I have to admit that I resonated with this story just a little bit because of my own quite unexpected 2012-2013 experience with nasty campus politics. But it raises far more important issues than that, and I hope very much that you will read it:
We’re living through a distinctly weird time, and, in my judgment, a very dangerous and frightening one. (See “A Lawsuit to Protect Academic Freedom in a Surprising State.”) The thought police are out in force, and many ideas, especially but not only those connected with gender issues, have essentially been declared “crimethink,” to use an appropriately Orwellian term.
Some of it may seem ridiculous and perhaps a bit irritating, as illustrated by a recent article (“Let Us Have Our Boyhoods and Girlhoods”) by Michael Brendan Dougherty that begins with these words:
Writing in the New York Times, tech writer Farhad Manjoo says that we ought to eliminate “gendered” pronouns. Manjoo wants to eighty-six “he” and “she”; “him” and “her.” Our techie isn’t for some of the newly proposed pronouns like “ze,” because studies have shown people don’t know what or who ze is. Perhaps ze should be left to gender nonconforming people. That’s ze truth.
Manjoo’s truth is that he wants us to use “they” as a singular pronoun. “It’s flexible, inclusive, unobtrusive and obviates the risk of inadvertent misgendering.” Manjoo personally wants to be referred to as “they.”
Well, here goes.
Only two types of people object to Farhad’s proposal, they (Manjoo) writes. They (the types) are the grammarians and “the plainly intolerant.” They (Manjoo) has two children, a boy and a girl. They (Manjoo) says they (Manjoo) has been watching them (their’s children) grow up and adapt themselves (their’s children) to roles prescribed by their (all of the above) society. This horrifies them.
By “them” I mean them (Manjoo).
Okay, I can’t do this anymore.
One of the two principal purposes of Orwell’s Newspeak is to make unorthodox thoughts literally impossible. “Orthodoxy,” says the Newspeak lexicographer Syme in 1984, “means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Right now, most of us still laugh at nonsense like that espoused by Farhad Manjoo. “There are,” Orwell once quipped, “some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” But this sort of thing is beginning to have a measurable impact in the real world:
It’s an appropriate time, I think, to quote again a passage from the Anglo-French writer and historian Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) that I’ve cited here at least once before. Belloc died nearly seven decades ago. What would he think were he to look in on us now?
The Barbarian hopes — and that is the mark of him — that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization should have offended him with priests and soldiers. . . . In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.
We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.