30.7.15

KEEP CALLING THEM OUT.

A few days ago, Campus Reform made public a particularly silly pronouncement out of the University of New Hampshire that inter alia deemed unreflective use of the word "American" as "problematic."  The pronouncement invoked the Whorf Hypothesis, itself contested among linguists, and perhaps I might return -- once sunset comes earlier and the days turn cooler -- to its use in these Sensitivity Manifestoes, as the same hypothesis that justifies problematizing "American" can justify professors correcting grammatical errors in poorly written papers.  Take that, weenies.

What's funny (or perhaps predictable, because we're dealing with weenies) is how quickly the weenies backed down.

Earlier today, Janell Ross, writing for a Washington Post opinion site, attempted to defend business as usual by sliming Campus reform.
CampusReform.org is no ordinary college publication. It's wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute's founder and president, told me.
And perhaps Campus Reform doesn't matter because they only preach to the converted.
The team at CampusReform.org writes for an audience already converted to its cause or willing to be. Both Bonham and Blackwell mentioned that CampusReform.org's stories get picked up by the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Sometimes CNN and ABC pick them up, too. Potential media appearances are one of the benefits that CampusReform.org can offer young journalists, both said.
Yes, and sunlight is the best disinfectant. Mx Ross herself sees that the guidelines are silly.
Of course, there are some suggestions in the Bias-Free Language Guide that will set more than a few eyes rolling — no matter your political affiliation.

For example, it turns to an oft-repeated ivory tower favorite that race is nothing more than a social construct. That's technically true. But some kind of language about race remains essential to understand the real world around us, much less the issues in the headlines. Another entry suggests that the term "undocumented immigrant" is preferable to the phrase "illegal alien" and explains why.
It may be preferable to the weenies, but illegal alien is resonating with a lot of people.

And the insurgent media have effects.  The president of Zoo Hampshire first distanced himself. "The president of the University of New Hampshire said Wednesday he is troubled and offended by many parts of a 'bias-free language guide' posted on the school’s website, particularly a suggestion that using the word “American” is problematic because it fails to recognize South America."  But his mugging by reality is incomplete.
“The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included.”
No, if the insurgent media hadn't pointed it out, it would likely become policy.  If you want more evidence that reduced state funding is a consequence of higher education breaking its social contract with mainstream America, read on. "State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, said he was outraged by the guide and would remember it when lawmakers next consider how much money to provide to the university."

The guide has gone down the memory hole.  Fortunately, we are not (yet) living in Stalin's Russia, and members of Zoo Hampshire's presidential commissions on the usual identity politics shibboleths have not become nameless numbers on a list that will later be misplaced.  But it's all too much, even for the sympathetic Alyssa Rosenberg, also of the Washington Post.
But as a writer and a progressive, I want to launch another objection. Guides like these often promote an absolutely terrible approach to language and writing, offering up alternatives that are simultaneously impoverished and clunky. College is absolutely a time when students will and should encounter new people, new experiences and new ways of looking at the world. But we should give them worthy language to express their newfound compassion and cosmopolitanism, rather than saddling them with awkward constructions that won’t help advance their ideas.
Not that it helps, "gay" is on its way out, in part because of the way the cartoon characters of South Park used it, and it's easy enough to put the same pejorative intonation into "person of size" that used to apply to "fatty."  And so it goes.  And Margaret Soltan of University Diaries, no reactionary, summarized the project as "[I]t takes the Orwellian business of replacing short clear simple descriptive words with long pretentious empty euphemisms to new heights."

And thus, Campus Reform performs a corporal act of mercy by calling this silliness out.

No comments: