Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up On A Day That Needs No Warming, 8/4/22: Pronouns And Other Confusions

Scattered thoughts, because my brain is melting...

  • Showtime’s “Billions” is my new favorite ethics show, especially since it includes such a heavy dose of legal ethics dilemmas. One irritation, though, is the way every character routinely and casually refers to Taylor Mason, the nonbinary arch-enemy of ruthless hedge fund trader Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis), as “they” without hesitation or question because “they” demand it. Much of the time the use of the plural pronoun renders the dialogue incomprehensible: are they (meaning the real they, the ones talking) referring to Mason, or to Mason’s company, or the company’s employees? It is impossible to tell much of the time. I do not believe for a second that  lock-step compliance with pronoun dictates would be so universal in non-woke areas like commodity transaction policing or hedge funds. This is New York City, not California. The show’s writers are both virtue-signaling and indoctrinating. I resent it.
  • Modern art is a scam, isn’t it? This…

…is a pickle stuck on the ceiling. Titled “Pickle,” the “thought-provoking artwork” is the work of Australian artist Matthew Griffin. It is now on display at the Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland., and consists of that ketchup-smeared pickle slice, attached to the ceiling of the art gallery. It’s price tag is  10,000 New Zealand dollars, or $6,200 American.

  • Beyoncé, good little woke soldier of censorship that she is, dutifully removed the “ablest slur” spaz from one of her songs after some contrived offense police complained. Now Monica Lewinsky wants Beyoncé to airbrush her 2014 song “Partition,” because it includes the one-time White House intern’s name as a synonym for a certain sexual act (but not sex! Bill said it didn’t count as sex!). Just think of all the songs that will have to be rewritten when the Left’s purge of “hurtful” lyrics, if “hurtful” means anything the hypersensitive, the power-playing, and the Orwellian linguists focus on.

1. Speaking of pronouns...this is an actual opening to a CNN story:

Demi Lovato, the singer and former Disney Channel actor, has started to use “she” pronouns again. Lovato, who in 2021 came out as nonbinary and changed their pronouns to “they,” said…that they’ve “been feeling more feminine” recently and adopted their former pronouns.

Make sense out of that. Why is CNN calling her they when the story is about how they are (is?) no longer they but she?

What kinds of groveling idiots let narcissists jerk them around like this?

2. Most unethical defense of abortion of the week…goes to the smart member of “The View’s” idiotic panel (well smarter, anyway), Whoopie Goldberg, who got on a kick claiming that God approves of abortion, or something…

As you know, God doesn’t make mistakes. God made us smart enough to know when it wasn’t going to work for us. That’s the beauty of giving us freedom of choice…I also know that God made me smart enough to know that if there are alternatives out there that can work for me, I will investigate them, but I also know God said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I will not make that decision for anybody.

Wait, was Whoopi saying she would want to be aborted? Her version of God’s way would also seem to rule out all laws, since they constrain the freedom of choice.

Remember, ABC gives this muddled woman and her dimmer compatriots a high-profile platform to mislead, misinform and confuse vulnerable members of the public.

3. Trump’s an asshole. But you knew that. I hope. In Missouri, where Senator Roy Blunt (R) is retiring, the top two GOP candidates for the Senate seat in the primary were current Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. Greitens, a Trump loyalist, is corrupt, tone-deaf, and unfit.  Lately his now ex-wife is claiming that he abused both her and their child. Called upon to endorse one candidate, Donald Trump decided to troll everyone. “I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” he announced.

4. Cell phone vigilantism. Oh, fine, this is all we need. Lilly Simon, a  Brooklyn, woman, lives with neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic condition that causes tumors to grow at her nerve endings. Someone videoed Simon as she was riding the subway last month during her commute.The video was later posted to TikTok with a monkey emoji and a question mark, suggesting that Simon might be riding the subway with an active case of monkeypox, which has been declared  global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

I am now adopting the practice of  many populations in other cultures. You don’t have permission to film me or take my photo. I do not consent to being harassed via YouTube or TikTok. At very least, we need to establish this epidemic practice (Double use there!) as unethical.

5. It isn’t just the White House’s paid liar who doesn’t understand Dobbs. Ann Althouse flagged Politico’s article, “How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will Have The Last Laugh on Samuel Alito/The Dobbs decision is clearing the political ground for a resolution in favor of abortion rights.”

Before Ann went off on one of her tangents, this time about the implications of “last laugh,” she neatly pointed out what’s so dumb about the piece’s premise: “I will state the obvious: Alito’s written opinion is not about preventing abortion, but about allowing the issue to be decided through the political process.” The opinion didn’t ban abortion, or even disapprove of it. Alito banned the Supreme Court usurping a matter that properly should be left with the public and its elected representatives.

25 thoughts on “Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up On A Day That Needs No Warming, 8/4/22: Pronouns And Other Confusions

  1. 2. Did y’all see the letter that Desantis minions sent in regards to having him appear on the View?

    5. I understand the post, but would clarifying that it is a State Level legislative concern, not a Federal delegated power help anyone who isn’t more familiar with the topic.

  2. Are you afraid people will get confused when “they/them” is used as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun? Because I and people I speak with do it all the time. It is not a problem for us. Miraculously, our conversations do not degrade into homages to “Who’s On First?” We know exactly who we are referring to at all times. How can this be? By what sorcery is this accomplished?

    It’s simple. We don’t get confused because we use the exact same intuitive speech patterns that prevent confusion when using the suite of pronouns that you are accustomed to.

    Why are you so concerned with this development of the English language? What bad things do you think will happen if people adopt it?

    1. I do dislike the idea that people are expected not merely to keep up to date with celebrities changing the gender they present as, but to pretend the celebrity never presented otherwise. I don’t listen to Demi Lovato’s music; this is the first I hear of this person having ever been nonbinary in the first place. If I were to refer to this person with feminine pronouns and someone else were to update me, that’s fine, as long as they don’t get angry at me for not knowing.

    Trans celebrities are very likely to run into this problem because their credits for past performances don’t retroactively update on all media. If an old movie is someone’s first introduction to an actor, or a fan from the early days doesn’t keep up to date, the actor should not expect that person to magically know what name the actor currently uses. They should gently update the person and move on. That’s the price of being a celebrity who wants to change their image: the old image is permanently recorded. It really, really shouldn’t be a source of angst. No one should feel they have to erase their old image just because it doesn’t represent who they are now.

    2. Whenever someone tries to use a deity as justification for their policy positions… it doesn’t work. Deities are so far removed from mortal concerns that predicting what they want is a meaningless exercise. Most lines of normative reasoning involving a deity can be used to justify opposite conclusions. Ethics is secular: it only makes sense if we assume nobody’s watching over us to make sure things turn out for the best. After all, if someone’s looking out for us, why would we need to look out for each other?

    • I’m not afraid that people will get confused when a plural pronoun is used to refer to both individuals and groups in the same context. They WILL get confused, and I know this because I, one who is rather adept at the English language, get confused. “They (the individual or the group) said that they (meaning the individual or the group that “they” was/were talking about) were concerned because of what they (another individual? Another group? The speaking individual?) had said.” This is hash. Don’t tell em it’s clear—it would need hand gestures to be clear. I object to teh degrading of the language to the point that it impedes communication. There are plenty pf examples of such degrading already. There’s a distinction between insure, assure and ensure, but one in 100 understands them. Bring and Take denote different acts, with extra information. Sloppy blurring of distinct words are lazy and destructive to clearer speaking and thinking. The “Them” nonsense is worse, because it’s a power play: we can make you talk the way we want even though it makes no sense. Single individuals are not plural. If they are, then we have no plural pronouns either.

      1. Lovato didn’t change her gender. She’s a woman, whether she calls herself a scrub brush or a hermit crab.Its making people jump through hoops to give her a sense of importance.Shame on anyone so submissive that he or she falls for it.

      • I agree with thy goal of preserving the meaning of verbs. We need verbs with fixed meanings so we can describe actions and events with nuance.

        However, I’m not buying the problem with accepting a change in how pronouns work compared to how thou hast previously understood them. Pronouns are already inherently ambiguous. They have always sacrificed precision for convenience, and people have always had to account for that when using them.

        “Tom said Dick was concerned because of what Harry had said.” A person could say, “He said he was concerned because of what he said,” but people don’t do that unless they can, as thou sayest, point fingers to indicate who they’re talking about, because people aren’t quite that stupid. In real life, people would only use “he” for one of those people, and indicate with tone of voice or the context of the previous sentence who the pronoun was referring to.

        “I talked to Tom. He said Dick was concerned because of what Harry had said.”
        “I haven’t heard from Dick in a while. Tom said he was concerned because of what Harry had said.”
        “Wouldst thou speak with Harry? Tom said Dick was concerned because of what he had said.”

        That’s how pronouns have always worked: leveraging the context that is build up immediately beforehand. People competent with pronouns as thou knowest them should be competent with the singular they/them, because it works the same way any pronoun does. Any ill effects are due to people not knowing how to handle pronouns in general. Furthermore, the singular “they” has been in casual use for long enough that it may as well be official grammar.

        In case thou art curious, “thou/thee” are, historically, the correct second-person singular pronouns in English. “You/you” are reserved for second-person plural pronouns. You Anglophone humans decided that you didn’t need to track plurality for the people you were directly addressing, so over time you just started using “you” for all your second-person pronouns–plural or singular, subject or object, male, female, or other. I don’t know about thee, but I think it works quite acceptably. It’s less fun, but perfectly functional.

        Contrast English with the Japanese language, which has gender-neutral third-person pronouns available but a whole slew of first-person pronouns that can convey gender, age, relative social status, cultural background, the formality of the setting… The simple act of talking about oneself can carry a great deal of baggage. Art thou not glad thou canst simply refer to thyself as “I” no matter who you’re with, in this nominally egalitarian culture?

        All people want is to not be saddled with the baggage of a gender with which they don’t identify every time they’re brought up in conversation. That seems like a reasonable desire with an easy solution to me.

          • I’m not saying “there are worse things and therefore this is okay.” I’m trying to establish that a small increased amount of ambiguity in a context where we’re already prepared to deal with ambiguity is a small price to pay for the benefit of avoiding the baggage of gender-specific third-person pronouns.

            It’s not just for the benefit queer people, either. Gender-neutral third-person pronouns will help us avoid making subconscious assumptions about hypothetical people or real people whose gender we do not yet know. That benefits everyone of every gender or lack thereof.

            Do you have an example of a realistic conversation where the ambiguity between singular and plural would cause trouble, and where the participants wouldn’t be able to easily notice that and clarify the situation? I have yet to be convinced that this is a serious problem rather than a knee-jerk response to change.

            (For context, I’m one of those people who strenuously objects to the use of the word “literally” being used in any but the literal sense, to the point where I will say things like “you are literally figuratively looking a gift horse in the mouth” if the situation is not quite literal but is still a textbook example of the figurative sense of the phrase. I take language and communication quite seriously; I just don’t see evidence that the singular “they” causes problems.)

            • I just heard several: Watch seasons three and four of “Billions.” The reason you haven’t heard a lot of such conversations is because, thank God, the silly use of “they” for individuals is severely limited, and one hopes will remain so. Besides, the fact that such argle-bargle can usually be understood does not justify encouraging it. As you know, random, illiterate spelling can also usually be understood, as when that sentence is spelled “Aaz u noe, rannom, unlitrade pellin cn slo usly bee nstud.” “be understood” is a bottom of the barrel goal for communication, and society must aim higher, or grnts and clicks are right aruond the corner.

                • Sorry for not being clear about how they talked about they while using they. I am referring to conversations taking place among characters discussing the firm, its staff and the nonbinary individual running the firm, who, I noticed, slips up and refers to “themselves” as “I” regularly. But it the third person pronoun is “they,” the first person pronoun has to be “we.”

                  • And were the conversations confusing to the characters? Were the conversations played for comedy or for plot relevance? Were you having trouble following them?

                    Also, no. The idea is to use “they/them” as singular gender-neutral third-person pronouns in addition to their plural uses, not to refer to nonbinary individuals as plural entities. That means “I/me” are still the correct singular first-person pronouns for a nonbinary person. I failed my Detect Irony check, so I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or you really don’t understand what you’re criticizing.

                    It sounds like you’re saying people aren’t allowed to change a rule of grammar (not vocabulary; grammar), even though they’ve decided the benefits are worth the whatever costs there are, because it’s too late! Someone already wrote down the rules and now they can’t be changed! I still don’t understand why you disagree with the decision other than that it sounds silly to you based on what you grew up with. That’s just an Ick Factor. I’ve explained why I think the new version is better than the old version.* Do you have a serious counterpoint, other than, “This is how we’ve always done it, and nobody tried to change it before?”

                    *I’m a rare sort of linguistic descriptivist/prescriptivist who will accept or even advocate a change to language if I think it improves communication somehow. I think many aspiring rationalists are, which would explain why so many are fascinated with constructed languages, or “conlangs”.

                    • Obviously they (or he. or she. Whatever.) are allowed, at least to try. What isn’t allowed is dictating what I or anyone else will use, or complaining that it is somehow unjust or insensitive to refuse do as demanded when it works, at best, a tiny benefit for the few while inconveniencing the many. Should I agree to call illegal immigrants “undocumented workers” or just “immigrants” because it blurs critical distinctions that are inconvenient for those trying to elude our laws or those attempting to justify the unjustifiable? Of course not. I’m always for genuine improvements, but only those attempting to use language to unethical ends thing making it less descriptive or more ambiguous is an “improvement.”

                    • In that case, are you willing to respect someone’s wishes whom you think has a gender, but who does not want you to discuss their gender with other people?

                      For an analogy, let’s say you know someone who uses a wheelchair, and it’s an obvious fact to you, but they don’t like people to bring it up with them, and they don’t want you to tell other people about it if they don’t already know. (I can think of some situations where logistics demand people talk about it, but it’s not a perfect analogy. Just roll with it. Um… pun not intended but permitted to remain.) Would you abide by their wishes out of general respect? Would you do the same for someone who felt that way about having an identifiable gender, male or female?

                      It’s technically true that gender-neutral pronouns are less descriptive, but that’s part of why people want them. People not only don’t care about the missing information, but they don’t want it there. How would you feel about pronouns that identified people’s race? Income? Religion? Stance on a political issue? They would be more descriptive, but they’d come with baggage that people don’t want associated with themselves. I myself like the idea of opting out of gender baggage, and unlike me, some people actually feel on a visceral level that they do not want to be associated with maleness or femaleness.

                      Euphemisms like “undocumented immigrant” are another issue entirely. They have their place in sensitive situations, but they can easily be used for evil. Each euphemism is a separate conversation. I can see where you could argue that gender-neutral pronouns allow people to avoid mentioning a detail, but I don’t agree that a person’s gender as you see it is a detail you have any duty to mention in normal conversation.

                      How does that sound?

        • I disagree that using you instead of thou has worked quite acceptably. If I invite a man to my home by saying ‘Why don’t you come over to my place at 3’ he can not be sure if I mean just him, or him and his wife or him with his whole family unless previous conversation gave a clue which is not always the case. If we still used thou it would clear up the confusion.

  3. I thought the sub-headline in the graphic was quite interesting. Nothing has changed since 1896 when the global warming alarmists of the day were screaming the “SUN IS SLAUGHTERING THE PEOPLE OF THE GREAT CITIES.” Above the fold, we have three stories about the heat of August 1896.

  4. It’s price tag is 10,000 New Zealand dollars, or $6,200 American.

    This still growing ~17″/43.2cm Sweet Success Hybrid, (started from seed, tenderly trellised, and organically nurtured by yours truly), cut into 1/4″/.64cm slices?

    You do the math (supply yer own ketchup)

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