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Guest Commentary / August 30, 2022

Words Must Have Common Meaning

The distortion of language is but one of many tools used by progressives to divide us, mislead us, and impose a new reimagined society on us.

By Mark Fowler

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” —attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Disclaimer: To the extent that those with gender dysphoria are entitled to kindness and courtesy consistent with the Golden Rule, they should be unequivocally afforded that kindness, no more or less.

George Orwell in his novel 1984 warned about the use of language to control the public. Newspeak was the language by which “Big Brother” sought to exert control over the public, shape opinion, and suppress dissent. Then, as now, government misuse of the language is intended to obscure the truth and induce conformity. Thus, when inflation is 8%, the government calls it transitory or blames it on Putin. Never is there an admission that systemic inflation is caused by too many government dollars chasing too few goods, a concept understood by college freshmen studying economics. When recession is impending, government spokesmen attempt to alter the definition from the usual understanding of two quarters of negative economic growth to … something else. Obama referred to governmental expenditures as “investments” as though the government was seeking the same financial return as a stockholder.

Recently, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings if she could define a “woman.” She indicated she could not because she was not a biologist. From the same side of the philosophical fence come such phrases as “menstruating person,” “nursing person,” and “birth giver.” All these phrases are an attempt to ease the transition to a different understanding of what a woman is. A definition that will, when adopted, diminish the protections of Title IX legislation. And one purpose of that transition is to make comfortable those biological men who perceive that they are women and take steps to “transition” to becoming a woman through surgery, hormones, and counseling. It is transphobic, we are told, to question this concept. “Transwomen are women” is bleated repeatedly as if repetition alone would make it so. Arguing that gender is a social construct subject to the consensual whims of a malleable public rather than a biological fact, progressives declaim that if you think you are a woman at 3:15 on Thursday, then you are a woman. Until you change your mind.

The latest collision between reality and progressive pipe dreams has occurred at the Harpeth School for girls in Nashville, Tennessee. The enlightened board of trustees announced after six years of study a policy of considering for admission transgender girls (biological boys who wish to be girls). Having poked a hornet’s nest in search of utopia, the board faced vigorous opposition from alumni, students, parents, and donors.

Moistened fingers in the resulting whirlwind, stung by threats to withhold financial assistance, signaled the necessity of a course correction, and it promptly reversed course and declared that it really was not going to implement the policy; it was only being discussed because some presently enrolled students intended to use “they/them” as pronouns. But, after

letters in support of the policy began to arrive, Jess Hill, the head of the school, stated the current admission policy was based on an honor system. “If you say you are a girl, you are a girl.” Clarifying (or obscuring the matter further) was a comment from Crissy Weick, chair of the Harpeth Board, who indicated that there was a petition seeking to define “girl.” Weick demonstrated her complete absence of qualifications to sit on the board of an educational facility by declaring: “I am not sure anyone can do [that]. I am not going to step into that water on this call.” In other words, taxonomy and thousands of years of biological understanding be damned; we cannot figure this out. These people are educators but incapable of defining the sexes.

One can safely assume that any “girl” showing male genitalia in the dressing room will be as welcome as a skunk at a picnic, except for the ambiguous welcome to be extended by Hill and Weick, who will be found utterly confused by the episode. Imagine their cry: I don’t understand; the application said this was a girl! The good news is that both Hill and Weick can presumably find the correct restroom to use.

Moving up the educational ladder, apparently the leadership of the University of Pennsylvania cannot reliably identify women either. In addition to allowing Lia Thomas, a biological male, to compete in women’s swimming, it nominated Thomas for the NCAA 2022 Woman of the Year. (Thomas did not win.) Thomas is reported to still have his “male parts” adding to the discomfort of the female swimmers on the team. Query: How would the University of Pennsylvania classify Thomas in its medical school? This is an inquiry of no small importance to females.

To object or even question any of this is to invite being accused of “transphobia,” a pejorative term indicating hatred of or fear of transgendered people. A term intended to squelch dissent. What progressives want is to dismantle our culture and reimagine it to suit their utopian dreams. The past is irrelevant to them except to condemn dead white males, Western Christian tradition, and American nationalism. What they want for transgenderism is to make it “normal.” Expect to see gender dysphoria renamed in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual, which classifies psychiatric disorders.

In a similar vein, mathematical precision and accuracy are “racist” or manifestations of “white privilege.” California is taking a stab at eliminating barriers in math equity. A proposed curriculum will offer an opportunity for self-reflection for teachers as they develop an anti-racist math practice.

This will produce such questions as: “A corporation greedy for profits pays its chief executive $400,000 per year and pays the janitor only $65,000. Based on annual output of 1,000,000 widgets how long should the board of directors be imprisoned for promulgating wage disparity?” Or: “John, an engineer, has miscalculated the load bearing weight of a recently completed new bridge. When the bridge collapses can John avoid liability by claiming he believed he had the right answer?”

“Microaggression” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.” This makes it possible to offend, unknowingly and unintentionally, anyone who feels aggrieved.

The lexicon of meaningless new words includes “white privilege.” Wikipedia defines this as “both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have.” Not official, of course, but it illustrates the concept. It is possible for white people to benefit from a less than obvious passive advantage they may not know they have. Likewise, the obverse can be deduced: People of color have been disadvantaged by a passive advantage white people did not even know they had.

“White privilege” is not a term spoken in the hills of Appalachia, where the privilege is neither observed, unobserved, or even existent.

“Reparations” is another word whose meaning is being distorted. Intended to define compensation by a defeated party to the prevailing party, as best categorized by the Germans paying the Allies under the Treaty of Versatile after World War I, it has now come to mean that people who never owned slaves should compensate people who never were slaves for the damages inflicted by slavery. Contrast this with “damages,” defined as an actual loss caused by a tortfeasor (one who tortiously injures another). Tort law, the law defining liability for misconduct resulting in harm to another, does not allow for speculative or remote damages.

“Equity” has come to mean equality of outcome rather than fairness in procedure. So racial equity means there should be no measurable difference in wealth, employment, or status even though racial differences have been present in all societies for any number of reasons.

The distortion of language is but one of many tools used by progressives to divide us, mislead us, and impose a new reimagined society on us.

It is time to say it. This emperor has no clothes.

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