Brits preening in prissy PC while London burns
Read the following sentence and see if anything in it leaps out at you:
“40 to 50 per cent of youngsters born in Britain this year face a greater risk of failing at school because they will be born to unmarried couples or single parents.”
That was written by Peter Hitchens in the Sunday Mail. I tried to respond, but had some sort of snafu and wasn’t able to submit it. But here’s the text of my complaint:
This is a trifling thing, but I am endlessly dismayed by the tongue-tied PC tenor of modern British speech. Consider this clause:
“…they will be born to unmarried couples or single parents.”
Shouldn’t that be single mothers? Seriously, I’m having difficulty conceptualizing the third option you seem to imply here—is there an epidemic of women giving their children to their boyfriends to raise in Britain? It may seems like a small thing, but to refer to what can only be a mother as a “parent,” to adopt the faceless bureauspeak of a leftist British social worker in this way, is something that I see to a disquieting degree even among self-styled conservatives.
This desperation to elide distinctions, to squash even the possibility of the appearance of special judgment, is a crucial underpinning of the phenomena you’re decrying. It is a consequence of making non-discrimination the single highest, ruling operative good of society, which is the source of most of the social maladies you’re talking about here. Let’s start with Confucius, if the Bible will not do, and call things by their right names.
Now this may seem uncharitable, but there is something so creepy, cringing, and evasive in the way British people write and speak these days, that it excites genuine contempt in me. I took a seminar from the English strategist Colin Gray once, and it was simply astounding to hear the way he spoke in constant, fearful curtsies to liberal orthodoxy. In one of his books, he uses the verb “to person” instead of “to man,” when referring to the act of placing a soldier at a post or a weapon (as in, “Person that machine gun emplacement, Sergeant!”). This unbelievably clunky and self-conscious language distorts everything he writes, and is ever-so-gradually mangling British English into something ugly and incomprehensible. Poor Orwell has been abused endlessly by everybody from monarchists to Marxists, but this really is Newspeak in action—the systematic destruction of words which sunders the connection between speech and thought, between the Word and the World. It is apocalyptic.
Hitchens’s column is here.
“… constant, fearful curtsies to liberal orthodoxy…. But there is something so creepy, cringing, and evasive in the way that British people write and speak these days, that it excites genuine contempt in me.”
I have exactly the same reaction. I was listening to a broadcast of the Moral Maze, and those are intelligent people on that program, but the feeling I had listening to them—not only their substantive ideas, but their language and the intonations, the combination of a hyper PC that controls their every thought and every statement, with the hyper prissiness of their manner—made me feel these are contemptible people unable to defend and sustain a society.
James P. writes:
Sage McLaughlin says,
“I took a seminar from the English strategist Colin Gray once, and it was simply astounding to hear the way he spoke in constant, fearful curtsies to liberal orthodoxy. In one of his books, he uses the verb “to person” instead of “to man,” when referring to the act of placing a soldier at a post or a weapon…”
I am surprised that Sage thinks so. I have read all of Colin Gray’s books, and generally speaking I find him a very clear and straightforward writer, especially when one compares his prose to the tortured gibberish that so many academics produce. As for political correctness, Gray is the man who argued in 1980 that victory in nuclear war was possible, and argues even today that the US should not exclude launching preventive or preemptive wars if it needs to. I don’t see him prissily kowtowing to liberal orthodoxy, but that’s just me.
But what about Sage’s example of PC prose by Gray, which James himself quotes?
Alan Levine writes:
Read the item on Colin Gray with interest. My own reaction to the man’s earlier works is the same as that of James P.; this is totally incongruous.
I would suspect interference by an editor as the explanation.
Adela Gereth writes:
Sage asks: “Shouldn’t that be single mothers?”
Actually, it should be “they will be born out of wedlock”.
Precisely, and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t catch that, since “single mother” is a major peeve of mine. “Single mother” conflates a widowed mother, a divorced mother, and a mother who was never married to the father of her child. It destroys the distinction between married and unmarried motherhood. Worse, this usage was instantly accepted by our whole culture including conservatives. Think of the brainless idiocy of conservatives who made opposition to illegitimacy one of their major principles, yet, when the phrase “single mother” came along which destroyed the distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy, they instantly went along with it. If liberalism announces itself in their face, the conservatives will see it and oppose it, but if liberalism insinuates itself through culture, manners, language, movies, the conservatives defer to it.
Adela Gereth writes:
Like Sage, I had a moment of exasperation recently with the mincing way Brits now express themselves.
In this article from The Grauniad, the author, Joan Smith, comments on the Ipswich serial killer’s victims being “baldly” labeled prostitutes when they were, in fact, prostitutes.
“But public attitudes to women in the sex industry have changed, as the press quickly discovered. In Ipswich and elsewhere, people were outraged by TV and radio bulletins that baldly announced five “prostitutes” had been murdered in Suffolk. Many people are uncomfortable when the word is used in headlines as though it’s no different from “teacher” or “dentist”; the dead women were daughters, mothers and girlfriends but their whole lives were being defined by something they had embarked on out of absolute desperation. “As soon as it became a national story, it became apparent that the language used to describe the women was inappropriate,” says a journalist who went to Ipswich when the third body was found. “Everybody knew one of the victims or had been to school with one of them.”
In fact “prostitute” is no different from the words “teacher” or “dentist” in that, like them, it describes a person who does a specific job. And “prostitute” no more defines the victims’ “whole lives” than “housewife” defines my whole life.
I consider prostitutes more sinned against than sinning. I am fully aware that these are women with families, personal problems and lives who should not be solely defined in terms of what they do to earn money. But that doesn’t mean I think the word “prostitute” is “inappropriate” and should be abandoned in favor of a more value-neutral phrase like “sex worker.”
For too many decades, the left has controlled how all of us perceive language and even how we are permitted to use it.
“Sex worker” does not enhance human dignity, it degrades it, by removing the moral and sexual meanings contained in the word prostitute. It’s like saying “to have sex with,” instead of “to go to bed with” or some equivalent expression. It’s soulless, depressing. Now, you can well imagine a man saying, “I want to find a prostitute.” Can you imagine a man saying, “I want to find a sex worker”? It’s dehumanizing, as well as anti-sexual.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 26, 2008 11:25 AM | Send
To eliminate the word prostitute because of the particular associations of that word is a quintessential act of modern liberalism. The purpose of liberalism is to empty the world of all substantive meaning, because all substances are particular, which makes them unequal. Even Communism does not seek to dissolve the core of existence and meaning the way liberalism does.