Pronouns, Ordinary People, and the War over Reality

Oct 13, 2016 by

by Anthony Esolen, Public Discourse:

Do not dismiss the pronominal wars as nonsense or assume that its warriors are merely daft.

Many years ago, the great British neurologist Oliver Sacks, a man with a flair for subtle observations and the clear prose to describe them, wrote a book about strange cases of mental confusion he had encountered. Its title seizes your attention instantly: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The title was no joke, nor was the man in question blind. His eyes registered the colors and the contours of his wife, but his mind had lost the capacity to interpret the messages correctly. The poor woman had to endure having her husband grasp her head with both hands as if to lift her and place her atop his head. Today, however, Dr. Sacks’s title might not pass muster before the captains of the current sexual and linguistic guard. Let me grasp their preferred title with both hands: The Adult Human Being Who Was Biologically Male but of As Yet Undetermined Sexual Preference and Sexual Identity Who Mistook His or Her or Zis or Xer Committed Life Partner Who Was Biologically Female but Also of As Yet Undetermined Sexual Preference and Sexual Identity for a Hat.

The sane reader will note that the only clear item in that sentence is the hat. The sane reader will also note that, of the two madmen, the man who mistakes his wife for a hat is as clear in the head as a sunny day by comparison with a person who could conceive of that new and “improved” title. At least the man who mistakes his wife for a hat still knows what a man is and what a wife is, though he is unclear about where she or his hat might be. But the person who thinks himself into believing that we cannot tell from ordinary observation who is a man and who is a woman is mad in a special sense. The first madman’s reason is struggling in the fog. The second madman’s reason is gasping for breath, because the second madman himself is throttling it.

Actually, the second madman is doing something even worse than that. What exactly he is doing I will explain shortly.

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