Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

White people. Never the victims of racism.

White people. Never the victims of racism.

Welsh marble trunk. Ink’s irascible tumble wanker moose telegraph ant thug wobble star antelope undulate orc water toucan Muppet salt tortoise wench carbolic cardboard. Introvert web dick bumblebee archer oomph whist wind monkey, tingle whiff horseradish mangled constable.

Did that make any sense to you? Of course not. Here’s what it meant though, in my head. I substituted a different word with a different meaning for each word used:

Words mean things. It’s important that words mean things and that we share an understanding of what they mean so that we can communicate. If we don’t broadly agree on what words mean, then we can’t have a meaningful conversation. This has become a source of infuriating annoyance when trying to hold any sort of meaningful discussion with the Antisocial Injustice Warriors of Twitter and Tumblr.

You see, they have their own meanings of words that bear little or no resemblance to what they actually mean. We’re familiar with this problem when it comes to the term ‘theory’ due to tangles with creationist who use the colloquial meaning whereas we mean the scientific meaning. Still the scientific meaning is sufficiently well known and established that it is a specialised meaning of the word and one acknowledged by dictionaries, encyclopaedias and can be identified by context or by prefixing the word with ‘scientific’.

This is not the case with social justice terminology which is parochial and seemingly an exercise in willful abuse of language, engaging in a fallacy of redefinition.

Examples, just from today, would be redefinitions of racism and sexism (and *ism in general), privilege, patriarchy and – a new one on me – ‘majority’.

*ism

Pick a dictionary, any dictionary and you will find a definition of racism, sexism, ageism etc along these sorts of lines:

Prejudice on the basis of race/sex/age.

Pretty straightforward and this is what the vast and overwhelming majority of people understand an *ism to mean, an irrational prejudice towards a type or group of people.

Not your Social Justice Warrior.

Within gender and race studies *ism has been redefined to mean prejudice plus power. This is clearly absurd once you give the problem a moment’s thought because racism is in great extent found within a powerless white underclass of under and unemployed people who have no institutional power and, in fact, feel threatened, slighted and disempowered by what they see as preferential treatment being given to other races.

Similarly it’s ridiculous to excuse the racism of the Nation of Islam and their crazy racial beliefs or that of the New Black Panther Party (criticised by members of of the original Black Panthers for their racism) on the grounds that they’re black and therefore, somehow ‘can’t be racist’. More recently the racist bile flung around by Suey Park or on the twitter hashtag #creepywhiteguys provides glaring examples of ironic racism and sexism on the part of people who claim to be fighting against it.

We already have a term for the powerful acting on their racism, and that’s ‘institutional racism’. It is utterly unnecessary to redefine ‘racism’ itself, especially when so doing is used to excuse the vile racism flung around by many people who just happen to be members of racial minorities.

The same applies to all these other forms of *ism as well.

Privilege

The actual meaning of privilege that you’ll find in dictionaries and encyclopaedias will be something along these lines:

A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Let’s pull out a few of the sections of that to emphasise them: Special, advantage, ‘only to a particular person or group’.

What we have in society is a baseline level of treatment that we expect when it comes to our status as a citizen of that country. You could easily rephrase that as rights. As a British citizen I am entitled to various things such as access to the NHS – free at the point of use, access to a social safety net, the right to a fair trial etc, etc.

Some people have privilege, which puts them above the basic line, some people are underprivileged but at no point can that baseline be considered privileged.

If you don’t make a great deal of money you might be underprivileged. If you make a great deal of money you might be privileged. This can be both direct in terms of social status accorded to the rich, or indirect in terms of what that wealth can get you (better lawyers, bribes, entry to certain schools etc).

Everyone has areas in which they are advantaged and disadvantaged to a certain degree, but this is not necessarily privilege.

As the term is used ‘check your privilege’ or ‘you’re a white male’ this term is used to poison the well and as an ad hominem in order to shut up dissent. It has no place in a discussion where the arguments, not who is making them, are important. Ironically (and there’s a LOT of irony in these discussion) the person using the term may well be trying to establish themselves as an authority by their self-identified minority status and thus the privilege of being the only ones allowed to speak to it.

Patriarchy

What is a patriarchy? According to some we live in one, but when you look to the definition you’ll find something like:

A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Unarguably there are and have been patriarchies but do we, here, in the modern western democracies live in one? I’d say not. Men do not hold all the power. Women are not excluded, they can vote, hold office, make laws and can participate at every level of government and business. That they don’t necessarily do so is another issue that’s hard to disentangle from a huge bunch of other things, so beyond the scope of this.

As such, patriarchy technically retains meaning but where we run into problems is when the term is used.

Does something hurt women? Patriarchy.

Does something hurt men? Somehow, also patriarchy.

Does something hurt both men and women? Again, somehow patriarchy.

In the hands of Social Justice Warriors the word has become meaningless. Society does not favour men in a huge number of regards from military service to medicine, welfare, sentencing and – most contentiously and obviously – family courts and reproductive rights. Yet even where women are favoured by the system this is somehow patriarchy as well. Women win most custody cases? Must be because society only sees women as mothers, patriarchy. Men are sent out by their millions to die in wars? This is somehow a privilege and women being insulated from that, spared the mass murder of industrial warfare is patriarchy, as is men claiming the glorious right to be ground to paste in some Flanders field.

It’s meaningless in the mouths of people who will bend anything to fit it just as conspiracy theorists will bend any and all information to fit their pre-existing paranoia.

Majority

This was a new one on me. Majority as far as I’m concerned, and the dictionaries and encyclopaedias agree with me, means:

The greater number or part of something.

If I eat the majority of the cake, my wife has good reason to be pissed off. If whites are the majority racial demographic in the UK, that means there’s more of them than every other racial designation.

Apparently not.

Now, if a group is a minority but holds the majority of positions of power, they’re not a minority with power, but a ‘social majority’.

So the apartheid governments of South Africa weren’t a powerful minority, they were transformed by linguistic gymnastics into an oppressive majority (social majority). Of course, they were a majority of the government while being a minority and minorities with genuine advantages are able to dominate majorities who lack them. British Imperialism was – in part – based on the fact that small, well trained groups of soldiers with advanced weapons could hold large swathes of less advanced territory (especially backed by trade and collusion with local powers).

To redefine majority to mean minority just ends up confusing the matter and seems to be an ideological attempt to reframe domination by minorities into the preferred narrative of majority domination of minorities.

***

Such misuses of language are, to use another abused word ‘problematic’ and get in the way, repeatedly, of clear communication and the advancement of the, supposed, aims of Social Justice Warriors.

As ever, I’m open to informed and respectful discussion on this and related topics, but not if you’re going to refuse to provide evidence to back you up on grounds of ontology and epistemology and that logic, reason, evidence and the scientific method are somehow biased and sexist.

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One response to “Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

  1. Pingback: The Little Prince(ton) | The AtheFist

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