It’s not very often that I am shocked by the actions of people. Good
or bad, humans have tremendous capacity and that is something I have
come to accept. Recently, I was a little shocked and kind of scared.
Students at a local college decided to begin a campaign to remove the
word “retarded” from our vocabulary because of its stigma and
potential to hurt others. They began by writing the word on paper and
tearing it up. I believe this was done with good intentions however
the attack on a word and not the thinking behind the word seemed
simplistic, naïve and potentially dangerous.
Totalitarian governments have learned that the way to control people
is to control communication and media, freedom can only exist where
there is freedom of speech. Freedom is the antithesis of
totalitarianism and freedom of speech is the antidote to this evil
form of government. I could mention Stalin or Hitler and their use of
the media and movies to sway public opinion however you probably know
of their abuse of free speech. The book “1984” was written by George
Orwell, and inspired by the crushing restraints imposed by the
government of the country of Burma (present-day Myanmar.) This was a
fictitious account of what would happen to speech (among other
freedoms) in a totalitarian government. A government that controls
its people would need to control the people’s language. This control
would include control of newspapers, television and most importantly,
words. Control of words would mean they have the right to change the
meaning of words, hyphenate two unrelated words as a tool to confuse
their meaning and even abolish or remove words.
I don’t know whether these students came up with the idea to destroy
a word from study of history or if this mob rule tactic is innate to
human beings. I say “mob rule” because although it is probably
impossible at this time to make a word illegal, if enough people come
together and let everyone else know they will chastise you for use of
a word then the mob’s intimidation becomes rule. Many of our current
laws started with tradition which became the norm, which became mores
and then became law. To make certain words illegal seems like a
greater immoral act than could ever benefit society. I fear what
happens when people find that abolishing words is a pretty effective
way to control people; what will people do next? Will the names of
humans with opposite opinion be next? Aren’t these the same tactics
that terrorists (both foreign and local) use to inspire acts of hate
against those who profess a different faith or politic?
I think to change what people think may require the hard work of
education. However, to abolish their hurtful words opens up a
destructive toolbox which an entity with less noble goals may use to
control populations and inspire hurtful actions. An act against words
is an act against freedom of speech and that is an act that cannot be
tolerated by a free society.
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