What’s in a Word or Pronoun?


One thing I never could understand as hysteria over The N-Word became mainstream was why people let the word have any power over them.  Basically, granting it power implies some mixture of two assumptions:

  1. That it has some power over white people, in an irresistible call to racist arms, as if uttering the word leaves us with no personal agency and no choice but to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who share our hue.
  2. That it points to a real inferiority that we must perpetually pretend doesn’t exist for moral reasons.

Neither of these propositions is true, but at least one must be assumed for the n-word to have any power.  Either it must have an effect on other people’s actions, or it must have an effect on the listener him or her self, bringing to mind something like an actual handicap, as if uttering it shatters an illusion of self worth.  In the absence of the mindless mob, the obvious cure is confidence in one’s self worth and denial of the word’s power, not fixation on it.

Something similar seems to be going on with the not-yet-mainstream hysteria over misgendering, only in an inverse sort of way.  The n-word shouldn’t have power because the implied inferiority is, in fact, the illusion, and giving the word power gives force to something that isn’t real.  An undesired pronoun does have power because the presumed identity is the illusion, and it loses its force if others don’t acknowledge it.

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Whether we should bend to the demands of identity politics in this case depends on whether morality requires the illusion, which would cut against the better part of philosophical thought, including Christianity.  Only the Truth can be morally binding.  The most insidious imposition of recent faddish philosophy is its holding that other people can define their own truths and make them morally binding on everybody else.

Thus, we’ve come around to the use of the word “bigot” as the latest power word, perversely defined as somebody who holds to objective reality despite somebody else’s assertions.  Unsurprisingly, we see the word given its force through the use of mobs.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    While I am unable to philosophize as well as Justin, I long ago came to the conclusion that use of the term the “n-word” was a form of virtue signaling. Allowing reference to a word which cannot even be uttered, for which you have made obvious your distain by refusing it’s use. I am reminded of “the love which cannot speak it’s name”.

    While raised here, my family is from the South and I spent summers in the Tidewater. Contrary to Hollywood, the “n-word” was rarely heard there, “coloreds” being much preferred. When used it, it was usually directed at an individual, or small group which had proved itself “unworthy”, much like “white trash”. People there actually knew blacks. Here I found the word to be in much more common usage, in a town with zero blacks. Few actually knew one.