Blog Post

Let’s Play Taboo When Discussing Politics

Zacqary Adam Greenby Zacqary Adam Green

Let’s play a game: get a friend to guess the word “baseball” without saying “game,” “sport,” “pitcher,” “catcher,” or “batter.” That means you have to think pretty creatively about baseball, right? This is how the party game Taboo works. What if we played Taboo when discussing political issues?

For example, let’s talk about how to lower unemployment.

The taboo words are:

  • Job
  • Economy
  • Company
  • Private Sector
  • Money
  • Unemployment

We’re also banning synonyms of these words. No cheating and saying “currency” instead of “money,” or referring to a “company” as a “corporation” or an “employer.” The point of this exercise is to get yourself thinking in a different way. In order to even have this discussion, we have to answer the question: what is employment? What’s a job? What are they for?

Here’s another one: what powers should the government have over people? Discuss this without saying “government,” “law,” “regulations,” “rules,” or “rights.”

How can we stop crime? You can’t say “crime.”

The language that we use to talk about the issues that we face — as a culture, as a society, as a species — has profound effects on the way that we think about, well, everything. Perhaps by forcing ourselves to come up with a new way of describing the world in which we live, we’ll discover (or rediscover) a new perspective, a new insight, or a new philosophy that can help us make it a better place.


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admin's picture
admin on 2013-02-18

I found this to be a fascinating exercise. Without being able to rely on these shorthand words, you are forced to describe things more as they really are. For instance, a simple definition of a small company might be "a group of people who want to eat more than they're currently eating, who decide to make things and trade them with others for objects considered by society to be worth more than the effort they spent making things."

Within a capitalist society, most relationships sound more greedy and sneaky when you phrase them this way.

"If middle-class Americans do not feel threatened by the slow encroachment of the police state or the Patriot Act, it is because they live comfortably enough and exercise their liberties very lightly, never testing the boundaries. You never know you are in a prison unless you try the door."
- Joe Bageant

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