Semantics

Taking Out the Rubbish

March 04, 2017

Now one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one professor doesn’t destroy a civilization. But Professor Inoue is not alone in his disapproval of standard grammar, very far from it: Pedagogically, it has become almost an orthodoxy. In his book The Language Instinct, Professor Steven Pinker argues that, because all forms of human language have their rules, a standard language is only a language with an army and a navy, as it were.

Whatever else may be said of this view, it is certainly socially conservative in its effects, for to discourage impoverished children from learning a standard language is to ensure (unless they become sportsmen or the like) that they remain impoverished for the rest of their lives, not only economically but most likely in intellect, too. To be intelligent but not to have the tools to be able to use one’s intelligence is a terrible fate, and dangerous too.

Absurdity in the modern world, then, is not just funny (though it is funny); it has harmful effects. And politically correct thinking seems to have insinuated itself into the nooks and crannies of our culture. People who have utterly conventional thoughts by the standards of political correctness think they are daring, and that subversion consists of saying what everyone else (everyone in the tout-Paris sense of the word) says. On a recent visit to my nearest municipal art gallery, I found an exhibition of the work of a woman that explored—dreadful word when applied to art—ethnicity and sexism. Oh, God! I thought, and it turned out to be the usual publicly funded rubbish of the kind that could find no private buyer.

As ever with such exhibitions, the book of comments afterward was more interesting than the exhibition itself; and opening it, my eyes fell straight on the following words:

Excellent subversions of “girlie’ patriarchalist/consume capitalist iconography. Liked the more straightforward agit-prop collages too. From modernism to postmodernism in one room. Excellent.

Do people who use the word agitprop as a term of praise never tire of agitation and propaganda? We usually think of the latter as an imposition on or as a violation of minds, but for some it is restful as it obviates the need for subtler thought. It is for them what foolish ideas are to the journalist: a kind of mental rest-home.

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