In his 1976 book Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk, Neil Postman pointed to a certain linguistic imperialism that propels crazy talk. For Postman, each human activity—religion, law, marriage, commerce—represents a distinct “semantic environment” with its own tone, purpose, and structure. Stupid talk is relatively harmless; it presents no threat to its semantic environment and doesn’t cross into other ones. Since it mostly consists of falsehoods and opinions “given by one fallible human being about the remarks of another fallible human being,” it can be easily corrected with facts. For example, to say that Tehran is the capital of Iraq is stupid talk. Crazy talk, in contrast, challenges a semantic environment, as it “establishes different purposes and assumptions from those we normally accept.” To argue, as some Nazis did, that the German soldiers ended up far more traumatized than their victims is crazy talk.

For Postman, one of the main tasks of language is to codify and preserve distinctions among different semantic environments. As he put it, “When language becomes undifferentiated, human situations disintegrate: Science becomes indistinguishable from religion, which becomes indistinguishable from commerce, which becomes indistinguishable from law, and so on. If each of them serves the same function, then none of them serves any function. When such a process is occurring, an appropriate word for it is pollution.” Some words—like “law”—are particularly susceptible to crazy talk, as they mean so many different things: from scientific “laws” to moral “laws” to “laws” of the market to administrative “laws,” the same word captures many different social relations. “Open,” “networks,” and “information” function much like “law” in our own Internet discourse today.

Evgeny Morozov, “The Meme Hustler”