Peggy Noonan Shall Not Be Surrendering Herself To The Pronoun Guillotines Just Yet
For the last two weeks, wingnuts across the land have been shrieking in horror over a guide from the Inclusive Communications Task Force at Colorado State University that encouraged students to think more about the kind of language they use, along with a few alternatives to some terms that might make people uncomfortable. It was not an order of any kind, no one was going to be punished for not abiding by it, but still! Even discussing things like different pronouns or the fact that the term "basket case" originally referred to a WWII veteran who was a quadruple amputee could be dangerous.
So dangerous, in fact, that Peggy Noonan dedicated her column in the Wall Street Journal this week to pointing out how this guide and the theories behind it may propel this great nation into a decade of bloodshed. And guillotines. Probably.
She starts out rather cheekily, as she is wont to do.
The revolution had everything—a ruling class that was clumsy, decadent, inert; a pathetic king, a queen beyond her depth, costly wars, monstrous debt, an impervious and unreformable administrative state, a hungry populace. The task of the monarchy was to protect the poor, but the king had "abdicated this protective role." Instead of ensuring grain supplies at a reasonable price, Mr. Schama notes, the government committed itself to the new modern principle of free trade: "British textiles had been let into France, robbing Norman and Flemish spinners and weavers of work." They experienced it as "some sort of conspiracy against the People."
Oh, you think you know where she's going with this, do you? YOU DO NOT. Sure, as she points out, "one does see parallels," but those are not the parallels she is worried about. Never mind those parallels, because Peggy Noonan is on Team Javert when it come to the French Revolution anyway. The truly horrifying parallels here are the ones between "inclusive language" and Maximillian Robespierre changing the way dates and months and weeks work.
It was a revolution largely run by sociopaths. One, Robespierre, the "messianic schoolmaster," saw it as an opportunity for the moral instruction of the nation. 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 a Jacobin intellectual, the new régime 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.
Ah yes, it is hard not to see the parallels between this and, uh, being aware that everyone who lives in North and South America, and not just those who are citizens of the United States, are Americans. Surely, Robespierre could not have had nearly as many people killed if he had not changed how months work.
There is the latest speech guide from the academy, 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 by "all/folks." Don't say "male" or "female"; say "man," "woman" or "gender non-binary."
It's clear what is happening here. Sure, it starts with a list of suggestions from a university in Colorado, but you let that go and the next thing you know someone is trying to guillotine poor Peggy Noonan for not including her pronouns when introducing herself to someone.
It's wrong, when you meet a new co-worker, to ask his pronouns. (We don't say "preferred" pronouns—that "implies someone's gender is a preference"!) You don't want him wondering if you think he's transgender or nonbinary. Instead, introduce yourself in a way that summons his pronouns: "Hi, I'm Jim and my pronoun is he/him." Use "they" a lot. It's gender neutral. Suggested sentence: "I spoke to the marketing director and they said they'd get back to me."
This is grammatically incorrect but so what? Correct grammar, and the intelligibility it allows, is a small price to pay for inclusion and equality.
We are being asked to memorize all this, to change hundreds of years of grammar and usage, to accommodate the needs or demands of a group that perceives itself as beleaguered.
Ah yes, it sure is a good thing that language and grammar have not evolved over the years, and that we are all going around talking exactly like Chaucer. This is also the first time in the whole of American history wherein anyone has given any kind of instruction on how to make a proper introduction and put people at ease.
Now, those of us who do not think this is a big deal and are interested in putting people at ease in our conversations may claim that we are simply being well-mannered and thoughtful. BUT PEGGY IS ONTO US!
I see in it a spirit similar to that of the Terror. There is a tone of, "I am your moral teacher. Because you are incapable of sensitivity, I will help you, dumb farmer. I will start with the language you speak."
An odd thing is they always insist they're doing this in the name of kindness and large-spiritedness. And yet, have you ever met them? They're not individually kind or large-spirited. They're more like messianic schoolmasters.
It's true. We're terrible people. Every single one of us. We are Robespierres in disguise and the only reason we are even doing any of this now is so that we can guillotine Peggy Noonan later. Obviously! The American Left is well-known for our love of the death penalty.
Guillotines aside, perhaps Peggy Noonan might do well to consider the reasoning behind why it is considered rude to chew with one's mouth open. It's not just an arbitrary rule, meant to make things less convenient for people who find it more comfortable to do so, it is a rude thing to do because it grosses other people out and makes them uncomfortable. The entire point of etiquette, in fact, is going just a little bit out of our own way in order to make other people comfortable.
Emily Post, Messianic Schoolmaster
Alas, if Peggy Noonan can't manage that, if she is so very sure that doing that will ultimately lead to her own tragic beheading at the hands of angry trans-culottes, if she feels that encouraging others to also be rude to people is the one thing saving her from this ghastly fate, I suppose we cannot help her.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse