The Argentine Ministry of Public Works this week announced the use of neutral language in official documents. The measure would serve to make the language more inclusive for people who would not identify with the gender marks of traditional vocabulary.
Allow me to develop the opposite idea: neutral language is not inclusive. It serves to exclude. The stated aim may be inclusion, but its real function, perhaps unconscious to most adherents, is to be a status symbol, a luxury belief, a class demarcation.
There’s no way to address this subject without talking about the life of Rob Henderson, currently a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Cambridge. The son of a drug-addicted mother and an unknown father, Henderson spent his childhood in various foster families and shelters in California. One of his earliest memories is of his mother being taken away in handcuffs by police; over time, the boy got used to gathering his belongings in plastic bags and leaving to meet a new family.
Against all expectations, at age 17 Henderson joined the US Air Force. Years later, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he became a psychology student at Yale.
Admission to one of the best universities in the USA brought Henderson into contact with rich and privileged young people, people he had never seen before. His surprise was that the well-heeled students at Yale didn’t flaunt purses or fancy cars. Their status symbols were ideas. And words.
“When I lived in foster care, earned minimum wage as a dishwasher or served in the military, I never heard words like ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘gender stereotype’ or ‘heteronormative.’ 19-year-old who will eagerly explain these terms to you.”
For Henderson, as fashionable clothes and other products become more affordable, luxury goods cease to signal status. “The upper classes have come up with a clever solution to this problem: luxury beliefs. These are ideas and opinions that bestow status on the rich at very little cost, while harming the poorest,” he wrote in a 2019 New York Post article. .
Neutral language is a crystal clear example of luxury belief. When the juice brand says on the packaging “more peach for all”, it is not even remotely trying to include transsexuals, but rather signaling something like “I’m modern, morally sophisticated, I belong to the educated urban avant-garde, unlike my competitors”.
If in the 19th century the elite boasted wealth with expensive and unusual leisure activities and sports, as the sociologist Thorstein Veblen defended in the book “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, today the ostentation occurs through weird opinions. “When people express unusual beliefs, different from conventional thinking, such as defending the ‘defund the police’ [desfinanciamento da polícia] or use peculiar vocabulary, often what they really say is, ‘I was educated at a top university,’ or ‘I have the time and resources to acquire these esoteric ideas,'” says Henderson.
As many people have already commented, the idea that neutral language provides any benefit to transsexuals is quite dubious. Many of them don’t give a damn about the subject, they think it’s teenagers, they prefer to be called by the new gender they’ve adopted. It so happens that the true function of neutral language is not to include: it is to distance its defenders as much as possible from the ways of the common people.
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