Tyranny of Language

The other day a friend of mine whose family are from the Middle East and who knows her shit regarding social and political issues told me that she had been told it was offensive for her to categorise white people as white. This is someone who has to put up with ignorance and racism throughout her life, simply because of the colour of her skin, and she was told that it was offensive for her to simply say that white people are white. Why is it offensive? For something to be offensive, as in the act of saying it was an offence, then it needs to be an act of aggression (including micro-aggressions). So how is it aggressive to categorise white people as white? (I am aware that we aren’t discussing this “in use” but I know the woman and know her well enough she wouldn’t be using it to attack white people.) What if we change this about and asked would it be racist for her to say white people are white? Well for one thing, you can’t really be racist to white people, in the sense of structural ideological daily privilege; you can be racially prejudice towards white people (but really, if white people can’t deal with a little prejudice given what they’ve dished out, they need to self sooth and quieten down).

Another example: a friend of mine, who also comes from a Jewish background, was told it was offensive for him to describe his own nose as a Jew nose. We live in small town UK, mainly white countryside people, who are predominantly centre-right in their political opinions and conservative socially. This friend is also gay (and fucking fabulous). So you can kind of imagine the situation he is in regarding prejudice and offence. Why would it be offensive for HIM to describe HIS NOSE, on HIS FACE, that is part of HIS BIOLOGICAL PHYSICAL BEING as a Jew nose? Who is he aggressing in this situation? Himself? If it is himself, are we such pretentious moral dogmatists that we need to rescue him from himself? Is he aggressing Jewish people? The first thing I realised about what it meant to be connected to this community in some way was to not take it too fucking seriously and to play about with this stuff (Jewish comedians rip into Jewish identity like there is nothing else to talk about). Most of the times I witness language police laying down the law they’re trying to “save” (how fucking patronising) some other community, so am inclined to believe that this was some white Tumblr academic liberal spouting off for their own self gratification, who probably knows little to nothing about the history of the Jewish people, save for what they learnt about Hitler and what is in the Bible – because nothing fucking else happened and knowing that Hitler was a dickhead certainly makes you an expert on racism towards Jews. So now my friend feels nervous about calling his nose what it is to him, within his identity, because it risks offending some white liberal dickhead (the same category I just put Hitler in).

While I’m fairly good at arguing a point, with a certain degree of poetic elegance if I have the patience, my suggestion to both the friends was to say this when stuff like that happens again: “fuck off”. No more need be said. No more should be said. If we indulge these totalitarian-liberal-conservatives in their ideological rhetoric, then we gratify it as holding value. But their moral dogmas only hold as much value as chains and cages hold value. Giles Deleuze – “shit on your whole mortifying, imaginary, symbolic theatre!”

The day after the UK decided to bomb Syria I went out onto my local high street with a sign saying “our MP just voted to bomb brown people for oil and money”. This wasn’t going to change anything or stop the bombs from killing innocent people or stop the region being destabilised or anything else substantial; it isn’t in my power to do any of that and it isn’t my “job” as an activist. But regardless I received a fair amount of praise from people who felt like me, hate from those who agreed with the decision, some people came up to find out what I was talking about and 3 people called my sign offensive (one of them accusing me of being racist). Racist? Really? For me to categorise people from Syria as brown, that’s racist? Well maybe I was colluding with a category that has been used by racists for centuries, much like that of black. But is it racist of me to acknowledge a social category that is now part of this cultures discourse, for better or for worse? When I moved here I got pushed into the category of Jew far more than when I lived in London (where I was just another white kid) and when I tan darker than most white people I’ve been put into the brown social category, having received (relatively minor) racial abuse on a few occasions. So I have some, limited, experience of this social category. Why then is it racist or offensive, as in an act of aggression, for me to state that a politician has looked at a community, who fall under a certain social category, a saw their lives as less valuable than oil and money – particularly given that in my action I was allocating value to those people?

A friend of mine wrote an article for a zine (Solidarity) an affinity group (North Devon Solidarity Network) I work with made titled The Rise of Liberal Racism. It punched me in the gut. It is so honest and raw. I saw part of myself, where I can be a dick in the ways they described: I’m socialised into this culture and so am guilty of participation to some degree with a fair bit of what they were talking about. What they wrote really clarified one thing for me; contemporary liberal discourse is so fucking racist!

This stuff right now seems less focused on racial aspects in contemporary discourse and much more focused on gender. This discussion seems highly sensitive and emotive to a lot of people. This is probably because gender and sex cross religious, racial and cultural boundaries, into the core of our notions of self. I’m not going to be discussing biological, material, physical sex here very much, but am going to mainly talk about the social category of gender. I work with an eco-feminist organisation, follow a large number of feminist social media outlets and am friends with a lot of people who are very vocal about issues relating to gender, from all sides of the discussion. What struck me about contemporary liberal discourse was the lack of outrage over Caitlyn Jenner endorsing Donald Trump, particularly from those friends who had been vocal in supporting her in the media previously as a trans-woman. The thing that seems to unite radicals and liberals in Trump is that he is just so disgusting and awful that we can all agree he is pure fucking scum. But why wasn’t there any sense of betrayal from the liberal community? My “TERF” – a term I think is outrageously flippant and misrepresentative – friends were outraged by this, with Facebook posts about her claim that Trump is good for women and LGBT+ people. Now I don’t actually think this one trans-womans stupid comments actually matter that much (celebrities say stupid shit everyday), but that is not the point I’m making. Liberal discourse and media appears totally unwilling to be even the slightest bit critical of individual trans-people or the trans-movement. This cultures political correctness dogmatisms seems to have closed down discourse out of fear of offending. What does offending do though? Nothing, really! Yes in a psychological sense being offended may cause a bit of emotional upset, but part of life is dealing with the emotional internal world and navigating the external material world. Yes these things might not be as dualistic as I’ve just described: consciousness is material, but it would be dishonest to say that our internal worlds, save for how they impact our individual actions, have a direct causal relation to the external social and natural worlds we live in. My point isn’t that we need to criticise Queer theory and transgenderism any more than we need to criticise any other ideology; as far as I’m concerned we should always look to be deconstructive and iconoclastic. I also see no reason to deny trans-people their identities or to be disrespectful towards them. My point is this: discussion of issues relating to gender appear to have stagnated and are being repressed out of a liberal cultures unwillingness to do substantial discourse, outside of their own ideology. Writers and activists I am in contact with have been silenced and ostracized for writing critically about queer theory and the trans-ideology; the two I’m currently thinking of both being gender-abolitionists, who also hate patriarchy and sexist gender narratives. Discourse – language – has become a prison, a tyrant, a despot, not just on discussion of gender, but in so much of contemporary discussion and liberals seem unwilling to identify the chains they are constructing.

For myself, I don’t see myself a cis or trans and will not accept either category. I’ve been socialised into the gender of man and receive huge amounts of privilege for being born the sex male, but within myself I don’t see myself as conforming to this position. When I was a little kid I’d dress up in dresses and have my aunt put make up on me (my whole family thought I’d be gay). During my teens I’d wear eyeliner and all through puberty felt massively rejecting towards the normative position of Man that surrounded me through patriarchal ideology – though as a socialised male who has an unconscious mind I colluded with this position at times. I’ve always felt more comfortable with long hair; always been the sensitive guy; always felt uncomfortable with what it is meant to mean “being a man”. So I see myself as a non-conformist; not queer, trans or cis. I feel annoyed when I get put in the category of cis (because it might fit best), but shit its language; it doesn’t matter. I’ve taken to calling myself an existential void of non-categorisation with activist and liberal friends, just to play around with this stuff, because these binaries and stereotypes don’t actually exist outside of their social construction. One of my favourite philosophers is Max Stirner, who describes language based Things as spooks and argues in favour of our identifying as our unique selves, and while the material world might produce biological differences and similarities through chromosomes, we are socially each unique and no trappings of language can actually contain our individual being.

The tyranny of language can only hold as much power as we grant value to language based social constructs. It is true that both my nose and my friend’s nose aren’t innately Jew noses, but we navigate social worlds and are free to play with our social categories as we wish. My friend doesn’t harm anyone through categorising white people as white, and given the hatred she has received for her skin colour should feel free to use language as she spontaneously does from her experiences within her social world. It is far better to talk honestly and freely in discourse, to be effective and respectful for pragmatic purposes and those of love, but to not let ourselves be trapped in the chains and cages of ideology whose iconography undermine discussion. Repeating the quote: Giles Deleuze – “shit on your whole mortifying, imaginary, symbolic theatre!”


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