The Language of Oppression

What separates humans most from the rest of the species on Earth is our ability to use complex communication and to create and use tools. Some other species seem to have a high degree of intelligence, but lack the other skills. We are pretty sure that animals, and maybe even plants, can communicate, but only in simple ways. It’s too bad, because I would love to hear what the rest of the planet thinks of humanity, as if we don’t already know. Some words come to mind: slave traders, genocidal butchers, condescending supremacists, intelligent but evil, capable of love and affection but usually a brutal and uncaring plague upon the Earth. Not exactly the language we use to describe ourselves. 

How we use language influences how we see the world. So, the first thing people attempt to do when they try and manipulate thought, is to manipulate language itself. The way in which we characterize ideas can be used to undermine the legitimacy of other opinions and the right of others to express them. If you listen carefully, you can sense that free speech and thought itself is under attack and has been for decades.

In his 1949 novel “1984,” which was a reflection of communist ideology, George Orwell discussed the usurpation of language using Newspeak to control thought. Slogans were constructed to support the simultaneous acceptance of two mutually-opposing beliefs, such as: Freedom is Slavery, War is Peace, and Ignorance is Strength. The Thought Police were constantly monitoring the population for signs of independent thought that deviated from the party line. Today, we see a similar usage of language to undermine opposition. 

Newspeak, from George Orwell’s book “1984”

Here are some examples of phrases that have a built-in bias meant to manipulate thought:

Hate crime: A way of framing a crime in a way that focuses on the motive for the crime rather than the criminal act itself. It implies that the thoughts and speech of the perpetrator are the real crime, not the physical act itself (e.g. murder, assault, defamation). A hate crime is technically just an ordinary crime that was inspired by hate, but because it focuses on speech or thought, it is a direct threat to freedom of speech when an accuser deems that form of speech or thought to be hateful. 

Climate change denier: A phrase that declares that people who challenge the accepted narrative on climate change are denying what is known to be absolute truth. There is no allowing for the possibility of any deviation from what is known even if based on scientific inquiry or changing data. Such a phrase delegitimizes all speech that questions the current theory, even though the most basic premise of scientific inquiry requires the ability to question and test what is hypothesized. The phrase therefore is an attack not just on speech, but scientific inquiry itself.

Black Lives Matter: While seeming to promote the obvious notion, with which the overwhelming majority agree, it is only used in protest when a black person is killed by a white person. It therefore insinuates that black lives are mostly in jeopardy because of the actions of non-black people, and especially of police officers. This is contrary to facts that show that 89% of black murders are perpetrated by other blacks, but those crimes rarely spark protests or media coverage.

Anti-Racist: A term that identifies someone who actively works to oppose racism. In practice, however, it is a way of racializing problems by claiming problems are almost always caused by racism rather than other factors. Anti-racists ironically use racial stereotypes to assign blame or victimhood, which is a core part of the definition of racism (“the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another”). So, in effect, an anti-racist is generally acting in a racist manner while labeling those who do not participate in racial stereotyping as racists.

Transphobia: A label applied to describe people who disagree with the legitimacy of transgender beliefs by declaring that their thoughts are based on fear and therefore illigitimate. There is no allowing for the possibility of rational disagreement on the relationship between biology and gender. 

Misgendering: A way of saying that the timeless practice of equating gender with biological characteristics is a mistake that could even be called harassment or legal misconduct because gender and sex are now alleged to be unrelated. A human male is no longer necessarily a man and a human female is no longer necessarily a woman, which is contrary to almost universally accepted language. The term gender has been associated with grammar for most of history and only started to move towards it being a malleable cultural construct in the 1950s and 1960s. United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “The word ‘gender’ has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.”

Woman: A term now considered hateful or a microaggression when used contrary to the preferred gender of a trans person. The term woman has historically been used interchangeably with reference to the female human body, though more recently this usage has been viewed as controversial and redefined by some feminists and LGBTQ+ activists. 

Gender-affirming treatment: A way of characterizing medical methods for altering one’s hormones or external biological features as something that correctly recognizes one’s gender rather than a medical procedure that only superficially changes the appearance of one’s biology to match a preference.

Pro Life: An implication that opponents favor death rather than pregnancy, and applies to abortions conducted at any stage of development, from 1 minute to 9 months after conception. However, it is limited to one narrow issue, abortion, and does not imply an overall stance on death, such as opposition to euthanasia (assisted suicide), to the death penalty, or to military service (for conscientious objectors). 

Progressive: A political label that implies that one favors human progress, as opposed to opponents who must therefore oppose progress. 

Liberal: A political label that implies that one is open-minded and focused on civil rights and helping those in need through government action, as opposed to those who must oppose equality and justice. Not to be confused with a Classical Liberal, which emphasized individual liberty, tolerance and protection of minority rights, economic freedom, and limited government action, most of which are now considered to be Conservative values. The current term flips the ideal of liberalism on its head.

Barbarian or Savage: Terms historically used to describe cultures that were vastly different from those of the West (or non-Chinese) and therefore not worthy of respect. Those using the term generally supported policies to subjugate or enslave them.

Social Construct: A term that implies something isn’t scientifically real because it is only an idea constructed by society. 

Social Construction of Beauty: Beauty is a term that is now attacked for being a socially-constructed ideal based on nothing more than a biased view of gender and race. Previously, characteristics that were considered most attractive to a majority of people were based on scientific Darwinian biological theories of sexual selection. Theoretical and empirical findings have long suggested that mate preferences are mainly cued on visual, vocal and chemical cues that reveal health including developmental health. Beautiful and irresistible features have evolved numerous times in plants and animals due to sexual selection. Although beauty standards may vary between cultures and between times, the underlying selection pressures, which shaped the standards, are the same.

Use of Capitalization: There has been a recent phenomenon that involves capitalizing words that are not supposed to be capitalized according to the rules of grammar. In such cases, a message is being sent. When used in reference to race, why is the word “Black” now capitalized by social justice writers, while “brown” and “white” are generally not? None are considered proper nouns. The implication is that Black people, or their concerns about racial equality, are more important than any other concerns. Otherwise, all racial groups would be capitalized equally, much like ethnic or national group names (e.g. Hispanic, Asian). 

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