(The exposition below is a theory. Suggestions for improvement or refinement are welcome at occupant@kurtsimmons.com)

On Pejorative Definitions and the Nature of Discourse

Some words, like 'apple', are simple and their definitions can usually be agreed upon. Some words, like 'capitalism', are complex and have many components of their definition. A word like this can become pejorative, that is acquire a nasty emotional meaning, when the nastiest of its components is allowed to usurp its meaning. If I say 'apple' does your blood boil? If I say 'capitalism' does your blood boil?

Consider a generic description of a word like 'capitalism'. It may have the following general components.

Good Good Good Bad Bad

Suppose, in a typical conversation, we ask, "Is capitalism good?" You will get a loud argument to follow. Some folks will say, "No! Look at D and E." Other people will say, "Yes! Look at A, B, and C." Much squawking will follow, even though the two sides might actually agree on the good or bad nature of the components. If, like in Boulder, the naysayers are louder, the word eventually acquires permanent negative connotations.

Suppose instead you ask, "HOW is capitalism good?" we can then enumerate the merits A, B, and C. This polite discussion can then be followed with, "HOW is capitalism bad? We can then enumerate D and E.

The result:
  • A more civil discussion overall. Dangerous topics are broached in an open, creative way.
  • We don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Much of our good came from capitalism. Some bad has arrived too. Asking the HOW questions allow the good components to remain.
  • Everybody becomes more aware of the complex, emotional nature of vocabulary.