Words are not magic.
You can describe your meal as “a well-done sirloin steak smothered in savory mushrooms” or as “a slab of burnt dead cow covered with fungus” but no physical or chemical property of the meal has been changed. No mental or moral property, no association with the act of eating your meal, need change either.
Anyone acknowledging the basic idea must not only, if he is an honest man, avoid misleading emotional connotations, euphemism and cant, he must also, if he is a righteous man, hate Political Correctness, words larded with emotion, nonsense-phrases, Newspeak, and noise. You must hate half-truths and buzzwords and nonsense for the same reason you hate lies: because they are the children of the Father of Lies, and because they deceive the people.
An honest man likewise must not to be offended by mere words. If someone calls your steak a slab of dead cow, it is your responsibly, not the speaker’s, to transfer to the new set of words the appropriate emotional connotations that go with the denotations, and, more importantly, not to associate emotional connotations that are not intended.
If you are a Black Man, and someone calls you a “Negro” and he means no insult by it, you may not take insult. If your feelings are hurt, suck it up like a man. If you are an East Asian, and someone calls you a “Yellow Man,” suck it up like a man.If you are a feminist, and someone uses the word “Man” to refer to the human species, and you think this word insults you, pushes you to the margins, or works evil voodoo on your soul, suck it up like a man – particularly if you insist on being treated like a man. If you are a feminist, and you think the word “lady” insults, demeans, or belittles you, then check your premises, or check into a psycho-ward.
To be blunt, your feelings of offense are false-to-facts, and we should not change our language even if we are kindhearted enough to want to accommodate you: because changing language to accommodate arbitrary considerations produces falsehoods. If nothing else, the writings of all our ancestors now have been retroactively revised without the author’s permission, and the signs in them now point to objects, or carry implications, never meant. I am not making this up: I have met people, educated and literate people, who think the Bible says God created males in His own image, or who think the Declaration of Independence declares that all males were created equal. They think that is what Moses and Jefferson actually meant when they wrote, and that these two authors did not have women in consideration when making those statements.
If we accommodate your hurt and weepy feelings by changing all the stop signs to yellow diamonds, and all the yield signs to red octagons, it causes traffic accidents.
I have a friend who boasts that when he was a child he took his younger brother into the corner and taught him his colors wrong, pointing at red objects and calling them ‘green’ and pointing at green objects and calling them ‘red.’ But the Progressive will do in earnest what he did as a childish prank.
Conservatives, by and large, detest Political Correctness, and, indeed, the entire theory in modern language that holds words to have no meaning except as instruments of class oppression, which also paradoxically holds that word connotations shape the content and conclusions of thought. This theory allows for the social engineering to operate by linguistics.
If you change the word “Negro” to “Afro-American” and ban the use of the word “Negro” from polite speech, the theory runs that all speakers will henceforth judge men only on the basis of their origin, that is, whether they are from Africa or not, and not on their skin color, nor any other racial or cultural or ethnic or historical criteria.
A person afraid of meeting a gang of young Negros in leather jackets at midnight in a graffiti-marked dead-end alley of some city with gun control laws will not feel apprehension if he merely uses the word “Afro-Americans” when speaking or thinking of them, or, better yet, “youths.”
So the theory runs. The bad and stereotyped ideas we have of inner city crime will go away, not when the crime goes away, but when a bad word that causes bad ideas goes away.
Likewise, if you change the word “man” so that it no longer means either “human” or “male” depending on context (parallel to the way “dog” means either dog or bitch depending on context, or “fox” either fox or vixen) but so that it means “male” only in all contexts, the theory runs that you will eliminate misogyny from the speech and therefore the thoughts of men.
This has the added benefit of allowing you to misread and misrepresent all antique documents and speeches, and tell gullible modern students that every reference to “man” was meant by the writer to mean “male.” (See above) “Where no man has gone before” can be misinterpreted to be a slight against women.
This added benefit is that whenever anyone speaks normally, and does not adhere to the latest fashion in Politically Correct mumbojumbo, you are immediately allowed to be offended and angered, and he is immediately the scapegoat on which the sins of the people are laid. His verbal victimization of you (as adjudged only the tenderness of your allegedly hurt feelings) allows you to attribute to him every injustice in history, real or imagined, and to wrap yourself in the flag and wave the palm of martyrdom, without going to the inconvenience of actually suffering any harm or shedding any blood for the cause. From an economic point of view, faux outrage is a free good with no drawbacks. You would actually have to be a man ashamed to whine like a hysterical schoolgirl in public in order to feel reservation to use this ever-winning trump-card strategy. Reticence, however, is not a value that can exist in a subjectivist worldview, because if man is the measure of all things, only emotions matter, not reality.
But the added benefit is merely icing on the cake. The main benefit is that you think you can change the world by changing arbitrary word-signs for objects, and you need not go to the effort of working any change on the objects.
As a master of Newspeak, you have become like an Archimage of Roke, except in reverse. The Archimages from Ursula K. Leguin’s masterpiece A Wizard of Earthsea could gain control over any object in nature, from a sea-wave to a sea-gull, earthquake to a pebble, by knowing its true name, for the true name reveals the inner nature. The master of Newspeak, however, is the opposite. By substituting a meaningless word for a real word, the master thinks to change reality by hiding the real nature of things.
(Leguin in her sequel, The Farthest Shore, actually had the meaning and the nature of objects being drained out of the world, because one magus, Cob of Paln, had destroyed his own true name while trying to destroy his human nature, his mortality. I wonder if Cob wrought his dark miracles by calling things all by the wrong and unnatural names.)
The belief in the efficacy of Newspeak is an article of faith, not a rational belief. No one has tested the idea scientifically, or even rigorously. Do you actually, truly and really think that Whites hate Blacks because and only because the word “Negro” is used rather than “Afro-American?” Change the word, and you eliminate the hate?
Show me an example of when hate was eliminated due to a linguistic change.
Do you actually, truly and really think that Men hate Women because and only because English uses “he” as the neutral pronoun rather than “he or she?”
Show me an example of a language whose pronouns are more gender-neutral lead to the rise of fair-mindedness toward women among its speakers. Ancient Latin and modern Mandarin are examples of the opposite: there is no trace of sexist bias in their pronouns, but the speakers of these languages have the well-earned reputation of being the most misogynist cultures on Earth.
John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program“). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.
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