Words mean things.

I’ve recently been involved in two discussions on social media in which I finally figured out my opponent was either using a word incorrectly, or was misinterpreting a word I was using, or both.

This makes for rather unproductive discourse, as they not only didn’t understand the topic at hand—but didn’t even understand the language.

Boy, do we have our work cut out for us…

In one—a debate over a state-mandated minimum wage (a human rights violation and debilitating economic intervention which, of course, I oppose)—my opponent was confusing the word “jobs” with the word “workers”, as if they’re one and the same. Boy, did that cause a lot of confusion on my end, as I attempted to convey my point of view and he kept circling me with responses that made no sense whatsoever. I couldn’t figure out where he was coming from. But eventually I realized he was misinterpreting, or misdefining, the words; I was saying jobs, but he was thinking workers, which are, obviously, two completely different things.

To elaborate: His conception was that when a job is eliminated—whether because the requisite work is finished, or the job has been priced out of the market by the state—then the worker performing that job is now unemployed and starving on the streets. It was as if he equated the worker with the job, and that the elimination of the job meant the elimination of the worker. Or the worker’s ability to work. Or something.

Realizing this, I abandoned the discussion out of futility. I have neither the time nor desire to educate people in the language.

In the other—again, a debate over a state-mandated minimum wage—was my opponent’s misunderstanding, or misinterpretation, of the word “force”.

It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that to her, a person taking a voluntary action—but only because there are no better options—is thus being forced to do so, and so the action is not voluntary. And to her, that was different than a person taking a voluntary action when there are other options available, apparently because since that choice is made from among several possible actions—rather than merely between acting and not acting—then that choice is, in fact, voluntary, as they are not forced to take one single action simply because there are no other options.

To elaborate: She said that because she was a single mother, without a college education, then she was forced to take a low-paying job, and thus her employment was not voluntary. (This was in response to my pointing out that because employment is voluntary, and not forced, then the market should determine the wage, rather than the state).

So, because her circumstances obligated her to accept a job that she didn’t want to accept, then she believed she was being forced to do so—i.e., that she was being forced to work a low-wage job.

But of course, choosing between doing one thing or not doing anything (because there are no other available options), is still a voluntary action, just as choosing between several available options is a voluntary action.

Or, more simply: choosing between a single yes and a no is just as voluntary as choosing between several yeses and a no.

Properly, being forced means being coerced into an action by another, rather than taking the action of your own volition. You either take the low-wage job, or get assaulted or shot or imprisoned if you don’t. Merely feeling obligated to take a job, due to one’s own circumstances, is nowhere near the equivalent of being forced to take the job.

And therein lay our disagreement. She was confusing the word obligated with the word forced. And once again, I abandoned the debate out of futility. Again: I have not the time, nor the desire, to educate people in the language.

So learn what words mean, then perhaps we can have a productive discussion.