Meaghie Champion: The plot to hack reality by changing language
We didn't sign up for a revolution. We just wanted to be nice.
I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. I have never lived in a world without what we now call "political correctness" — typically understood to mean using a kind of stilted and artificial language in order to atone for the disadvantages and slights suffered by marginalized groups and avoid inflicting new ones. Politically correct language required more effort to communicate, but it seemed like that effort was worth it to not offend people. It seemed like a nice, polite, and Canadian sort of thing to do.
I went along with political correctness out of a sincere desire to be accommodating to disadvantaged and dis-enfranchised groups. This became especially true after I learned about the "Sapir Whorf theory of psycho neurolinguistics.” The theory suggests that language shapes our perception of reality; that by altering the way we talk, we can shift the way we think — and, thus, collectively, we can shape reality itself. From this, it seemed logical to "de-gender" language or stop using stereotypes. It seemed like a small ask. Maybe I personally couldn't solve big problems that concerned me as a good liberal ... i.e. things like poverty or world hunger, but I could be nice in how I expressed myself and try to use language that everybody was using to be equitable and more fair.
What I didn't understand, then, was that this precedent set a trap in which many good, well-intentioned liberals are finding themselves stuck. It's no longer about ameliorating past sins: there is a project afoot to re-make the English language. The purpose of this project is to re-engineer how people think about certain subjects like gender, sex, and race, while skipping the necessary prerequisites of persuasion and logic. Conservative positions are declared off limits, even bigoted, simply by shaping the way we are allowed to talk about them.
Right now, even as I type this, there is a veritable army of academics hard at work on what they call "de-colonizing" and de-gendering" language at many universities and colleges. There are tens of thousands of activists and academics in universities and online organizing and pushing for ever-changing rules to be enforced as it relates to the English language. It's a multi-million-dollar industry in academia and woke corporatism. And it's already starting to spill over into government regulations and enforcement.
I love the English language. I have been a voracious reader since childhood. I thrill at well-spoken and written prose and poetry. A finely turned witticism or fantastic mot juste can break my heart with its perfection. Further, I'm First Nations, and that love of the English language has also carried me into a love of the study of my tribal cradle tongue "Hul'qumi'num." Shouldn't I, as a First Nations person, be in favour of de-colonizing the English language? No. No, I do not think so. I have little patience or regard for any effort that makes language a less workable and functional tool of human endeavour. I identify strongly as a writer, and I take this assault upon the tool with which I conduct my craft very personally.
If the purpose of de-colonizing and de-gendering language made language a more useful tool for individual human beings to better understand one another, then I would say that there's nothing wrong with this effort. However, that's not what's happening anymore.
Take, for example, this piece from 2016, in which Anna Kegler wrote in the Huffington Post:
"The good thing about the word ‘fragility’ is that it pisses people off to be called ‘fragile’ instead of 'strong' or 'resilient.'"
Wait, what? I thought the point of all this political correctness and consciousness raising about racial issues was to treat each other better. Now we’re supposed to use terms like "white fragility" specifically because "it pisses people off." But not everyone, just white people. How does this serve the goal of a more equitable and harmonious society?
The crown jewel of this project is to change the very nature of the word "racism" itself. No longer does that word refer to "bigotry based on race." Now, it can only refer to systemic oppression. Therefore, only one race, white people, can be racist, because they and they alone are in power and control "the system."
Avoid, for a moment, debates about what is meant here by "power" or how we define the "system": The functional difference between these two definitions of racism is that it gives political activists carte blanche for atrocious personal behaviour and ethics. Anyone who is not white — or who proclaims themselves an ally of the non-white — cannot be racist, according to the new definition.
According to their new definitions, any white people who don't join them in their efforts to call all white people racists are in fact themselves racists and always will be racists unless and until the "system" is overthrown. System as in "systemic" racism. Anybody who disagrees is a “white supremacist” or is aiding in the system of “white supremacy.”
As a non-white person, I could say anything, no matter how hateful, no matter how disparaging of white people. I could discriminate against white people all day long and that wouldn't count as racism. I could walk down the street with a gun and shoot random white people, while screaming racial insults. It might be murder, but according to the latest fad in political correctness, it would never be racist. This isn't the pursuit of equity: it's just an attempt to subvert one ancient and oppressive racist power hierarchy for another.
The left is not a monolith. There are multiple political parties and countless factions and individual thinkers, writers and activists. There is no generally recognized authority figure who decrees which words are politically correct. Most of us just hear about it from someone else or read an article that says some word they were telling us to use a decade ago to avoid causing offence is now offensive.
I would argue that most of this tactic can find its origin in the work of Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist philosopher who died in 1937. Gramsci wrote that capitalism does not exist solely because of economic power and brute force by capitalist governments. It persists because the public broadly supports capitalism.
The solution, he concluded, was to change the culture that informs the public. Gramsci proposed that those who wanted a revolution should create a counter culture of their own. Then, they should spread that culture and drive out the old culture until the new culture was hegemonic. The first step would be controlling education and the media.
I can no longer go along with this assault on language. When this movement compels changes to the meanings of words by use of social media surveillance, online bullying, and social exile, they are revealing an ulterior objective. Some of the people shaping our language and culture are following Gramsci's playbook. They are trying to create a culture hostile to the ruling "system" and specifically demonizing "white people" in order to do so. They use the tool of political correctness as a weapon to be wielded against their ideological enemies.
Those of us who signed up for political correctness in the '70s and '80s weren't agreeing to an anti-capitalist revolution. We didn’t sign up because we supported a new and oppressive cultural hegemon. We did it because we were sincerely trying to help people. We believed that the left (such as it is) was composed of the good guys, the compassionate people who are trying to help the poor and the oppressed.
We did it to be nice.
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