Friday, February 03, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Terms of Engagement

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Chicago Tribune reports the Trump administration has quietly nixed the use of a number of social justice buzzwords in official documents. The Center for Disease Control and the Departments of Health, Justice, Education and Urban Development have all been advised that the words “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based” and “science-based” are off the table.

Tom: You’re a language guy, IC: Why does the terminology we use around the subject of controversial issues matter so much?

The Legacy of Marxists and Nazis

Immanuel Can: Oh, it matters hugely. It was really the Marxists and Nazis who first began to perfect the controlling of public words as a way of mass-managing thought. George Orwell saw this coming and pointed it out. Later, the feminist lobby, the homosexual lobby and, in our day, the extreme Left have all adopted the same tactic. They’ve realized that by restricting and managing the specific words people use to discuss an issue, they can control the agenda before any debate happens at all.

Tom: And the Right keeps falling for it. I already hear people dutifully accommodating themselves to the new “difference” the Left now tells us exists between the meanings of “sex” and “gender”.

IC: Or take the abortion debate. First, the pro-abortionists realized they couldn’t market dead babies as a cause, so they switched to calling themselves “pro-choice”. What this meant was that their opponents were instantly verbally repositioned as if they were haters of “choice” — haters of women’s self-determination, in other words — with the freedom to abort tacitly assumed before the debate begins.

Tom: And they’re still milking that one.

Managing a PR Problem

IC: Then (just a bit too late) the other side realized their PR problem, and repositioned their own language as “pro-life” so as to position their opponents as haters of all “life”. But the truth is that the issue is not about either all lives or all kinds of choices: just about the question of whether or not a woman can abort her baby. And if both sides were speaking truth, that’s where the debate would be positioned.

Tom: Well, I understand and can live with rhetoric. It’s a fact of human existence and goes back thousands of years, so we’re not going to get rid of that. But there’s a difference between honest and dishonest rhetoric, and even a meaningful difference between rhetoric that is more honest or less honest.

And I like that the White House is not forcing an alternative ideological position down the throats of bureaucrats, but simply making people say what is really happening. For instance, instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based”, they suggest something like “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” which has the virtue of at least not pretending that things like the push for transgender rights arise from new scientific discoveries. And the CDC can reword that any way they prefer: what they CAN’T do is claim they are only making recommendations on the basis of evidence or “science”. Good job.

The Basis of Evidence

IC: Well, here’s something a lot of people don’t know: “evidence-based” does not actually mean based on neutral, impartial facts. Rather, it refers to a style of alleged “research” in which matters are judged purely on the evidence for their efficacy in regard to certain preconceived outcomes: but the outcomes themselves, the values that “evidence-based” research looks for, are taken as givens — and are often nothing but the values of the postmodern Left!

That’s a shocker. As ordinary, common-sensical folks, we tend to think “evidence” means facts and neutrality.

Tom: Well, and we think “science” means “proven by the scientific method” rather than “the agenda-driven political opinions of men with degrees”, which is what it actually means to the Left.

IC: So again, the language fools us. Instead, “evidence-based” is a postmodern way of saying, “So long as there’s evidence that our Leftist values are being achieved, we back this policy, research or procedure; but the minute they are not, we take that as evidence counting against that research, procedure or policy.” But the values themselves are not to be discussed or debated; they’re already assumed to be Leftist ones.

It’s classic Orwellian doublespeak. Good thing that’s one term Trump’s killing.

Forcing or Surrendering

Tom: Same with “vulnerable”. It refers to every category of human being that traditionally votes Democrat.

IC: Well, it’s not at all by accident that it occurs in a list of terms like “entitlement”, “diversity” and “transgender”. Whereas these latter terms force the agenda in one direction, “evidence-based” approaches merely surrender it to the same direction. The outcome’s the same.

Now, Christians sometimes fall prey to these kinds of agenda-controlling jargon-terms, don’t they, Tom?

Tom: Well, there are the extra-scriptural words like “denomination” that imply acceptance of a wrong approach the moment you use them. Then there are scriptural terms like “pastor”, “baptism”, “saint”, “priest”, “sanctuary” and “church” that have had their definitions subverted and re-jigged as effectively and permanently as the word “homosexual” was discreetly swapped for the word “gay”.

Am I missing any other categories of jargon?

Faith By Any Other Name …

IC: I was thinking of words like “faith”, used by some to mean believing something in denial of all facts and by others to mean demanding what I want from God in such a way that he is obligated to give it to me. Or how about “forgiveness”, now being used to mean repentance of sin is no longer necessary? Or consider how “love” is now being used to mean whatever I feel instinctive sympathy for cannot be immoral.

These are basic Christian terms, and very important. But nowadays they’re being loaded with moral baggage they simply do not scripturally contain and used as ways to shut down discussion.

Tom: That’s true whether they’re employed to win arguments within the church about the direction we should go, or whether they’re used by outsiders to guilt churches into going in directions they are uncomfortable with in the name of being “sensitive” to the unsaved.

Truth vs. Love … Or Something a Little Like It

Here’s the dilemma that confronts the believer, if I may take a shot at it: Something like transgenderism is, in one sense, not the hill to die on. We are here to take the gospel to all men even if they’re not sure themselves that they ARE men. With that as justification, well-meaning Christians can end up preaching a bait-and-switch gospel that downplays the sinfulness of sin in order to try to “love” people who are enslaved to horrible, self-destructive lifestyles into the kingdom. When, after the initial profession, it becomes clear that their live-in lesbian relationship or their imminent transition is going to interfere with being baptized and being considered a functioning, fully-accepted as-I-am-now member of the church, the new “Christian” moves on, complaining about the way believers have treated them.

I’ve seen this story many times, and it’s often a result of us abandoning the biblical meaning of the words we use, as you suggest.

IC: That’s the thing. It’s not enough to use a “Christian” word; you have to be using it in a way that reflects the true intention of that word, as it is revealed throughout scripture, and as it is intended by the Spirit of God; not merely as your current society wishes to interpret that word, and definitely not as some political faction wishes to misuse that word.

Shocked! Shocked, I Say!

Tom: Absolutely. When I came across the original Tribune article, there was a quote at the end that really stuck out. Shocked by the sudden policy change, a longtime CDC analyst who uses all these terms regularly says, “In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint.”

I’m not surprised. That’s the tremendously effective and insidious thing about gradually changing the meaning of common words, or using particular buzzwords as code for hardcore ideology. It slides by most people, especially when you use them to refer to “marginalized groups” and “vulnerable” people. Who wants to beat on a poor victim? Their position must be the right one, because they’re obviously hurting.

Of course nobody wants to push back against that. It makes you look like an ogre. Might be a bad testimony!

IC: I think that the manipulators of language have “never had any pushback” simply because most people are oblivious to their insidious and dishonest behavior. In fact, I’m certain that many of the people who indulge in such manipulation are themselves oblivious to how extremely dishonest they’re being. They are both “deceiving and being deceived” at the same time. They figure their cause is (in their eyes) so good that no dishonest thing done in order to advance it could really be bad. Some of them are really just as clueless about the language they misuse as the people they are deceiving.

Plainly and Frankly

Orwell said the same thing. He said that when you refuse to speak plainly and frankly, you often don’t just hide your intention from others; you can end up hiding the wickedness or stupidity of your ideas even from yourself. And when someone objects and points out the evil you’ve been promoting, you’re horrified at the blackness of their accusations, and shocked at the fervency of their opposition. You say things like, “But I mean so well” and “We’ve never had any reaction like this before!”

Tom: Paul tells the Corinthians, “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” That comes in the context of preaching the gospel, but I think it’s a good basic principle for Christians to observe across the board.

Short version: if you are genuinely in the right, you shouldn’t need to use sleight of hand to change people’s minds.

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