Ah, the law of unintended consequences, as our central authorities strive ever more mightily to blanch all meaning out of the language — under the strange credo that the more incoherently “neutral” our communication, the happier we will all be.
At first I thought it was a spoof, when reports came out that U.S. passport application forms will no longer ask you to list your “mother” and “father” — and will instead ask for details of “parent one” and “parent two.” But no, it’s right there in a Dec. 22 State Department press release, with added detail from State in stories yesterday on Fox and in the Washington Post. According to the State Department, the aim of the new form, to be rolled out in February, is to “provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents” and “recognition of different types of families.”
OK, it’s true these days that American citizens hail from many different types of families, and I can see a case for official bureaucracies acknowledging that reality. But instead of trying to cram everything into categories so generic as to eliminate such time-honored elements of the human experience as “mother” and “father,” couldn’t modern realities be better acknowledged by adding a category or two? Or allowing a space to explain?
As it is, in its zeal to become gender-and-parent neutral, the State Department has now introduced into the equation a form of numerical inequality. Which of two parents is #1? Which is #2? — with all the clear implication of rank this entails? For that matter, do we still live in an age of only two parents? I’ve lost track.
But if State officials are serious about this quest for neutrality for all, surely they need to stop the presses and find something more value-neutral than #1 and #2. Genuine neutrality rules out any distinctions drawn from a spectrum, or from a series. Perhaps an answer can be found in geometric forms? — though nothing that would connote any human features, of course. Perhaps Parent Hexagon and Parent Trapezoid? … or am I dabbling here in geometric hierarchies fraught with their own pitfalls?
Anyway, brace yourself. Americans fought in World War II for such icons as motherhood and apple pie. These days, I guess the brave men and women fighting in Overseas Contingency Operations to prevent further Man-Caused disasters are expected to comfort themselves that they are fighting for Parent #1 (or #2?) and zero-trans-fat vegetable portions. Hooah.