, Where’s the beef?, and Can you hear me now? were all wildly successful slogans without being either precise or accurate about, well, anything at all. One might reasonably say, “Hey! Kool-aid sucks. Don’t bring that shit around here.” “Where’s the beef?” is a seemingly stupid question when the beef is easily found in the hamburgers of Wendy’s competitors. And, “Can you hear me now?” could be easily answered, “No, your network sucks,” as it was among people I knew at the time. The most recent slogan to hit the news is perhaps the best proof that slogans can seem to fail every intellectual test and still work: “Let’s go, Brandon!” is neither precise, nor accurate, nor intended to convey anything at all an encouragement to someone named Brandon. The follow-on, “Let’s go, Darwin!” that has gotten less press but is used against anti-vaxxers makes, if anything, even less sense. Darwin never encouraged people to die sooner for the sake of anything, much less evolution specifically.
So when people criticize Defund the police! for the trente-sixième time using the arguments that appeal not to the best in my, but to my areas of least competence, and they do so on the basis of premises that are easily proven wrong (e.g. slogans must be precise and accurate!) it annoys me because the people making those criticisms are inviting me to fall into the same pit in which I’ve landed thirty five times before. I know this doesn’t get us anywhere because I’ve made the same mistake myself, and I don’t appreciate being pushed toward making the same mistake again.
Defund the police! works as a slogan. We know that, empirically. This isn’t a question of ad executives sitting around a board room table discussing whether or not Where’s the beef? is sufficiently precise or accurate. We have real world data. Defund the police! makes right wing defenders of the police state nervous and puts them on the defensive. On the other hand, Defund the police! is a cry that large numbers of left wing critics of the police state voluntarily take up, propagate, and organize around.
These are exactly the qualities you want in a successful anti-police state slogan. It actually does (contrary to the comment of tallgrass05 in the thread which sparked this post) play offense instead of defense. Many critics of the slogan claim that they want to do exactly this, and yet fail to understand that we couldn’t get our policy proposals a media hearing until Defund the police! caused the news media to perform interviews and create stories specifically to answer the question, “What does Defund the police! really mean in practice?”
In short, the pithy people responsible for Defund the police! are actually the ones who have created the opportunity for me to wax with poetical prolixiferousization.
Given the opportunity, I’m going to take it by posting (with minimal reframing) some of the writing I’ve done on “abolishing police” and “defunding police” in comments elsewhere on FtB so that they can be found in one place for future reference and present discussion. But while taking that opportunity, it would be rude of me to be anything less than grateful towards those who provided it.
Thank you, creators of Defund the police! You’ve created a better slogan to fight the US police state than any in recent memory.