Radioactive Words

There are always radioactive words in any society.  Some are mostly forbidden, some are completely forbidden, some are conditionally forbidden, and some are secretly encouraged, so that people can show what brave rebels they are. At the moment the n-word is both conditionally forbidden, in that black people can say it, but otherwise absolutely forbidden, in that no others can say it under any circumstances.  There is protest over this, that the rules have gone entirely outside any sense of reason, in that it cannot be quoted in a context and cannot be uttered even to condemn it.  This is why I use the word radioactive, rather than sticking with the more usual term forbidden. One cannot even approach the word or handle it in any way unless one has the proper protections. If this seems unreasonable, remember that it was ever thus.  Of course it’s unreasonable.  So what? Live with the unreasonableness, because that is what language does, everywhere, at all times.

Those whose objections are unreasonable, who declare we cannot even quote from Huckleberry Finn, however important the book was in improving the way the culture thought about black people, might have bad reasons for the insistence.  It may indicate an imbalance in them that suggests they will always be miserable unless they have a change of attitude. Yet this is not new. They are responding emotively that if we do not follow the rule, it is evidence that we just don’t understand how serious this is.  If we protest that we indeed do, they will shake their heads.  If you really understood, you would not do this. They are always among us, and keeping some words radioactive might be good for us, however ridiculous each individual case might be.

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Pecans and Aunts

Words are pronounced differently throughout the country – just about anything with an “a” in it, for example – but very few words are sometimes pronounced differently by the same person.  Two of the most prominent, the two above, work from the same set of sounds.  People generally say ant or aunt the same way in every context, but sometimes, individual aunts will be referred to by the other pronunciation because well, that’s their name. This happens more often when two sides of a family have a different preference.  The children grow up with a preferred pronunciation for the generic, but some of both pronunciations for individuals. There is also the even more regional Aint or even Ayunt in the south, such as Andy of Mayberry’s Aint Bee. Both sides of my family used the traditional Boston-area aunt-with-a-“u” version, but my mother’s second husband came from North Haven and used Ant. I found it jarring when he would refer to my mother’s aunt as Ant Sal, because…because that wasn’t her name. Of course Aunt Sal wasn’t her name either.  Her name was Selma, and Aunt was a title. And yet, when you are an aunt or an uncle it is your name to some people, and that might even start extending to friends and neighbors as well.

Pecan is even more complicated, because not only the vowel sound can vary, but also which syllable is accented.  Most people have a single pronunciation for every use of the word, puh-CAHN, or pee-CAHN, or PEE-can, or pee-CAN. Others vary it depending on whether they are talking about the pie, the tree, or the plural of them in the bag at the store. Even people who use one of the “can” variants in every other setting might shop for pecahns at the store, and so buy pecahns to make a pecan pie. The pie is particularly tricky, because for some it is one of those phrases in which none of the syllables is accented: Pee Can Pie or Pee Cahn Pie. Even those who accent one syllable or another in the phrase tend to do so in an underplayed manner. Others will change their pronunciation if there is a modifier in the front, especially “Georgia.” Because that’s their name, don’t you know, regardless of what the nut is called in general.

The other most common word with variable pronunciation in the same mouth is “route.” One grows up with a preferred pronunciation, but might visit a place for vacation a few times as a child and adopt the other for a specific road.  Rout 17 is the best root to go.

Dead White Males

It’s the “dead” part that is the most problem. The goal is not to increase the number of voices the student hears, but to reduce them, so that only the present exists. The illusion of multiculturalism is not hard to overcome, as what they mostly mean is different foods, music, ways of dress. Fun stuff. Not too intellectually demanding. One can indeed learn something about other cultures by reading Zora Neal Hurston and Ida B Wells, and should. But they aren’t very dead, not even a hundred years, and the cultures the write about still not so very far from ours. And even they, if I can tell aright from this distance, are not read for what is different about their lives but for what the student can pretend is “just the same,” as illustrations that prejudice America now is really not that far from what they wrote about.  Those two women would say otherwise, I have no doubt. They sang more than one note.

Female writers are few as one goes back in history, as are writers of color. Yet this is a feature, not a bug, as it becomes difficult to find anyone from the past who might whisper to the student that people thought otherwise than they do today. Let us talk about the prejudices they faced, children – just like today! Pay no attention to how their values and motivations were not quite the same as ours, because then we might learn something from them. We therefore have only moderns to draw from, people who drive cars, watch TV, go to restaurants, and get everything from markets. The amount of diversity is going to of necessity be quite limited.

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You Knew This

I like Bing because of the photos, and I think they are marginally better on privacy than Google. I use DuckDuckGo most of the time.  Yet i have been annoyed at the bias of the Bing newsfeed, those clickable stories along the bottom of the page.  At the moment it is a refutation of the video claiming that Biden misidentified the state he was talking to.  I’m on conservative media pretty regularly, and I hadn’t seen that one.  I’ve seen links to lots of other videos with Biden gaffes but not that.  You see the effect?  By telling you the one that is discredited, without reference to how commonly viewed it is, it casts doubts on all those other, accurate Biden videos. 

Next is that Lady Gaga “hits back” at Trump, with headlines that the Trump campaign has “chosen a celebrity target,” as if the poor girl was hunted down and selected out of nowhere to be criticised by the Trump campaign.  She chose herself.  Maybe it’s terrible optics for Trump to even acknowledge it, but now a whole slew of folks claim Trump is drowning who have thrown themselves into the deep end quite on their own.

And the GOP “can’t stop count” in Nevada county, as if the Republicans didn’t want votes from that county from being counted, rather than an objection to the way this is proceeding.

Multiply this by a thousand days and ten thousand stories, creating an impression based on selective reporting.  I think I read something somewhere recently about the indoctrinated believing they have come up with their opinions entirely on their own.  That is not only ironic, it is part of getting them to believe their misapprehensions forever. They consider arguments carefully.  They weigh pros and cons.  They check on alternate opinions (or more usually, what their usual sources tell them are the opinions of those stupid people over there). And then, with furrowed brow and a quiet nod of the head, they conclude that their tribe is the most intelligent, the arguments of the people who control their social destiny are superior, and none of their authorities need Air Wick.

De Tocqueville on Cancel Culture

 Rather prophetic.

Princes had, so to speak, materialized violence; the democratic republics of today have made violence as entirely intellectual as the human will that it wants to constrain. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism, to reach the soul, crudely struck the body; and the soul, escaping from these blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics, tyranny does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul. The master no longer says: You will think like me or die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains with you; but from this day on you are a stranger among us. You will keep your privileges as a citizen, but they will become useless to you. If you aspire to be the choice of your fellow citizens, they will not choose you, and if you ask only for their esteem, they will still pretend to refuse it to you. You will remain among men, but you will lose your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellows, they will flee from you like an impure being. And those who believe in your innocence, even they will [419] abandon you, for people would flee from them in turn. Go in peace; I spare your life, but I leave you a life worse than death. (Democracy In America Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 7, “Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects,)