Apple’s famed countercultural libertarianism turns into hyper PC—as countercultural libertarianism is destined to do

After upgrading her Apple computer to the latest operating system, called OS X or Lion, columnist Mona Charen found that Apple no longer supports Microsoft Word. Instead, Apple provides its own word processor, called Pages, which customers need to buy for a modest sum. Charen thought Pages was all right, until she tried its proofreader:

In a column about Rick Santorum, I had used the word “spokesman.” The proofreader flagged it: “Gender specific expression. Consider replacing with ‘speaker,’ ‘representative’ or ‘advocate.’” Hmm. How would that work? The sentence read, “A spokesman said ‘there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich on Medicare.’” None of the suggested words would accurately convey who was talking. Every one would have changed the meaning and confused the reader.

Similarly, when Charen wrote an article about Bashir Assad, with a reference to a “fawning profile of the dictator’s wife,” Apple’s proofreader told her, “Gender specific expression. A gender neutral word such as ‘spouse’ may be appropriate.”

And that’s just the start. Read the whole column. While Apple’s proofreader is risible and ridiculous, it also offers a horrifying glimpse into the future. Imagine when every reference book, every dictionary, every encyclopedia, starts to reflect the same hyper-feminist political correctness.

But why, as I said in the title, must libertarianism, including the hip libertarianism that has always been touted by Apple, turn into PC? How does the belief that we are all free individuals, with no higher entity or authority telling us what do or how to be, mutate into a mad leftist authoritarianism that seeks to banish ordinary words from our language?

It’s not hard to understand, but few conservatives and even fewer libertarians understand it. If we are all free individuals, with no authority above us, belonging to no collective categories to which we must conform, then any attribution to us of features or qualities that do not come from our individual choice, such as our sex, is an imposition on us. It violates the core liberal and libertarian principle that we are free, undetermined individuals who choose our own values. In order to be truly free, we must be equally free. And in order to be equally free, we must all become, insofar as possible, sex-neutral beings. Thus Apple’s hyper feminist proofreader (which Charen ruefully calls “Proofreadress”).

Ok, you may reply, sex-neutrality is in. But how does this get carried to so extreme a position as objecting to the very use of the word “wife”?

As I’ve pointed out before, now that we have homosexual “marriage” (which is itself a prime expression of the belief that we are all non-determined individuals freely choosing our own values), it is no longer acceptable to refer to heterosexual married couples as “husband” and “wife,” because that means giving them traditional, resonant titles which are not applicable to homosexual “married” couples. It thus grants to heterosexual married couples a privileged status denied to homosexual “married” couples. Therefore both heterosexual and homosexual couples must be referred to by the same, sex-neutral titles, such as “spouses” or “partners.”

Again, if you believe that individual freedom is the highest value, then you must also believe that there is nothing higher than individual choice, which in turn means that any larger cultural, biological, or spiritual categories to which we may belong are illegitimate and unjust, because they place limits on our individual choice.

A final point. It is a truism in the realm of economics that there is a trade-off between freedom and equality: the more freedom, the less equality; the more equality, the less freedom. But this truism does not apply to the non-economic realms of personal identity and desire, of moral values and cultural diversity. There, the more freedom you have, the more forced equality you must also end up having.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

On the plus side, Apple probably paid some otherwise unemployable Women’s Studies major to provide the hyper-feminist rules for the Apple proofreading software. Her degree, at least, was not a complete waste of time!

I plan to assert the core liberal value of being a free, undetermined individual who chooses his own values by freely choosing never to use sex-neutral PC jargon. Requiring me to do so places an unacceptable limit on my freedom!

LA replies:
Sorry, you can’t do that. Since equal freedom requires sex-neutral jargon, your desire to use non-sex-neutral jargon means limiting the freedom of others.

James N. writes:

Mona Charen is incorrect. Apple has never provided a word processor with any version of the Mac OS, and they don’t now. MS Office and Pages are both applications you must purchase, it’s a free choice and both install and run well under OS 10.7 (I have and use them both).

I don’t grammar check with Pages so I can’t speak to the rest, but I thought you might want to correct the error in the first paragraph.

LA replies:

The mistake was mine, not hers. She said that Mac no longer “supports” Word, not that—as I incorrectly put it—Mac no longer uses Word as its Word processor. I’ll change the entry to reflect that.

Charen’s remarks about Microsoft Word are contradictory. She says that the newest Mac operating system does not support Word, but then she says that the reason she didn’t buy Word for her new operating system is that it costs too much.

Here’s how I would interpret what she said. Charen had an earlier version of Word, say Word 2003 or (like me) Word 97. OS X (I’m guessing) does not support the pre Word 2007 versions of Word, making it necessary for Charen to purchase Word 2007 or Word 2010 for her Apple OS X, which she didn’t want to do.

M. Jose writes:

One little quibble: from what Ms. Charen says in her column, it appears that the issue is not so much that OS 10.7.3 doesn’t support Microsoft Word as it is that it does not support older versions. She indicates that one could buy a newer version of Word, but it would be expensive.

LA replies:

That’s just what I said (or guessed) in my last comment.

However, she didn’t explicitly say that OS X does not support the older versions of Microsoft Word. In fact, she said the opposite. She said that OS X no longer supports Microsoft Word, period. That was contradicted by her saying that she would have to buy a “new version” of Word, which created confusion, and showed where she made the mistake. She should have said that OS X does not support the older versions of Word.

LA writes:

Another confusion in Charen’s piece, pointed out by James N. in an e-mail, is her use of “support.” The correct meaning of “Apple no longer supports Word,” is that it no longer provides technical support, updates, etc. I understood her more colloquially to mean that Apple is no longer compatible with Word, that Word (i.e., the older versions of Word) no longer runs on the Apple computer.

Jim Kalb writes:

She’s such a clever writer!

On more substantive matters, the point to drive home is that putting freedom first eventually means total control of all human connections so that we don’t oppress each other. That’s part of a more general problem: if you choose anything more restricted than the common good as the highest standard in politics, the favored goods (in this case, a particular understanding of freedom as neutral treatment of the goals of individuals) will end up destroying non-favored goods that in a more rational system would be balanced against the favored goods You’ll end with something oppressive.

Here’s something I recently wrote on the topic.

Gintas writes:

Someone needs to run Laura Wood’s site through that thing. It’d blow out the CPU.

Hannon writes:

Thanks for the entry on Mona Charen’s delightful article. One of your recent best and a very good take-down of the notion that “PC is the problem.”

I must say I find it frustrating that it is so difficult for me to share many of these writings -yours or Laura Wood’s or Mark Richardson’s -with intelligent people who might be helped in seeing the darkness of liberalism. As was the case for me initially, these writings are shockingly strong medicine, even for the politically minded. They are also, as I believe one of your commenters said a while back, “graduate level” reading in conservative philosophy, whereas most of us barely finished high school. Usually I get some receptivity, but, more than reacting negatively, my correspondents don’t seem to know how to process the things you write about. It must seem very foreign to them. It cannot be easy to turn one’s views around and see that liberalism is what is truly bizarre.

Timothy A. writes:

I recently read this article about a demonstration by French feminists at the French Academy demanding that French grammar be changed to make it less sexist.

LA replies:

Here’s the one example the article gives of the kind of rule the protesters want to change:

French grammar says that when the subjects of a sentence are feminin and masculin, the verbs and the adjectives of the sentence agree with the masculin not with the feminin. The French say “les hommes et les femmes sont beaux” and not “les hommes et les femmes sont belles”, which translates as “men and women are beautiful”.

Several feminist organisations say this rule was introduced in the 17th century when grammarians decided the masculin was “nobler” than the feminin. Feminists want to scap this rule.

I must say, that is rather mild compared to wanting to get rid of the word “wife.” When it comes to feminist PC, the Apple Computer Corporation of Cupertino, California is more French than the French.

Robert C. writes:

I am reminded of when a gender harassment complaint was made against me about an email I had sent.. My boss sat down with me and showed me my offending email. It said, as I recall (names changed), “Joe Smith in our _______ section and the woman in our _________ program [whom I had not met] will get back to me soon and I will be able to make you an offer.”

So I named the man—out of familiarity of working so much with him, but referenced the woman only as “the woman.” But, ladies and gentlemen, I swear I meant nothing by it!

I was told I should be more sensitive in the future. I was glad it was, as far as I know, not taken further.

Lesson learned. It’s “individuals” or “persons” now for me.

LA replies:

If you had said, “the man in our _______ program,” there would have been no problem.

Nik S. writes:

Great bit on Apple, libertarianism, and liberalism.

I think one important detail you may have left out is this: Only now that Apple is the largest corporation in the world are people bothered by its political correctness -Apple and Steve Jobs have long been leftists, not libertarians. Steve Jobs just threw on the libertarian garb now and then to make him seem cooler in front of his liberal friends. Perhaps the fact that Apple is now at its pinnacle indicates that perhaps political correctness is also at its peak.

I would like you to make a distinction between Countercultural Libertarians and “normal” Libertarians…. I’ll search through your archives, you’ve probably already made the point a dozen times -but hey, re-iteration does have its place.

LA replies:

No, I don’t remember that I’ve ever spoken before about countercultural libertarianism. The idea came to me in reference to Apple, because that’s the image of itself and its customer base that it is always pushing. In any case, what I said about countercultural libertarianism applies equally to libertarianism in general. But it occurred to me as I was writing the post that countercultural libertarianism in turning to leftist authoritarianism represents even more of an ironic contrast than regular libertarianism doing the same thing, and so demonstrates even more vividly the point that libertarianism is a form of liberalism.

As I said the other day (can’t find the entry at the moment), once right-liberalism becomes the ruling principle of a society (or of a political movement), it inevitably mutates into left-liberalism. Now of course libertarianism is right-liberalism par excellence. Therefore libertarianism ends up as left-liberalism.

Nik replies:
It seems to me that essentially you are grouping all libertarians,
countercultural or not, into the “liberal” category. Do you think
that all strains of libertarianism inevitably lead to liberalism, or
are there shades of gray in there? Should the word “libertarian” be
confined to kooks and closet liberals?

LA replies:

It’s like any other generalization. Of course there are shades and variations, and of course contemporary people, being nominalists, will react against the very idea of any generalization. But the fact that there may be variations and exceptions to the generalization doesn’t mean that the generalization is not true.

Let us consider four examples of libertarian PC that I have discussed in the past:

  • The flagship libertarian magazine, Reason, in 2008 accusing Mark Krikorian of vileness, not because he agreed with VFR about anything, but because he hat-tipped VFR for its excerpt of Sarah Palin’s interview about immigration on Univisio.

  • Randians, such as Diane Hsieh at the Noodle Pudding site or whatever it’s called, who are more reactively and fanatically “anti-white bigotry” than any ordinary liberals. Remember how Hsieh and her commenters brutally and obscenely insulted a traditionalist commenter who had politelly explained the traditionalist position on race, culture, and nationhood.

  • Ron Paul, the libertarians’ hero, who during the presidential campaign has repeatedly launched leftist style cheap shots at conservatives and American institutions for their supposed bigotry, as when he said that Michele Bachmann “hates” Muslims and Rick Santorum is “anti-homosexual,” and when he said that the criminal justice system in this country is racist because blacks are “disproportionately” convicted of crimes.

  • Apple Computer Corporation, world symbol of countercultural libertarianism, introducing a proofreader for its word processor that represents an extreme form of feminist PC, telling users of Macintosh computers that they should not, e.g., use the word “wife,” as in the phrase, “the dictator’s wife.”

So, how many types of libertarians/Randians do I need to show adopting leftist-style political correctness in order to prove my point that right-liberals/libertarians/Randians, notwithstanding their supposed opposition to left-liberalism, have much in common with, or naturally evolve into, left-liberals?

March 10

Alexis Zarkov writes:

I run the Apple Macintosh operating system, Lion version (10.7.3). I have Office 2008 installed and it works under Lion. I also have Apple Pages installed and it indeed flags “spokesman” as a gender-specific word. But so does Microsoft Word (part of the Office package) if you set it to do that. Go to Word’s preferences menu, then select spelling and grammar, then the settings menu for writing style. Then you will see a check box for gender-specific words. If the user checks this box, you will get the same message from Word as from Pages for “spokesman.” Now it’s true that in my 2008 version of Pages you can’t turn off flagging gender-specific words in the proofer. Word is a much larger and more expensive application with more options.

I think we have a case here of conservatives protesting too much. I’m second to none in my opposition to feminism, political correctness, and liberalism, but I realize this is a feature, not a bug. Many book publishers will not let authors use gender-specific words in non-fiction. Many corporate and institutional copy editors will try to stop authors from writing in a non-sex-neutral way. The word-processor developers are simply trying to help authors cope with reality. The fault lies with the copy editors reflecting corporate and government culture, not the software developers. The way to deal with this is to fight with them, which I have done. Ultimately I wear them out because I’m more persistent. Ridicule helps too.

LA replies:

You have a point. Gender neutral language is already established in certain professions and areas of society, and it’s understandable that popular word processors would include it as an option. Yet most people, especially when they are not forced to use gender-neutral language, don’t use it. Apple, the corporation that supposedly symbolizes freedom and creativity, chose to make this brutally deadening gender-neutral usage its default usage, and to impose it (or at least hectoring messages promoting it) on its users. Wasn’t Steve Jobs’s message always that Apple was for individualists, while Microsoft was for dull, conformist corporate types? So I think you are being a little too dismissive of the significance of this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 09, 2012 01:56 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):