Sometimes Things are Bad Even When They're Not "Fascist"
I hate the internet sometimes. I think the times that I hate it most are when I see people with whom I generally agree expressing their opinions by recycling memes and forceful pre-fabricated statements of partisan anger from Facebook pages and websites like “The Other 98%” and “Occupy Democrats” and (my personal favorite) “Hate Liberals? Bite Me.” Of course this is not a partisan problem. If anything, studies generally show that left-leaning and politically independent voters tend to gravitate more toward traditional media sources while their right-leaning counterparts opt for less reputable outlets (like Breitbart and InfoWars). There’s something especially grating, however, about seeing opinions I hold myself being undermined by the proliferation of vacuous bullshit.
For example, I saw this on Facebook today:
This obviously references a Trump Administration memo that went public over the weekend prohibiting the use of particular scientific and administrative terminology at particular government agencies. To be clear – that’s a little scary in its implication for our ability to get decent reliable information from the government agencies charged with collecting it and is suggestion that the administration’s disdain for verifiable fact in favor of malleable partisan narrative extends far beyond its volatile executive. But the problems with this post are numerous.
First of all, stating that what the Trump administration did was “banning” the use of words is misleading. It directed government agencies to stop using the words in official communication but the words will still be used everywhere else. Second, it reduces the profound potential damage of such a directive to its banning of words and pays little mind to the implications of the language that replaces it. Those implications essentially being that the administration is affirming the use of political considerations in scientific research and policy. For example, the phrase that is to replace “evidence-based” is “... bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
Perhaps the most galling problem with a post like this one, however, is its knee-jerk misuse of the word “fascism.” The policy it is attempting to criticize is a lot of things – none of them good, but none reasonably called “fascist” by any accepted definition either. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but there are a thousand reasons why Trump’s policy is destructive, insidious, and misguided. Anyone who feels strongly about them should be able to articulate those reasons without resorting to slinging about negative words with no regard for their meaning. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs but it seems to me that misusing powerfully negative and freighted political terminology is literally the worst possible way to defend the importance of language.
I hate the internet sometimes, but if people would use the resources it makes available to them once in a while, then perhaps I wouldn’t so much.