I grew up Southern Baptist. I went to a Southern Baptist university. One of the things I rebelled against--and one of the reasons that I swear so much these days--was the constant nonstop language and tone policing. To be sure, it was wrapped up in virtue words. It was done in the name of our weaker brothers and sisters, who we might cause to stumble. It was done for purity, for holiness, for the Baby Fuckin' Jesus. We even had trigger warnings--though we didn't call them that--on any literature that might cause lustful thoughts.
Here I was, a legal adult and budding metalhead who had just completed his acquisition of Suffocation’s back catalog, and here was some bunny-eyed administrator taking me gently by the hand and explaining in a worried voice about how I might want to skip certain passages of this book because my fledgling faith couldn’t handle it.
It’s fair to say I was peeved. ‘It’s just an Orwellian method of thought-policing by controlling language, perpetuated by its memetic justifications and the irresistible temptation to be holier than your peers--to lay the costliest and most splendid sacrifice on the altar of tribal allegiance!’ I ranted. As Joseph Heller described it:
Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.
Let’s all have a great guffaw at the silliness of the Southern Baptists, shall we? I could use a good guffaw, and they certainly deserve it. (Let’s also never forget that, having been indoctrinated as children in the stated justifications for this system, and having repeated them so often through the years, lots of folks have come to really believe them.)
So with that insight fixed firmly in our minds, let’s go have a read from someone I normally link to with a great deal of admiration, and of whom I'm still a fan despite this disagreement. And let’s have another read, A Letter to “Activist” Dan Savage, Who Continues to Bully My Trans Sibling.
How can I put this delicately?
Also I've been meaning to post that video.
I write all this in the shadow of Chait's piece on political correctness. I linked it, with a brief caveat, as it addressed an issue I think important, but the more I think about it, the more it strikes me as a mess. It careens back and forth between an odd history of the PC movement, mentions of execrable descents into violence and intimidation ostensibly in its name but clearly at odds with its tenets, some weird Marxist/liberal distinctions and some weirder criticisms. Students protesting campus speakers? Please. Granted the very limited number of speaker slots (especially for big events like Commencement), and the fact that many speakers also command high honorariums, students are entirely within their rights to be pissed that a year's worth of tuition and a huge-ass megaphone were handed over to someone they hate. It's not like anyone had a problem when a bunch of us UofM types protested Cantor (oh you betcha I was there--and no we didn't "interrupt" him go fuck yourself whoever wrote that headline). While we can certainly debate who ought to make the cut and why, the idea of having a cut is one imposed by necessity, so why shouldn't students have a say?
What bugs me about the whole thing--and what Chait stubbornly refused to lay his finger on--is that any focus on public virtue runs the risk of becoming a focus on the public. It's a terribly subtle shift from being praised for a genuine desire to do right by one's weaker brothers and sisters to ostentatious jockeying for in-group status--and policing the boundaries of the group against outsiders--via extravagant displays of self-abnegating commitment. Surely I'm not alone in picking up the vibe?
Of course I really do believe in the stated goals of the P.C. movement--some virtue words really are virtuous. But the dick-measuring undercurrent is unmistakably there. Since Chait picks on UofM, and since I went there for grad school, it's fair to report that I have seen, on the campus shuttle, a t-shirt whose ginormous lettering announced that "I LOVE THE BABY JESUS MORE THAN YOU."
Lol just kidding. It actually said "'THEY' IS MY PRONOUN." But the message is essentially the same.