The Word “Broken” is Broken

After the recent DDOS attack that launched via the “internet of things,” I read that Anonymous might have been responsible. Turns out they were not, but it did remind me that Anonymous existed, and led me to their web page. The first item on that page was titled “The American Political System is BROKEN,” and to a screed about how the US should get rid of the “two-party system” and change to instant run-off voting. This led me to 3 conclusions:

It is the third item that concerns me most. I’m sure many of us have sat with a child and tried to show them how the toy they believe is broken actually works; I’m sure most of us have been that child. It is this meaning of the word—that is, the wrong one—that pervades the media universe these days. At the very least, people use “broken” to mean “a very complicated problem,” which is another way of saying the author either does not understand the problem, cannot be bothered to explain it, or expects the audience will not understand it, all of which are symptoms of the infantilization of our culture. The US political system Is not, in fact, broken, nor is the education system, nor is the Affordable Care Act, or Arkansas, or the NFL, or any other system with deep, complicated problems that require work and dialogue to run more effectively. Saying something is broken is the opposite of work and dialogue, it is a throwing up of the hands based on an inability to recognize complexity and affect change within a complex system.

I’m not the only one to protest the infantilization of our culture, of course (A. O. Scott, Bernardini, on and on.. Ariel Dorfman, Baudrillard, so many others…) though unlike some folks, I don’t think this is part of some intentional program those in power subscribe to in order to keep us pliant—those in charge are just as infantilized, it seems—but that doesn’t mean that the effect is not the same, we are kept pliant and childlike and ignorant, and complex problems get puerile solutions pasted over them, again and again. The regular misuse of “broken” is just more evidence of this situation. Apparently Susan Neiman wrote a book last year tracing it back to Rousseau and Kant, so I guess reading that will be my next step.