HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT: Lesson 1: “Scientism”

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These are trying times for Republicans. Not only did we loose the election, we got pantsed. Control of both houses and the presidency have been lost. We’re involved in two unpopular wars, we‘re bordering on a third, the government is deeply in debt, the international economy is in the crapper, and whether wrong or right, the strong public consensus is that it’s entirely our fault. Whether you’re a die-hard Bush supporter, or a moderate who feels mistakes were made, I think it’s pretty obvious that the party and its members are having a bit of an image problem right now.

To that end, I humbly submit this (hopefully) humorous guide on how we can change our reputation and not be perceived as paranoid racists and raving religious fanatics, at least on a one-to-one basis.

LESSON 1: “Scientism.”

In the last year or so, I’ve been coming across people - many of them with strong accents - using the word “Scientism,” which is, of course, not really a word. I’d naturally assumed they were mispronouncing something else, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was they were trying to say. In context, “Scientism” made little sense, and was a bit jargony. Assuming it meant anything at all, it had the feeling you get from unfamiliar words that missionaries from unfamiliar religions use when they come to your door and try to convert you. It simultaneously felt a bit illiterate and a bit deliberately exclusive.

Eventually, when I heard it enough times, I got curious and hunted around online and to my surprise it’s a neologism.

In essence, "Scientism" refers to the viewpoint wherein a person believes that Science is superior to all other viewpoints, be they religious, ethical, humanistic, artistic, or political. But let’s face it here: the viewpoint people who use this word are most concerned with is the Religious one. No one would care if a scientific viewpoint somehow conflicted with Abstract Expressionism. Heck, the artists themselves might even brag about that.

You can find more details about it here but what it boils down to is that Science is here to stay and has a huge say in how we live our lives and how we’re governed. Some religious people have a serious problem with this. Some conservatives have a problem with this. An increasing number of religious conservatives have a problem with this, and they decry “Scientism” as a bad thing.

That’s fine.

No, really, it is. I’m not here to tell you otherwise. There is a difference between morality and science, and just because you have the technical ability to do something doesn’t mean that you *should* do that thing. Yes, abortion is possible, and yes abortion is bad. Yes, genocide is possible, and yes genocide is bad. I should point out that I believe in God and am religious in a fairly traditional sense of the word, and certainly I’m not going to tell you that you need to change your beliefs, or that strict adherence to an allegedly rational secular humanist philosophy isn’t going to cause problems occasionally. That’s fine.

What I *am* going to say is “Do not use the word ‘Scientism.’”

At least not in public. It makes you look like an idiot. Seriously.

Why? Well you know how all good-hearted people roll their eyes when someone says “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious?” You know how they rattle off that bumpersticker philosophy as though it’s really deep and pregnant with meaning, when in fact it’s trite and has exactly the opposite effect they intend? You know how they mean to come across like “I believe in blah blah blah and I’m open minded and non-judgemental” but it really comes across as “I look down on you for your ignorant belief in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God, and I almost unquestionably favor gay marriage too”?

Well, that’s exactly the way “Scientism” comes across to the other side, the left, the dominant hunk of society right now.

No, really. You get in a debate with someone about something and start firing off words like “Scientism” and they’re just going to roll their eyes at you and assume you’re an idiot, and from that point on they’re not going to listen to a thing you say, even if you’re right. They’ll write you off as a dope the same way you write off those squishy ‘sit in a circle and hum’ kind of people who ‘believe in a positive force in the universe,’ but clearly care no more about it than they do a weekend at a spa.

Look, I’m an SF geek, ok? I’ve been in the community for decades. I go to conventions. I talk the talk. I am entirely unrepentant in my epic geekitude. If I want to talk to fen over a bheer - because why not, since FIWOL? - and work on our filk until the goram world ends in one great big fang zong feng kuang de jie, what’s so bad about that? And if a bunch of filkers come in thinking’ they’re Ghu’s own gift to slan and start scrawling fanfic as a fanac for the cosplayers who are in to slash and they cause an oldtime futurian to start screaming “FIJAGDH!” What’s that to you if it FAFIAtes him out of shock, since he was probably GAFIAting to begin with, right? A ke-wu de lao bao jun like him is probably all about the BEM and LGMs, right? Certainly not a trufan. Shiny! Then you find out he’s the Goh, and that’s instantly doubleplusungood for you and your droogy fen because the devotchka with the freebies you’ve been perving on doesn’t anything to do with you now, and next thing you know the fracking redshirts throw you out on lIj bIng with the ‘Danes. Oh, for a CRB!

Follow that, didja? If you’re any kind of a geek at all, that was remedial, but if you’re a normal person, you probably only got a word or two, and some of that from context. Imagine someone saying that paragraph fast, and it’d be so hard to follow that you’d think they were *trying* to exclude you, which of course they are.

Slang and Jargon are similar in that they develop for efficiently expressing repeated ideas or information in an efficient way. Everyone’s got it. Insurance Agents have very specific jargon and slang they use for insurance-specific things that come up a dozen times a day in their office, medical people have a completely unrelated set of slang that they use, and washing machine repair men have yet another completely unrelated lexicon of jargon they use related to their job when speaking with other washing machine repair men. They’re similar, too, in that they can be used to exclude people. If a sailor wants to talk to another sailor and keep you out of the conversation, he can very easily do it simply by using slang right in front of you, content in the knowledge that since you’re not a sailor, you’re going to miss most or possibly all of what he’s talking about.

In fact, these two uses are not mutually exclusive. I can communicate more efficiently in some circumstances in fanspeak than in standard English, and it’s a handy way of telling who is and isn’t in our club, too, you know? ‘Cuz if you don’t savvy, clearly you ain’t with us.

However, the vernacular is best that includes the most people, and the difference between a successful insurance sales person and a bad one is that they *never* use their jargon or slang while talking to a customer!

Likewise, dear Conservative and Religious friends, *Do Not* use words like “Scientism” in public, even if it’s exactly the right word. Jargon only works if *both* sides of a conversation understand it, and I’m here to tell you: the scientific community and the left of society *Do Not* use it, because it automatically only functions in the exclusionary ‘are you in the club or out?’ sense. It singles you out, and it makes you look like a dope, so just don’t do it. Use something else in it’s place, even if it’s a phrase rather than a single word.

I’m not saying you need to change your views, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying try to polish your word choice a bit, and, you know, don’t look like an idiot.