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I have many peeves, little things that make my eyeballs twitch. The one that is annoying me the most at the moment is this little bit of internet culture that suggests one can be “descriptive without being prescriptive.” In theory it’s true, one can, but the problem is that people seldom are.

People are full of biases and prejudices, every one of us, and it colors our speech, so actually writing a descriptive passage revealing some problem is almost never going to be cut and dry and purely analytical. It is almost always going to reveal some aspect of our opinion on things.

One simply cannot run about claiming they are “being descriptive not prescriptive,” as if their hands are now clean of how people are going to interpret their “description” and what they are going to do with it. That is utter rubbish and also rather cowardly. You are trying to say something without actually being held responsible for saying it.

For example, two bloggers who frequently write some rather venomous words about all of womankind, claiming only to be descriptive and not prescriptive, therefore not responsible for how anyone acts after receiving their words, have both found themselves inundated with genuinely hostile men bragging about the violence they wish to do to women. Both of these bloggers have now written posts, or brief disclaimers rather, telling people that abusing  women is not okay. Well surprise! When your descriptive words relentlessly portray women as the root of all evil, the enemy, the prescription for the problem is to just annihilate us all.

This stuff isn’t rocket science, we’ve seem how it’s done in various forms of bigotry since forever. You describe your target with dehumanizing words, portray them as inferior, declare them to be the enemy, and then the lunkheads of the world step forward to do your dirty work for you. You have named a target and dehumanized it. You can now sit back and declare, “hey, I was just being descriptive, not prescriptive. What people choose to do with what I say, isn’t my problem, I never actually prescribed people do anything.”

We do this on the news, in the media, we do it in politics, and we do it on middle school play grounds all over the country. It’s just a  bit of ugly social engineering, wrapped in self-deception and rooted in bullying.

Recently I listened to a politician, “just describing the problem, not telling anyone what to do about it,” while grinning into the camera, knowing perfectly well that the very nature of his description actually contained the prescription, the solution, which of course happened to include “vote for me.”

To make it even more annoying, his description of the problem wasn’t just full of biases, it was factually incorrect. So he was describing a problem improperly while prescribing  a solution he was denying he was prescribing.

No wonder we can never hold our politicians accountable. We vote them into office based on their ability to mess with our heads.

I am the last one to ever suggest politically correct speech or policing thought or anything of the sort, but I do believe we are responsible for our words and should be held accountable too, by our critics if nothing else. There’s nothing wrong with being descriptive and prescriptive, or even full of biases, but you simply cannot hide behind some bit of rhetorical nonsense pretending as if you are sheltered by the grace of your own non prescriptive words, because there is no such thing.

red queen