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The New Censorship

The latest absurdity to emanate from the Trump White House is the edict to scientists at the Centers for Disease Control that they cannot use seven words in a report that will be part of the 2019 budget request. The words are vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.

If I were a scientist working on that report, I would be strongly tempted to go through the draft that contains those words and simply black them out. That would remove them from the report, as requested. Let those who don’t want to see those words guess what’s under the black mark.

My second temptation would be to replace the words with a first letter and a following blank, as in t__________. Since all the forbidden words begin with different letters, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the reader to figure out the missing letters.

Alternatively, authors less willing to be openly defiant could resort to lengthy talk-arounds. For example, “vulnerable” could be replaced with “persons who through birth defect, age, illness, or other conditions are less able to resist potential harm from…”

“Entitlement” would become “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something, or the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges), or a type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group.” Readers get to choose which meaning they prefer.

No reasons were given for the banishment of these seven words. Observers are left to speculate whether more words might be forbidden in the coming months and what they might be. Already we’ve learned that agencies may not refer to “global warming” or “climate change,” all part of this administration’s fervent embrace of denialism. Such an approach speaks volumes about the close-mindedness of the Republican right.

In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.  Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[1]

Explanation is also missing about who in particular requested these restrictions. No one would be surprised if the proclamation came from the petulant-child-in-chief himself, since he prefers monosyllables. Maybe the four-syllable “diversity” is too much for him to move his lips over as he attempts to read it. With his utter disregard for science as a discipline and the exacting process science pursues in developing “evidence,” he might prefer, in the possible instance of his developing prostate cancer, that his doctor explains “there’s a bigly bad problem in your thingy down there.”

However, advisors whispering at the Big Baby’s elbow surely find political hay to be made from eradicating the word “fetus” in the hopes that report authors would be forced to use a preferred term such as “unborn child.” However, a fetus is not a child, born or not, and scientists would probably be picky about technicalities like that. They might resort to using a phrase something like “a being in the stage of prenatal development between the embryonic state and birth, occurring after the first eleven weeks of gestation.”

If the report isn’t specified to contain a limited number of words, perhaps no one would mind that a concise single-word scientific term like “fetus” would require twenty-two words to replace it.

This points up the deeply ridiculous aspect of the seven-word ban. Our society – and societies worldwide – agree on words like “fetus” to describe a precisely-understood concept. It’s not that the current administration doesn’t understand what a “fetus” is or feels that it needs a bigger explanation. It’s that the word is involved in a political debate about a woman’s right to choose whether to produce a child. The word “fetus” doesn’t trigger the warm fuzzies that make an evangelical want to rush out and murder a gynecologist or chortle over the prospect of an illegal abortion causing a woman to bleed to death.

Similarly, the word “transgender” triggers instantaneous outrage among the more benighted among us. Ready to drag out the Bible to point out where it clearly states that God only made man and woman, these folks aren’t going to listen to reason anytime soon no matter how clearly it’s explained that there’s a whole other world of gender- and sexual identity-reality out there. They still haven’t accepted that men and women can love and desire members of their own sex. Despite their abysmal ignorance and visceral terror over anything other than their mirror image, the prurient interests of these folks prod them to inspect and judge the more intimate details of Other People’s Lives.

Wikipedia:

Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer or non-binary, including bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or agender). Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. Infrequently, the term transgender is defined very broadly to include cross-dressers, regardless of their gender identity.

Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation:  transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, or may decline to label their sexual orientation. The term transgender is also distinguished from intersex, a term that describes people born with physical sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. The counterpart of transgender is cisgender, which describes persons whose gender identity or expression matches their assigned sex.[2]

It might be difficult to sum up all that in a short phrase in order to replace the word “transgender.”

Our collective intelligence and good will has been insulted repeatedly in the electoral-college victory of Donald Trump. Both before and after the election, he has intentionally incited violence, misunderstanding, prejudice, racism, and division. His performance as president is an international embarrassment. It’s difficult to believe he actually thinks about anything much less reasons. He’s the worst possible person for the role he managed to grab off the gut wagon.

We’ve been forced to accept a presidency of an essentially illiterate man with such a record of abuses, deceptions, insults, sexual assaults, adultery, and overarching greed that it’s difficult to maintain an appropriate level of disgust. While we may hope for a favorable outcome of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election, meaning Trump himself would be found red-handed and subject to prosecution, we face the clear possibility that even this last glimmer of faith in our system will also fall by the wayside. And although we hope for a reversal of Congressional control in the 2018 election, even that will not remove the idiot currently occupying the Oval Office.

But this — this censorship of important words — is alarming evidence of the danger facing our nation.

Whether the seven-word ban is a result of Trump’s petulant desire to get his hands on an easier read—not that anyone thinks for a moment he’ll actually read the CDC report—or his acquiescence to the manipulations of people like Stephen Miller, the remarkably under-investigated wizard whirling the bells and whistles behind Trump’s curtain, no one can say. The most terrifying aspect of the straight-jacket this latest outrage places on scientists is the mentality behind it. Words that describe troubling issues are to be eliminated, as if banishing the word somehow banishes the issue.

These are manipulations of a tyrannical dictatorship, not the supposed world leader in freedom of thought and expression. The very idea of banning certain words from anything violates the fundamental concept of our nation and the stated protection of free speech enshrined in our First Amendment,  facts that are no doubt incomprehensible to this moronic president and the one-track extremists behind his agenda.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

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