The Ghouls of Grammatical Egalitarianism,
or the Gerund Gestapo
  Oc tober 21 
2013 (Rule of Reason)

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In his FrontPage article of October 19th, “Why Charles Krauthammer Gets It Wrong on
the Redskins
,”
Daniel Greenfield corrected columnist Charles Krauthammer over the
storm-in-a-teacup issue of the allegedly derogatory name of the Washington
football team.

Krauthammer, in his October 17th Washington Post Opinion
article, “
Redskins and Reason,” wrote in defense of
his opposition to the team name “Washington Redskins.” He claims it
is a racial slur, whether or not Indians object to it:
I know there are surveys that say that most Native Americans aren’t bothered by the word.
But that’s not the point. My objection is not rooted in pressure from various
minorities or fear of public polls or public scolds.

What is his objection? It’s a
personal, subjective objection. Krauthammer’s usual prescience on hard politics
has abandoned him on the issue.
        
Years ago, the word “retarded” emerged as the enlightened
substitute for such cruel terms as “feeble-minded” or “mongoloid.” Today,
however, it is considered a form of denigration, having been replaced by the
clumsy but now conventional “developmentally disabled.” There is no particular
logic to this evolution. But it’s a social fact. Unless you’re looking to give
gratuitous offense, you don’t call someone “retarded.”
In a feeble attempt to find a
substitute name that would omit the term “red,” he suggests:
How about Skins, a contraction already applied to the Washington
football team? And that carries a sports connotation, as in skins vs. shirts in
pickup basketball.
A fair try, but
unfortunately, the term
skin has too many
“negative” meanings, as well, among them the British term for the
paper used to roll a joint, a condom, nudity, and so on. Krauthammer seems to
be rebelling against the concept of identity, in Standard English and in slang.
Greenfield noted:
The people most obsessed with this question are white people.
Mostly white liberals. This is a debate that white liberals and white
conservatives are having over political correctness.

And that’s the point.
Krauthammer, whether or not he admits it, has succumbed to the bogyman of
Marxism-driven politically correct speech.

And politically correct
speech (and thinking) is the subject of an essay I wrote in 1997, originally
published in the November/December number of The Social Critic of that
year. It is republished here with some minor editing.
__________________________________________________________________________
A small, innocuous-looking
book appeared in bookstores recently, published under the auspices of the
Association of American University Presses (AAUP), an organization which claims
to be devoted to the dissemination of knowledge and scholarly research. Its
title is
Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, by Marilyn Schwartz and the
Task Force on Bias-Free Language (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).
It is little more than 100 pages long, weighs less than a pound, yet its
contents are more potent than the Oklahoma City bomb. Its ingredients are politically
correct jargon, multiculturalism, and the phenomenon of what may be called
“grammatical egalitarianism.”

The 10th Newspeak Dictionary


It is important to note at the start that the Association boasts a
membership of 114 institutions, mostly university presses, but includes such
diverse organizations as the National Academy Press, the National Gallery of
Art, the Modern Language Association, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the J.
Paul Getty Trust. Its membership includes all major American and Canadian
universities, plus Oxford University Press and presses in Tokyo, South America,
and Scandinavia. This is an organization with significant cultural clout.
What is “bias-free” writing? The Guidelines’ definition of
it is “writing free of discriminatory or disparaging language.” It should be
stressed that the object of Guidelines’ concerns is not primarily racial
slurs. The AAUP is not referring to the language to be found in the
pathological hate literature published by the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation,
or the Black Muslims, but to staid university publications. Its focus is
common, inoffensive usage, and the implication throughout the book is that
scholarly works that are not “sensitized” and “sanitized” may in the future be
demoted to the rank of hate literature, and treated with the same disdain,
regardless of their intellectual merit or significance.
The following is a short selection of terms, phrases and usages
from Guidelines, found by its authors to be discriminatory, disparaging
or otherwise “biased”: 
Man, the singular pronoun none coupled with his; girl, mother
nature
, the alleged association of he and she with good
and bad
and great and small; born-again, retard, idiot,
redneck, city slicker, Siamese twins, Dutch treat, deprived, needy,
underprivileged, well-dressed, ghetto, indigenous, tribe, teenager, juvenile

and elderly.

Also on its list of
“offensive” terms are able-bodied and intelligent, which are
considered discriminatory by implication and disparaging in any instance of
comparison.

Guidelines includes the disclaimer, “there is no such thing as a truly
bias-free language” and stresses that the advice it offers is only “that of
white, North American (specifically U.S.), feminist publishing professionals.”
The Task Force, which is composed of 21 university press editors (two of them
men), recommends euphemistic proxies for all of the terms on its “hit list.”

“Books that are on the cutting edge of scholarship,” reads the
AAUP Board of Directors’ position statement, “should also be at the forefront
in recognizing how language encodes prejudice. They should also be agents for
change and the redress of past mistakes.” By “prejudice” Guidelines
means an operative hierarchy of values, not racist premises or gender
“chauvinism.” While the term “encodes” suggests that the authors of Guidelines
regard the human mind as a kind of computer chip that must be sterilized before
“correct” encoding can be applied (and who therefore imply that the mind is a
mere passive receptor and mirror of its cultural environment), another
statement deserves still closer scrutiny: 
“The term normal may legitimately refer to a statistical
norm for human ability (such as 20/20 vision), but should usually be avoided in
other contexts as…invidious.”

If one sets as his standard
of normalcy an individual who is in full possession of his mental
faculties, who is not debilitated by disease or physical impairment, who is
able to take responsibility for his own life, can think and act without special
“accommodation,” then by definition most people are normal, and any
limitation in any of these criteria is a measure of subnormalcy.

In private conversation, one might say of another, “He’s
feebleminded.” In public – e.g., in a “sanitized” book or in a speech – one may
be allowed to say, “He’s cognitively challenged,” or “He’s conceptually
arrested,” or “He’s differently conscious.” But assuming an absence of malice
or cruel intent, the use of the adjective “feebleminded” represents a
conclusion reached from an evaluation or a judgment of a person who, for
whatever reason, chooses not to exercise his mind, and thereby renders himself
comparable to a feebleminded person who has little or no choice in the range or
depth of his thinking.

The same argument can be applied to any of the supposedly
discriminatory or disparaging terms targeted by Guidelines. Suppose one
said, “He’s an idiot,” or “He’s a moron,” or “He’s a retard”; or was more
inventive: “His mind is on crutches,” or “His brain is in a wheelchair” –
assuming that one has made an accurate observation and a just evaluation, the
terser or colorful one’s descriptive prose, the more heinous one’s act of
disparagement. But, in fact, one is not mocking or disparaging idiots, morons,
or non-ambulatory men: they are merely being used as referents of normalcy.

In essence, Guidelines advocates abolishing human
comparison by prohibiting the identity of referents. In the foregoing example,
one would be discouraged from expressing a judgment or evaluation of a person
who has offered abundant evidence of his inability or unwillingness to think
normally or to perform some task. Such a person is simply there, like a rock or
a tree, beyond discrimination (in the strict, nonracial, nonsexist meaning of
that word), beyond evaluation, beyond recognition. He is not incomparable; more
precisely, he is non-comparable. To compare the inventor of the steam
engine with a man who is unable to do simple math or boil a kettle of water
without harming himself is, by egalitarian anti-standards, a grave breach of
“social justice” and an unforgivable faux pas.
According to Guidelines
“[a]djectives such as poor and unfortunate have a
similar [negatively connotative] effect and are patronizing, as are such
epithets as heroic and courageous.”
Thus, if Guidelines’
authors have their way, not only will it be considered a breach of egalitarian
etiquette to make a distinction between heroism and cowardice, but it will not
be permitted to establish distinctions between normalcy or abnormalcy by which
to measure anyone’s character, ability or physical condition. There will be no
such thing as normalcy or any hierarchy of values, or value-measurement, just
whatever the slot machines of egalitarianism and multiculturalism happen to
disgorge from an eclectic, random stew of humanoids. A genius and an idiot are
not to be distinguished, discriminated, or even recognized; each is
“differently abled” or “specially conscious,” and no value may be placed on one
over the other.
This is not the pursuit of “social justice,” even if one could
assign a benign intent to the concept. It is a formula for the manufacture of
politically correct automatons.
Strictly speaking, measures of subnormalcy are not moral
judgments. Neither are they absolute measures of one’s potential for
achievement. Helen Keller was both blind and deaf. John Steinmetz, the
brilliant electrical engineer, was a hunchback. Toulouse-Lautrec, the painter,
was a dwarf (injured by a fall down the stairs when a youth). Neither is gender
an obstacle to achievement, nor is race, especially not in regards to intellectual
accomplishment or to any field of productive work that entails a greater than
average measure of mental labor. The numbers represented by women and
individuals of other races or cultural backgrounds in this respect are so great
that they do not represent exceptions to the rule – the rule simply does not
exist
.
(Parenthetically, the act of blacklisting supposedly disparaging
terms is self-defeating. Readers will recall how quickly the first wave of
politically correct euphemisms was met with disdainful humor. What occurred was
the transfer of the intended evaluations or judgments from the banished terms
to the euphemisms. The intent of the evaluations or judgments found a new mode
of expression – with the added, stressed note of contempt for the euphemism
itself, for its stumbling, awkward redundancy, for its ill-disguised role of
shielding the subject of the euphemism from true identification or evaluation.)
Grammatical Egalitarianism
Webster’s defines egalitarianism as “a belief in human equality, especially with
respect to social, political and economic rights and privileges.” Grammatical
egalitarianism
is the systematic culling of “offensive” words and
phraseology from the English language and the substitution of innocuous or
“preferred” argot, at the expense of clarity, economy and logic, for the sake
of protecting the feelings of real or imagined “victims” of such
offending language.

In economics, egalitarianism is the philosophical root of
antitrust laws and graduated taxation; in politics, of the welfare state and
modern university admissions standards. If we treat the identification of
individuals or of specific human conditions as “social” elements of some
egalitarian ideal, then grammar has lagged behind economics and politics –
until now. Grammatical egalitarianism would be employed to “catch up” by
leveling people’s conceptual and evaluative criteria, so that by law, etiquette
or custom, no person can be distinguished from another, and to no one’s
advantage but the lowest common denominator’s.
An antidote to Guidelines

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Guidelines is that its
contents are not at all shocking or revolutionary. The “guidelines” contained
therein are already a matter of ubiquitous, if uneven, conformity in business,
government and the news media. In its bibliography are listed more than a dozen
other publications, by university and trade publishers alike, that serve as
guides for “nonsexist” and “bias-free” writing. While this would imply that the
AAUP Task Force’s effort is redundant, perhaps merely a postscript to a
culture-wide phenomenon, it is in fact much more. The welfare state introduced
new meanings to such terms as deprived, disabled, and handicapped.
As a politically correct metathesis, grammatical egalitarianism strives to
purge language of all human distinctions and measures, regardless of
their origin.

To illustrate the potential influence of Guidelines,
imagine that a scholar whose field of study is American political history has,
after years of work, finally completed his magnum opus on modern
political trends. His thesis is that, with very few exceptions to the rule, the
character and capabilities of political officeholders tend to diminish in
direct proportion to the growth of statism. This scholar’s work is being
seriously considered for publication by a university press. In his manuscript,
however, are several statements of questionable egalitarian taste, one of
which, summarizing chapters of dry commentary and rigorously researched proofs,
reads, “Modern politicians are moral and intellectual midgets, when compared
with the moral and intellectual stature of the Founding Fathers.”
His editor at the university press might feel compelled to ask the
historian to rewrite that and other allegedly offensive sentences, or to
substitute bland proxies for midget and other red-flagged terms. 
The
scholar cannot use dwarf, or cripple, or any other term which,
either as a simile or a metaphor, implies a subnormal human condition; yet
subnormalcy is the point he wants to stress and the Founding Fathers are his
measure of integrity and intellectual achievement. He harbors no ill feeling
toward or prejudice against midgets, dwarfs or the handicapped; he was not even
conscious of them when he wrote the sentence. He senses that he had been
expected to be conscious of them, but he dismisses that thought as too
fantastic. He consults a dictionary of etymology, and learns that midget is
derived from a variety of long-dead languages, and that its original meaning
was a gnat-like insect or sand fly; that is, the word existed long before it
was modified to name a human condition.

What can the scholar do? Should he try to rewrite the sentences?
Find substitutions? Remove the sentences altogether? Work out some kind of
compromise? Or take a stand and insist that his words remain unaltered?
The answer depends on a host of unknowns. If the scholar does not
want to risk reducing his chances for publication – and his career as a
historian would depend on publication – he may not want to take a stand for the
sake of a few words. Furthermore, he cannot know whether his editor is a
staunch advocate of “bias-free” writing; or is indifferent to the issue and so
not likely to risk offending his managing editor and coworkers, who may be
advocates; or is a loner who is contemptuous of “bias-free” writing, but who is
certain that he would be voted down in an editorial meeting.

And there is always the AAUP in the background, ready to
reconsider the status of recalcitrant members who publish books whose texts
“encode prejudice.” If the editor manages to push through the historian’s
“unsanitized” work, the publisher may be upbraided by the AAUP or subjected to
other unknown pressures.
If the scholar caves in and accommodates the editor and publisher,
he sets a precedent for himself and other publishers and writers. “See? Even
the champion of liberty and enemy of collectivism had the decency to
compromise. Why can’t you?” And if the scholar takes a principled stand
against having his work sanitized – if he does not wish to become an “agent” for
a change he does not endorse, if he does not want to become a “redresser” of
mistakes he either does not concede or had no role in – he will do so with the
knowledge that he risks rejection of his work, for there are other, less
troublesome authors willing to be published under almost any conditions.
This scenario depicts the conflict faced by an accomplished adult
who presumably, in his formative years, could avail himself of the Oxford
English Dictionary
, Roget’s Thesaurus, and Webster’s Synonyms and
Antonyms
before large sections of these reference works were X’d out by
grammatical egalitarianism and declared off-limits by his teachers. It is a
dilemma in which many authors might soon find themselves, unless they are
fortunate enough to have courageous publishers willing to place paramount value
on an author’s ideas and competency, and none on his capacity for obsequious
thought orthodoxy.
In her 1972 essay “The Establishing of an Establishment,” Ayn Rand
notes that:
Private cliques have always existed in the intellectual field,
particularly in the arts, but they used to serve as checks and balances on one
another, so that a nonconformist could enter the field and rise without the
help of a clique. Today, the cliques are consolidated into an Establishment….Rule
by unofficially privileged groups spreads a special kind of fear, like a slow
poison injected into the culture. It is not fear of a specific ruler, but of
the unknown power of anonymous cliques, which grows into a chronic fear of
unknown enemies. [1]
The relevance of her remarks
as regards grammatical egalitarianism should be apparent.
The Atomization of Concepts
To atomize a concept for the purpose of destroying or
repressing it is to explode a term into its constituent parts, treat the
constituents as wholes in and of themselves, and finally to inhibit the
rediscovery or usage of the atomized concept with cognitive barriers.
Well-known among logicians as a “reductionist” fallacy, this process repeals
the law of Occam’s Razor, which states that entities are not to be multiplied
beyond necessity.
Guidelines, which devotes almost half of its page count to the subject of
how to achieve “gender-inclusiveness” in writing, focuses on the terms he
and man. Reading the recommendations in Guidelines on how to
atomize these terms is, at times, amusing:
“[I]n subjects and traditions of discourse where he has
been universally employed and men are assumed to be present, it [she]
may temporarily redress the traditional omission of women.”
And:                                                                                                             
“Using words like mankind and man to refer to men
and women, while convenient shorthand, embodies bias and introduces that bias
into our perceptions of history and self. Use of the masculine singular pronoun
[he] to refer to all people is misleading and exclusive.”
Thus, the concept man
must be atomized into numerous phantom concepts which are never reunited under
that term again by their essential attributes.
If one consults the etymological source of the term he and
remembers how it is used in the generic sense, one will see that it is derived
mostly from an amalgam of Old German and Old English, and has come to be used
so that it and its derivatives, such as his, refer to a person of either
gender. The terms man and men have similar histories, and have
been used accordingly since the Enlightenment.
What the feminists are really objecting to are these terms’
secondary but unavoidable masculine connotations. The only answer to their
objection is that the terms he and his and man must refer
to some abstraction, or to some personified image of a human being. And since
one of the attributes of the male gender, virility or potency, has been
metaphorically linked to the physical and mental behavior of the human race,
for better or for worse, the personified image or abstraction naturally
defaults to man. Unless one is willing to settle for a circus freak, or
a hermaphrodite, or even an “it” as an alternative to man or he,
there is no other term that performs the same task.
And why would the grammatical egalitarians wish to atomize the
term man? For two reasons: First, discarding the term gives them the
rationale and precedent to perform the same vivisection on other, less complex
terms; second, the term man does not include, and certainly does not
evoke the image of, any of their pets: the handicapped, racial minorities, the
elderly, homosexuals, or women. The term man is an ennobling term; it
does not admit ciphers who refuse to poke their heads out of their particular
group or tribal shells. The concept is a reproach to the egalitarians, for they
see nothing noble or glorified within themselves that correlates to the
concept, and nothing in the concept that can be applied to them.
“Insensitivity to racial and ethnic identities” continues the AAUP
position statement, “and to differences of religion, age, ability, and sexual
orientation reinforces the conscious and unconscious attitudes that allow us
too often to reproduce ignorance.”
Both in the AAUP position statement, and in Guidelines’
table of contents, are cited as victims of discrimination, disparagement and
injustice almost every group that has benefited from governmental social or
economic legislation: minorities, women, the elderly, the handicapped, and
homosexuals. However, that grammatical egalitarianism is being sanctioned and
promoted by a quasi-governmental organization is not a fundamental cause of the
phenomenon. Subjectivist art usurped representational art as part of a cultural
trend whose root cause was the disintegration of philosophy. It was private
foundations and a coalescing art Establishment which over decades banished
representational art from parks, museums and business offices. The National
Endowment for the Arts (NEA) did not appear until long after the fact.
Similarly, objectivity and clarity in language have been under
attack from academe for decades, as ambiguity and imprecision in language
gradually became hallmarks of sophistication and wisdom among the
pseudo-intelligentsia. It was only a matter of time before the sewer lines
through which the universities have been spewing effluvia into the culture
themselves became rotted. The proposed “homogenization” of language by
grammatical egalitarianism is merely another feature of a wider phenomenon,
with government nomenclature and subsidies abetting and accelerating the trend.
Thought Orthodoxy
Thought orthodoxy is not synonymous with thought control.
There is no Federal Board of Language Usage to which publishers must submit
their books and journals to be tested for discriminatory of disparaging
language before they can be put on the market for sale to the public. However,
while no official agency of control exists, there is a kind of
interlocking directorate of semi-public institutions and organizations which
accomplishes the same purpose by presenting a united front against freedom of
expression and imposing orthodoxy on our culture’s intellectual and literary
pacesetters.
 “Say what you please, we’re
not censors!” proclaims the AAUP’s unspoken credo. “But say it our way,
or do not bother to say it.” Short of overt government repression, I cannot
imagine a more insidious form of thought control than this, which is to thrust
independent minds of whatever professional suasion or degree of ability into a
purgatory that is not quite freedom and not quite slavery.
The goal of the grammatical egalitarians is not to diminish our
range of thought, but to homogenize it. To homogenize the contents of a
mind, however, is to accomplish the same end: unquestioning, knee-jerk
obedience to the authority of orthodoxy. Such a mind may be able to produce a
“sanitized” book without prompting by the czars of goodthink, but it
would never venture to extend its range of thought. Instead of reducing the
number of words available to people in an ever-shrinking Newspeak dictionary
(as described in George Orwell’s novel,
Nineteen Eighty-Four), Guidelines and its
proponents advocate swelling the number of “value neutral” euphemisms for the
ostensible purpose of preserving the “self-esteem” of the beneficiaries of
collectivism and altruism (and, indirectly, to preserve the “moral” aura of the
welfare state by squelching any incipient criticism of it). [2]
What of young minds? Discussing the issue of reprinting old or
classic texts or collections of historical and literary documents, Guidelines
advises that “Educated readers generally understand that scholarly publishers
may not revise the language in a reprinted text…unless the text is intended
for classroom use in the primary and secondary grades
.” [Emphasis added.]
Thus, an educated adult may be permitted to read unexpurgated, unsanitized
reprints, because he will somehow know better than to be “prejudiced” by
whatever “disparaging” language he may encounter. The minds of children and
adolescents, however, must be homogenized before “encoding” sets in, and so it
is permissible to tamper with old or classic texts.
In the scholar’s case, the cognitive obstacle is fear – fear of
recrimination from unknown powers and influences in the realm of publishing. In
the school textbook case, the cognitive obstacle is engineered ignorance
by schools in concert with the publishers of textbooks – a practice that has
been unofficial policy in public schools for decades.
Ayn Rand concluded her 1972 essay, “Censorship: Local and
Express,” with a dedication to Jefferson’s vow, inscribed in marble above his
statue: “I have sworn…eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind
of man.”[3] She wondered how conservative members of the Supreme Court could
bear to look at the Jefferson Memorial in light of their decisions. In 1996,
the grammatical egalitarians are neither blind to the magnificence of the
statue, nor deaf to the meaning of the words. 
They would prefer to see the
statue and the words replaced with an NEA-financed androgynous hulk who humbly
swears subservient deference to any random cipher who chances by.
Guidelines reflects almost every collectivist trend that has come to
fruition over the past thirty years: gender conflict, egalitarianism, the
elevation of mediocrity, the indulgence of the irrational as a right, and the
theft of physical and spiritual wealth under the rubric of “social justice.”
The grammatical egalitarians have assigned themselves the task of concealing
the destruction caused by these and other trends behind a wall of words
designed to exclude reason, inquiry and truth. This wall is composed mostly of
euphemistic, concept-destroying argot; lining the top of it is the barbed wire
of envy and the broken glass of malice. The wall will remain intact for as long
as men consider it their altruist duty neither to question its existence, nor
to wonder what it hides, nor to speculate whether it is meant to protect or to
imprison them.
Under the entry “The Aggrandizement of Mediocrity” in Usage and Abusage, the late lexicographer and
grammarian Eric Partridge concluded a poignant commentary on the decline of
standards in literature, the arts and language with the observation that 
 “[a]nyone who believes in
civilization must find it difficult to approve, and impossible to abet, one of
the surest means of destroying it. To degrade language is finally to degrade
civilization.” [4]

Had he lived long enough, Partridge might have made the astonished
observation that there exist those who do not believe in civilization, who
approve and abet its destruction, and who are dedicated to diminishing men’s
minds by degrading language as a means of finally degrading civilization, not
by reason of ignorance or ineptitude, but as a conscious, informed policy.

Notes:

1. “The Establishing of an Establishment”, in
Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet, 1984. P.
168
2. See Orwell’s “The Principles of Newspeak” in the Appendix
following the conclusion of the novel. While it is a brilliant essay on the
methodology of the deliberate epistemological stunting of minds, there is a
distinct difference in goals between the grammatical egalitarians of today and
the totalitarians of the novel. Ayn Rand rightly remarked that such a society
as Orwell describes could not long survive even as a semi-industrialized one,
chiefly because the minds that could make it function would perish. And, there
is another difference between the grammatical egalitarians’ purpose and that of
the minions of Big Brother, which is that the former wish to impose thought
orthodoxy on everyone, while the latter imposed orthodox thought and language
only on ruling Party members. Rulers who reduced their range of concepts to the
parroting vocabulary of an autistic person would not be able to continue making
and maintaining telescreens, helicopters or any other product of free, thinking
minds, nor would they be able to indefinitely retain their power, as Orwell
suggests such a dictatorship could, regardless of the degree of their
brutality.
3. In Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 188.
4. “The Aggrandizement of Mediocrity” in Addenda, Usage and
Abusage: A Guide to Good English
, by Eric Partridge. London: Hamish
Hamilton, 1947. Reprinted by Penguin, 1981. P. 379