Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Words: "Reform"

When people are arguing about healthcare reform, it is worth thinking a little about what the word means. Taken literally, reforming something only means changing it, putting it into a new form. In that sense, both the institution of a U.S. version of national health care and the abolition of all government involvement in health care in the U.S. would be reforms—just different ones.

The word is used in practice, however, not to mean "make different" but "make better." Which means that if I disagree with you about what changes would make something better then, from your standpoint, I am against reform—and from my standpoint you are.

Not a usage of language likely to promote productive dialogue.


jimbino said...

Reform in the sense of "making things better" is incompatible with government action. Only in my nightmares can I begin to imagine how Obama would reform such natural processes as sex, family, urination and the market.

Gray Woodland said...

The implicit assumption is, I think, that nobody wants change for the worse, so all rational people must naturally favour either conservatism or reform. When most people agree that the status quo is sucky in identifiable ways, there is then a consensus for reform.

It is naturally to the benefit of the particular group in a position to do a given re-forming, to then cast all objectors as against reform in general. But it isn't necessarily to the benefit of their nearest rivals to refuse the casting. The 'reforms' that would improve things for them may be even more unpopular. So accepting the conservative mantle might actually yield a stronger coalition against the rulers' preferred strategy.

I don't see much incentive for productive dialogue in there. How about the rest of us?

'Reform' has the inherent suggestion of pliable material being moulded by sure hands, so perhaps it carries too much bad social freight to be worth reclaiming. What term could we use that does not subtlely invoke the need for a Big Daddy to do it? The more neutral 'change'? Dunno that I can believe in that!

Anonymous said...

I like these brief posts about words. Not to say that I agree with you on everything, but I like the format of these very much. They are succinct and communicate an idea clearly.

Hammerhead said...

Yeah, this blog expresses some of the clearest thinking on ideas -and words- of any out there. Always a pleasure to read the posts.

People In The River said...

I would say, reform is to make things happen; for better or for worse, is just depending on which standpoint you belong to.