"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Political Correctness Of Personal Pronouns–Stop Using ‘I’ So Much!

Research confirms it.  Americans are using the personal pronoun ‘I’ more than the collective ‘We’, and this is a sign of rampant narcissism, a rejection of compassion, community, and collective spirit.

Adrienne LaFrance, writing in the Atlantic (2.27.15) observes:

[Results of a recent study showed] a steady uptick in first-person singular pronouns (I, me) and a decline in more communal first-person plural pronouns (we, our), according to their 2011 paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. All this singing about me, they concluded, showed the larger culture was becoming more self-centered and less socially connected. "Narcissism is like a flu," said W. Keith Campbell, one of the study's authors…. "Everybody around you gets sick and you feel great about yourself."

Narcissus

Not everyone has fallen for this nouveau cult of Narcissism. Edie, a trainer at my gym, is so concerned with bonding with her clients that she never instructs but jointly counsels. “We should lift our legs higher if we can”, she says to an exercise group of middle-aged women. “We need to stretch our hamstrings and improve our balance.” Even in individual training sessions, she can’t bring herself to instruct or criticize. “It would be better if we bent from our waist a bit more”, she said to one client. “That way we will take pressure off our back”.

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It is irritating baby talk – chipper, upbeat, and never censorious.  Of course what these women need is a good talking to. After ten sessions with Edie they are no better off than when they started.  They are still as awkward, stiff, and clumsy as when they started.

The best drill sergeant ever was Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. This is how he addresses his marine recruits for the first time:

If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?

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Sergeant Hartman has no compunctions about saying who’s boss; nor does he shy away from ‘I’ and ‘You’.

There of course is a middle ground.  Some, like a boss I had, was as big an egotist as I had ever run into; but she was an executive in a non-profit firm whose mission was to improve family health in developing countries.  The company espoused a communal way of solving problems; and no program decisions were made without consulting with the community.  In most cases the community had no idea what this foreign, exclusive, white agency was doing in their country in the first place; and had been told by their leaders to listen politely, take the money, and do what they wanted later. Nevertheless the firm persisted in holding ‘participatory’ meetings with local villagers, and returned to Washington happy in their conceit and the illusion of their will being subsumed within the collective will of the community.

These participatory meetings were painful.  The facilitator – just like Trainer Edie – deliberately always spoke collectively.  She was careful never to say ‘I’ or use ‘We’ to refer to her white interloper self or her sponsoring agency. It was all a charade because the contract her firm had with the US Government specified exactly what the goal, purpose, objectives, and performance indicators were.  No matter how much the facilitator respectfully elicited the opinions of the group, her job was to lead them to the ‘right’ decision.

On a trip to Ivory Coast for the World Bank a number of years ago, my job was to persuade slum dwellers of Abidjan to adopt ‘Pour-flush’ latrines, relatively low cost simple technology to be used by individual households where public sewers had not been installed.  Grant money donated by the Scandinavians was to be used expressly for the purpose of latrines.

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Nevertheless, we were obliged to ask the community what their sanitation needs were.  We were there to listen and respond.  They asked us for better drainage, cheaper and more efficient connections to the public water supply, and re-grading of neighborhood sites to eliminate standing water. Nothing about latrines.

In a series of community meetings we gradually and politely informed them that it was latrines or else.

Now, the egotistical boss who was in charge of international health projects and oversaw the so-called ‘participatory’ approach to community development was under pressure to institute the same collaborative approaches used with African villagers.  She was to run her meetings in the same respectful way, eliciting opinions and idea and never imposing her own will.

It was almost impossible for her to do so.  The more she heard the lame ideas coming from her employees, the more her smile turned into a rictus of frustration and anger. “That’s very interesting, Darlene. We will certainly consider it”, she said, referring as Trainer Edie did to the collectivity of the group when what she really meant was that she would consider it for an instant before rejecting it as silly, uninformed, and stupid.

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I knew that she wanted to tell us what she wanted and how she wanted it done. She had numerous professional degrees, a successful track record in the shitholes of the Third World, and a canny understanding of the ins and outs of government bureaucracy. Why waste time on young idealists from Gaithersburg?

“Here is what I want.  I want a full and thorough needs assessment of the health situation in Angola on my desk by Friday.  I would like Joan, Filbert, and Martha to prepare a presentation…..etc., etc.”  She didn’t say this of course, but wove her demands in a fine, soft quilt of collaborative suggestions; but no one was fooled.  This Iron Lady meant business.

All of us want to say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’.  We all think that our ideas deserve airing and implementation.  Our opinions are reasoned and intelligent. Our personal experiences are particularly relevant and appropriate.  Our tastes, preferences, desires, likes and dislikes are all what counts.  The rest is window dressing.

LaFrance uses a commercial example to make her point that we all are becoming more narcissistic:

Consider Taco Bell's hugely popular Twitter account, which is known for sending messages that sound like they were written by fans of the fast-food franchise: "I'm having Taco Bell cater my wedding," and "I could eat Taco Bell for the rest of my life."

If we consumers have learned one thing, everything is about personalization.  That’s what cookies are for, and that’s why we love them.  Those pop-ups about trips to the Virgin Islands are miraculous little thought-readers. Someone at Tropical Tours Inc. thought of me! This has nothing to do with narcissism or the moral individualization of the culture.  It is all about selling products and the more a marketer narrowcasts, the better the results.

Bob Dylan apparently ushered in a New Age of Narcissism:

And the mainstream shift toward "I" and "me" in American pop music dates back at least half a century. The Beatles actually cut back on their use of first-person pronouns after earlier songs like "Ask Me Why," "Love Me Do," and "Please Please Me" in the early 1960s. It was around this time that Bob Dylan rose to fame, and ushered in the era of the singer-songwriter with his warbly first-person anthems. Dylan’s ascent marked the dawn of another era characterized by hand-wringing over self-centered youth, and the beginning of what came to be known as the culture of narcissism.

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Leftie Pete Seeger took offense, and said that Dylan was corrupting what could be a culture of compassion, collaboration, and communalism:

"Seeger's criticism against Dylan at this time was that he took the ‘we,’ and turned it into a 'me,'" said John Covach, a professor of music theory at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music.

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All of this misses the point.  Human beings have been engineered to be narcissists.  Human nature is nothing if not willful, self-interested, self-serving, expansionist, territorial, and she-bear protective of ‘what’s mine’.  We just go through periods of guilty remission where we are convinced to consider someone else; but there have been no periods of American history – or any history for that matter – where communalism has been about anything but furthering one’s own ambitions. Strength in numbers is another way of putting it. Despite Christ’s message of compassion, Protestantism is more about individual redemption and individual salvation through His grace than any collective good works.

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What LaFrance does not mention is the very positive side of individualism – enterprise, creativity, and innovation.  Nietzsche had it right when he said that the expression of individual will is the only validation of humanity in a meaningless world.

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