In “The Giver,” Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel about a post-apocalyptic future, a regimented social order has been created to protect citizens from suffering and strife. The “elders” in this utopian community assign everyone roles that fit their gifts. If that was the extent of it, this could be your local Presbyterian Church. But that’s not all there is, as 12-year-old Jonas learns at the dinner table one night when he asks if his father loves him.
“Jonas. You of all people,” the dad replies. “Precision of language, please!” Jonas realizes this is no Utopia he’s living in. He asks, what do you mean? “Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” replies his mother.
It’s a foreboding scene. But just as real 21st century life has made political parody difficult, the same is true for dystopian fiction. We’ve managed to take Lois Lowry’s nightmarish specter to new depths. At this time of year, we ostensibly celebrate the birth of the child who taught us to love our enemies. Yet even while shopping for loved ones and listening to Christmas carols, we’re casually spewing insults and animosity via social media at those whose public policy views differ from our own. We don’t bother with precision of language. We’re perfectly willing to use imprecise, even dishonest, language to further our agenda. The professional media does it, too.
Roy Moore, for example, is not a pedophile. Whatever the erstwhile Senate candidate from Alabama was doing at Gadsden Mall back in the 1970s when he pursued teenage girls, he does not have a psychiatric disorder consisting of a primary or exclusively sexual attraction to prepubescent children — that’s what pedophilia is.
Yet that’s the preferred term from Moore’s critics in the media and the Democratic Party. What he did was creepy enough, so why exaggerate? While we’re on the subject, Moore is no better than his critics. He knows full well that the Washington Post’s exposé into his Gadsden High School transgressions wasn’t “fake news.” So why say it? Bearing false witness is a sin. It says so in the book that Roy Moore says guides his life.
Our battle lines have been forming in this country for some time. In the era of Donald Trump, they have metastasized into trench warfare. It’s not easy to see how we get out of these bunkers, but precision of language is one place to start. It might even lead to charity of heart….