Semantic overload is a term in linguistics that describes a situation where a word has more than one meaning. This can create confusion when someone uses a word with two meanings and it is unclear which word someone meant to use, or we ascribe the wrong meaning to the message. Sometimes this is not just mere confusion, but an intentional tactic meant to confuse the political opposition. Famously, the term ‘BLM’ is used in this manner. People will ask you if you believe in BLM, and ask for a yes or no answer. The problem here is that BLM has at least four meanings that are related to politics.
First, BLM can refer to the radical movement to defund or abolish the police. BLM can also be a term used to describe the Marxist organization BLM. BLM could also simply mean that black lives matter — something that is objectively true. The Bureau of Land Management is probably the most relevant of these meanings in a modern context, seeing as it controls over 245 million acres of land in the United States, but this is almost never the understood meaning.
This is where the semantic overload comes in. If you respond that you support BLM, this means that you either support the Marxist organization, defunding the police, and yes, I have seen someone construe this as support for the Bureau of Land Management. However, if you say no, they will say that you are a racist who does not believe that the lives of black people matter. Theoretically, it should be simple to avoid this semantic trick by simply clarifying. Unfortunately, there is one more trick that is used by many left-wing activists.
Even if you clarify that black lives matter, they still take this as support for the Marxist organization. Anyone who supports black people also supports black organizations, and not supporting the organization would be illogical. You must believe in defunding the police because police kill black men, and if you support police you support the murderers of black men. Of course, none of this is ever spoken in a conversation because the instigator has avoided a substantive argument through the use of semantic overload, so the assumptions behind the flawed argument goes unchallenged.
Avoiding this trap is far more difficult. Many of those on the right will try to avoid engaging with this argument entirely by simply responding with something like this: “Of course black lives matter because all lives matter.” This may work on semantic overload, but the problem is that it does not challenge the assumption of the left. If you support all lives, you also support blue lives, but blue lives murder black lives, so you do not support black people. This is why the left believes that anyone who says all lives matter is simply trying to conceal their racism.
Until this assumption is challenged, the flawed argument will stand. While it may be dismissed in right-wing circles where this assumption is not made, the assumption prevents those on the left from engaging in meaningful dialogue around the issue which can create what is essentially an echo chamber where ideas of the opposition are filtered out. The only way to challenge the assumptions made by the argument is to critique the assumptions, but this is not always easy.
Most Americans are not politically engaged to the extent that they can identify the assumptions made by an argument of the opposition, especially in the moment with no time to prepare, because people, especially people on the right, are preoccupied with other important things like raising a family and earning a living. The entire reason the tactic works is that the question is three words long, and there is no time to think critically about what is being asked.
This may not be an intentional tactic, but it has survived through a form of argumentative natural selection. People see that this question works to oust people they believe to be racists, so more and more people on the left ask the question. And more and more, they get mediocre responses that make those on the right seem like racists.
The assumption of the question is simple: systemic racism in the police force is responsible for the deaths of black men, so anyone who supports the police also supports killing black people, and anyone who does not support an organization against murder supports murderers. The flaw with the assumption is that systemic racism is not inherent to the police force.
There is no inherent epidemic of racism in the police force, and BLM has advanced this narrative at the cost of perfectly innocent officers, and additionally BLM has advanced Marxism which is empirically responsible for the deaths of millions of people. Supporting BLM is not equivalent to supporting the idea that black lives matter.The greatest threat to black Americans, and to America as a whole, is the disruption of the nuclear family, and this is something that BLM openly advocates for.
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