The battle over pronouns on social media and in public spaces, as trivial as it seems, is actually of great importance. The abandonment of reality that queer ideology demands may be marketed as nothing more than sensitivity toward the feelings of others, but in fact it is imposing a view of the relationship between language and reality that makes the latter nothing more than a function of the former.
In times past, progressive politicians described those they despised as clinging to “God and guns.” I suspect that we are not too far from a time when they will insult those they deplore for clinging to God and grammar. That might sound an odd claim, but the days are coming rapidly to an end when it was morally acceptable to think that language, among its many functions, had a positive relation to reality. Today, dictionaries and grammars look set to become relics of a bygone age of evil oppression.
Take, for example, the trend of specifying preferred pronouns on everything from Twitter to business cards—a fascinating sign of our times. Even some Christians are participating. Whether people do it out of genuine confusion, positive commitment to queer theory, or in pre-emptive anticipation of it becoming the equivalent of Havel’s greengrocer shop sign in our brave new world, it is an action that most would have regarded as absurd even five years ago. Most (probably) still regard it as absurd today. But that old consensus is crumbling, just like every other once-unquestionable Western cultural belief. Queerness is moving rapidly from arcane, implausible theory to practical, everyday reality.
While many on the right default to accusations of cultural Marxism when confronted with such iconoclasm, I would argue that this latest trend is reminiscent of nothing so much as Friedrich Nietzsche’s haunting statement in Twilight of the Idols: “I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar.” This sounds odd but in the context of his argument, it makes sense. What Nietzsche is saying here is that language tricks us into thinking that it expresses reality but it does not do so; rather, it constructs concepts that it presents as real and seductively traps us into thinking of the world in particular ways.
If ever there was a philosophical position that placed the individual and his (or her or zir) will at the center of the universe, then this is it. Such radical nominalism may be nonsense but, like sex, it sells, appealing as it does to our intuitive sense of freedom and desire for autonomy. And rather like current attitudes toward sex, it makes the world’s purpose making us feel good about ourselves.