Language Regulations In Our Postmodern, Postchristian Era

Aug 24th, 2019 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

In Disney’s classic cartoon feature, Bambi, “Thumper” the rabbit offers a wise piece of advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  God’s Word has much to say about the words we use and how hurtful and damaging they can be (see the Proverbs and James 1:19-27; 3:1-12).  Most of us forget physical hurts we may have incurred growing up, but we remember vividly the cruel words from a bully or a childhood enemy—or even a merciless parent.  Such words are often the root cause of bitterness, which is poisonous and destructive.  Ephesians 4:29-32 exhorts: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (NASB).

American civilization is currently engaged in a war of words—hurtful, damaging, spiteful, insidious words.  As moral leader of our nation, I would love to see President Trump follow the counsel of God’s Word; he could model the use of healing, reconciling, unifying words.  But he seems incapable of doing this. His life has been filled with verbally attacking his opponents with demeaning, hurtful and usually despicable language.  This is not moral leadership.  But he is merely reflecting what is now a characteristic of American civilization:  Whichever positon you hold on the political spectrum, right or left, those with whom you disagree are not your political opponent; they are your enemy who needs to be ruthlessly destroyed.  If your watch the news on MSNBC, you see this tactic from the leftwing of the spectrum.  If you watch Fox News, you see the same tactic from the rightwing of the spectrum.

To make matters worse, our institutions of higher learning and some businesses are institutionalizing language regulations to provide “safe zones.”  So-called “hate speech” and non-inclusive language are not to be tolerated in these zones.  Columnist Peggy Noonan writes “about the language and behavioral directives that have been coming at us from the social and justice warriors who are renaming things and attempting to control the language of America.”  Consider these examples:

  • First, Noonan reports on The Inclusive Communications Task Force at Colorado State University. Don’t call people “American,” it directs:  “This erases other cultures.”  Don’t say a person is mad or a lunatic, call him “surprising/wild” or “sad.”  “Eskimo,” “freshman” and “illegal alien” are out.  “You guys” should be replaced with “all/folks.”  Don’t say “male” or “female;” say “man,” “woman” or “gender non-binary.”  Offices and schools are now forced to grapple with all the new gender-neutral pronouns.  To help human resources departments in mid-size businesses, a website offers this guide for gender neutral pronouns: He/She—Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E; Him/Her—Zim, Sie, em, Ver, Ter, Em; Himself/Herself—Zieslef, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself.
  • Second, Katherine Timpf of the National Review provides further insight into Colorado State University’s new “guide:” The guide advises students to use the words “U.S. citizen” or “person from the U.S.” instead of “American.”  Some of the other words and phrases deemed not inclusive by the guide include the words “male” and “female” (because this “refers to biological sex and not gender,” and “we very rarely need to identify or know a person’s biological sex and more often are referring to gender”), “cake walk” (because it apparently has origins in “the racism of 19th century minstrel shows”), “freshman” (because it “excludes women and non-binary gender identities”), “Hispanic” (“because of its origins in colonialization and the implication that to be Hispanic or Latinx/Latine/Latino, one needs to be Spanish-speaking”), “hold down the fort” (because “the U.S. the historical connotation refers to guarding against Native American ‘intruders’ and feeds into the stereotype of ‘savages’”), “no can do” (because it was “originally a way to mock Chinese people”), “peanut gallery” (because it “names a section in theaters, usually the cheapest and worst, where many Black people sat during the era of Vaudeville”), “straight” (because it “implies that anyone LGBT is ‘crooked’ or not normal”), “food coma” (because it “directly alludes to the stereotype of laziness associated with African-Americans”), and “war” or “battle,” when used any way other than to describe a literal war or battle (because “they evoke very real tragedy that can be problematic for survivors of war or Veterans”).
  • Third, Forbes reporter Jack Kelly relates that Berkeley, California is ditching its “male-centric” municipal codeand replacing it with a gender-neutral vernacular. Rigel Robinson, a Berkeley councilperson, raised this important issue. It was promptly approved and will be put into action in August. Robinson claims, “Gender-neutral language creates a lot of room to acknowledge that it’s not just men running the country.” “When this happens ‘manholes’ will be referred to as ‘maintenance holes,’ ‘brother’ with ‘sibling’ and ‘manpower’ will be ‘human effort.’ Personal pronouns, such as ‘she,’ ‘he,’ ‘her’ and ‘him, will be replaced with ‘they’ and ‘them.’ As of now, about 24 terms will be changed. This new law follows California’s decision to permit non-binary gender markers on birth certificates.”  Kelly correctly observes that “This would create a 1984 Orwellian system, in which corporate management and co-workers will police all our conversations to ensure adherence to this new language.  A new corporate bureaucracy would need to be established—a combination of legal and compliance with human resources. This division would have to survey the speech and communications of all employees to determine if there are violations of the rules. The unit would also be required to monitor Facebook and other social media postings to ensure compliance with the new edicts. To have an organization dictate every word we speak would have a chilling effect on communications. No one would want to be perceived as insensitive—or violating the law—and scared to speak. Most likely, people would avoid the employees that champion that cause, as they would fear for their job. Rather than making it inclusive, employees would change their social circles and speak with only those who share the same ideology, as the potential risks would be too severe. Some people could use this type of mandate as a cudgel to beat their corporate colleagues who compete against them for promotions. A disliked employee could be targeted using the new law as an excuse to get the person reprimanded or fired.”

The effort to regulate language in America to be as “inclusive” as possible, reminds Peggy Noonan of the fiery Jacobin of the French Revolution in the 1790s—Maximillian Robespierre.  “Everything would be politicized, no part of the citizen’s life left untouched.  As man was governed by an ‘empire of images,’ in the words of the Jacobin intellectual, the new regime would provide new images to shape new thoughts.  There would be pageants, and new names for things.  They would change time itself! The first year of the new Republic was no longer 1792; it was Year One.  To detach farmers from their superstitions, their Gregorian calendar and its saints’ days, they would rename the months.  The first month would be in the fall, named for the harvest.  There would be no more weeks, just three 10-day periods each month.”

The new Jacobins of America’s 21st century are pressing forward, demanding that we reorder our language, insisting that we be inclusive in our language.  At the local level, the power of city and state government is getting on board with this.  Only the power of the state with the police power to enforce all of this nonsense will bring it about.  As Jack Kelly observes in his comments above, we are adopting the dysfunction George Orwell described in his novel 1984.  Radical progressive ideology is driving this effort to regulate language in America.  The Bible offers a better path:  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the transforming work of His Spirit.  He transforms language, motives and attitudes.  The power of the state won’t change people. The power of the Spirit will!

See Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal (27-28 July 2019).Katherine Timpf, “Colorado State: Don’t Use the Word ‘America’ Because It’s Not ‘Inclusive’” National Review (24 July 2019); Jack Kelly, “Berkeley Is Banning Gender-Specific Words — What Will Happen If Your Company Is Next?” Forbes (19 July 2019).

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