Future Shock is history.
It is irritating to hear, on those occasions when I’m having a casual conversation, the silly protest of one who believes my language has not been gender inclusive. This is especially bothersome when I’m addressing a group and say something like, “Each person should place his initial at the top of the page.” – only to hear the niggling retort, “…and ‘her’ initial.” These minions of the language police would have me sacrifice the beautiful, liquid flow of language for the truncating agenda of gender politics.
The Standard English language-rule governing the use of pronouns commands that the pronoun agree with its antecedent in gender. In the example above, the gender of the antecedent (person) is unknown. When this occurs the accepted response, for centuries, has been to select the masculine form.
Here is another example: “Each rescue worker should bring his emergency equipment with him so that he can take care of himself in a crisis.” The antecedent is ‘rescue worker’. Because the gender of the antecedent is unknown (or mixed), the rule declares we use the default masculine pronoun. Those who favour political correctness would have me say instead, “Each rescue worker should bring his or her emergency equipment with him or her so that he or she can take care of himself or herself in a crisis.” This asinine insistence hinders communication, both spoken and written. It slows the swift give-and-take of ideas delivered in comfort and echoes the tensions of a gender war that favours dogma over beauty and common sense.
I agree that aspects of our language could be renovated to recognize women’s legitimate complaints, but I cannot imagine writing an essay, let alone giving a spoken presentation, in the style demanded by the ideologues of correctness. Languages evolve; their forms unfold; usage emerges over time, from the popular expression of a people. When change is mandated through fear of being censured, the idiom of the people is torn, and both the language and the community of speakers suffer.
An alternative form of addressing gender inclusiveness has been to alternate the number of times one uses the masculine and feminine pronouns. But this too is ridiculous. I can imagine some stickler keeping track of the number of times I have used a pronoun, and taking me to task for it.
There is another solution to this confounded problem – especially in a conversation. The answer is for a male to always use the masculine, and a female the feminine pronoun. The person who begins the thread of a conversation is the one whom we follow, whether we are male or female. If a female begins with, “Each person should place ‘her’ initial at the top of the page.” The male would reply, “Yes, I believe ‘she’ should.” And they would continue conversation around that issue in the feminine form. In fact I have heard of people writing essays and dissertations entirely within the pronoun of their sex.
I like the tangible, solid, anchoring influence of tradition, custom and standard usage. I easily spot spelling mistakes in newspapers, chuckle at malapropisms, and scoff at political doublespeak. I admit that I like what has been tried, tested and true for centuries – especially in language. But I am also willing to entertain, with some reservation, what is being born. I may not feel immediately comfortable with the neonate, but if he is not too unfamiliar; if he seems to bear some promise, I will listen – even if the promise of new life is seen emerging from the advancing death of an older form – like the Adverb: a conversation for another time.
The tongue is mightier than the sword. That’s because it cuts deeper, and the wounds take longer to heal. At its meanest it assassinates characters and ritually burns them in sacrifice to the patron of gossip: the goddess Prattle. In such a community a person can be bleeding the death of a thousand cuts and not know why he’s anemic.
I put my thoughts on pause for a moment. I review what I’ve written and ask my most insightful critic to give me feedback. My wife says, “kind of gothic isn’t it…thousand cuts, ritual assassination, burnt offerings?”
I admit, she’s right. It is kind of gothic because when you’re on the receiving end of pointy tongues, it feels gothic. This is the kind of moss-strewn, fog-shrouded atmosphere that gossip creates.
It flourishes in dark places. It whispers like snakes, and gloats over the failings of imperfect people – you and me. It’s a distortion in the soul and tears the fabric of community. And we have all been guilty of it in varying degrees.
The tales we hear pander to our need to feel okay. We use them like ointment to soothe the sores of our low esteem and to create the false assurance that we’re not like those we’ve heard about. By broadcasting our neighbour’s shortcomings we embrace the illusion of walking on higher ground.
Talking behind someone’s back creates a kind of paranoia in the village. Trust is slain and people become suspicious. They ask themselves, “If they’re saying this about Fred, what are they saying about me when my back is turned?”
I call Fred and ask what it was like before he discovered he was being talked about. He tells me he noticed subtle changes in the way some people related to him. He blamed himself for his sense of isolation and doubted his value in the group.
In such an experience it’s easy to blame oneself because the dough of gossip is not always a batch of lies. And the bakers who knead and mix it often do so with malice. Therein lies the perversion of gossip: the absence of mercy.
Nothing justifies it. It doesn’t matter whether there’s some truth in the chatter, or even a lot of it. What matters is that someone’s life is being shredded, and the community suffers. Gothic is the feel in your belly when gossip pierces the soul.
I’ve been trying to understand how to enter into this new world of journaling online. What is most irritating is learning the software. For a newcomer this can be difficult. It looks like I’ll have to learn HTML code.
I stop…I examine my thought: “have to learn…code”: a bargain with the ‘devil’ – I don’t wanna learn code. I want the rendering of written thoughts done easily, elegantly. I want to wrestle with languages that are soft, spoken by throats, inbedded in living beings. The bargain with this devil must be managed well. Caution is the operand word in this infernal contract. Holy Faustus, Batman!
The new technological revolution that has given us the tools to share thoughts with billions of people has shaken and altered our social foundations. While simplifying our lives it has simultaneously complicated them. Ironically, the very time that it has given us for leisure it has taken away with the necessity to learn complex activities – like this software that has been so kindly made available to me.
The speed with which we complete tasks has not liberated us – it has only increased the pace at which we live. It is a Janus, this revolution – a two-faced god who gives with one hand and takes with the other. Are we yet sophisticated, wise enough, to determine whether he takes more than he gives? Is sharing my thoughts in this blog worth the price I will have to pay in terms of time and energy?
I look at the time: 7:30 pm. I have not eaten supper because I have spent time using this matrix of code. I watch the hand of the god: giving and taking. I sense he is getting too much – I leave for my table.