Essay:Three bad words

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There are three words that, while originally quite useful, have overtime become so subjected to overuse and abuse in inflammatory political rhetoric as to render their original intent virtually unrecognizable. These words ought to be excised from the collective vocabulary of English-language political discourse, or at least removed long enough that their original meanings may once again win out.

(This essay will to some extent be a work in progress as I find examples of these words being misused and add them.)


Censorship is a downward act: a governing body preventing someone within its domain from speaking. At least, that is what the word is supposed to mean. Nowadays, it seems to mean "criticism" the way people use it. Person A makes a public statement, Person B makes another public statement criticizing the statement made by A, and A then claims that B is attempting to censor A. No attempt on A's freedom of speech is ever made or even attempted, and in fact B has probably increased the prominence of A's statement by criticizing it. But all A has to do is cry "censorship!" and A has won the moral high ground, actual issues be damned.


  • Although he doesn't use the word "censorship" explicitly, Hank Williams Jr. made the same mistake as abusers of that word typically do following ESPN's decision to cut him out of broadcasts of Monday Night Football: "By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech..."[1] (bizarre capitalization in original). The First Amendment prevents censorship from the government; it does not force ESPN to broadcast something that the company feels reflects poorly upon them.


Propaganda is likewise a downward act, of a sort: an organization, either part of the government or a private group which supports the government politically, speaking on behalf of some cause with the intend to persuade the populace. And not entirely negative, either; the Rosie the Riveter posters were positive propaganda, aiming to get American citizens working to support the war effort. Evidence may be cited, or it may not; what makes it propaganda is the intent to generate support for the governing body's actions.

Of course, this meaning is lost to us now, as the modern meaning of the word "propaganda" is essentially what Ambrose Bierce assigned to the word absurdity: "a [political] statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion." Making any political statement is now considered propaganda, regardless of its source, accuracy, or relationship with the current government.


[find some later]


Dogma is a theological concept, so the application of this term to secular concepts is already stretching the use of metaphor to its limit. The term refers to those parts of a doctrine of some religion (most often Catholicism) which are core aspects of its belief. If dogma is rejected, the person rejecting it is no longer practicing that religion. In this regard, dogma is similar to the use of axioms in mathematics: it is indeed possible to construct triangles whose angles sum to more than 180 degrees, outside of Euclidean geometry, just as it is possible to find redemption through something other than Christ, outside of Christianity.

The most common meaning the word "dogma" is nowadays intended to impart is something that cannot be questioned. There is some basis in fact here, in that heresy was and is punishable under some theocracies, and even outside of those, persecution of religious minorities is a genuine concern. Nevertheless, there are very few concepts in the modern world that are actually beyond question, and the common attribution of the word "dogma" to scientific concepts the speaker doesn't like is comically absurd. Science works on questioning existing knowledge; it has no dogma. Use in political discussions is slightly less egregious, but still specious considering the frequency and intensity of political debate on just about any topic.


  • "... dogmatic opponents of design who demanded that the [Polyani] Center be shut down have met their Waterloo."William Dembski.