The Abuse of Language

I cannot rigorously define “the abuse of language,” but I can offer one example:

Arnold Kling recently asked his blog readers whether they belong to the Church of Unlimited Government.  Sounds pretty bad to me, I don’t think I want any part of that.  But wait, though he never defines it carefully, it seems Kling would put you in the Church of Unlimited Government unless you value limited government for its own sake.

In other words, you could favor school vouchers, privatizing the post office, and cutting the military budget in half, but if you favored those proposals because (and only because) you thought they’d have good consequences (e.g. better schools, lower taxes, better foreign relations, etc.) then you could still be accused of belonging to the Church of Unlimited Government.

It is understandable, and unavoidable, that people will frame issues to make their views sound appealing, but hopefully social scientists can enforce a norm of using more mutually acceptable language.  It is a part of debating charitably.

Anyone want to offer another example of the abuse of language?


3 Responses to The Abuse of Language

  1. valter says:

    I think you misunderstand what Kling meant. I believe his point is that some people (members of the Church of Unlimited Government) think that government intervention is the solution to all (sufficiently important) social or economic problems.

    Saying that government should not intervene in something that you do not consider to be a problem does not affect your membership.

    Saying that something is a problem, but the best solution does not involve government intervention (or that, between two equally good solutions, you’d pick the non-government one) is what takes you out of the Church.

    So, for example, if you think that poor education is an important social problem and you favor school vouchers or even privatization of schools, then you are not a member of the Church.

    This is what Kling seems to be saying in the following paragraph:
    “Still, I believe that it ought to be possible for a conservative to be in the Church of Limited Government rather than the Church of Unlimited Government. In theory, I would think that a conservative might really care about education or health care without necessarily favoring government involvement.”

  2. Michael Bishop says:

    Thanks for trying to help me understand Valter. My understanding was that supporting fairly libertarian policies is necessary, but not sufficient, to escape being labeled a member of the Church of Unlimited Government.

    Regardless, my whole criticism of Kling’s post is that his invention and use of the term, “Church of Unlimited Government,” is that is basically name calling which distracts from understanding. So if I did misunderstand him, perhaps that is evidence for my point.

    I respect Kling and want to see him present his ideas as fairly and straight-forwardly as possible.

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