Friday, January 26, 2007

Lost Causes

I’m not a conservative, but it is accurate to call me a linguistic conservative because I want to conserve the standards of the English language. Here are three controversial and related stands that are lost causes.

1. I don’t use the word gender. The right word is sex. There’s a male sex and a female sex. The New Left, in its ongoing and highly successful quest to reshape Western Civilization according to the values of egalitarianism and collectivism, decided the word sex was out. They replaced it with gender, a grammatical term.

Why the change?

Snooping around the internet I found this explanation from the American Psychological Association, titled Removing Bias In Language:

Use of gender instead of sex. The terms "sex" and "gender" are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, the term "sex" is often confused with sexual behavior, and this is particularly troublesome when differentiating between sexual orientation and gender. The phrase "it was sexual orientation, rather than gender, that accounted for most of the variance" is clearer than "it was sexual orientation, rather than sex, that accounted for most of the variance."

In the latter phrase, "sex" may be misinterpreted as referring to sexual activity. It is generally more precise to use the term "gender."

Notice that sexual orientation is important to their argument. The word sex brought with it the traditional connotation of heterosexuality. This presented problems to the New Left, because talking about the male sex and female sex implies that heterosexuality is normal and homosexuality is abnormal. Gender is a value-neutral term without any connotation of sexual preference.

Now, before I go any further, I should make clear that I do not oppose homosexuality. I do not believe it is immoral. Moreover, I don’t think it a psychological illness, as psychiatry did up until 1972, if I remember the date right. I even support gay marriage. Who cares if two people of the same sex marry?

I do, however, believe that homosexuality is abnormal. Heterosexuality is normal sexuality. Male and female bodies are built by nature for heterosexual sex. If people choose to be homosexuals, or are oriented that way by psychology or whatever, that’s fine -- but it is not normal.

My understanding is unacceptable to the New Left. They do not want a distinction between normal and abnormal sexuality. Heterosexuality and homosexuality must be equal not only before the law but by nature. The New Left is fighting for egalitarianism, even on the metaphysical level.

2. I don’t use the word sexism. I believe it is an invalid concept because -- unlike races, which are different only superficially -- there are metaphysical differences between men and women. They are built different, they think different, they are different. Egalitarians want to wipe out the differences or at least train people to act like the differences do not exist.

Feminists use sexism to mean men treating women unfairly. Historically, men have had more power than women; the concept sexism is meant to attack that power. Women are never sexist. As always with altruism and egalitarianism, the bad things are only committed by the strong, not the weak.

There is term for men treating women unfairly: male chauvinism. Or you could call it men being idiots. Either way gets the point across more clearly than using the term sexism, which is a package deal that smuggles in the egalitarian premise that men and women are metaphysically identical.

3. I try to avoid the term Ms., but this is difficult because feminists take the word Miss as an insult. Using Miss in a business letter is futile, as it raises questions and suspicions that cannot be answered in the letter. (“You see, I called you Miss because Ms. is a tool of the feminists intended to obscure the metaphysical differences between men and women…”) Philosophic education is not the purpose of a business letter.

Those are three lost linguistic causes. I considered calling them quixotic, but I won’t because I do not admire idealism detached from reality or practicality, as personified by Don Quixote, from whom the word comes.

Maybe in some distant future when our culture embraces reason, these causes will rally and the words gender, sexism and Ms. will be retired. Maybe young people in a generation yet unborn will look at the New Leftist culture they inherited and think, “This all comes from those smelly, ridiculous looking hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s. Let’s return to the standards of the era before that.” And the counter-revolution will have begun.

UPDATE: Grant Jones points out this piece by Keith Windschuttle, called “Language Wars.” He makes some great points about politicized language. Dr. Windschuttle must be a pariah in academia.

5 comments:

Dismuke said...

Myrhaf wrote:

"Maybe young people in a generation yet unborn will look at the New Leftist culture they inherited and think, “This all comes from those smelly, ridiculous looking hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s. Let’s return to the standards of the era before that.” And the counter-revolution will have begun."

The future may be sooner than you think.

What you describe is basically the attitude I have had to our disgusting popular culture since childhood - long before I had the knowledge to understand what was going on in the grand scheme of things philosophically or culturally. All I knew as a kid in the 1970s was that things which were "modern" tended to be bland or ugly and frequently were downright disgusting. By contrast the things that survived from the pre-World War II decades tended to be incredibly "cool" and "neat." As I began to study the early 1900s decades - well, it was like discovering a wonderful but lost civilization that everyone but me seemed almost inexplicably indifferent to. Indeed, ignoring the many technological advances which have come along since and which are wonderful, I maintain that the early 1900s decades were much more advanced and civilized from a cultural standpoint than our era is (with some very significant exceptions - for example, the treatment of people based on their skin color, in which case real and wonderful progress has been made).

The good news is, unlike when I was a kid, I am no longer some isolated freak in that regard. Thanks to the Internet, that isolation has ended and it is possible for other people of a like mind to find each other and spread the word.

A great example is a really neat discussion group called The Fedora Lounge at http://thefedoralounge.com Basically, it is a forum of people who embrace the sense of life of what the regulars there refer to as "The Golden Era" - roughly the 1920s through the 1940s. The participants on the forum come from a variety of philosophical backgrounds - and there are some who, in terms of their explicit ideological beliefs, would actually sympathize with the hippies and Leftists. But what seems to be a common denominator on the Lounge is the recognition that something very special and wonderful was lost and ultimately destroyed starting in the middle part of the 20th century and life today is far less richer as a result of it. Some people there understand what it was and why it was lost better than others - but I take it as a positive sign that there are plenty of people who at least have the sense of life to grasp that it was special and to long for it. I take that as a sign the task of spreading the right ideas needed to support that sense of life is not necessarily a hopeless cause.

The Fedora Lounge has been successful enough in attracting an audience that a magazine has recently been spun off from it:
http://www.classicstylemag.com/

Moreover, a few months ago someone suggested that I put up a profile on myspace.com as a way of promoting my 1920s & 1930s music Internet radio station. I was skeptical - myspace is something I associated with teenagers and modern pop culture stuff. To my great surprise, there is a large community of early 1900s enthusiasts on myspace - a good many of which can be found in my friends list at http://www.myspace.com/radiodismuke

I might also add that, while all age ranges are represented, the small but rapidly growing subculture of early 1900s enthusiasts largely consists of folks in their 20s. I think this is largely because younger people are further removed from the era and contemporary mindset the hippies who have dominated our culture since the 1960s. Young people who stumble across reminders of the era can see that it was a wonderful world where better mannered people looked like, acted like and wanted to be grown-ups - in contrast to the post-hippie world where pop cultural icons tend look like slobs or juvenile delinquents. It was an era of elegance, of glamour, of grandeur, of snappy yet richly melodic music, of incredible buildings where even small details such as window panes and door knobs were frequently works of art in their own right. For someone looking at it with new and unbiased eyes - well, the contrast is stark.

A sense-of-life based "retro" movement alone isn't going to save the culture. But to me, it is proof that our culture isn't entirely dead yet and its past grandeur hasn't been forgotten by a generation born in the post-counterculture who never had the privilege of experiencing it first hand. A vibrant culture is forward looking and is not mired in the past - but we don't have a vibrant culture today and one certainly cannot imagine a vibrant culture by projecting current cultural trends. Thus the past is one of the few refuges of sanity for civilized people of good taste. But, if you think about it, the Renaissance actually started out as a movement that was significantly focused recapturing a better, lost past - but eventually it turned towards the future. I think that we, too, will have to go through a similar process - and perhaps what I have described is the very start of it and not the last gasp of our past greatness.

Dismuke said...

While I dislike and disagree with the motives that are commonly behind it, I actually find "Ms" to be useful.

There are occasions when one needs to write a letter or an email - most frequently in business - to a lady that one does not know well enough to be informed whether she is or is not married. If one wishes to add a certain amount of formality and show the same sort of respect that one would by opening the correspondance with Dear Mr in the greeting - well, if one does not know if the lady is married, that is simply not possible without Ms. So that is what I use.

Regardless of whatever meaning hippies and feminazis give it, when I use it, it simply a more simple and less awkward looking way of saying Dear Miss/Mrs. If someone could come up with a better alternative I would probably enthusiastically embrace it.

Myrhaf said...

I'll have to check out your web site and become your friend on myspace. My favorite recordings of all time are the early '30s recordings, which maybe you play on your radio station. I like them because they still have that '20s bounce but also have a string section. The '20s recordings of small jazz combos sometimes sound too Dixieland to me, and then in the late '30s and '40s the bands get a little sleepy and lose the string section (fiddlers are expensive). But that half decade of the early '30s has a great sound.

Dismuke said...

myrhaf wrote:

"My favorite recordings of all time are the early '30s recordings, which maybe you play on your radio station.

Oh - yes. My station definitely plays recordings from that era - lots of them. The station's format is popular music and jazz from the 1925 - 1935 decade. I mostly feature artists and bands from the USA and the UK - but I have recordings from Germany, Cuba, France and elsewhere mixed in as well.

The early '30s recordings are my favorite as well. I would say that my favorite years musically were 1928 - 1932 with 1929 and 1930 in particular being especially outstanding years. What I enjoy most are the "hot dance" recordings of the era - highly commercial recordings featuring the popular tunes of the era with a hot jazz element mixed in. Modern jazz purists tend to look down on them - but what do they know? I am also a huge fan of the Harlem Renaissance jazz bands as well - McKinney's Cotton Pickers/Don Redman Orchestra in particular.

I do, however, regularly listen to and enjoy a broad range of popular musical styles from the late 1800s through about 1941. During the early 1940s, things started going downhill real fast. Jazz abandoned melody and, in my view, became noise - albeit noise which required talent and technical skill to produce. Without a jazz element, pop music basically degenerated into banal "easy listening" type stuff which dominated pop music in the late '40s and early '50s. But I do actually enjoy the early "doo wop" rock groups of the late '50s and early '60s. After the mid 1960s - well, I can't stand to even listen to most of that stuff, let alone even develop even the slightest bit of appreciation for it.

In addition to my online station, I publish a weekly musical "blog" of sorts featuring 78 rpm records of vintage popular music along with an "Extra" section featuring vintage recordings from a wider variety of musical genres. That can be accessed at http://dismuke.org/how Start with the recordings posted after September 2003. That's when I upgraded my recording and audio restoration equipment and those recordings sound much better.

Another source of music from the era is Weimar Rundfunk an Internet radio station that features 1920s - 1940s recordings from various countries in Europe. The European music from that era - especially the music from Germany - was really wonderful. When you follow the Weimar Rundfunk link, after you get past the flash intro screen, click on the "Live 365" logo to listen to the station.

Another source is Rich Conaty's weekly radio program The Big Broadcast which runs each week on WFUV-FM in New York City and can be heard online live each Sunday evening from 8:00 PM to midnight Eastern time at www.wfuv.org You can also listen to previous programs via the audio archives section of the WFUV website.

Grant Jones said...

Myrhaf, I'm with you 100%. Check out this article "Language Wars" by Keith Windschuttle:

http://www.sydneyline.com/Language%20Wars.htm