They say banning words is fascism, and I couldn’t agree more (with the general sentiment anyway, because, to be accurate, banning words is also communism, theocracy, absolute monarchy and other unsavory systems).
But I digress. For all practical purposes, and for the sake of this discussion, banning words is fascism, but — the ever-present ‘but’ — it’s complicated, and yet, at the same time, very easy to explain.
How so? asked a friend.
I can explain it in one sentence, I said.
Please do, he said.
Banning words is fascism, I said, and those who are doing it are retards.
There was a short pause before my friend shook his head.
I see what you’re doing, he said, but that’s not fair. ‘Retard’ was a pejorative term, and it was rightly banned.
Ok, let me rephrase. Banning words is fascism, and those who are doing it are retarded.
Nope! my friend said. Wrong again! The word ‘retarded’ was an inaccurate representation of a mental condition.
But it wasn’t a pejorative term.
No, but it was used pejoratively by a great many people.
So are the words ‘thanks,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘have a nice day’ — used pejoratively and maliciously. They can be inflected and contextualized into insults. The point is, the term ‘retarded’ itself wasn’t an abusive term.
Say what you will, it’s not right to use that word anymore, under any circumstances. There are better ways to address the issue of mental handicap.
Right. So we agree? Banning words is fascism?
Banning SOME words is fascism. Other words NEED to be banned.
Uh-huh! Even if they’re not used pejoratively?
Some words are simply harmful. They need to go, said my friend.
And that’s not fascism?
No. ‘Retards, niggers, broads …’ — awful words, all of them. I’m talking words associated with age-long stigma, marginalization and persecution. You’d have to be crazy to defend them.
I didn’t defend them. You’re putting words in my mouth and jumping to conclusions.
I’m shocked, is what is it, my friend said. I’m shocked that we have to have this discussion. These words have got to go. Plus, in the case of the CDC, which is what we’re talking about, we’re talking a governmental department banning perfectly legitimate words for political reasons.
I fully agree on the CDC. But on the idea of banning words just because their derivatives were once used abusively? I suppose the term ‘negro’ is out of bounds, too, even when used to describe black-skinned people and their customs? Negro customs?
It would be wiser to use the term ‘black,’ or ‘African American,’ if that’s whom you’re referring to.
I thought ‘black’ was forbidden, too, I said.
It was, but not anymore.
Black Lives Matter?
Jest all you want, chief. Black is a legitimate term. African American was kind of patronizing.
So words can change? They slip in and out of black lists? Can I use the term ‘black’ in this case?
Good one! Glib, but good! And yes, words are alive. Language is alive. It changes, it adapts to the times.
So it’s ok to unbanish the term ‘black?’
It’s ok to use it in its proper context.
So it’s about context and inflection after all.
Well . . .
Tell me, why is ‘retarded’ not acceptable when used in its proper context?
My friend shook his head.
This is not what we’re talking about! he shouted. We’re talking about the CDC banning perfectly appropriate, legitimate terms.
You think the term ‘transgender’ is not political?
You think it IS?
Of course it is! I don’t agree with banning it, but I can see that it’s a political term.
Are you a trans-phobe?
My friend was being serious. He was asking me this question, and meant it.
No, I’m not a trans-phobe, I replied. How you even arrived at that question from what we just discussed is worrying me. All I’m saying is that the term transgender is political. If you disagree, explain why. Better than launching accusations.
My friend remained silent, so I continued, taking a deep breath to calm down:
I’m saying that in no way does the political nature of the term ‘transgender’ excuse the government from banning its use.
Then what’s your problem? my friend said.
I’m simply exploring the statement ‘banning words is fascism.’ If I’m going to use it, I need to know what it really says and means.
It’s perfectly clear to me. It says that this government is run by backward tyrants who want to impose their political, religious, and moral will on others by force.
I don’t disagree with that.
And it means trouble. They can’t do that. They work for an institution of democracy and freedom, they don’t have the authority or mandate to apply such restrictions. No democratic institution devoted to progress and openness must ever enforce such bans.
Then what’s your problem?!
For starters, I just remembered that a university in Wales came up with a list of forbidden words recently. Some of the words were: mankind, homosexual, housewife, manmade, and sportsmanship.
My friend was staring at me with a heavy grin.
Do you think they should be banned, I asked.
All of these words are the product of centuries of oppression.
Ok. And I suppose that using the term ‘sportsmanship’ is somehow oppressive and damaging to the health and safety of those around us.
It perpetuates old and obsolete ways of thinking.
I see. Tell me, do you know the origins of the term ‘bonfire?’ It comes from ‘bone-fire’: a large open-air fire on which bones were burned. Sometimes these bones belonged to heretics. Sometimes the fire was used to burn the heretics alive, or to destroy blasphemous books.
My friend stared at me, saying nothing.
Do you use the term ‘bonfire?’ I asked.
Do you think we should ban the term ‘bonfire’ for its offensive roots? If we do, we probably have to ban half the language with it.
Well, perhaps we SHOULD ban half the language. As much as it takes. It’s time to clean up. We need to stop recycling and perpetuating yesterday’s bigoted, sexist, racist, hateful attitudes. We deserve words that live up to the times. Time to get the world on the right track.
Reinvent the entire language?
Impose new words on society, and force everyone to use them?
If that’s what it takes.
Then we agree. Banning words is fascism. And fascism is sometimes the only solution.
Or is it?
From your delightfully antagonistic, commonsensical, and Koan-loving Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.