Oct 17 is International Pronouns Day. In recognition, we re-post this commentary.
“I think, therefore I am” are five powerful words from philosopher Rene Descartes. They became the basis for Western philosophy in general, and its theory of knowledge in particular. The emphatic use of the pronoun “I” links together the existence of the individual as an absolute, a concrete, with our unique capacity as human beings for abstract ideas, for concept formation.
Little Words Like Pronouns Matter A Lot.
Little words and voice inflection matter; and as cultures evolve so do languages. New words and meanings are added while others are dropped. Nouns and verbs may change most, but it is not a good idea to override pronouns in conformity with changing social pressures. In fact the debate over the lack of English language gender neutral pronouns has been going on since at least the 19thcentury.
And lately the subject has resurrected itself with most college campuses publishing preferred gender pronoun (PGP) guidelines. For example, the ordinary sentence ‘Esmeralda gazed at her navel as she checked out her new diamond stud’might need major revisions:
- First, never replace gendered pronouns with “it” or “he-she,” that is a slur. Unless of course it’s permitted.
- Or no pronouns, names only please (Esmeralda gazed at Esmeralda’s navel as Esmeralda checked out Esmeralda’s new diamond stud).
- “He/she” might now be “Ze,” pronounced ‘zee.’ “Hers/his” might now be “Hir,” pronounced ‘here’ (Esmeralda gazed at hir navel as ze checked out hir new diamond stud).
- It’s also recommended that we replace the singular with the plural, “They/their” would replace “she/her” (Esmeralda gazed at their navel as they checked out their new diamond stud).
Descartes’ thesis may also be used as a simple study in the use of personal pronouns. Restating it as “You think, therefore you are” is powerful. It establishes a basis for respect and cooperation, the foundational tenets of civilizations. But restating it in the plural as “We think, therefore we are” introduces huge problems. It dismisses the value of a person’s own ability to conceptualize and to their right of self-determination. The value of a life is now a duty to the collective. The only possible outcome of this plural dominated philosophy is dependence and submission.
The Depraved Steal The Virtue Of The Good.
In Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem, the word “We” was used by everyone to refer to themselves and to others. “I” was not only outlawed, it was unknown. In the book’s dystopian future, a young man and woman rebel in order to establish a new society based on their newfound individualism and their discovery of the word “I.” To Rand, requiring “We” in this way makes it “The word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.”
University of Toronto professor Dr. Lee Airton, who prefers “they” for zirself, I guess, claims this is not a freedom of speech debate, only an accommodation of transgender needs. What’s troubling is that failure to accommodate could result in legal sanction, especially in Canada under Ontario’s human rights code. Are PGPs now a legal “right” of transgendered people? Would the state, which has a monopoly on the use of force, enforce pronoun speech if employees regulated by the Canadian government are the subjects of complaints? Is the complainant’s burden of proof only to self-identify as transgender and claim offense? The Canadian Human Rights Act Tribunal will adjudicate, and cisgender provincial types better watch out.
Pronoun Use And Western Civilization.
Professor Dr. Jordan Peterson believes this is certainly a freedom of speech issue.
I’ve studied authoritarianism for a very long time – for 40 years – and they’re started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory. There’s no way I’m going to use words made up by people who are doing that. Terms like gender expression are too broad; they are the propositions of social constructionists.
Will more new pronouns be invented as the list of gender or intersectionality classifications grows? Will there be social or legal penalties for inadvertently offending someone having a bad day? Compassion is a natural and powerful human urge. Coercion can only work against the cause for accommodation. Adoption of plural pronouns for individuals may seem like a tiny issue, but are they worth the cost of demeaning self-reliance and the dignity it fosters? Is controlling speech more important than the truth behind little words?
Similarly, Peterson believes that the new government mandated pronoun requirements are being used to bully opponents in to submission.
“There’s only two alternatives to that. One is silent slavery with all the repression and resentment that that will generate, and the other is outright conflict. Free speech is not just another value. It’s the foundation of Western civilization.”
Resisting Collective Interference.
Rene Descartes embarked on a discovery tour of his mind. With the power of reason he revealed a fundamental truth about existence. He deconstructed existence and interfered with no one. Today’s pronoun purveyors are interfering with everyone. Whether it’s an open ended list of new personal pronouns or the plural “We” enforced by the state, the natural rights of individual men and women cannot be cancelled. “I think, therefore I am” is a singularity.