Friday, December 12, 2014

Splain This!

Splain This!

I write to admit a defeat. Events have forced me to accept the validity of a word that I resisted; but the terms of my surrender include hard conditions.

          The word in question is “mansplain”. That ugly ungrammatical neologism has become popular amongst some of the young people nowadays; it means something like ‘clueless male self-justification’. That definition is approximate, for the word’s exact meaning is a cult mystery guarded by self-proclaimed Social Justice Warriors. If you have to ask what ‘mansplain’ means, then you are unhip, and therefore a bad person.

          When I first saw that word, I right away pegged it as a raucous, illiterate, trendy, barbaric shibboleth. My howls of prescriptivist outrage were met by smug scorn from the faithful. So matters stood, until the monster escaped from its cage.
          For several days ago, published an article containing the word “whitesplain”. The writer used that word to denounce Rudy Giuliani’s incoherent and self-serving defense of Eric Garner’s homicide by police.
          When I read the word “whitesplain”, I heaved a huge sigh. Alas, the illiterate “splain” neologism has infected the general population, and is now endemic! “Splain” is now a suffix!

          Oh well, why not. I give up! Language is free to evolve by any means available, including stealing raucous illiterate shibboleths from self-righteous sophomores. But I remain prescriptivist enough to demand that “splain” have a specific definition.

          Therefore I propose the following definitions. Define “splain” to mean “to state a political argument that is smug, condescending, oblivious, illogical, self-serving and self-protective”. Then, for any identity faction [X], define “[X]splain” to mean “To splain while [X].” So to mansplain is to splain while male, and to whitesplain is to splain while white. 
          Now we can coin new words like “straightsplain”, “cis-splain”, “boss-splain” and “richsplain”. I’m sure that the SJWs will like those words. But they might not like some other coinable words.
          The trouble is, everybody splains. Smug self-serving hypocrisy is a human universal, and rightly so, because from time to time it’s a survival necessity. Anyone who denies being a splainer is the lamest splainer of them all. For details, consult psychology, history and literature.
          To self-serve and self-protect; it’s not just a good idea, it’s the Law! Therefore splaining is a human right; an ignoble right, obnoxious to use, but tyrannical to forbid.

          Splaining is universal; so if mansplain and whitesplain are words, then so are poorsplain, workersplain, trans-splain, gaysplain, lesbiansplain, blacksplain and womansplain. I say this not as a prescriptivist recommendation (that they should be words) but as a descriptivist prediction; they will be words. The meme has escaped the laboratory, and will mutate into all available niches.
          Racists will love “blacksplain”, for it means “to splain while black”; and sexists will adore “womansplain”, for it means “to splain while female”. Are these terms not manifestly racist and sexist? And therefore aren’t whitesplain and mansplain?
          After initial reluctance, I have come to like the word “splain”; it is useful and witty. But I still firmly believe that, for any value of X, the term “X-splain” is always collectivist, bigoted, illiberal and essentialist. The term has reactionary politics built in.


PA replied:
To which the SJW response is: The speaker  can only be sufficiently smug, hypocritical, and (of course) oblivious to X-splain if there is a structural advantage given to group X, without the conscious effort of the kindly condescending X-splainer.
The requisite female-privileged society does not exist, yet - Phillip Wylie and W. S. Gilbert to the contrary. When it is possible to build it, as David Brin foresees, society at large be effectively egalitarian.

TP chimed in:
“Lucy, you’ve got some splainin to do.” -- Ricky

DSL commented:
Focusing on the missing element, the privileged position of the splainer vis a vis the splainee, I am brought, again, to realize the importance of intersectionality, in all SJW analyses; for, consider the ur-splainer: Ricky Ricardo. While clearly in a privileged position vis a vis Lucy in regard to the dimension of gender, their respective positions of privilege and unprivilege are reversed in regard to the dimension of race. Yet Lucy never gets an opportunity to splain to Ricky. Clearly, this illustrates the hierarchy of dimensions of oppression: gender trumps race.

All right, then:
Splain: verb: To state a political argument that is smug, condescending, oblivious, illogical, self-serving and self-protective, to a person of lesser privilege than oneself.
          But due to intersectionality, condescension is relative. Two people can condescend to each other, based on two different hierarchies. They can then both feel like splainees; for ritual impurity is always the other person’s fault. Yet they can also both feel like splainers; for smug oblivious hypocrisy is a psychic state open to all.
          With the right bad attitude, a person can splain, without possessing real merit, or even real privilege. The sneer suffices. Therefore this definition of splain reduces, in practice, to the previous.
          X-splain still means to splain while X; so the term is still collectivist, bigoted, illiberal, essentialist and regressive. This is despite it being hypocritically and self-servingly called progressive.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On Politesse

       On Politesse

          The rules for politesse are, I think, as follows:
A community gets to choose its own name. Use of that name is friendly; use of names invented by others is at best technically accurate (and used by the politely distant), and may be a slur (and used by the hostile). The division between slur, polite and friendly is arbitrary, shifting and illogical; yet such a division is socially necessary; for there will always be friends, enemies and distant bystanders; and they need to talk.
In politesse, single syllables can cross the line. (Trans vs tranny. Yiddish vs yid.) The absurdity of politesse is a feature, not a bug; language policing is a sign and an exercise of power. This power is directed both inwardly (to dominate weaker members within the community) and outwardly (to assert the community’s autonomy to the outsiders).
Politesse is arbitrary and emotional, so it is negotiated by rhetoric, not reason. This is as it should be; reason isn’t needed, and it would interfere. The lines to not cross needn’t be rational, they need be only lines. If the lines were rational then they’d be stable, but each rising generation has to make rudeness polite in its own way.
Words can fall in and out of favor. A word’s respectability can be purchased. A word can be rehabilitated by political action. Then there’s ironic hipsterdom, where a slur’s hostility is discharged by dark humor; but this love/hate verbal tactic is best used by the obnoxious on their equally obnoxious best friends. It’s a jerk thing, non-jerks wouldn’t understand.*
Politesse is as post-modern as anything can be and still exist. It’s relative, contextual, politicized, irrational, transient, and so on. In fact I dare say that pomo was an attempt to rationally analyze present-day academic politesse; a.k.a. PC; an attempt that failed because politesse has no need for reason.
Or, let’s say, politesse has no need for contentual reason; for its contents are selected for absurdity; but it does have contextual reason. Politesse makes no sense for reasons that make a great deal of sense, just not in the terms it presents itself in.
For instance there is the matter of poesy. Rhetoric has to sound good. It needs scansion, concision, clarity and musicality. A good name should trip off the tongue and stick in the mind. Anything less is a handicap to the speaker and an insult to the hearer. For this reason I take strong exception to acronym-based names, like LGBTQQI. To such bureaucratic Scrabble-stews I retort ROTFLOL. (I propose, for an alternative, ‘gender minorities’.)
As an instance of the mutability of a name’s status: “Person of Hebrew faith” used to be a rich-German-immigrant self-name, and “Jew” was a slur. If I were in a lumber yard, and a big guy approached, bearing a broken board in one hand, and he called me a “Jew”, then yes I might get nervous. If he called me a “Kike”, then I would probably run away; but if during my cowardly retreat he called me a “person of Hebrew Faith”, or worse yet “of Mosaic Extraction”, why then I would be sorely tempted to stop, pick up a broken board, turn around and attack. (Mosaic Extraction?! What, am I a tile?) I probably wouldn’t do it, nor should, but I’d be tempted to.

* Now for a word in favor of Jerk Liberation. The Jerks are the only group of people universally despised; yet it is a group that each of us is a member of at one time or another. Since we are all, from time to time, assholes, I say that we should all respect the right of Asshole-Americans to be insufferably rude. After all, it’s a matter of identity.