Monday, July 15, 2019

Warring Against the Gender Binary

New York Times techno columnist Farhad Manjoo must have felt a bit restricted. After all, why should he limit his columns to techno matters? Why not pretend to be a philosopher? David Brooks has been doing it for ages now, and look how well his books sell.

So, Manjoo does not just present himself as a philosopher now. He pretends to be a philosopher of language. He offers his ill-informed and vapid opinions on language. Specifically, he has pronounced himself an expert in pronouns and wants to tell us all how better to use them. He has come to believe that the gender binary is a bad thing-- even though it pertains in all human social organizations. He does not address that issue, but, then again, he does not know enough to do more than show us how well he has been brainwashed. 

Before proceeding with this discussion, I draw your attention to the words of the greatest twentieth century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein:

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.

Of course, this tells us that Manjoo is not a philosopher. He is opinionated and undereducated… traits he shares with certain of his op-ed colleagues.

Examine how he opens his column:

I am your stereotypical, cisgender, middle-aged suburban dad. I dabble in woodworking, I take out the garbage, and I covet my neighbor’s Porsche. Though I do think men should wear makeup(it looks nice!), my tepid masculinity apparently rings loudly enough online and in person that most people guess that I go by “he” and “him.” And that’s fine; I will not be offended if you refer to me by those traditional, uselessly gendered pronouns.

But “he” is not what you should call me. If we lived in a just, rational, inclusive universe — one in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel — there would be no requirement for you to have to assume my gender just to refer to me in the common tongue.

He's cisgendered: don't you dare call him a sissy!

Big of him not to take offense if you call him: he. But why does he think that language has developed to promote uselessness? Let’s see, he refers to our useless obsession with dangling parts-- the reference is obviously gendered, unless you think that women have dangling parts. If  you do I do not want to know about it. 

Dare I mention that gender has a great deal to do with chromosomes, and that chromosomes are not for nothing in determining certain forms of human behavior. There are libraries filled with studies of it. Manjoo happily ignores them all.

Of course, Manjoo knows nothing of biology and does not even mention that it might play a role here. If the gender binary is so bad, why do those who reject it sound like morons-- Manjoo being high on that list.

For instance, and not to be too flagrant, if the gender binary is an excrescence of the vast patriarchal conspiracy, why do we have separate changing rooms for men and women at the gym. And why do we have dress codes that signify gender. Remember the Chinese Cultural Revolution when everyone was forced to wear unisex Mao suits? How did that work out? You might not know it, but the great Chairman Mao, the impresario of that monstrosity, was also a serial rapist. Being as he was infected with an STD, he happily shared it with his victims. Read all about it in Harrison Salisbury’s book, The New Emperors. 

In any event, the gender binary has something to do with biology. It is universal. It was not invented to allow New York Times columnists to virtue signal and to demonstrate their ignorance.

Anyway, Farhad would like to be referred to as “they.” Apparently, he contains multitudes. Like Walt Whitman. Now, you might ask yourself why he does not refer to himself as It. At least, it would be singular.

So: If you write about me, interview me, tweet about me, or if you are a Fox News producer working on a rant about my extreme politics, I would prefer if you left my gender out of it. Call me “they” or “them,” as in: “Did you read Farhad’s latest column — they’ve really gone off the deep end this time!” And — unless you feel strongly about your specific pronouns, which I respect — I would hope to call you “they” too, because the world will be slightly better off if we abandoned unnecessary gender signifiers as a matter of routine communication. Be a “him” or “her” or anything else in the sheets, but consider also being a “they” and “them” in the streets.

Obviously, you do not in anything resembling a functioning community allow everyone to choose his own pronouns. It is functionally inefficient. It wastes time. It lacks economy. And most people will end up marginalizing anyone who objects when you refuse to call him "they."

Then again, if you insist on the singular “they” which verb form do you use. Do you say that they were or that they was? The verb form “were” is only used with plural pronouns. I was; we were; he was; they were. At least with It, you can still use the singular verb. 

Apparently, Manjoo’s goal is to render us all illiterate… or just plain dumb. In that he is not alone:

By contrast, “they” is universal and purely neutral…. When people encounter it, they infer nothing about gender. This makes singular “they” a perfect pronoun — it’s flexible, inclusive, unobtrusive and obviates the risk of inadvertent misgendering. And in most circumstances, it creates perfectly coherent sentences that people don’t have to strain to understand.

Even if people infer nothing about gender, they do infer that someone who makes a point of using his own special pronouns is especially woke. And belongs to a faction where using incorrect pronouns functions like a password.

Dare we mention that this also manifests paranoid thinking. If you believe that all human cultures throughout human history have been organized in terms of a gender binary because they have wanted to discriminate against non-binary individuals, you are assuming the existence of a transnational transhistorical conspiracy that makes the vast right wing conspiracy look like child’s play.

According to Manjoo, the only group that still finds the singular “they” to be problematic is grammarians. As for the argument that many people now use the singular they, the same might be said of the people who misuse the verb “seen.” Many people say “I seen” in place of “I saw” but we all recognize it as an error, albeit one that usually signifies social status.

Heck, even the Times discourages promiscuous usage of the singular “they”:

Other than plainly intolerant people, there’s only one group that harbors doubts about the singular “they”: grammarians. If you’re one of those people David Foster Wallace called a “snoot,” Lyft’s use of “them” to refer to one specific Juan rings grammatically icky to you. The singular, gender nonspecific “they” has been common in English as long as people have spoken English, but since the 18th century, grammar stylists have discouraged it on the grounds that “they” has to be plural. That’s why institutions that cater to snoots generally discourage it. The Times, whose stylebook allows the singular “they” when the person being referred to prefers it, warns against its widespread usage: “Take particular care to avoid confusion if using they for an individual” the stylebook counsels.

In any case, Manjoo has been seriously brainwashed. It is fascinating to see the results of the process, and it is horrifying to see what the cultural climate is producing:

One truth I’ve come to understand too late in life is how thoroughly and insidiously our lives are shaped by gender norms. These expectations are felt most acutely and tragically by those who don’t conform to the standard gender binary — people who are transgender or nonbinary, most obviously.

But even for people who do mainly fit within the binary, the very idea that there is a binary is invisibly stifling. Every boy and girl feels this in small and large ways growing up; you unwittingly brush up against preferences that don’t fit within your gender expectations, and then you must learn to fight those expectations or strain to live within them.

But it was only when I had a son and a daughter of my own that I recognized how powerfully gendered constructs shape our development. From their very earliest days, my kids, fed by marketing and entertainment and (surely) their parents’ modeling, seemed to hem themselves into silly gender norms. They gravitated to boy toys and girl toys, boy colors and girl colors, boy TV shows and girl TV shows. This was all so sad to me: I see them limiting their thoughts and their ambitions, their preferences and their identity, their very liberty, only to satisfy some collective abstraction. And there’s little prospect for escape: Gender is a ubiquitous prison for the mind, reinforced everywhere, by everyone, and only rarely questioned.

Someone who inveighs against the imprisoned mind ought first to examine his own… or whatever is left of it. Not a word, not a whiff about the possibility that biology has a role in this process. To Manjoo it’s all a social construction, imposed on gender fluid individuals by a vast patriarchal conspiracy.

In fact, all this virtue signalling is rendering us stupid. Unless Manjoo and others want to abolish male and female restrooms, along with male and female changing rooms in gyms… he should keep his ill-informed and ill-considered thoughts to himself. 


trigger warning said...

You meant to say, "they should keep they's ill-informed and ill-considered thoughts to theyself.", I'm sure.

Sam L. said...

One needs a they(s) or they(p) to signify single and plural, so as to make enough food for dinner for a they(p).

jabrwok said...

I wonder how accepting Manjoo would be were his children to declare themselves trans-sexual, get themselves sterilized in the process of "transitioning", and thus end his bloodline.

He might be ok with it, but from Mother Nature's and Father Darwin's perspective, that would be a massive fail.

Anonymous said...

Does he think animals are non-binary? Are plants? How are we going to breed animals and plants? If he thinks they are binary, why are humans different from other life forms? What about all of the languages that have male and female designations? I think English is unusual in having words that are neutral; e.g., a spoon isn't designated as male or female. This guy is an idiot.

David Foster said...

German has neuter words, but some usages are rather strange to English-speaking ears....a girl is "Das Maedchen" (neuter), while a woman is "Die Frau" (feminine)

autothreads said...

I wonder how accepting Manjoo would be were his children to declare themselves trans-sexual, get themselves sterilized in the process of "transitioning", and thus end his bloodline.

He might be ok with it, but from Mother Nature's and Father Darwin's perspective, that would be a massive fail.

But a net gain for humanity.

UbuMaccabee said...

Our elites are going to get us all killed.

UbuMaccabee said...

Oh, look, "they" are in Wikipedia. So precious. A must read.

Naturally, he went to Cornell. Ithaca delenda est.

What is a word that expresses greater disdain than contempt? We may need to coin a new language of abuse for a jellyfish like Farhad Manjoo. Even Screwtape would decline his soul.

Maybe "Manjoo" can come to mean a boy who cut his own dick off to impress a girl who was sleeping with all of his friends, all the ones who chose not call themselves "they."

Sam L. said...

Ubu, our "elites" may want to get us all killed, but who's got the guns, and how many of us have the anger to do something with/to them?