Linguistic Police
Word meaning impacts people, so why not care about the meaning of basic economic terms?
October 20, 2021
Jeffery J. Smith

Word Jabs

The most painful experience, children report, is being called a name. When we’re little, it’s hard to believe sticks and stones will hurt us but words never will. Being belittled cuts deep.

An adult calling another a name is immature, not highly aware, but is it evil? Is dealing with it by condemnation helping? Is dealing with it more important than dealing with poverty? Or understanding "rent"? Besides censorship, is there a better way to deal with negative stereotyping?

Is calling other people racist helping? Has it made the accused a better person? Has it made the accuser a better person? To some, the condemners sound self-righteous, holier than thou, like, “everybody else’s racism stinks but my own.”


How far should linguistic policing go?

If a child makes an innocent observation about the unfamiliar looks of another, should the child be taught they’re being bad?

Do the owners of the National Football League—all whites—have the right to punish players—almost all black—for calling each other “n…r”?

If the name of one ethnic group can not be used for a sports team—overcoming the group members who’re not upset—should all ethnic names be dropped, even when most group members like the recognition?

Does anyone have the right to tell owners of Oriental Markets to change their name?

Should everyone stop using the word Basque since it comes from “cow”?

Is every remark that offends a certain number universally offensive? What if you merely quote a remark that some others find offensive? Or use a foreign word that sounds like an English word some don’t like the sound of?

One of the problems with censorship is that it spills over. Like, a goodly number now are afraid to use the word “niggardly”, an innocent word. Most never used that word previously so it’s no big loss.

That’s not the first time. The ancestors of English speakers used to say “cunny” but centuries ago Christians uptight about sex made them switch to the previous letter in the alphabet and say “bunny”. Which worked for a while but “Playboy Bunny” is not far off from what those earlier linguistic police found offensive.

By deleting offensive descriptors from normal speech, has that truly deleted the terms, or bottled them up, giving the terms more power than before?

In other times and places, instead of condemn the name-caller, some groups adopted the epithet, draining it of its power, like now you can’t offend using the word “queer”. Standup comedian Lenny Bruce (of my natal city Baltimore) made this strategy famous with his schtick about a half century ago. He made his audience uncomfortable then made them laugh.

Real Resolution

The religious approach—passing judgment, finding fault—feels great and is way popular. For the condemner, once they’ve condemned, they’re done. They got to enjoy a good vent, but at the expense of everyone else.

Countering any good they do, venters also worsen the situation. Judgmental accusers anger some innocent bystanders, engender resentment, and harden intolerance. Does that move everyone closer or further away from making race a non-issue?

Some accusers feel so empowered they cry foul at any perceived affront, real or imagined, which makes others defensive and communication difficult. Rather than risk becoming a target, some do not speak freely about serious problems and find alternative solutions. Many parents feel they can not discuss certain students causing trouble in class, so they abandon public schools.

Now the offended blow all their resources on battling their offenders. Should critics and their cohorts in the media—whose trade is to keep people mad at each other—keep name-calling as the gravest threat to humanity? While the world remains as impoverished and class-ridden as ever? Caring vastly more about what an antagonist says, feels, or believes, while caring so little about horrendous problems in our shared reality, how helpful is that?

Is it more effective to hear constantly and only from condemners? Or, just as it’s more effective to hear from ex-addicts to solve addiction (rather than hear from experts who never were addicted), could not the media find articulate ex-racists—white or black (like Malcolm X)—and give them equal time about their turnabout? I’d pay attention to the media if they could be useful like that.

Race Relaxed

Differentiating is discrimination. The constant reinforcement of groups that people are born into, is that divisive or unifying? Martin Luther King Jr said forget skin color, focus on one’s character.

Is finding identity by looking backward to biological ancestors—to folk who were as fine and as flawed as anyone else, meaning not super heroes—a way to never move off the dime, never realize one’s unique talents and potential contributions to the larger society?

The brain discriminates automatically, instantly (only one chance to make a first impression). There’s no way to stop it from what it’s learned through millions of years of evolution. However, it can do more than that. We can teach ourselves to take note of the non-obvious, too. Sure, notice different speech. Notice different appearance. But be open to what’s special about each individual. Becoming curious, we’d also be encouraging each other to develop our best traits.

Racism is not needed for slavery. Ancient Rome had slaves yet no qualms about letting blacks occupy high office. Same with Native American nations (“tribes"). Why? How? A sociological analysis may offer more gains than universally shaming and ostracizing.

In the modern era, one of the few areas with slavery is Africa. The African Anti-Slavery Society has no whites. It is of, by, and for blacks. How could they ever sort out reparations? Once Africa develops broadly, will they eradicate the remnants of slavery?

From Judgment To Justice

Wannabe do-gooders could switch to winning economic justice for everyone. One part of the solution is to de-criminalize recreational drugs. If you don’t like people taking them, love those people. Drugs are mostly a love substitute.

An essential reform lies in revenue policy—geonomics:
1, curb almost all spending, not just defund the police, but especially quit corporate welfare.
2, curb taxing, especially on wages and sales and buildings and whatever else drives away investment and employment. Instead …
3, use fees, dues, leases, and fines to recover all the “rents”, all the annual surplus value of locations and natural resources and privileges like corporate charters. Then …
4, pay the lion’s share of that revenue to everyone as a Citizens Dividend. Even that phrase is unifying.

As for a political solution, The Who were right. There is none. Out with the old boss, in with the new boss. Big cities with black governments—Detroit, etc—are worse than before with corruption and poverty. Forget color. Elect anybody who will institute geonomics.

In a world of widespread opportunity and rough economic parity, one lacking manmade material suffering, how racist would equal members of an egalitarian society be? That human trait would be so rare and feeble it’d matter as much as, say, trying to get guys to take their hats off indoors. And whatever antipathy remains, at least the two sides could confront each other as ballpark economic equals. Me, I’d just ignore the few unconscious ones among us.

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Jeffery J. Smith

JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at