Acronym Supremacy

In the white collar working world, there is a general obsession with “professionalism,” which generally means whatever the current head of an organization thinks it means. Therefore, if someone does not conform to what the head of the organization feels is “professional,” that person will either a) never become an employee, or b) have a really difficult time as an employee. In the public sector in the United States, there is such deeply sustained bureaucracy that people tend to use acronyms for convenience, which, on a surface level, makes logical sense. However, when engaging with the public, those acronyms tend to be used to obfuscate and belittle “outsiders” as a way to make those aware of such definitions seem more capable, even when those actions are causing harm.

To get into most living-wage, public sector positions, people have to attend higher education, which means that they also have to enjoy the time to attend higher education. As the multiple crises have demonstrated, having multiple degrees has very little to do with competence involving people on a large scale. Because college was a boon for the baby boomer generation, college has simply been the “standard” of being “educated,” which is why the tech rise was infuriating since most tech titans either partially attended school or avoided it altogether. Urban planning education teaches students so many different acronyms that, very reasonably, remembering or knowing them can be a source of pride, especially when acronyms change and mean different things. Such pride can create a sense of superiority over the very people that planners are trying to reach. This is why it is important for planners engaging with the public to understand that their knowledge of acronyms comes from their privileges of time and education.

For advocates, knowing acronyms is only important because people engage with their government; otherwise, most advocates would continue to speak plainly since they need to reach the most people. Often, advocates are faced with the barrier of time because most are facing other times of marginalization–such as racism, sexism, and classism–and it is difficult to build coalitions with insider language, which does not exist to unify. In fact, if advocates use too many acronyms, they risk alienating their base and looking like outsiders with their own colleagues, especially since ignorance of acronyms are used to justify community violence in the forms of environmental degradation and displacement. Therefore, the onus is on public sector employees not to demean advocates for not using acronyms that only paid participants in the public sector would use on a regular basis.

In truth, public sector employees need to come to terms with the fact that the only reason people keep destructive processes difficult to understand is that such difficulty also makes it harder to keep the public sector accountable. Several advocates from the past express remorse at having advocated for harsh policies from which people are still recovering, and those policies were often hidden behind pretty pictures and lots of acronyms. The solution for acronym supremacy is clear: speak as if one is responsible to others outside one’s social circle, and remove anyone from influential positions who thrives on obfuscation. “Coming together” does not mean maintaining a hierarchy of knowledge, and plain speaking encourages community healing.

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