liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
It's always hard to come back to posting after a hiatus. I have too many and too few things to say that aren't about Worldcon or house buying, and I have all these new readers who subscribed post-Worldcon and I feel too self-conscious that my first past should be "good" to even get started. So I am taking my cue from [ profile] siderea and posting a links round-up and not worrying so much about being original that I fail to post at all.

Everybody's been linking to [ profile] shweta_narayan's really impressive piece about cognitive linguistics and social justice. It's brilliant, both in terms of how it explains an academic concept in an accessible way, and because of making a novel and cogent connection between different ideas, and it also feels pertinent to stuff I've been trying to think about recently about politically correct language.

I've been encountering a surprising amount of pushback lately, some personal and some just in public discussions I've happened to read, against the very idea of being careful with language so as not to hurt members of discriminated minorities. I can see the point of disagreeing with particular instances of terms considered politically correct by some, especially as some of them are controversial even among politically aware and clued-in activists. I have sympathy for the argument that insisting on politically correct terminology shouldn't be a priority in social justice activism; it's possible to have a reasoned disagreement about how important it is. But I am really struggling with understanding how anyone can be against the basic idea of preferring non-offensive terms. (I wrote this about political correctness about six years ago and I still agree with most of what I said there.)

Like, the position that people should be able to choose their own identity terms rather than having to put up with ones that have been imposed on them by oppressors or have acquired insulting connotations seems almost unassailable. Likewise the view that if I'm insulting someone I should take care to avoid collateral damage to people who have nothing to do with the problem I'm complaining about. I suspect part of the problem is that people aren't emotionally distinguishing between someone making a conscious choice to use language in a way that conveys meaning without insulting a minority group, and people criticizing them for not making the same choices. It's a bit like people who think vegetarians or people who don't watch TV or teetotallers are inherently getting at them for eating meat or watching broadcast TV or drinking alcohol. I'm sure there are some shouty judgemental vegetarians, TV-avoiders and teetotallers out there, but the fact of abstaining is not itself judgemental.

Certainly I can see the analogy to PC and langauge issues. There are a lot of people who are really really scared that they are going to get shouted at or be socially ostracized if they inadvertently use the wrong term, and a lot of the pushback is coming from that. Partly because there's just no way, I think, to be polite enough in criticizing language to sound non-judgemental. Everybody always says that you should criticize the actions, not the person, but I've frankly very rarely seen somebody using carefully neutral, depersonalized language about how a particular term could be considered offensive and get a positive response any different from "how dare you accuse me of racism?!"

One link that's also been passed round a lot which somewhat helps to clarify where the vehemently anti-PC crowd are coming from is this critique of online social justice stuff. I disagree in many respects with deBoer's article, in particular that he seems to think that the main point of what he calls "liberalism" and I would call social justice is to make life better for young white people from relatively Conservative backgrounds. Whereas to me that's a nice bonus, the actual point of social justice is to achieve equality for people who have previously been discriminated against and treated very badly by those in power. (Also I really hate the use of violent metaphors like lynch-mob and minefield to describe criticism of the kinds of bigotry which support actual violence against victims.) But his writing gives me some insight into why there is so much backlash about the idea of making language and media less racist and prejudiced.

[ profile] shweta_narayan's piece, on the other hand, makes it clearer to me why caring about language is important, in spite of the objections articulated by people like deBoer. I don't know at the details but apparently at Worldcon there was an incident where an audience member complained about how it's censorship that you're not allowed to use the racial slur euphemized as the N-word (but which this person actually said out loud), in the presence of a panellist to whom that slur might be directly applied. And it feels like casting this as a free speech versus censorship issue, as so often happens in online debates, is missing the point. It's not censorship, it's attempting to broaden category structures so that everybody gets included in "people".

Somebody on the panel about Kameron Hurley's double-Hugo winning We have always fought essay mentioned that satire by Hofstadter on Purity of language, where he basically says that it would be horrifying to mark words by the race of the person mentioned and therefore we shouldn't mark words by gender either, an analogy I've always found dubious, though ok, it's probably reasonably progressive for thirty years ago. But even without the very dodgy analogy between race and gender, Hofstadter's argument seems unconvincing to me as a reason for saying "chairperson" instead of "chairman". Whereas Narayan's piece makes a much stronger case, that we need to make an active effort to avoid assuming that men are the most representative of categories like respected jobs.

The other thing I liked about the category structure piece is that it provides a rebuttal to this rather tortured argument about the weak man fallacy, which seems to be a justification for the whole annoying and much-mocked "not all men" thing. I mean, there are obvious things wrong with it like a completely horrible analogy about pogroms against Jews, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why I disagree with Alexander here. But I think I'm starting to be able to articulate the difference between comments like "men oppress women" and comments like "black people commit violent crimes"; the relationships of who's considered prototypical and who is affected by such generalizations are simply not symmetrical. Sure, there's an asymmetry in who has "privilege" but I basically have major issues with the privilege framing, and Narayan's cognitive linguistics explanation works better for me.

Also applicable, I think, is this piece by [ profile] poliehierax about the need to be able to make blanket statements about oppressing groups, rather than deal with the fact that an individual person you care about has contributed to hurting you. (Thanks for pointing to that, [personal profile] kaberett, and for finding it for me when I couldn't think of search terms.)
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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