“Adult” entertainment

While we weren’t looking, “adult” came to mean “pro-business.”

Several years ago, Timothy Noah examined the phrase “morally serious” and found that it had come to be used as a self-congratulatory synonym for “neoconservative.”  (Remember when the only “morally serious” position on stem cell research was, allegedly, to oppose it?)

A couple of weeks ago, though I missed it at the time, James Vega of The Democratic Strategist noted something similar about the word “adult” as used by the mainstream media in the budget debate.  Just as morally serious meant neoconservative, adult now means, in Vega’s Biercean definition, “acceptable to the major business groups.”

Since the Reagan era…liberal or progressive views have come to be viewed with vastly more suspicion than comparable conservative views by mainstream commentators. As a result, proposals that feature liberal or progressive ideas are invariably treated as “partisan politics” rather than “serious proposals.” On subjects that the mainstream media consider inherently conservative—taxes, deficits and budgeting being prime examples—conservative opinions are automatically treated as being more serious, responsible and “adult” than liberal ones. … To most mainstream commentators today any proposal that provokes serious business opposition is, by that fact alone, proven inherently flawed.

This analysis is, of course, snarky and simplistic.  This makes me wish that it weren’t dead right.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

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