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That Way Madness Lies: Transgenderism and Linguistics

That Way Madness Lies: Transgenderism and Linguistics

“The ordinary acceptation of words in their relation to things was changed as men thought fit,” Thucydides records in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Those lines, written some 2,400 years ago, carry remarkable relevance for today as we witness contemporary society commit the same error of the Corcyreans that Thucydides commented on.

And it’s a deadly error, an error with the potential to precipitate cultural suicide. When a culture no longer distinguishes between such basic realities as male and female, when the word woman can refer to a man who has undergone surgical disfigurement and wears dresses, that culture is leaning toward the precipice. Transgenderism’s ultimate roots are not in political activism but in an attack on language (and therefore rationality) itself.

That is why we cannot simply legislate our way out of this madness. A madman does not need the help of a policeman or senator as much as he needs the help of a psychiatrist or a poet—or perhaps an exorcist. Our modern disorientation runs much deeper than a strange new fad of claiming to be the opposite sex, although that is maybe its most prominent symptom at present. It’s a philosophical problem manifesting in a linguistic revolution.

This linguistic revolution began as far back as the 13th century when William of Occam’s nominalism triumphed over Thomas Aquinas’s realism. To give a somewhat simplified definition, nominalism is a belief that concepts have no real existence; they are just names or terms that we make up, such as humanity or justice or green. Words (at least conceptual ones) don’t actually relate to reality.

The revolution accelerated in the 20th century with the work of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and his followers, called structuralists. Saussure taught that the link between a word and a concept was arbitrary, random, and therefore changeable.

In the 1970s, Saussure’s followers took things a step further. For them, the thing we call “reality” is itself shaped by this arbitrary system of language. These structuralists argued that language creates reality; language does not just describe an established objective reality. And if language is made up of arbitrary signs that we decide on, and reality is shaped by language (broadly speaking), then through our words we can shape reality.

If the previous paragraphs seem a bit incoherent, that’s because these theories of language are, at their core, illogical and chaotic. Not to mention dangerous. By cutting language off from reality, the structuralists opened the door to the manipulation of language by political activists and others, who can use it to—not change reality itself, as they claim—but to change people’s perception of reality.

Herein lies the great danger to culture and society in general. When we abandoned the truth that words have real, fixed meanings and connection to realities external to our minds, we opened the door to confusion, chaos, and even evil. We undercut the foundations of society. Due to our attack on language and objective meaning, we increasingly lack a common currency of understanding in our interaction with the world and one another.

If words have no fixed meaning, then “man” or “woman” can mean whatever we want them to mean. Why can’t that broad-shouldered, square-jawed, deep-throated runner be called “woman”? Who shall contradict it? We can redefine any term to fit the latest desire, fashion, or political agenda.

What was once “gender identity disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is now designated as the non-pathological “gender dysphoria.” Medicine has surrendered to the ideological hysteria of the moment.

“These ‘experts,’” Michael Knowles writes in Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds, “lend credibility to the politically correct regime, not by furnishing it with facts, but by redefining scientific terms to better accord with the dictates of progress.” But it goes beyond just redefining words to serve the ruling orthodoxy. If we believe that language and perception actually construct reality, as the structuralists teach, then it becomes possible to redefine our very selves. And that way madness lies.

Unmoored from objective meanings, words drift in a sea of ambiguity that threatens to cut us off from the real. Terms and ideas become slippery, poisonous. And we deliver ourselves to the tyranny of subjectivism—the sway of emotion, of propaganda, of popular opinion, of malevolence.

With the transgenderism craze, we are seeing—in the concrete, in our daily lives, in our children’s bodies—how these linguistic errors can damage society. In “The Power of the Word,” Richard Weaver puts it this way: “We live in an age that is frightened by the very idea of certitude, and one of its really disturbing outgrowths is the easy divorce between words and the conceptual realities which our right minds know they must stand for.”

To be out of one’s right mind is to live in a false reality, to suffer delusions, to misidentify things and oneself. Conversely, as an old philosopher said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

Image credit: Wallpaper Flare


Walker Larson
Walker Larson

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