Three days ago, an American professor wrote quite a nasty tweet about Queen Elizabeth II, who died on the same day (8 Sept 22).
Why? This is not nice. I appreciate it’s ‘just Twitter’ but this type of thing just fans the flames and creates more anger (I’m not surprised The Guardian recently observed the start of a backlash against anti-racism).
Is this what comes after decolonisation? Violence against colonisers? You burn our statues, then you burn us? Hate begets hate begets hate.
All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.
The weaponisation of language to force through a new reality by literally inscribing it in discourse is nothing new. I should say I am quite liberal here – I welcome the new ‘Mx’ that I recently saw as an option on a form, for non-binary people (I believe gender is on a spectrum but there are two biological sexes). Feminists in the 70s claimed ‘Ms’ so that women could represent their unmarried social status, and so ‘Mx’ could fulfil a social identity need where this is important to the person’s identity (of how they want to be addressed in social situations; I’m presuming here that ‘Mx’ goes along with ‘they / them’, it’s not my area of expertise).
That however is different from a full-scale discursive encoding that takes place when lobby groups such as Stonewall ‘walk through the institutions’ to push their agendas (for example the removal of the word woman from the NHS landing page on ovarian cancer to be trans-inclusive increasing barriers to understanding for women whose first language is not English, who may not understand the phrase ‘anyone with ovaries’ used instead of the simple word ‘women’ (that exists in all languages).
That sort of thing (Stonewall and similar groups’ social coercion) can leave you bitter – the discrimination against the most powerless women in society, in the real world, and at large scale (see also, gyms and bathrooms, and many women’s needs for decency in those areas in order to feel comfortable). This is not social progress at its own pace, and negotiated in a democratic society. It’s social coercion through language, with the intent of forcing a different reality, one that is more hostile towards some women, especially those without power.
The increasing discursive undermining of (women’s) identities and self-worth is also present in a recent survey I filled about my oral health, for a new dentist. Behavioural manipulation through language was intentionally built in. As part of the survey, I was first primed to feel bad about my wrinkles and skin (p. 2), before being offered a solution (p. 3), and then primed again to manipulate me towards the desired action, while making me feel in charge (p. 4). Again, this kind of thing is disgusting to me, because it intentionally feeds off (women’s) anxiety over their looks / smile to upsell a procedure. And that’s from a NHS dentist – but I guess the NHS need to increasingly operate like businesses, much like Universities, and it is no longer really about the common good. We are now always made to feel bad, or guilty, while language offering solutions is increasingly kinder, and more loving. A winning combination!
The other week, I came across an interview with a communication expert arguing that pronoun culture created divisions in society as it increases communication barriers and so harms mutual understanding between people. If people are anxious or confused about how to address someone (as can happen with pronounery), it creates awkwardness and bad vibes he said. It also creates more noise / information overload (demands attention) when you don’t even have enough bandwidth for your own stuff, and life is complicated enough.
That’s why he also slated awareness raising campaigns. The world is so seemingly unhinged he said people need to limit the amount of new information and communication coming in, especially irrelevant stuff outside their sphere of influence. There must be a way to find common ground outside narrow identity categories. It really does seem to add an additional burden and barrier.
You could also argue that people shouldn’t really be able to force your attention and head space on these issues – attention in the 21st century has economic value and it isn’t really fair on others in society to grab the limelight and force you to pay attention. Don’t have people the right to protect their own mind and attention, to not being megaphoned at?
Pronounery, when excessive, seems both totalitarian and creates division in society. Stop paying attention and ignore it if you can, he said, and just treat people as normal (or be extra-friendly, to help heal the division it creates).
Today I found a test result of a left-wing / right-wing authoritarian test called ‘political compass’ I did in 2009 which showed I am a left liberal. It is definitely true that I am left of centre but with a dislike of authority (which might just be why I feel the current decline in democracy more strongly than others, as my baseline is lower). Another reason why I am anti-authoritarianist (I detest both left-wing and right-wing authoritarianism) is that my country twice descended into totalitarianism in the 20th century – in Nazi Germany and in Stasi Germany. Never again.
I then did the same political compass test again, today (8 May 22), as I wondered if my views had changed (actually I didn’t think they had – it’s just there’s no centre any more, at least in public discourse and media). And the results are that I’m more left and like authoritarianism even less than 13 years ago, even if only by a small amount.
This compass isn’t to be taken too seriously by the way – the questions ask your agreement with certain statements, for example:
If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
But it’s not really meant to make you think – the idea is for the questions to trigger reactions in your mind, measuring feelings and prejudices rather than detailed opinions on policy. See where you land on left-wing / right-wing authoritarianism grid by taking the test here.
In The Constitution of Knowledge (2021), Jonathan Rauch argues we need to defend the truth, even as it is currently under attack from all sides. A reality-based community where diversity and dialogue can flourish is worth fighting for, he argues, and he thinks we should unmute ourselves.
Apparently, the original first wave feminists (suffragettes) used the census in 1911 in a similar act of protest. They protested at not having the vote by refusing to be counted (it’s a legal requirement to fill int the census, as governments need it to plan for the future!). Written protest example from the 1911 census:
No persons here only women!
Census records are kept for 100 years, which means that future historians will be able to look back at the early 21st century and see a share of religion of ‘BELIEVERINBIOLOGY’ reflected in the stats!