For over a year I’ve had something in my ‘draft articles’ file. It consisted of little more than a table like the one you see below. I’d love to enlighten you with an article that I’d slaved over for a few days trying to get to the bottom of things on this subtle and tantalising subject. Perhaps one day I will. But right now I’m basically going to do a quick tidy up of the table and pop it up here. I sent it to the fellow you see above with whom I’ve been recording weekly conversations for a while and we used it as a prompt for our discussions.
It’s fascinating to me that our culture has been hard at work over the last decade adding a particular class of expression to the popular lexicon which reflects the new terms of ideological engagement — and polarisation. I’ve called them ‘thermonuclear expressions’. They’re terms such as ‘gaslighting’, ‘virtue signalling’ and ‘microaggressions’. And I think they mark a real cultural event. They are terms of weaponisation predicated on the idea that we miss out on a lot of what matters in various acts and speech acts if we don’t attend to what might be intended beyond what is explicitly conveyed. Further, the expressions presume that even if certain meanings were not consciously intended, there might nevertheless be lots more to say — and to object to — based on how they might be received.
Many of those terms are a wonderful asset to the language. (I’d include ‘gaslighting’ and ‘mansplaining’.) But they’re explosively tendentious. They are typically framing expressions and they frame the other as the bad guy. So they’re used as weapons. But at the same time they turn on subtle cues. Further those cues can be read differently and even if they’re not read differently one can still disagree on whether they are socially acceptable or not. These terms connote the kinds of things you think when an argument goes ‘meta’. Then you feel gaslit. But so, unless they’re in simple bad faith, does the other side.
Now let these terms out into the wild where kids are having their first experiences with arguments that go ‘meta’ with their friends and family, or onto Twitter or a mainstream media outlet which is hungry for clicks and you have a heady cocktail. So I hope if you listen to it you enjoy our discussion, I welcome your comments below and here is the mp3 file if you’re like me and don’t like watching conversations that you could listen to.
Below the fold is the table of terms. (Apologies for the table’s formatting which is the best I can do in WordPress). I welcome contributions to the table or commentary on it or anything I’ve written in comments below:
|New term||Old terms||My comment on new term|
|New terms and practices from wokestan|
|Gaslighting||Great term. Unalloyed plus for our language. But not for its usage. It’s a totalising and framing term — the playing of a trump card and a thermonuclear one at that. Effectively it claims that the other person is, either deliberately or through lack of self-awareness occupying a different reality to the speaker and that it’s the speaker who represents actual reality.|
|Microaggression||Being patronising, probably unintendedly insulting||I hate the term and think it’s mostly desctructive, but I can see how it could capture the infuriated fatigue of people who are endlessly patronised. It also picks up the way in which being patronising can be used deliberately or pretty close to deliberately as a power move. Even there however I’d rather any claim that this was being done be unpacked. If it’s just labelled as a ‘micro-aggression’ the term will have a double meaning which won’t get through to its targets.|
|Triggered||Good (identifies something) and bad (infantilising)|
|Cultural appropriation||Good (points something out) and bad (tries to ban it which I expect is usually on balance bad.)|
|Misogynist||Sexist||These two terms used to refer to profoundly — if subtly — different things. Alas the older meaning of misogyny which is hating women is now dormant. Alan Jones is a misogynist in this sense. This is to be opposed to the cluster of sins comprising sexism that second wave feminism launched its ‘consciousness raising’ and then public campaigns against.|
|Safe space||Handle with kid gloves||Infantilising|
|Mansplain||Being patronising||Great term.*|
|Woke||Politically correct||Freddie deBoer on the subject.
‘The basic stance of the social justice set, for a long time now, has been that they are 100% exempt from ordinary politics. BlackLivesMatter proponents have spent a year and a half acting as though their demand for justice is so transcendently, obviously correct that they don’t have to care about politics. When someone like David Shor gently says that they in fact do have to care about politics, and points out that they’ve accomplished nothing, they attack him rather than do the work of making their positions popular. Well, sooner or later, guys, you have to actually give a shit about what people who aren’t a part of your movement think. Sorry. That’s life. The universe is indifferent to your demand for justice, and will remain so until you bother to try to change minds. Nobody gives you what you want. That’s not how it works. Do politics. Think and speak strategically. Be disciplined. Work harder. And for fuck’s sake, give me a simple term to use to address you. Please? Because right now it sure looks like you don’t want to be named because you don’t want to be criticized.
Edit: I might not have underlined this point enough – I sincerely am asking for a better term and would happily use one if offered. If woke, political correctness, identity politics, etc, are inflammatory terms, I’d be happy to substitute something that’s not. But surely something is happening in our politics, and we have to be able to talk about it. So I’m asking for a name.’
|Acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, their elders past, present and emerging||Nice idea, but, in becoming de rigueur it somehow slips the moorings of meaning and becomes a new piety. Here’s Freddie deBoer again.
‘21st century racial politics always takes place in the shadow of our inability to do anything about our racial problems. We are forever creating weird rituals to center and honor and elevate Black people, in lieu of feeding poor Black children or freeing Black prisoners. The deal we’ve made, essentially, is to say “Sorry about all the oppression, Black people. Can’t do anything about it! But tell you what, white liberals will be very weird around you for the rest of your lives, out of a very sincere desire not to offend or oppress you. We can’t do anything about Black poverty or violence against Black people, but we’ll act like racial injustice is, like, double plus bad in polite society. Also Wells Fargo will send out a very respectful Kwanzaa email every holiday season. So that’s nice.”
Personally, I would like better options.’
|New terms from the anti-woke resistance|
|Virtue signalling||Moral vanity (Edmund Burke)||Good term identifying a powerful force. The downside is that signalling is a major vector through which social morality works.|