Pronouns, Ordinary People, and the War over Reality

Do not dismiss the pronominal wars as nonsense or assume that its warriors are merely daft.

by Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island
October 13, 2016 (H/T

Some excerpts:

Sex: The First Thing We Notice and the Last Thing We Forget

Now, sex is the first thing we notice about someone, and the last thing we forget. It’s easy to see why this should be so. It cannot possibly be to any living thing’s advantage to be confused about male and female. As it is, sex is far more strongly marked upon the human body than it is upon the bodies of dogs or cats or horses or many of the species of birds. A man’s face is not like a woman’s face. A woman’s voice is not like a man’s voice, even when the woman is Greer Garson and the man is Frankie Valli. A man’s shoulders do not look like a woman’s shoulders, and a woman’s hips do not look like a man’s hips. Men and women differ down to their very hair, as anyone can perceive who looks at a woman’s smooth chin or a man’s bald pate.

Ordinary and healthy people love that it is so, and on those exceedingly rare occasions when you cannot determine someone’s sex from a glance or from one moment on the telephone—and some people will go through their entire lives without a single such experience—we feel that it is strange and disconcerting, just as we would feel if we were in the presence of someone who was born without arms. We are not talking about a mere statistical norm here, but about what is paradigmatically human.

To pretend, therefore, that we do not know what we immediately and urgently perceive is to do violence at once to human nature, language, the possibility of a shared life, and the intellect’s capacity to apprehend reality.

Microaggressions Warrant Microattention

And here I return to what the second madman is doing. Or madwoman [read more at the link]: it is more commonly she who is demanding that people undergo pronominal lobotomies. She says that she wants all people to feel “safe” and comfortable, regardless of their sexual identity. That is not true. What she wants is that ordinary people should feel uncomfortable. She wants to rob them of their ordinary perceptions.

… Here is the connection between the multiplication of pronouns and the efforts to suppress truths about sex. The inventors of such ugly and meaningless collocations as “xe” and “zir” do not want to enrich the language, and they do not want us to probe more deeply and sensitively into the realities of male and female. They want to impoverish the language and to prevent us from acknowledging things about men and women that even little children perceive.

… And that prompts the question: why should anybody want to do this to other people? Cui bono?

What Ordinary People Get Right

… But the third answer, I think, brings us nearest to the heart of the issue. The sexual revolution always has been a war waged against the ordinary family, against the ordinary ways of men and women and children. The moral law as regards sex is meant to protect that family from threats without and within: from the pseudo-marriage that is fornication, from the betrayal of marriage that is adultery, from the rickets and scurvy of impure habits, and from the mockery of the marital act that is sodomy. If a man’s home was his castle, then the walls round that castle were his people’s understanding of the moral law and the customs that gave the law vigor and force. Who then would benefit by riddling the walls with holes? All people who could not, because of their own failings and vices, enjoy the good of family life; all people who saw the family as the great opponent in the way of their statist ambitions; all rebels against Nature and Nature’s God, who would be happier to see a man leave his wife and children to take up with another man than to see a young woman turn away from the hothouse of a lesbian relationship to become a wife and mother after the ordinary way of nature.

Ordinary people get many things wrong, but they are not motivated by hatred of reality. They are too ordinary for that: too happily bound to the order of things.

… I am here to tell all such admirably ordinary people: broaden your imaginations. Do not dismiss the pronominal wars as nonsense. Do not assume that the warriors are merely daft. Do not mistake the pale horse and its rider for snowflakes or mittens or bunnies or anything else that is soft and inoffensive and trivial. The pale horse and its rider aim to destroy.

Get AQ Email Updates

Leave a Reply