This was originally posted at AccordingToHoyt a couple weeks back:
Since I wrote it, I am re-posting it here as well. The text below is my writing. The title, however, I missed. Sarah Hoyt came up with a far better title than I had. I suppose that sort of thing ought to be expected from someone who writes professionally.
The Real Resistance
Racist! Fascist! Nazi! Misogynist! Xenophobe! Homophobe! Thank you!
Recently $HOUSEMATE and I were dining out and our server had the curious habit of saying “Thank you” during every interaction, whether it made any sense or not. This is likely not a quirk of the server, but of a current trend in customer service. A local store suddenly has a “Thank you” policy for every customer interaction as well. Evidently they got severely dinged on a secret shopping rating of late for not having that, so now they have the policy in place. The idea is understandable: promote the idea of gratitude and polite customer service. There is a problem, though. And you’ve likely already figured it out. That “thank you” happens whether it makes any sense or not, and happens at every interaction. Thus it is both misused and overused. Misuse and overuse lead to resistance – that is, it loses the desired effect and becomes useless at best. Here, the worst is that it might be a joke shadow of itself.
The other words in the [sub]title are not as polite, nor used for the same purpose as “thank you” yet they have the very same issue: misuse and overuse. Racist once meant someone had an automatic negative reaction to those of some other race. (For this purpose, assume that ‘race’ actually exists and can be determined by trivial observation of skin color, even if that might not really be true). This was, and in a few cases still is, a problem. Racism lead to racial discrimination, unfair testing at polls, and all the other various Jim Crow laws. A society that does this is denying opportunity to some, and thus reducing its own potential. It wastes available manpower and brainpower to its detriment.
Fascist and Nazi are related to each other, Nazism being a particular brand of fascism. And back in the 1930’s and 1940’s they had a set meaning for a particular style of governance. While fascism is decidedly Not Good, the Nazis took to it with a horrifying efficiency that resulted in things so evil that it was truly unbelievable for many until newsreel footage showed things really were that bad. This didn’t merely waste potential, it destroyed manpower and brainpower.
Oh, manpower? In the sense of people available to do things. It’s not misogynist, it’s simply the right English word. Genuine misogyny is just like racism, only aimed at women instead of those of a particular race. This is another one of those “brilliant” ideas that permits a society, if it chooses, to artificially limit brainpower and, yes, manpower even if it is ‘womenpower’.
And then there are all the -phobes. Xenophobe for ‘fear’ of the other, the foreign. Homophobe for ‘fear’ of the same sex (or gender, if you must). There are likely many others, but one needs to stop staring into the abyss sometime. How much real fear is there? Almost none. There are almost certainly a few people who really are genuinely fearful of members of this group or that. A few. Not a majority. Not even a sizable minority.
The idea that these words apply to nearly half of society is breathtaking in its absurdity. If discrimination truly allowed lower pay for equal work, what sane business wouldn’t be rushing to hire the cheaper labor wherever and whenever it could? Seen any “Men need not apply” or “No Caucasians” or “Non-citizens only” help wanted signs? Me neither. Maybe it’s this bubble I’ve been living in. Oh, wait, haven’t seen the furious cries of outrage that would accompany any of those, either. Hrrmmm.
But if you expose a population to something over and over and over, a tolerance builds up. A resistance, that protects that population from the something it is being misexposed and overexposed to. That is how new antibiotic resistance comes into being. The surviving germs survived… and then the next set will be all from those survivors, and a higher percentage will survive the same treatment. This repeats until the resistance is so effective that the antibiotic is ineffective.
It’s not quite the same for people, as ideas tend not to be immediately fatal – even the astonishingly bad ideas. Systems can develop resistance as well, and society is system or a collection of systems. There is a new theory of Type 2 diabetes emerging, that the problem is insulin itself. The current standard treatment deals with one symptom – high blood sugar, which is more than just a symptom and is a real problem, but doesn’t address the immediate (yes, something else has to start the initial insulin resistance) root cause. “Insulin resistance protects the cell against… insulin.” is how at least one doctor sums it up. More insulin leads to more resistance, which means yet more insulin for treatment, and yet greater resistance in a vicious cycle. Some new treatments are being tried that reduce blood sugar without increased insulin. There is hope that this might break the cycle and have better outcomes – but it’s not common practice, nor the “received wisdom” yet.
Resistance protects the population or system from whatever is being resisted. In that theory of Type 2 Diabetes, the population of cells uses insulin resistance to protect itself from insulin. The cells are stuffed full of glucose and here comes insulin insisting they take in yet more. What to do? Bar the doors and increase the resistance. In antibiotic resistance, germs develop protection from antibiotics. And in our society, we are developing resistance to words that once meant things, but their misuse and overuse has robbed, or is robbing, them of power.
Consider that in the 1970’s and 1980’s an accusation of racism was a potent thing, a near nuclear attack on character. In recent years the end of the power of the word wasn’t the election of a black President, at least not directly. The end of the power was the stimulus-response accusation by many that any disagreement with that President was purely and only racist and not a genuine disagreement on policy. If everybody is a racist, nobody is a racist.
Other issues also happened. Gamergate. Sad Puppies. And perhaps others still, but each had nasty accusations that bore no relation to the actual issues being raised. And the result? Immunity, resistance develops. It’s not much at first and it’s rough going, but the result of wave after after wave of misuses and overuse is that more and more see that is indeed misuse and overuse.
And now we have many using the terms xenophobe, misogynist, sexist, fascist, and Nazi. The result is that those words, too, will lose their power as the targeted population becomes ever more resistant to them and regards them no longer as a danger, but as meaningless drivel, or even a joke. “That’s racist!” has already been used as a joke and is its own punchline. The R-bomb has been defused by its very wielders. To them, I have only this to say: Thank you.
There is another problem. That is that having rendered the words powerless, what happens should the actual evils they originally described truly manifest? As some abuse one linguistic “antibiotic” after the next, they each become impotent in turn. The overused and abused tool dulls. The disease can then run away, controlled or contained only by whatever lingering immune response society has left. Despite hysterical claims, that is NOT the case right now. Yeah, to those doing this and making future problems much harder to solve, thank you – for nothing. Great job, throwing all the antibiotics around for something not even a cold. There should be a statue to your stupidity, for it is monumental. Thank you!