RESPONDING TO THE SMEAR ATTACK AGAINST GEORGE WILL: Rage Against The Outrage Machine. But let’s be clear. People aren’t “misunderstanding” what Will wrote. They deliberately misrepresented what Will said, and they did it to chill debate. That’s who they are, that’s what they do.Glenn deploys the classic metaphor: chilling. Notice that this metaphor focuses on the debate, as though the whole conversation about a subject is an entity, a composite that has a temperature.
I think what is happening is more nefarious, because it focuses on the person. It's not just an idea that is put off limits (such as questioning the veracity of a woman who accuses a man of rape), it's the person who dares to say it. You are to be regarded as toxic. It's this fear of being regarded as toxic that inhibits many people from speaking.
The problem isn't merely that the debate is chilled — that people don't get to hear the arguments on different sides — but that people are also influenced to choose their side out of a psychological need to be accepted by others and not shunned. Even if, in a chilled-debate environment, you sought out information and arguments on your own and even if you saw the value in them, you might still choose your position out of a desire to be thought of as one of the good people. So the argument "George Will is toxic" works even on people who think George Will makes a persuasive argument.
I'm using the word "toxic" — the poison metaphor — because I see it a lot, and because to me — someone who has lived and worked in a liberal environment for a long time — it expresses the threat of shunning so well: You are afraid that if you associate at all with the toxic person — if you offer one good word — you will have toxin on you, and others will have to avoid you lest they become toxic.
I note that the focus on the person corresponds to Saul Alinsky's Rule #12 in "Rules for Radicals":
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)Note the word "freeze," which gets us back to the metaphor of coldness, the point in chilling where water turns to ice and what had been flowing has been stopped. The police yell "Freeze!" And "freeze" is a powerful social word, beyond the awkwardness of a "chilly" reception to outright exclusion: You are frozen out.