Banned Words


[note:  updated on December 29 to replace the word “authority” with “expertise,” which more accurately describes my intent.  I also included the phrase “wish-based reality” which I think summarizes things nicely.]

The other big news of the weekend was the the CDC banned a set of words:  “diversity,” “fetus,” “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “science-based” and “evidence-based.”  Since then we’ve learned that the words weren’t officially banned, but rather it seems that someone suggested that they be avoided in order to secure funding / fly more stealthily under the radar.  I’m not sure which is worse:  an outright ban in which blame can be securely assigned or that scientists are having to self censor in order to keep doing their work. 

Here’s a few thoughts I had on the matter.    

  1.  I’m just sick and tired of having to pretend that there’s no such thing as expertise anymore.  Or reality.  Did you know that I’m no longer practicing medicine?  I’m not.  There are a lot of very subtle, nuanced reasons that I arrived at this decision.  One thing that steadily wore me down, however, was the daily reality in which I had to pretend to support parents who were seeking decidedly non evidence based  sources to make medical decisions for their kids.  Their sister in law.  Their mommy group’s message board.  A blog by some dad with a minivan.  The concept of reasonable, earned expertise has completely gone out the window, and it really made me mad sometimes.  OK, all the time.  Especially in regards to vaccination.  I would often think, “if I’m either that evil or stupid as to recommend something that was really as dangerous as you believe, why on earth are you even here seeking my opinion on anything?”  I suppose a lot of that frustration was my pride.  But a lot was frustration with a generation of parents who is shifting inexorably toward wanting to believe in magic.  
  2. OK, back to the list.  I’m a little unclear on why the words “vulnerable” and “entitlement” are there.   When compared to the rest of the list, these words don’t seem to be the type that would raise conservative hackles–they’re not hot button words like (gasp) transgender.  Vulnerable?  Are conservatives really uncomfortable acknowledging that there really ARE people who are systemically disadvantaged?  And that some of these people really just can’t wake up one day and decide to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and catch some of that trickle-down economics?
  3.  I would think the word “entitlement” would be encouraged, as it smacks of unearned handouts, just the kind of a story that many right wingers want to spin.  Someone’s going to have to help me out with why this word would be seen as a danger word in the current administration.
  4. Part  of me wants to just laugh, though.  Do the non-thinkers really assume that without the words “science-based” and “evidence-based,” scientists will just throw up their hands and say out with the scientific method, let’s close up shop?  That responsible medical providers will suddenly be swayed by what the random mom bloggers are writing about the vaccination schedule?  Give me a break.  We’re made of tougher stuff than that.  The work and the concepts will continue apace.  Don’t get me wrong–words matter and none of them should be banned, outright or implicitly.  But really.
  5. It’s also an interesting exercise to think about what the opposites of these words might be.  That is, if these words or concepts are so wholly undesirable, what is the implied desirable item?  What can this teach us about the presumed audience for whom the CDC is writing?   Diversity would be “sameness.”  What’s the opposite of fetus?  “Autonomous-human-from-the-moment-the-sperm-hits-the-egg.”  Transgender?  I guess the opposite of that would be something like “strict gender binary.”  Vulnerable would be “winning,” and I guess that makes sense.  The opposite of science based and evidence based is “true because that’s what I experienced” and “true because I read on the internet.”
  6. What does the list from number 5 have in common?  THEY ARE ALL IMAGINARY.






So.  We can confidently say that Trump’s Great America is littered with forced binary gender conforming, mimeographed humans all of whom are winning and whose beliefs are solely informed by things they’ve personally experienced or read on the internet. And that it’s completely imaginary.

I welcome your reasonable thoughts.  I haven’t yet written on anything overtly political, but this one really pushed me over the edge.  I honestly thought it was satire at first.  Ah well.