The following is a sample chapter from my new book available at Amazon: Against Authoritarianism: A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions with a focus on Unitarian Universalism
Authoritarian political, social, and religious movements use language to try to force ideological and political conformity.
All areas have jargon, from religion to science to baseball. Jargon has a functional purpose. However, it is sometimes associated with groupthink, conformity, and cliques.
CRT and CRT-influenced antiracism acolytes and the new UUA have their ideological language: White supremacy and white supremacy culture, whiteness, dismantle, centering and decentering, BIPOC, accountable, complicit, microaggressions, colonize, intersectionality, erase/erased, etc.
Psychologist Valerie Tarico writes that the woke insider jargon is very similar in nature and purpose to the insider jargon of Christian Evangelicals:
“Like many other groups, the saved and the Woke signal insider status by using special language. An Evangelical immediately recognizes a fellow tribe-member when he or she hears phrases like Praise the Lord, born again, backsliding, stumbling block, give a testimony, a harvest of souls, or It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. The Woke signal their wokeness with words like intersectionality, cultural appropriation, trigger warning, microaggression, privilege, fragility, problematic, or decolonization. The language of the Woke may have more meaningful real-world referents than that of Evangelicals, but in both cases, jargon isn’t merely a tool for efficient or precise communication as it is in many professions—it is a sign of belonging and moral virtue.” (Tarico 2019)
Multiple national polls have shown that not only are substantially large majorities of all racial and ethnic demographics against politically correct culture and the politically correct language adopted by the UUA, UU World, UU ministers, and many UU congregations, but the top three are American Indians (88%), Latinos (87%), and Asians (82%). Seventy-five percent of black Americans were against PC culture and language. (ThinkNow 2019) (Monk 2018) (McWhorter 2022)
Linguist and black-English expert John McWhorter wrote that the term “BIPOC” is unpopular with and seen as culturally elitist by most racial minorities. (McWhorter 2022)
A Latino pollster found that “[w]hen it came to ‘Latinx,’ there was near unanimity. Despite its usage by academics and cultural influencers, 98% of Latinos prefer other terms to describe their ethnicity. Only 2% of our respondents said the label accurately describes them, making it the least popular ethnic label among Latinos.” Some Latinos have called white people using Latinx “Anglo-Imperialist,’’ “Anglicizing our language,” “culturally ignorant,” and “English speakers imposing their social norms on other cultures.” (Thinknow 2018) (Douthat 2019)(Cunningham 2017)
Redefining common words
Authoritarian ideologues often take common emotionally loaded and often inflammatory words, such as racist and white supremacy, and change their definitions to support their ideology.
Writes Unitarian Universalist and author Jim Aikin: “The differences between the KKK and a UU congregation could not possibly be more stark. To use the term ‘white supremacy culture’ to refer to anything in UU culture is flatly preposterous. I can understand why the term is being used, however: Its shock value is undeniable. It’s a verbal hand grenade. Nonetheless, it’s a mistake. Using the term—flinging it freely without attempting to define what you mean by it—is going to alienate a lot of sensible people. People you would like to have on your side. People like me.” (Aikin 2019)
Progressive Democrat and former Mayor of Madison Wisconsin Dave Cieslewicz writes, “It’s hard to start a useful conversation with an insult. For example, up until about a year ago, ‘white supremacy’ was a phrase reserved for neo-Nazis. Now, we’re told that we’re all white supremacists. Well, no, actually I’m not. And I’ll bet you’re not either, but I sure don’t like the sound of it and it doesn’t make me more receptive to the arguments of those who think this way.” (Cieslewicz 2022)
In the 2019 paper “Is the ‘White Supremacy Culture’ Paradigm a Useful Strategy for Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression Social Justice Work?”, political science professor Anne L. Schneider writes about “the dangers of progressive/liberal people and groups adopting illiberal strategies including the use of words like ‘white supremacy’ to describe liberal and progressive organizations that do not hold beliefs or practices that portray the white race as superior to other races.” She believes that such language hurts racial justice work by dividing rather than unifying would-be allies in the causes. (Schneider 2019)
Arguing that racism now confusingly has too many conflicting definitions, McWhorter writes: “The key difference is between outright bigotry and the more abstract operations of what we call ‘systemic racism.’ Yes, there is a synergy between the two. But as the difficulty in our conversations about racism attests, there is a wide gulf between personal prejudice (Racism 1.0) and the societal and sociohistorical operations that render Black physicists, for example, rare relative to Black people’s proportion of the population—Racism 2.0, sometimes even termed ‘white supremacy.’ In an alternate universe, those two things might not go under the same name.” (McWhorter 2022)
Expanding a word to encompass everything under the sun is bad practice. It’s also counterproductive as it dilutes the power and meaning of the word. When everything is “racism” and “white supremacy”—from being a member of the KKK to asking someone, “Have you been to Paris?” (Supposedly a microaggression, as it assumes they have the privilege to travel abroad) to using Robert’s Rules in a meeting—the words not only lose all meaning but people will quit taking them seriously.
I’ve noticed that the UUA Facebook page and UU World magazine like to use the term “white supremacy” to make rhetorical and emotional associations of, say, the use of Robert’s Rules in a UU board meeting with a KKK supporter going on a mass murder spree (“They’re both ‘white supremacy’”). That’s where the word has too many meanings, and the UUA’s association of the two comes across as intentional rhetorical sleight of hand. UUs using Robert’s Rules are not on a slippery slope to or a step away from KKK lynchings or a racist mass shooting, and the UUA should quit implying that they are. That’s why it’s bad practice to put everything under the sun under the umbrella of one word.
One person said, “If everything is racism then nothing is racism.”
Words as tools of intimidation
Accusatory and shaming language is often used to keep people in line, to intimidate and shut them up. “Racist” and “white supremacy” are inflammatory words to most, and people fear being labeled with them.
Social critic Shelby Steele writes that white people “have this vulnerability to being disarmed of moral authority by being called a racist.” McWhorter writes, “America is falling under the grips of this ideology out of neither serious counsel nor consensus, but fear. For most Americans, being called a racist is all but equivalent to being called a pedophile.” (Steele 2006)
Keith Swanson wrote: “The weapon of choice is to call a person a racist. If that is not strong enough, then they use the term white supremacist. Once you are branded as a racist, there is no defense. It would be reasonable to be able to actually discuss whether such and such an action is racist or not, but that is simply not possible: once branded you are tarnished.”
Tarico writes: “Shaming and shunning have ancient roots as tools of social control, and they elevate the status of the person or group doing the shaming. Maoist struggle sessions (forced public confessions) and Soviet self-criticism are examples of extreme shaming in social-critical movements seeking to upend traditional power structures. So, it should be no surprise that some of the Woke show little hesitation when call-out opportunities present themselves—nor that some remain unrelentingly righteous even when those call-outs leave a life or a family in ruins.” (Tarico 2019)
Soviet-born American professor Anna Krylov writes, “In Soviet times, those who opposed the Party line were called ‘enemies of the people’; now they are called ‘racists.’” (Krylov & Tanzman 2021)
Language as an Orwellian tool of indoctrination and thought control
I understand the need for some to have a shared group language. However, someone who communicates in this language can be using it to express an ideology. A church that speaks in these terms is speaking in an ideology. Those who expect you to use their ideological language are trying to create ideological conformity. (Soriano 2010)
In her essay “Language as an Instrument of Totalitarianism,” Alexandra Kapelos-Peters writes, “In order to maintain its power, George Orwell claims, a political regime uses language to produce a reduced state of individual consciousness in its residents. As it structures and places limits on ideas that an individual is capable of forming, language is established as a type of mind-control for the masses. The primary purpose of political language is to eliminate individual thought and expression.” (Kapelos-Peters 2003)
Political theorist Saul Alinksy famously said, “He who controls the language controls the masses.”
While all should work to be conscious of others’ linguistic sensibilities and avoid using words that are universally felt to be offensive, freedom of thought and belief requires freedom of language.
Aikin, J. (2019), “Shut Up! You’re Not Liberal Enough!”, https://midiguru.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/shut-up-youre-not-liberal-enough/
Kapelos-Peters, A. (2003), “Language as an Instrument of Totalitarianism,” https://www.alexandrakp.com/text/2003-03/language-as-an-instrument-of-totalitarianism/
Krylov A & Tanzman J (2021), “Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM. The Silent Liberal Majority Must Fight Back”, https://quillette.com/2021/12/18/scientists-must-gain-the-courage-to-oppose-the-politicization-of-their-disciplines
McWhorter, J. (2022), “BIPOC is Jargon. That’s OK, and Normal People Don’t Have to Use It,” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/25/opinion/bipoc-latinx.html
McWhorter, J. (2022), “Racism Has Too Many Definitions. We Need Another Term,” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/17/opinion/buffalo-racism.html
Monk, Y. (2018), “Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture,” http://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/large-majorities-dislike-political-correctness/572581/
Soriano, R. (2010), “Manipulation of language as a weapon of mind control and abuse of power in 1984,” https://rorueso.blogs.uv.es/2010/10/28/manipulation-of-language-as-a-weapon-of-mind-control-and-abuse-of-power-in-1984/
Schneider, A. (2019), “Is the ‘White Supremacy Culture’ Paradigm a Useful Strategy for Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression Social Justice Work?”, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ibp-h6bLYllUSjV7qcNg9hPLA8EDoY96/view
Steele, S. (2006), “White Guilt and the End of the Civil Rights Era,” https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5385701
Tarico, V. (2019), “The Righteous and the Woke—Why Evangelicals and Social Justice Warriors Trigger Me in the Same Way,” https://valerietarico.com/2019/01/24/the-righteousness-and-the-woke-why-evangelicals-and-social-justice-warriors-trigger-me-in-the-same-way
ThinkNow (2019), “Progressive Latino pollster: 98% of Latinos do not identify with ‘Latinx’ label,” http://medium.com/@ThinkNowTweets/progressive-latino-pollster-trust-me-latinos-do-not-identify-with-latinx-63229adebcea
Purchase book here: Against Authoritarianism: A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions with a focus on Unitarian Universalism