16 Mar Word Tyranny and Cultural Balkanization
America has entered into a new era of thought control. Back in the 1960s, there was a determined campaign by many conservatives to resist the free speech movement symbolically headquartered on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Then, the idea was to respect people’s right to say what was on their minds, even when it was considered crude, rude and offensive. That many of the students involved in this effort were often radically inconsistent and disrespectful of others’ property clouded the message. But at the end of the day, freedom of speech was the underlying principle.
Many in the generation born in the 1990s and the early 21st century probably know little or nothing about comedians Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Both broke various taboos in the arena of public standup comedy. Mort Sahl took the attitude that any political issue and every public or political figure was fair game for satire, ridicule, and debunking. It wasn’t so much that listeners necessarily agreed with or shared Sahl’s criticisms or satires of “the notable” in society. Often, very much to the contrary. It was the idea that no matter what the stature of a celebrity or a politician, there was room and a reasonable need for those who will remind us that very often “the emperor” has no clothes. We should not be deluded into thinking that just because they might be “famous” or holding high government office, that made them necessarily superior to you or me, and very often they could be even more misguided and wrongheaded than many of the rest of us. It is just that their positions, especially in government, make them more dangerous due to the wider social impact of things they have the authority to do.
Shocking Words Viewed as Part of Freedom of Speech
Part of Lenny Bruce’s “thing” was to shock an audience with the use of words and phrases that were not considered appropriate in public settings, even though these were things that people said and words used all the time in the “real world” of everyday life. For instance, I was recently watching on YouTube some of the Friars Club “roasts” of various entertainment celebrities that were regularly broadcast on network television back in the 1960s. Most of them were hilarious, in my view. But they are all PG-rated, as it used to be called. But . . . there is one for which there is only an audio recording that was clearly not shown on nor meant for television. Here were some of the biggest names in American comedy of that time using language and the resulting imagery that could easily make even the most language-hardened listener blush.
Lenny Bruce’s attitude was that the use of such language in his standup comedy club routines was not only to draw crowds due to the shock value, but that in a free society, no matter how offensive what may be said, it should be viewed as part of the principle of freedom of speech. He did not stop, even though he was arrested multiple times around the country at such clubs for public use of “obscenities.” He was even sentenced to four months in a “workhouse” in 1964, but while out on bail during the appeal process, he died.
Many of us may still feel uncomfortable or offended when language and various particular words are used in demeaning or humiliating or “vulgar” ways, and therefore in “poor taste,” as it used to be said. But it should not be considered the duty and responsibility of government to “police” our words and where and in whose company we might use them. “Policing” should be considered a matter of individual choice and decision-making concerning what to watch or listen to, and with whom to associate and interact.
Once government is introduced into the picture, societal conflicts and controversies are inescapably made “affairs of state,” with political battles over the who and the how of what people may speak or write. Better a social order in which there might be personal offense from the words of others, but with the voluntary option to not listen or read, rather than political dictates and coerced punishments for those using the “wrong” words at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and to the wrong person.
The Return of the Politically Correct Language Censors
Today, we are faced with a new campaign of censorship, accompanied with the demand not just to ban the use of certain words or phrases but to insist that they be replaced with other words and phrases that must be accepted and used, if the potential “word-criminal” is not to be found guilty of racism, sexism or any other of a multitude of created groups and categories, and for which the “insensitive” individual may face serious life and career-affecting consequences.
On the surface, the appeal for a greater awareness and sensitivity to what and how we say things that, unintentionally, may be taken the wrong way by someone who personally has had “harmful” and “hurtful” experiences, or who comes from a family that in the past suffered from certain words and deeds in various ways, seems not unreasonable. Jews, in the past, were often called “kikes” or “Yids,” nor “Christ-killers.” It has generally become unacceptable to use such terms in reference to a person practicing the Jewish faith or having Jewish ancestors. And, similarly, certain words used in insulting or demeaning ways in reference to blacks in America have become unacceptable in virtually any and all social settings, both public and private. (See my article, “The Case for Liberty Through Thick and Thin”.)
However, languages, with their meanings, connotations, and acceptable uses of words, phrases, and terms, are always changing in every society. Sometimes a socially demeaning word can, over time, continue to be used without the negative implication. For instance, the word “slave:” a number of linguistic sources say that it originated from the word “Slav,” referring to certain groups of people living in Eastern Europe who were captured in the Middle Ages by other invading and conquering groups and forced into compulsory work; that is, made into “slaves.” Whether or not this long-held etymology is correct or not, to call someone, past or present, a “Slav” no longer implies an “inferior” or subservient status of those who live in that part of Europe.
It is also the case that a word that has an insulting connotation in one language may not have such a necessary negative meaning in another. For instance, it has become totally unacceptable for a white person to call a black American by what has become sanitized as the “N” word. Yet, the Russian version of this word, for instance, has not and for the most part still does not carry the offending sense that it does in English. It is merely the Russian word for a black person. If a Russian, who knows nothing about the historicity of that word in the American context, were to use it in the United States that person would have no idea that in using it any offense had been given.
Word Bans and Speech Commands in Manchester
Times change, and as attitudes, understandings, and “sensitivities” change through time, so do the uses and non-uses of words. But what happens when the determination of the use and meaning of words, phrases and forms of human interaction become hijacked by those who are determined to arrogate to themselves the lexicon of language? Who insist that they, above all others in society, know what should be said and should not be said, and what words shall be imposed on everyone else as near mandatory substitutes for the condemned and “forbidden” words?
This is the world in which we are presently existing, the “woke” world of political correctness, identity politics, and cancel culture. To demonstrate that this is not purely an American ideological phenomenon, just this past week, a British publication, The Spectator (March 11, 2021) reported that, “Manchester University Scraps the Word ‘Mother.” We are told that this respected British university has issued a “guide to inclusive language” that all those affiliated with that institution of higher learning are expected to follow and practice.
Some examples. It is no longer permissible to refer to the “elderly,” or a “pensioner” or those who are members of the “mature workforce.” These all imply inappropriate “ageisms.” No, instead, you will refer to those “over-65s, 75s, and so on,” we are told. The word, “diabetic,” is prohibited as it suggests a handicap. Now the focus must be on a person’s “abilities, rather than limitations.” A person, for instance, is not “suffering from cancer,” they are “living with cancer.”
Also, it is now necessary to use “gender-neutral” terms when referring to people. Thus, calling someone a “man” or a “woman” or a “father” or a “mother” is out. The preferred terms are to be “individuals” or “guardians.” The author of The Spectator article wonders if this means that Mother’s Day now is to be called “Guardian’s Day?” But, wait, does not “guardian” suggest a hierarchy of oppressor and oppressed? The Manchester “wokers” may have subliminally fallen into the very thing they say they want to eradicate. Cancel culture may have to come after some of the culture cancellers. (In an earlier time, this was said to be the revolution eating some of its own children.)
But nonetheless, following their own train of thought, at Manchester University you may no longer say that something is “man-made,” with, instead, “artificial” or “synthetic” as the required replacements. Mankind becomes humankind, and “manpower” is to be deleted and “workforce” is to be put in its place.
Training Enterprise Managers in the Ways of Identity Politics
At an American institution of higher learning with which I am acquainted, I have been told that a proposal has been made for the introduction of a diversity and inclusion management certificate. It seems that learning relevant management skills in selecting and overseeing a workforce (notice, I’m being politically correct, already!) for product and manufacturing and marketing efficiency, productivity, and profitability on the basis of individual employee’s education, skills, experience and other background qualifications to fill positions needed within the enterprise is no longer enough.
Nor is it simply a reasonable management tool to learn to treat those hired with courtesy and respect, both as a general rule of “good managerial conduct,” and to have employees who have a positive attitude about the place in which they are working and earning a living. And nor is it sufficient (regardless of regulatory requirements) to see the ethical rightness and practical advantages of evaluating and judging and rewarding employees in terms of their individual characteristics and merits and value-added to the private enterprise.
No, this is no longer enough. Instead, the student entering into a sequence of courses leading to such a diversity and inclusion management certificate will be informed that their tasks will be for, “creating inclusive cultures, enhancing organizational effectiveness and maximizing the sense of belonging among diverse stakeholders.” When completed, the certificate receiver will have demonstrated “the capability in planning, executing, and assessing a small-scale inclusion, diversity, and belonging-related intervention in an organization at either the intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, or organizational level.”
What will the student have learned along the way? He or she (or “it”) will have “an historical understanding and fluent usage of contemporary terms and language used in the field of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.” They will also know how to “conceive of, plan, conduct, and evaluate a diversity or inclusion initiative within an organization.” And they will know how to “facilitate effective dialogue within a diverse group of individuals holding widely divergent views.”
This will include the ability to analyze “various issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion;” critically “examine your background and self-assessment . . . on how you see the world,” and “reflect on the ways other people’s backgrounds . . . [affect] their perspectives on the world and their behavior in teams.”
The student taking these courses will learn how to “navigate the ambiguity and complexity that comes with multiple perspectives,” as well as “identifying the ways that power differentials operate, are experienced and reinforced” at different levels of workplace interactions. This will include knowing how to provide “services” to different groups, and especially “non-dominant populations.”
Identity Politics as the Child of Marxist Mind Manipulation
What stands out most noticeably is the repetition of words – “diversity,” “inclusiveness,” “belonging,” and “equity.” But what do these terms mean, and what do they imply about human relationships, starting with how the individual person views him- or herself? For the unreflective student, the prospectus for such a certificate, therefore, can easily seem innocuous, as simply being “fair” and respectful in a world in which people are different.
But it all depends upon what the words mean by both definition and context. In the world of identity politics and cancel culture, the lexicon of language is mostly the transference of Marxian concepts and categories to the “post-modern” race and gender arena. For Marxists and their practitioners in places such as the former Soviet Union, culture and language were viewed as tools used for capitalist class oppression of the working class through control and manipulation of what was written, said, and educationally learned and believed. The purpose of language and learning under capitalism was for the constructing of a societal “false consciousness” that succeeds in getting the majority of the population to accept their exploited status and to believe that there is no escape from it in this life.
Or as political scientist Tony Smith summarized it in, Thinking Like a Communist (1987):
“[Social] ‘Classes’ therefore are groups distinguished by the specialized positions they occupy in a common economic system and by their degree of control (or ownership) of the forces of production . . . Their ‘conflict’ comes from the fact that these positions are dependent upon one another but are not equal in power . . . The most advantaged class will seek to ensure its position through political means, through control, that is of the ‘state,’ whose primary function, in Marxist terms, is to serve the interests of the ruling class through a stratagem that combines force, mythmaking, and co-option.” (pp. 43-44)
Education and ideology were viewed as inseparable from each other in this Marxian world view, because the inherent nature of human relationships is dictated by who owns the means of production to oppress others for their benefit, and to assure active or passive acceptance of one’s class-determining status and place in society. The idea that education and knowledge can be unbiased, “factual,” and objectively logical is alien to this worldview. For the Marxist, education was “reeducation” to raise the ideological consciousness of those living under or threatened by capitalism; for them to know and see the “real” power relationships in society.
Or as one Soviet leader expressed it in the 1970s: “The Soviet school does not simply prepare educated people. It is responsible for the turning out of politically literate, ideologically convinced fighters for the communist cause. The school never stood, and it cannot stand, aside from politics, in the struggle of classes.” (Quoted in, N. N. Shneidman, Literature and Ideology in Soviet Education (1973, p. 2.)
Educating the Young in Raised Race Consciousness
This approach to education is alive and well among the warriors of the new political correctness of identity politics. For instance, American schooling, we are told, is saturated with the ideology of race, bias and oppression. Thus, the National Council of Teachers of English tells us that: “We know that racism exists in our classrooms and in our communities. We feel that silence on these issues is complicity in the systemic racism that has marred our educational system . . . There is no apolitical classroom. English language arts teachers must examine the ways that racism has personally shaped their beliefs and must examine existing biases that feed systems of oppression . . .”
This includes “Raising Race Consciousness Children . . .The goals of these conversations [with young students] is to dismantle the color-blind framework and to prepare young people to work toward racial justice . . . A historically-grounded anti-racist pedagogy, rather than a psychologically-oriented one, allows us to see U.S. society ‘in the act of inventing race.’”
We are told in a “primer” for Culturally Responsive Education (published by an organization affiliated with New York University), that it is essential to incorporate, “the indigenous critique of colonialism and the disability rights critique of ableism in addition to the Black critique of Western imperialism” for “fully overlapping the position of decolonialization in education.” This all leads to, “Culturally responsive pedagogies, by working to decenter dominant cultures and ideologies, contest traditional ways of thinking about policy.”
Dig through the linguistic gobbledygook, and what we are left with is the idea that Western society is based on racist and related oppressions of various victimized groups. That this conflict is endemic to the historical nature of “white” society being based on the exploitation of others. And that education in the United States is interwoven with racist, sexist and related biases and methods of indoctrination to maintain the status quo of white oppression of networks of oppressed peoples.
You are Not a Person but a Race and Gender
The hegemony of white male culture, white male economic domination, and white male social power on the basis of capitalist property relationships permeates the society against all other peoples of color, gender and disability or disadvantage. Marxism defined and identified what distinguished human beings as being based on their relationship to the ownership of the means of production – this defined your “social class” and “interests” – and that this relationship determined and dictated conflict in the world until the oppressed workers had successfully overthrown and replaced the private property-owning exploiters.
The identity politics warriors insist that you are your race, your gender, your sexual orientation and their various intersectional permutations. Individuals, as individuals, do not exist and cannot have a self-identifying consciousness other than with and through the racial, sexual and related tribal and group identifiers that distinguish one such collective social entity from another in all their multiples of fine gradations.
But this latest variation on the collectivist theme is even worse than the Marxian one from out of which it has grown. At least in the Marxist story of salvation for mankind, its ending is supposed to bring about a harmonious unity of all people. The workers of the world will unite, overthrow their capitalist oppressors, and then live in a common brotherhood of shared communal ownership, common effort, and collective sharing of the bounties of the world. A fantasy and fiction about man and society, of course, but one that at least promised all of mankind peace and togetherness. A communist heaven on earth.
But notice, the identity politics warriors call for an end to a “color-blind” framework, a rejection that society is made of individuals who should be considered the ones deserving and possessing rights. Discarded is the American idea of individualism in all of its philosophical, political, economic, and social aspects and facets. Society is viewed as divided into irreducible racial and gender collectives, each with its own sense of group identity of culture, “belonging,” and “rights.” It is the permanent “Balkanization” of society into hermetically sealed human group compartments whose relationships to each other must be based on collective negotiation and division of the material spoils of the general societal “space.”
The Balkanization of Humanity and Culture
Humanity, in other words, has no common culture, no shared civilization of science, art, literature, philosophy or economic cooperation on the basis of peaceful acts of exchange and association as the individuals making up mankind find it advantageous and mutually beneficial. You live in your tribal world and I live in my tribal world and the most that can be hoped for is for us not to go to war with each other.
Nor must we try to learn, incorporate, and benefit from the achievements of other tribal cultures, since we have been told that that is an inappropriate “cultural appropriation.” How fortunate the Swiss were some centuries ago in being ignorant of these postmodern notions, otherwise they might never have improperly “appropriated” and adapted the Swedish-invented snow ski for use in their Alpine terrain. How rude of the native American Indians to culturally appropriate the European device known as the wheel, which they had never thought of on their own as a useful tool for transportation. What a demonstration of acceptance of “oppression” that many of the tribes in Africa adapted European means and methods of medicine as opposed to the incantations of witchdoctors. And how culturally wrong it was for Europeans to copy Chinese invented gun-power, paper money, and spaghetti, or the Arab numerical system in place of Roman numerals.
“Diversity” means group identity and tribal determination of every person born into a certain identity politics category. “Inclusion” and “equity” mean numerical quotas for members of designated groups in terms of employment, income, and general social status. And “belonging” means viewing and treating people as “deserving” of their collectively determined place at the common table of distributed benefits based on political power relationships worked out by the “leaders” of the respective racial and gender groups.
What words we may use and to whom we may speak them. Which words are to be banned and which ones dictated as mandatory in human interaction. How we are to address others, and how they may refer to us. What ideas may be offered to others and how they may be presented or prevented from being expressed. These are not things for you to decide and act upon. No, these will be determined for you and demanded of you. Why? Because the assumption is that your mind and your words and your deeds are not your own. They are owned and dictated by the collective to which you are declared to be a member. (See my articles, “Tyrants of the Mind and the New Collectivism” and “An ‘Identity Politics’ Victory Would Mean the End to Liberty” and “The New Totalitarians” and “Save America from Cancel Culture” and “‘Systemic Race’ Theory is the New Political Tribalism” and “Self-Censorship and Despotism Over the Mind”.)
Before this new era of postmodern identity politics, that is; in the prior “modern” Age of Enlightenment, when human beings foolishly believed in reason, evidence, and individual liberty, all of what is being insisted upon now used to be known as tyranny and criticized as dictatorship. How very silly of many of us to presume that each of us was a unique and distinct “I” separate from an imposed “We.” Well, we all live and learn.
Made available by the American Institute for Economic Research.
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