Muddle-headed Kay (mhw) wrote,
Muddle-headed Kay
mhw

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"Voldemort", for fuck's sake!

No, this actually isn't about the social activist formerly called Tom Riddle. Not really. It's rather more to do with the Wizarding world's ritualised dread of speaking his name. Harry Potter, irritating prig though he is, actually has the right of it for once: he mentions Voldemort's name at every opportunity.

So why am I thinking about the naming of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named right now?

"Hitler!"

Despite Rowling's rather obvious equation of Hitler=Voldemort, Death Eaters=Nazis, that's not what I'm getting at, not quite. Not quite yet, anyway, because really this post has almost nothing to do with HP.

It has rather more to do with Godwin's Law. Those of you who remember USENET may remember that. If this were USENET, the discussion by rights ought to stop right here, because I've mentioned The Name Which Must Not Be Spoken.

Odd, really, because my grandparents and my parents never had any problems mentioning Hitler's name. In fact, they mentioned him rather a lot, having lived through the war; my father having survived the occupation of the Netherlands. There was certainly no shying away from the name, nor from what had happened during the war. Those things were in no way Not To Be Mentioned, nor the names Not To Be Named.

That may be why I found "No place for Nazis in medicine" particularly disquieting when I read it in New Scientist on Saturday. It left me thinking not so much of Hitler's Germany, but of Stalin's Russia, where opponents of the régime not only physically 'disappeared' but had their names and images erased so that nobody might remember that they'd ever existed.

The syndrome was named after Hans Reiter, the German doctor who identified it[1] in 1916. Reiter later became an enthusiastic Nazi. He ran Hitler's Reich Health Office, and during the second world war designed typhoid inoculation experiments that killed more than 250 people at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was also implicated in enforced sterilisations and euthanasia.

Appalled at the association of the syndrome's name with such crimes, a group of doctors decided in 1977 to begin a campaign for their colleagues to abandon the term, and name the syndrome "reactive arthritis" instead.
Dr Hans Reiter, He Who Must No Longer Be Named.

Now I'm not arguing that "reactive arthritis" isn't a better name; it does actually describe the condition. Eponyms aren't particularly helpful; knowing who described something first doesn't tell you a great deal about what the thing is, so in general it's probably better to leave the association of conditions with discoverers to the histories of science. Yet the Dread of the Name, in reverse this time, caused leprosy to be renamed "Hansen's disease" after the discoverer of the causative organism.[2]

I never have been a fan of the "No Platform" approach. Let the haters and the liars, the sexists and the racists, the bigots and the 'phobes of all stripes be heard, and be derided. Stopping the ear, averting the mind, gagging the malevolent – none of those do what I think is important, which is to know, to remember, and to counter in honest and open debate.

It takes quite a lot to get me irked enough to rant here, let alone write to a magazine. This time, I think I've reached that point.

[1] It turns out that Reiter probably wasn't the first person to describe reactive arthritis, and he certainly misidentified the cause, but that seems not to be what drives the animus of his erasers. It's his involvement with National Socialism that outrages them; the "and he was a Bad Scientist as well as a Bad Man" argument comes in as a secondary justification.

[2] You're waiting for me to say "Political Correctness gone mad!", aren't you? Sorry, I don't do that.
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