Saturday 26 October 2019

The American disease. Part three (the grammar of marriage)

I  remember treating what was sometimes called “political correctness” as a joke. I wonder now if the humour element was part of the strategy. It made us think that the issue wasn’t serious. We could be amused by the “looney left”, but all the time the Left were using our laughs to get their Trojan horse inside the citadel.

The problem was that we didn’t have a name for what they were doing, or else there were many names. The Left itself denied the legitimacy of the term “political correctness” while at the same time telling us what was correct to say and do.

The whole concept of one opinion being correct while another was incorrect struck me at the time as dangerous. It was so obviously totalitarian that it was hard to take seriously that anyone in a democracy was suggesting it. But they were, only they were doing so gradually. They were delighted that we didn’t take it seriously and that we didn’t really have a word for what they were doing.

 I still don’t know how quite to describe the change that has taken place over the past thirty to forty years. Political correctness is inadequate and seen by the Left as pejorative. Wokeness has somehow entered our vocabulary, without us quite being aware of in what way we are awake and how previously we were asleep. The concept of the Liberal Left is American. Liberal means one thing in the States but had a quite different historical meaning in Britain. John Stuart Mill was a liberal but would have been quite horrified by what has been done to liberty in the past few years.

This too is all part of the strategy. The target is vague and undefined. Conservatives have known for some time what we are up against, but somehow it is illusive. It presents itself as campaigning for social justice. It asks us to accept a tiny change in our use of language for the sake of fairness, but thirty years later we end up living in another world that isn’t fair at all. It tries to change the way we are able to think by changing the meaning of the words that we use, and it sometimes seems that we have forgotten the meaning of ordinary words. But it forgets that some of us speak foreign languages and in these the words mean the same as they always did.

In Russian there are two verbs for getting married.

Women use the verb выходить замуж [vykhodit’ zamuzh] It literally means leave to gain a husband. The root "muz" means husband and is also part of the word man мужчина [muzhchina]. So, when women marry, they leave home to be with their husband/man. Russian much more than English reflects linguistically what traditionally happened.

Men have a different verb when they marry, жетиться на [zhenit’sia na]. This verb includes the root zhen which also appears in the words for wife жена [zhena] and женщина [zhenshchina]. So, a man when he marries takes a woman to be his wife.

The very words in Russian make clear what marriage involves. It is linguistically impossible in Russian for a man to marry a man or for a woman to marry a woman. To suggest that this were possible would be to show a basic misunderstanding of the words involved.

Of course, this used to be the case here with the English verb to marry. If I’d asked an English speaker one hundred years ago if men could marry men, I would have been told that this was simply impossible. The meaning of the words “marry” and “marriage” implied a wife and a husband a man and a woman.

How did we arrive at a situation whereby a contradiction on a par with an unmarried husband was arrived at? We got there gradually.

For most of human history and in most parts of the world there has been a taboo about homosexuality. Many of the world’s major religions condemn men sleeping with men. They are usually indifferent to what women do with women. There is probably a good reason for this taboo. It is unlikely that it came about from nowhere. Pre modern societies perhaps needed all the males to father children in order survive. But gradually in the West as people were more and more willing to question the teachings of the Church and as we took on board the ideas of people like Mill that we all should be allowed to do what we please so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, the criminality of homosexuality was seen as unjust.

Homosexual acts were legalised in the UK in 1967. No doubt the gay people who campaigned for this were delighted. Non gay people in Britain could reflect that this change in the law didn’t really affect them. It wasn’t really any of anyone’s business what people got up to in their own bedrooms.

It’s worth reflecting that this happened a little over fifty years ago. If I had asked anyone in 1967 whether men could or should marry each other I would have been met with bafflement from gay and straight alike. Gay people in 1967 didn’t want to marry each other, they just wanted to be safe from being persecuted by the police.

But here we arrive at the crucial point. Whatever step forward is made, whatever injustice is righted, it is never enough.

The Left is unwilling to accept that some people are genuinely different from other people. Each must be treated as if they are the same no matter what absurdity results.

Through the decades that followed from 1967, gay rights campaigners made gradual steps. They campaigned for the age of consent to be the same for gay people and straight people. That seemed reasonable. Eventually it was agreed. They campaigned for the same rights as married couples and pointed out that with regard to things like inheritance and tax there were disadvantages. Again, in time most people were willing to go along with this. Why shouldn’t gay couples have the same rights as married couples? It didn’t do the rest of us any harm.

But whenever a battle was won, it turned out that it was not enough. Eventually gay people demanded marriage. What this meant though was that not only would they be allowed to change the meaning of the word “marriage” the rest of us would have to do so too. A husband and wife would have to accept that they were in exactly the same relationship as a husband and husband or a wife and a wife. We all would in effect have to accept that 2 + 2 = 5 or that bachelors could be married.

This is the key to understanding what the Left has been doing for the past forty or fifty years. It is trying to make us change the way we think by trying to change the meaning of the words we use.

Whatever steps it takes, however reasonable, it always demands more even when it ceases to conform to logic.

Homosexuality ought to have ceased to be an issue in 1967. Do what you please in private it has nothing to do with me. But no. Demands have been made that the Church ceases to teach that homosexuality is a sin. The teachings of the Church about marriage and the purpose of sex have been condemned and demands have been made that they be changed.  It has been demanded that people who disagree with what the Church has taught for nearly two thousand years should be allowed to be priests and that these priests conduct public weddings between people who even fifty years ago no one thought could marry.

This is no longer liberalism in the sense of Mill. Do what you like so long as it harms no one else. The Left makes gradual steps. Each may seem reasonable, but we end up in a new world with new words and what appears to be a minority issue affects all of us. We all have to change how we speak and how we think and if we fail to adapt, we will be condemned.