American society became either Confucian or anti-Confucian last week, depending on your point of view. The ancient Chinese sage put great store on the use of the right name. Called the Rectification of Names, his doctrine asserted that “social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was the rectification of names.” Names, said Confucius, had to convey the truth.
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. … Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
Modern politicians appear to believe the opposite: social disorder can result from telling the truth. Better the lie. In consequence the American Left has spent the last two weeks renaming things. The University of Tennessee, at which Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds teaches, has prescribed a slew of pronouns designed to replace the traditional sexist ones. “The University of Tennessee has told its staff and students to stop calling each other ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’ and ‘her’ – and to start referring to one another with terms like ‘xe’, ‘zir’ and ‘xyr’ instead.” They are to be used instead of the old forms, which are now believed to cause offense.
The Knoxville branch of the public university, which has 27,400 students, sent a memo round to its members filled with unusual new parts of speech to avoid referring to anybody’s gender.
According to a gay rights official at the university, the new language regime will make the university ‘welcoming and inclusive’ and stop people feeling ‘marginalized’.
This followed an attempt last week to ban the term “anchor baby” from the vocabulary of civil discourse. Josh Barro of the New York Times says “candidates have come under criticism because of the term’s dehumanizing implication of instrumentality, in either sense of its use: that immigrants have babies to serve as “anchors” that ward off deportation and make it easier to get citizenship for themselves in the future, unlike Americans, who have babies for all the normal reasons.” Jorge Ramos, in his exchange with Donald Trump, objected to the word “illegal alien” as well.
“When you call U.S. citizens anchor babies, is that not spreading hate?” Ramos continued. “When you call 11 million people in this country illegals–and no human being is illegal–isn’t that spreading hate?”
The last few days have seen another headline emerge around the subject of names. President Obama decided to officially rename the peak formerly known as Mt. McKinley as Denali. Jim Acosta of CNN reports that the president traveled to Alaska to engage in some potent symbolism.
To hear the White House describe Alaska, the state has become the canary in the climate change coal mine, complete with raging wildfires, accelerating ice melt in the arctic, vanishing glaciers and whole villages forced to relocate away from rising seas.
President Barack Obama will carry that urgent message to Alaska this week in the hopes his long journey away from his busy agenda in Washington will begin to change the national conversation on global warming.
His first step while he’s there: officially renaming the country’s tallest mountain from Mt. McKinley to Denali, an historic nod to the region’s native population, which the White House says is under threat from the already-present threat of climate change.
Names it turns out, are pretty important. If employed in a sufficiently forceful manner, names can replace the objects they name. Nearly 25 centuries after Confucius, the British writer George Orwell advanced his own ideas about the importance of names. In his theory of Newspeak, Orwell argued that by controlling the notation of a logical system or the words in a language, one could make certain concepts literally inexpressible with the given symbol set. By manipulating the symbol table, you could make things unquestionable and dissent unthinkable.