02 Apr 2019 A mini-essay on linguistic corruption
In the UK barely a week goes by without an act of absurd censoriousness in response to something written on social media. Last week a devout Catholic and journalist, Caroline Farrow, was told to attend a police interview after being accused of using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl. The police told her ‘misgendering’ is potentially a criminal offence. It sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit, but this is 21st century Britain. Such censorship and shocking waste of police resources is surely incomprehensible to the average Joe, and yet commentators who describe these actions as Orwellian are often told they are engaging with Far-Right tropes. Such irrational censoriousness stems in part from our interaction with social media. The companies that control our social media are entirely Californian SJW (‘social justice warrior’) ‘progressives’. They have promoted a defragmentation and subsequent proliferation of social identities and a culture where online communities support the fetishization of these minority identities in a rather hysterical manner. The latest row is probably another example of this.
For an insight into this hysteria, just step into a Western university campus. You will not have to look far to find an anti-intellectual culture of sentimentality, seeking to replace the Enlightenment values of logic and reason with the whims and tantrums of pre-school toddlers who spend their days seeking cause for offence in the vicious cess-pit that is social media. It is mind-boggling how quickly universities have subsided into this phony culture of PC authoritarianism, but this is perhaps just a reflection of how our lives have been technologised over a short period of time. The new morality of today’s students in the Anglosphere (this is clearly a Western problem) results in them scrutinising every comment, post or tweet to ensure that it meets their demands of safetyism. Many of these iPhone zombies are cut off from reality because for them reality is the hysteria that is whipped up on social media. All they know is a digital online world – a world of fake news, fake identities and viral tweets. This generation born within the technological age – the so-called Generation Z – subscribes to the postmodernist counterculture. They seek to frame everything in terms of power, oppression and victimhood. But this is no longer a righteous question of defending the weak and the marginalised. Generations of taught postmodern relativism has now led to the opposite of relativism. It has led to a moral positivism, a taboo laden culture of no-platforming which is authoritarian in nature. Nowadays, some of our universities are no longer bastions of free thinking and open debate, but are instead wastelands of groupthink where the key issues of the day are seldom discussed. The result is a dystopic, commoditised monoculture of ‘progressivism’ which has no problem reporting people who confuse their pronouns to the police.
What we are witnessing here with all these curious developments online and in the ‘real world’ (a term which Generation Z finds upsetting) is the discourse of cultural nihilism. Cultural nihilism is a veiled imperative to devalue certain aspects of our cultural life if these features are unable to appeal to some victimology or other. To do this, the cultural nihilists, who alongside the students include large swathes of the public sector, employ the rhetoric of anti-communication. The constant talk of ‘values’ is an important component of the nihilists’ anti-communication. Labelling something as a value is an oratorically persuasive means of making an ideological position sacrosanct. As with political correctness, to object to values risks making one appear morally inferior and in an environment of obsessive virtue signalling, that is a dangerous business. ‘Social justice’ is one of these values. It is a clever attempt to manipulate a term whose apparently good intentions one could hardly question. It is a ‘value’ after all. If ‘social justice’ meant helping the poor that would be fine, but it is in fact a blurry cover-term based on deeply polarising identity politics. Addressing a transgender person with the wrong pronoun could certainly be an affront to social justice as understood by its advocates. We are ‘progressive, inclusive, safe and fight for social justice’. Who could possibly disagree with that? But remember, ideology works by disguising its true ideological nature. This ideology has no fixed doctrine but will seek to promote any marginalised identity, any candidate for victimhood. In a world of proliferating gender identities, potentially new forms of marginalisation can appear all the time and they will be covered by the social justice rhetoric.
But these values that suddenly every institution has to adhere to are vacuous and a form of anti-communication for they are all the same. Values such as ‘diversity’, ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ are trotted out constantly without thinking. ‘Mission statements’ are full of them. If everyone and every institution subscribes to these values, then it rapidly becomes meaningless. They are nothing more than ‘just-so’ statements. But in a way, this seems the point of the exercise in documenting the ‘values’ in the first place. It is to confirm that such-and-such institution has signed up to the erroneous worldview that one moral code is being declared ‘objectively true’ which is ironic as the same people are telling us at the same time we must embody cultural relativism. Key words such as ‘diversity’ act as clever forms of virtue-signalling as they are seen to be a conspicuous expression of moral values. Diversity is part of the social justice ideology, an ideology that is meant to act as an appendage to our consciousness. Just last week, the absurdly partisan Channel 4 broadcaster, Jon Snow, described a London pro-Brexit rally as: ‘it is extraordinary. I have never seen so many white people in one place’. This form of racial self-flagellation is a form of status-signalling, a means of differentiating high-status whites from low-status whites. In accordance with cultural nihilism, note that such a remark cannot be defined as ‘racism’ and thus the mainstream media ignored it. One might imagine the response would have been somewhat different had a reporter covering the Notting Hill Carnival in London remarked: ‘I have never seen so many black people in one place’.
With their groupspeak, such oversensitised herds risk turning society into a factioned group of mindless robots living in a culturally impoverished world where irony and banter have been reduced to the strictly private realm. This constant language policing that we witness with so-called ‘objectifying language’ and ‘stereotype enforcement’ is a form of linguistic corruption and linguistic sterilisation; an attempt at homogenising our language into pre-packaged labels and slogans that conform with the supposed moral sensitivity and compassion of the liberal psyche.
When you have silence, you can run your ideological bull-dozer right over the masses. Shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety. It creates instead a culture of fear and paranoia. The notion of ‘safety’ has become one of the most peculiar institutional sacred cows. The irony is that the safetyists think they are addressing the perennial postmodernist oppression, but instead have created through authoritarian means a truly oppressive environment. But that was perhaps intentional.
As well as ‘safe’, institutions that use this speech code have to be ‘inclusive’. There is nothing inclusive about alienating everybody that does not subscribe to the speech code. That is obviously exclusive. It is the antithesis of inclusivity. And so the virtue-signalling is entirely fake: a ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive’ institution is more probably an alienating, authoritarian monoculture that nurtures a psychological paranoia. Adjectives such as ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive’ are therefore institutional double-speak, but are an important part of the new political correctness, the social justice warrior (SJW) ideology, the new pseudo-‘progressive’ authoritarianism.
These belief systems and their rhetoric have now moved from the university campus to society generally. Not just students, but all of us are now being encouraged to be hyper-sensitive, to embrace this culture of ‘wrongthink’. Censorship and self-censorship are once again the norms. In an environment of an ideologised public consciousness, nobody wants to be caught apparently swearing allegiance to a heretical philosophy. A significant freedom is being erased. The last time we lived in this kind of context must have been in a totalitarian society. This time around, the dissidents are paradoxically those who speak up for the cultural heritage and traditions of the country. Their opposition is against the anti-culture, the cultural nihilism that flourishes in the public sector. What we are now facing is an epistemological battle: it is the Enlightenment values vs. the misplaced emotion of a misspent youth who claim to be troubled by ‘misgendering’.