June 4, 2022

Imagine Guy A calls Guy B a “homophobe.”

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Guy B responds: “What do you mean? What is a ‘homophobe’? Can you define the word?”

Guy A might not be able to. He might have never thought of it.

But that isn’t the point, really. The “point” is that it works. The word was invented for a purpose. That purpose is to instantly convey the basic idea: “I’m a good person, and you’re not. I’m tolerant, and you’re not. I’m mentally healthy, but you’re not.”

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The key is the shaming. The rest is irrelevant.

The word is a tool of ideological warfare. It frames the argument in a way that one side of the argument is “good” and the other “bad.” It weaponizes language to make one person psychologically healthy and the other psychologically dysfunctional. It bypasses rational, logical debate in favor of defining the person in the debate. In this way, it “wins” arguments by intimidating anyone away from even getting into the debate arena. It silences rational debate by preventing it from ever happening.

Calling someone a “homophobe” is an easy, no-cost way to establish moral superiority on the cheap. “Logic,” “rationality,” “clarity,” and so on—all part of the hard work involved in defining words clearly and thinking rigorously—are irrelevant. The point is power. It imbues the accuser with instant righteousness and smears the accused as psychologically defective. It’s no wonder it’s become so infectious and popular.

But let’s imagine Guy A can define the word.

He defines it as “an irrational fear of gay people.” Homo is roughly “sameness.” Phobia is generally “an irrational fear.”

“Phobia” is a psychological term. An individual with a genuine phobia is in the grip of a diagnosable, clinical psychological condition.