You thought my preoccupation with grammar was an academic conceit, didn’t you? You might even have thought of my occasional snarking about punctuation and composition as the sort of thing that Robin Hanson — or Cesar Milan — might take to be an attempt to assert status and authority within a narrowly-defined in-group. (You’d basically be right.) It turns out, however, that an instinctive facility for the semantics of verb conjugation may be critical to the maintenance of liberty — and that an absence thereof can be as destructive thereto as the worst excesses found at the intersection of populism and democracy.
- On the political implications of the imperfect subjunctive (Caracas Chronicles)
No fewer than ten categories of speech would be banned under article 14, most using the same, extravagantly vague formulation. The bill bans messages that “could be considered hate speech”, and those that “could be considered to promote disregard for the law”, and those that “could be considered as inducing magnicide” and those that “could be considered to disrespect public offices or the people who hold them”.
The key here is the use of “pudieran”: the imperfect subjunctive form of the verb “poder” (to be able to). As this Spanish grammar puts it,
The subjunctive mood is subjective; it expresses emotional, potential, and hypothetical attitudes about what is being expressed – things like will/wanting, emotion, doubt, possibility, necessity, judgment. In contrast, the “normal” verb mood is called the indicative and is used for factual or definite statements about reality.
Woody Guthrie had it wrong: this machine kills fascists.