One element of philosophy is how you define your terms and what you mean when you use a certain word or term. This is also known as semantics. It’s sort of where linguistics meets logic and philosophy. If you were to take a philosophy of language class, semantics would probably be the first thing you really studied.
We are seeing semantics play a huge role in how people are talking about the police right now. Some are calling to “defund” the police. Others are being even more bold in their talk saying we should “abolish” the police. Others are saying we should take a more measured approach and “reform” the police.
Some in the “defund” the police camp are saying that what they really mean is to “reform” the police and that the word “defund” is being taken out of context; meaning that police shouldn’t have the same broad scope of responsibilities that they’ve had. This means giving more power to other branches of society. They embrace the term “defund”, but want others to know what they feel it means. Others in the “defund” the police camp are pushing back on that, saying that they are serious about not only defunding the police, but abolishing the police altogether. They’re giving the middle finger to the police as a whole and want them to be done away with as we know it.
Those in the “reform” camp are afraid that the terms “defund” and “abolish” are too radical and will push voters away from Joe Biden. That “defund” might really mean “reform”, but in that case, why not use “reform” because that’s what they really mean and it sounds less scary? And then there are those in the “reform” camp, who not only are afraid that “defund” and “abolish” appear radical, but they themselves actually believe those terms to be radical. They want to see changes in how police behave and hold them accountable, but they also believe we need to acknowledge the need for police and have a respectful tone towards the profession as a whole.
So that’s where we are at as a nation right now. We have people calling on defunding the police who really mean reforming the police. We have others calling to defund and abolish the police who really mean it and don’t want to placate to a middle ground. And then we have another group that wants to reform the police and want to use the term “reform” because “defund” and “abolish” sound too scary.
Semantics is having a huge effect on this conversation about the police and so long as people are disagreeing on their terms and how they should be used, it seems like we’re going to remain in gridlock. At times, I feel like people are talking over each other. What does the Cake community think about this issue? Do you care which term(s) we use when talking about the fate of the police? If so, which ones? If not, why not?
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