Do you bristle when you hear the word sustainable? How about diversity, or social justice? Do you get a nagging feeling about the word bullying? Can you say why? Can you articulate why these words bother you, or do you just try to keep your mouth shut? Maybe there's something wrong with you...
Take sustainable. Nothing wrong with that, right? We take the word to be an absolute good. After all, it's hard to argue that conserving resources is a bad idea, all other things being equal.
Ah, but there's the rub, all other things aren't equal. The environmental left doesn't believe in cost/benefit analyses, so "sustainability" has come to mean whatever the Greens want it to mean. Simply attaching the word to other words conveys its essential goodness to anything. Sustainable practices. If one had to define the word now, its real meaning is, "this is something of which we environmentalists approve."
Conversely, if something's deemed not sustainable, it conveys disapproval. Google "Keystone Pipeline not sustainable," and you will get 642,000 hits. But you, good rationalist, say, "Wait, I think more natural gas is a good thing, both for the environment and for our economy." Sorry, you are now anti-sustainability, and since we know, without having to discuss it any further, that this is a good thing, you are ipso facto morally and logically tainted. Excuse us, while we dismiss your viewpoint without having to, well, think it through at all.
That's the way it works these days. The left, unable to marshal anything beyond emotive arguments, finds it simpler to shut down opposing viewpoints than to engage with them. Co-opting language is part of this strategy.
Let's look at some other examples:
This one has been a very effective lexical weapon for the left. How can one oppose diversity, at least beyond a personal thought bubble? Say something like that to your kid's principal and see the horror in his (her!) face. Because really, it should be a good thing. It should mean the bringing together of disparate people of disparate views and ideas, who then challenge each other with reason and intellect to make something greater. Except it doesn't. The kind of diversity that matters most - the intellectual kind - is the one shunned by very purveyors of the word. What diversity really means is that progressive viewpoints will be welcome from people of all races (but not quite as much from whites and Asians).
I was once hazed by a fraternity; it was fun, and helped me bond with my fellow initiates. Having said this, there certainly are hazing rituals out there that I'd be just as happy pass on. Yes, hazing can go too far, but so can the reaction of schools and parents. Hazing has now become a catch-all phrase that means something we school administers disapprove of, particular if it involves a team or a fraternity. It's a useful cudgel for the scolds to go after institutions they profoundly dislike, particularly as those institutions scrape out an existence outside the progressive bubble of academia. Last year, the president of Bowdoin suspended the entire tennis team for the year because the seniors jokingly made a couple of the freshman eat a goldfish, something that was practically a national sport in the on 50s campuses. Look it up.
Apparently, our country is suffering an epidemic of bullying. The Anti-Defamation League defines bullying as "repetitive and aggressive behavior while exploiting a power differential in size, age, or numbers." Sounds about right. But lots of other stuff is bullying now. Disagreement on the playground? Bullying. Someone gets left out of a social circle? Bullying. A girl's basketball team wins by 70 points? Bullying. So, the statistics soar, and administrators get another tool for control, and another excuse to hire more staff to deal with the problem.
I think we all know what the word is supposed to mean: if you tolerate something, you may not like it at all, but you will not actively oppose it. You quietly accept it. But now, notably within the gay rights movement, its real meaning is appreciate, or even celebrate, as in, you will actively celebrate our lifestyle. Or else. (See: Brendan Eich, ex-CEO of Mozilla.) Recently, my kid's school had "Days of Dialogue," which featured work sessions in things like "Gender Expression and Sexuality." There's little doubt that the dialogue was mono-directional, pointed squarely at the pre-enlightened.
Again, how can anything with the word justice be a bad thing? And hey, throw social in there for good measure. I dare you to speak the words, "I am opposed to social justice." But just in case you're out of the loop and haven't been to an Al Sharpton rally lately, what it means is equality of outcome, and specifically the wholesale, coerced transfer of wealth from those who have it to those who don't. This can even be expressed on a global basis as an excuse to transfer wealth from the First World to the Third. Many view proposed UN climate regulations as just such a measure.
Can you think of the first word that liberals stole? It is the word liberal itself. Classically, a liberal was someone who believed in a limited state and embraced the rapid change that happens to societies and economies when the government stays out of the way. In Europe, it still has the definition (if only just). American liberals fight for an ever-growing state, one that locks in the vested interests of unions and big businesses. That is anti-change, which is...conservative!
Confused? It will only get worse.