I was recently asked on social media whether the redefinition of a term was a bad thing. The questioner asked, in essence, why not? Because there’s all this “soft racism” out there that we need to address.
Yes, the redefinition of a term is generally a bad thing. Whenever there’s a term with social, moral and political juice, it becomes a horse that everyone tries to hitch their pet cause to, or stretch to cover what they want or don’t want. People were persuaded to accept the term racism back in the 1960s, or whenever, under one definition, probably best described as being what prevented King’s children from being judged by the content of their character. Those were the conditions under which people consented to make opposing racism a societal value. And now it’s being used to persecute people for the most minor claimed examples of it, and as a cover-up for personal failure and bad behavior, by people for whom being judged on the content of their character is the last thing they want.
Things fall apart. Idealism gets corrupted and co-opted by the greedy, whether for money or for power. History teaches that this happens over and over and over again. Unions used to be about a fair shake and became bloated and greedy and corrupt. The Catholic Church began selling forgiveness in advance for committing sins. Supporting the troops became the military-industrial complex. The real democratic consent of the Constitution became SCOTUS reading whatever’s popular into the interstate commerce clause and the 14th Amendment. Now it’s happening with racism, sexism and so on, and it’s tearing the country apart.
I said all this in reply. I ended with this thought: if we need to fight “soft racism”, then come up with a new term and popularize it. In the end, all real social and political accomplishment boils down to persuading people in their private hearts. Anything short of that is burning the ship’s timber for fuel.