Bewildering Stories

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The Discriminating Man

by Jerry Wright

This isn't a book review, although for a bit it may sound like one. I just finished L.E. Modesitt's book Archform:Beauty. There are many things to think about presented in this book, but one such, in Chapter 11, is of such moment that I excerpt it for you:

Words evolve, perhaps more rapidly and tellingly than do their users, and the change in meanings reflects a society often more accurately than do the works of many historians. In the the years preceding the first collapse of NorAm, the change in the meaning of one word predicted the failure of that society more immediately and accurately than did all the analysts, social scientists, and historians. That critical word? "Discrimination." We know it now as a term meaning "unfounded bias against a person, group or culture on the basis of racial, gender, or ethnic background." Prejudice, if you will.

The previous meaning of the word was: "to draw a clear distinction between good and evil, to differentiate, to recognize as different." Moreover, the connotations once associated with discrimination were favorable. A person of discrimination was one of taste and good judgement. With the change of the meaning into a negative term of bias, the English language was left without a single-word term for the act of choosing between alternatives wisely, and more importantly, left with a subterranean connotation for those who attempted to make such choices.

In hindsight, the change in the meaning clearly reflected and foreshadowed the disaster to come. Individuals and institutions abhorred making real choices. At one point more than three-quarters of the youthful population entered institutions of higher level learning. Credentials, often (only) paper ones, replaced meaningful judgement and choices...

A man of discrimination... This used to be a good thing. Now, "discrimination" has become a dirty word. Discrimination doesn't mean bigotry. It means judgement. But when judges can't discriminate, then a tumble into chaos is not far behind.

Jerry. The Bottle Washer