Ee-lim Anate the Negative

Well I’m always telling people, in my annoying way, that ‘negative’ doesn’t mean bad or critical or disapproving or pessimistic or skeptical or cynical or hostile. That if you want to call something any of those, you should use those words, and not the word ‘negative’ which 1. doesn’t mean any of those and 2. if you do use it as a pointless euphemism for those other words is vague and woolly and non-specific and confusing. By the same token ‘positive’ doesn’t mean approving or friendly or optimistic or patriotic or cheerful or warm or helpful. There’s a bizarre kind of covert thought-control going on in the translation of all words conveying disagreement and dissent into ‘negative’ and all words conveying acceptance and approval into ‘positive.’ We are being told that it is bad and wrong to dislike anything, which means we are also being told that it’s wrong to judge and analyse at all, because it’s impossible to judge and analyse properly if an unfavourable verdict is ruled out in advance.

I’ve been droning about this for years, as I say, and now here’s an amusing example. Richard Lewontin uses the word to mean what it does mean, in a review in which he mentions a book by Evelyn Fox Keller, and Fox Keller understands it to mean what it doesn’t mean and rebukes him for it, whereupon he has to explain (without actually quite saying so) that he was using it to mean what it means, not what it has come to mean lately in mush-speak.

My reference to Keller’s “negative view” of a unified theory of biology was in no way meant to imply that she places a higher value on one kind of explanation than on another. Her view is negative in the simple sense that she characterizes the attempt to create a unified theory as having failed up till now.

See what happens when words go all fuzzy? Confusion, misunderstanding, corrections and corrections of corrections in newspapers. Terrible business. Quite funny though.

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