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Saturday, April 08, 2017

The five stages of language grief

Our adversaries are trying to win arguments by baking politics into the language.

W hat difference does it make whether we use ‘gender’ when we mean ‘sex,’ ‘gay’ when we mean ‘homosexual,’ or ‘person of color’ when we mean ‘black person’? Is this really something we should get exercised about? Well, consider: if the words are so unimportant, why are activists pushing so hard to make us use them?

Words have immense power. A clever equivocation can turn a lost cause into a resounding victory. Few are fooled by terms like “Democratic People's Republic,” but the political use of words to mean their opposite—a tactic we now call Orwellian—is everywhere.

The fact is, if we let the bastards politicize all our words, we can't complain when we wake up one day and discover that, as conservatives often complain, everything is political.

Take ‘equality.’ We're conditioned to revere equality from kindergarten. It simply means that the government treats everyone as if they were equal, in a color-blind way with no regard for race, sex, and so on. It's the basis of our American legal system.

But to some people, equality means that everyone has exactly the same amount of everything: wealth, ability, responsibility, and government benefits. If we accept this definition, then we must also accept that the government has the right to redistribute those resources to everyone. So they equivocate between the two terms, in the sure know­ledge that no one can speak out against ‘equality’ without being chastised by both sides. And academics win arguments by claiming that conservative ideology ‘justifies inequality.’

Or take ‘gender.’ Only a few, mostly biologists, still resist the term. Yet here again the meaning assigned to it conflates ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’, which is supposedly a continuum and infinitely malleable. Already those who insist there are only two different sexes are thought old-fashioned; yet in using the term gender, we falsely admit that sex is a continuum and gender identity is a real thing that people struggle with.

Nature, probably the second most politicized scientific journal after Lancet, had an editorial last month titled “Gender equality: Boost prospects for women scientists.” Everyone wants women scientists to be treated fairly, but of course that's not what is meant. The writers want special treatment for their tribe. By using politicized language that portrays it like a soccer game with two competing teams, they're trying to tilt the argument in their favor.

Sure, these are all just words, but we all know using the wrong word can destroy your career. When we criticize the use of the *-word, where ‘*’ is a letter between M and O, we can't use the traditional asterisks, because people will lie and claim you used the forbidden word (ask me how I know that). Next thing you know there's a big headline about how racist you are and you're out of a job. There's no defense: you can't say you didn't use the word without using it and thereby becoming guilty.

Those goofy new gender-neutral pronouns (xe, xir, etc) might seem trivial by comparison, but ridiculing these linguistic abominations would be falling right into the same trap. It is a sign you're in the third stage of language grief.

Here are the well known five stages of regular grief, defined by psychiatrist Kübler-Ross, as they apply to politics:

   Stage         Grief            Politics              
  Stage 1  Denial   Denial
  Stage 2  Anger   Criticism
  Stage 3  Bargaining   Ridicule
  Stage 4  Depression   Using it ironically
  Stage 5  Acceptance   Defeat

The five stages don't just apply to grief. They apply to anything that we don't want. People might say it's not worth fighting over; they're just words, and after all, the traditional ‘he’ is imprecise. Yet the alternative is political: once xe and xir are accepted, try saying ‘he’ and see what happens to you. And then wait for the next batch of fake words you're required to use.

Using something ‘ironically’ simply means to use the new meaning while pretending to distance oneself from it. For example, feminists often call themselves ‘misandric,’ and then claim their use is meant as a criticism of the word. What they actually mean is that they really are misandric, but they don't like being called that. It's an attempt to defuse the word. Sometimes it works, but more often it's a sign of defeat.

As for the new pronouns, some colleges are already forcing students to use them. It's a way of shutting you up by changing the language one word at a time. Sure, it's not the end of the world. It's just your adversaries telling you to pretend to believe something you know to be false: as Theodore Dalrymple famously put it, making you complicit in a lie:

To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Admitting that language is political is to accept the biggest lie of all. When they're done purging the sexism, racism, and whatnot from it, we'll all be talking like corporate HR managers. And our language will be so vague that we might as well not speak, because it will be so deeply couched in euphemism that nobody will know what the heck we're talking about.

Created apr 08 2017; last edited apr 08 2017, 11:12 am

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