Slaves to speech suppression are masters of nothing

By Eric Raymond

Comes the news that the Python project has merged a request to partially eliminate the terms “master” and “slave” from its documentation on “diversity” grounds. Sensibly, Guido van Rossum at least refused to sever the project from uses of those terms in documentation of the underlying Unix APIs.

I wish Guido had gone further and correctly shitcanned the change request as political bullshit up with which he will not put. I will certainly do that if a similar issue is ever raised in one of my projects.

The problem here is not with the object-level issue of whether the terms “master” and “slave” might be offensive to some people. It’s with the meta-level of all such demands. Which the great comedian George Carlin once summed up neatly as follows: “Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners.”

That is, the demand for suppression of “politically” offensive terms is never entirely or usually even mostly about reducing imputed harms. That is invariably a pretense covering a desire to make speech and thought malleable to political control. Which is why the first and every subsequent attempt at this kind of entryism needs to be kicked in the teeth, hard.

Technically Carlin was actually not quite correct. Fascism has never become quite sophisticated enough at semantic manipulation to pose as manners. He should more properly have said “Political correctness is communism pretending to be manners”; George Orwell, of course, warned us of the dangers of Newspeak through his portrait of a future communism in 1984.

But Carlin leaned left, so he used the verbal cudgel of a leftist. Credit to him, anyway, for recognizing that the “manners” tactics of his fellow leftists are, at bottom, corrosive and totalitarian. The true goal is always meta: to get you to cede them the privilege of controlling your speech and thought.

Once you get pulled onto the on the PC train, it doesn’t stop with the mere suppression of individual words. The next stage is the demand that your language affirm politically-correct lies and absurdities in public. The most obvious example of this today is the attempted proliferation of gender pronouns. There are principled cases, grounded in human sexual biology, that two or three might be too few, but at the point where activists are circulating lists of 50 or more – most of which have no predicate that can be checked by an impartial observer – the demand has crossed into absurdity.

The purpose of such absurdities is never to convey truth and increase the precision of language, but rather to jam the categories and politics of some propagandist into your head – to control your mind. It is not accidental that terms like “inclusiveness” are vague and infinitely elastic; if they were not, they would not serve the actual purpose of making you feel guilty, wrong and malleable no matter how frantically you have deformed your speech and behavior to meet the propagandist’s standards of “manners”.

The manipulation depends on you never quite recovering your balance enough to recognize that your own autonomy – your ability to think and speak as you choose – is more important than the ever-escalating demands for “manners”. The first step to liberation is realizing that. The second step is resisting their attack even if you happen to agree that an individual term (like, say, “master” or “slave”) might be construable as offensive. The meta-level matters more than the object.

The third step is realizing that the propagandists for those demands mean to do you harm. They are selling “manners”, “diversity”, “inclusiveness”, but what they mean to to do is break you into loving Big Brother – becoming the primary instrument of your own oppression, ever alert to conform to the next diktat of the Ministry of Truth as expressed by the language police.

As with individuals, so with the cultures they assemble into. These “manners” demands – like the attempt to hijack the Lerna license I condemned in my last blog post – are an attack on the autonomy and health of the hacker culture. All who cherish that culture should refuse them.