Propaganda words and phrases

A collection of words and phrases that, although popular, are either inherently nonsensical, or carry connotations with their use that insinuate nonsensical ideas, legitimize bad behavior or villify innocent behavior.

"Try to be good"

To "try" means to make a choice that you think might cause a given result but is not guaranteed to. But a person necessarily has the final say in whether they make a more moral or a less moral choice. So when we use "try" or its synonyms in reference to moral behavior ("try not to sin", etc), we imply that the choice is not ultimately ours. Taken literally it denies the existence of free will, and while I don't think this phrase is a significant factor behind the apparently growing anti-free-will movement, implications show up in other areas, such as the Christian practice of praying for God to give you virtue, and some Catholic speakers who outright say that you *can't* resist temptation without God's help. (I don't know the name of the film, but I heard this in my childhood in a short film about the Christian ideas in Lord of The Rings.)


The problem with this term is that it excludes defending others. Taken literally, the implication is that it's okay to use violence in defense of yourself but not okay to use violence in defense of other innocents.

Of course, few or no one believes that, but I don't think it's accurate to say that the term isn't causing any harm because no one outright believes it. I've had an experience where people acted this way, after all. I don't think many people are bigoted enough to say the kid wouldn't have been justified to defend himself, but somehow other people defending him is seen as interfering with someone else's parenting or some crap.

The bystander effect: a story of my failure

Unfortunately there aren't any easy alternatives to this phrase. Sometimes I use phrases like "defending the innocent" but that's so much longer and doesn't make the same instinctive connection, because the phrase isn't in standard use. So even I end up talking about "self-defense" for convenience often.

"Harm", "hurt", "violence"

These words are used in such a way that a negative use ("nonviolent") implies something is *peaceful* behavior, but a positive use carries a strong connotation of only referring to physical pain or damage and not other aggressions against another person's autonomy.

Myopias on violence

Still, "violence" is useful as an ideograph against statists, who *need* the emotional push to help them see through their indoctrination, especially for calling out the enforcement fallacy. But in general it does us a disservice that these words are so particularly - yet not strictly - associated with physical pain and damage.

The enforcement fallacy

Some alternatives that don't carry this propagandic connotation are "infringe" and "violate". They're not a perfect solution though, since they sound a bit too formal for some contexts.

"Conspiracy theory"

This one is incredibly strong. Many people instantly dismiss something if it seems like a "conspiracy theory", no matter how rational it is. (Anecdote: when I first came up with the free will refutation of materialism and had the ensuing argument where I didn't shy from the implication that an entire field of science is wrong, one of the people I was with responded with "You're gonna grow up to be a consiracy theorist". Somehow, that refuted the argument, or something.)

The free will refutation of materialism

(Also, hilarious addendum: the person who told me that went on to believe in QAnon, anti-vax, and election fraud 🤣)


If you're an "extremist", the natural question is "extreme about what?" Something good, bad, or neutral? Or at least, it should be.

Somehow, "extremist" is frequently used as if it means "terrorist", or something close ("Islamic extremists" in particular is commonly used as a synonym for "Islamic terrorists"). The reason this is a thing is of course because of the general taboo on caring about ideology, and we should strive to weaken this connotation by either avoiding the word or using it in positive ways. If anything, "extremist" should be a label to be proud of because it should mean caring a lot about something.

"Judge, jury, and executioner"

This phrase is used to imply that an individual who thinks someone is guilty is wrong to act on that belief without the support of an established system of courts and police. It's senseless in principle because morality is independent of the decisions of such systems, and in practice the idea creates horrible incentive problems.

The separation of legislation and enforcement is harmful

"Serve time", "penitentiary", "correctional facility"

Time spent in prison isn't "serving" anyone; it's time during which one is prevented from making restitution or doing anything of value and forced to live off the resources of the innocent. No correction is made; repentance is punished the most because criminals are denied the chance to labor in reparation.

Forms of punishment and their pros and cons

"Rule of law"

Commonly thrown around by state apologists, especially minarchists, "rule of law" is a logical impossibility.

Law can't rule because law can't *act*. Only people can act.


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