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Anarchism and Language, Piece by Kristian Williams

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Aug 25 2013 15:18
Anarchism and Language, Piece by Kristian Williams

Anarchism and the English Language is a piece by anarchist author Kristian Williams. It adopts a rough outline/framework from Orwell's classic Politics and the English language to analyze habits of writing and speech in anarchist circles. Given some recent debates here on libcom I thought it'd be something interesting to discuss, specifically geared toward the role of language. Now, I just hope it doesn't turn into a shameless flame-war/cred-contest but then again this is the internet.

Thoughts?

Quote:
George Orwell, in his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” makes the case that “the English language… becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
The vices Orwell catalogued—vague phrases, dying metaphors, jargon, and general pseudoscientific pretentiousness—all help to sustain our boring prose. But worse, they also produce a stagnant and stifling mental atmosphere in which thought is commonly replaced with the automatic recitation of certain prescribed words or phrases “tacked together,” as Orwell memorably put it, “like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”... ...This dynamic poses special problems for anarchism, as a mode of thought that shuns orthodoxy on principle and should be above defrauding an audience in the fashion typical of politicians and their parties. Anarchists face the further problem that, through clumsiness and inattention, our ideas become unintelligible. This destruction of meaning occurs at many levels simultaneously: It is impossible to convince people of an idea if one cannot explain it; it is equally impossible to explain an idea if you do not understand it yourself; and it is impossible to adequately understand an idea if its only means of expression frustrate any efforts to define or analyze it. Through this process ideas are transformed into something like the Latin mass: we in the congregation may not understand the priest’s ritual mumblings, but we believe that the words will save us.

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Aug 25 2013 19:15

I really enjoyed that Pennoid, thanks! Never heard of the guy before, but what he says is spot on IMO. I'm open to new ideas and the language that comes with it, but over the last few years it just seems like the words are changing and I've got to keep googling to find out I already knew a particular meaning, just the word has changed. Orwell had a few things to say about this too!
It seems to me that one of the big points the author makes is about building our own ghetto, word by confusing word. The intentions behind these words always seem reasonable, but changing from every day language to academic, cliquey newspeak only serves to isolate our ideas.
Coincidently, until i read this article I had deliberately avoided finding out the meaning of "cisgender" to see how long my world stays upright in this prescribed ignorance. I only looked it up for the purpose of understanding this article, and guess what? No new ideas, just another word that is better explained using everyday language so as not to exclude everyone else uninitiated.

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Aug 25 2013 20:15

"cisgender" is a technical term, so I suppose its shorthand, as with much terminology its easier than using a sentence every time. But as a technical term that is supposed to be 'neutral' I don't think I have ever heard it used in any other way than as a pejorative term. Suppose I guess because it is used ostensibly within a framework of critique, predominantly against certain other feminist theories.

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Aug 26 2013 03:03

As a way of expanding the discussion, Crimethinc has a response which I'll post. It loses me when it refers to language as a technology: http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/language.php

It should be noted that there is controversy about most of these terms, (cisgender for instance I've heard to some is bothersome because it's notion of gender matching sex is loaded in that "matching" for instance implies a lot.)

As a sort of related note, I've been reading more Marx/Marxian stuff than ever before and have both begun to understand the jargon, and see it's uselessness. One merit of Marx himself, that I've discovered is the countless fresh metaphors he was able to craft, an act many ideologues completely lack, especially those self-styled Marxists. Don't get me wrong, many of the technical distinctions are absolutely necessary, but a great deal of it is tiresome ( abuse of dialectics anyone?).

Edit: Kristian Williams is the author of "Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America" A pdf of which is linked HERE

Thanks ya'll.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 08:34

" No new ideas, just another word that is better explained using everyday language so as not to exclude everyone else uninitiated. " I am curious how you say cisgender without being either terribly clunky or terribly offensive, both of which are worse for the possibly uninitiated reader (which today means someone without internet access)? The best solution seems to be non-transgender, and that's quite unpractical and confusing for the reader. The idea that being cisgender is not "default", "normal", "natural" is a pretty important idea which does deserve five seconds of your time looking up something.

It is only pejorative because cis people are reluctant to use it, as they often think their experience as cisgender is universal. Cisgender is not more pejorative than male, white, or heterosexual.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 08:47

Also, cisgender was not created by anarchists, and refusing to adopt it saying it is cliquey is simply telling all of the queer movement that, basically, you don't care about queer issues enough to learn one word. I am amazed that someone wouldnt see their refusal to acknowledge ignorance as petty and basically saying "if you dont translate it in my (dominant) anarchist language, I don't care about what you've got to say", but as some kind of defence of language and healthy intellectual ideas instead... Laziness is excusable, these poor pretenses are not.

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Aug 26 2013 09:14

Hi Tom, I guess the answer would be something in line with how you verbalised cisgender people before you were aware of the word. Whereas transgender as a word is understood by most and cisgender - as far as I read - being a label for non-transgender people, barely leaves certain circles. I agree, cisgender is not default - that is the whole point IMO, and the notion that there is a default that can be deviated from should be challenged at every opportunity.
I guess the reason cis people haven't taken up the label allotted them is because generally speaking, people are reluctant to being constantly defined afresh with ever new, academic labels. There are times when a better term of definition is required, but handing labels out that a) people refuse to use and b) adds no clearer definition than what people already ran with don't seem to me like strong arguments for persistence. People should have the power to define their own labels - or lack of them - personally I'm uncomfortable with what are largely academic coined terms of definition permeating the anarchist lexicon as though they are second nature. If we cant even make connection to ordinary workers because of our language, then what hope is there? Personally, im prepared to give a little when it comes to unintentionally putting someones nose out of joint; and in my experience (as is well evidenced here!) is that the offensive is often by proxy - people taking offence on behalf of other people. Jeez, we all must have mates and work colleagues that haven't a clue (or couldn't give a monkeys) about the language used in these circles to define and describe them. This in itself should set alarm bells off that we are not connecting with people with the language we use.

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Aug 26 2013 09:19
Tom de Cleyre wrote:
Also, cisgender was not created by anarchists, and refusing to adopt it saying it is cliquey is simply telling all of the queer movement that, basically, you don't care about queer issues enough to learn one word.

Tom, everyone views words in different ways. I know people (I probably belong to a different generation than you) who feel that the term 'queer' is deeply insulting, and can't be reapropriated in any way.
Devrim

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Aug 26 2013 09:30
Tom de Cleyre wrote:
Also, cisgender was not created by anarchists, and refusing to adopt it saying it is cliquey is simply telling all of the queer movement that, basically, you don't care about queer issues enough to learn one word. I am amazed that someone wouldnt see their refusal to acknowledge ignorance as petty and basically saying "if you dont translate it in my (dominant) anarchist language, I don't care about what you've got to say", but as some kind of defence of language and healthy intellectual ideas instead... Laziness is excusable, these poor pretenses are not.

There is alot to unpack here, I will say though for now that to a very large extent the other (in the way the that crustie 'tramp' or new age travelling 'gypsy' were taken on in times gone by) the figure that is being valorised at the moment within anarchist subcultural politics is the 'queer' or should I say a certain discursive formation that appeared because of the work of foucault, Butler et al and fills countless gigs, fanzines, tweets, threads and pages of bulletin boards, queer theory is for a significant number of anarchists the theoretical and cultural punctum to which their thought, languages and lifestyles rotate. To say that this discourse is marginal to some dominant 'anarchist' language is not what I see on the ground quite the opposite.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 09:27

Before someone taught me that word, I was often embarassed, afraid of or simply being offensive, I avoided thinking about transgender issues a lot more because I didn't have a word that is pretty essential in thinking about how transgender people are treated in our society. Anarchism is a good space to link up between transgender struggles and your work colleagues' struggles. cisgender is no more academic than transgender, and if people use one, they really should use the other. Cisgender people sadly do have the power to label themselves, but the terms they use are "normal", "real", etc. These choices are not acceptable.

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Aug 26 2013 09:57
Quote:
refusing to adopt it saying it is cliquey is simply telling all of the queer movement that, basically, you don't care about queer issues enough to learn one word.

That's me fucking told then.

I'm part of the 'queer movement' Tom and think the term 'cisgender' is pretentious cack invented by the sort of internet queer who really needs to get out more. The vast majority of LGBT people I associate with, socialise with and have sexual relations with, had never even heard of the fucking word until I mentioned it to them... and in fact, I've only ever heard it used by anarchoids, alternative types and trustafarians (I don't generally meet them down the cruising grounds). Down the local gay pub or TS club, it'd just get blank incomprehending expressions if I uttered the word 'cisgender'.

Now come on, vote me down!!!!! black bloc

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 10:11

I dont vote anyone up or down anyway. Same thing with the people I fuck, but generally they do find it interesting and start using it themselves. Maybe i dont present it the same way you do. What's your point?

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 10:11

I dont vote anyone up or down anyway. Same thing with the people I fuck, but generally they do find it interesting and start using it themselves. Maybe i dont present it the same way you do. What's your point?

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 10:29

There are so many words that could have been picked up instead of cisgender... Communization, anyone? Do you talk about communization around the coffee machine at work with ease? Cisgender is used by the queer political movement, despite the fact LGB people are indded as transphobic as te society around them, it is used outside of it, and it's really easy to learn. It doesnt require reading Butler or Foucault.

You know, some people even call you neurotypicals behind your back...

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Aug 26 2013 13:39

I don't talk about communization at work. I do talk often about how are time is stolen from us and our job is pointless and usually try and push it in the direction of "why do we have to work for x CEO/shareholders/anyone else just to get by?" All of which point in the direction of communism.

A word on "cis": the author I don't think claims or anyone here, that it was INVENTED by anarchists, just that its fallen into heavy usage.

Further: I have no qualms discussing either of these things at work if its with a cat who shares on understanding of the terms. However, not having such as mutual vocabulary should not preclude us from engagement in similar topics.

Throwing yourself in the crucible of explaining LTV or anarchist feminism to cisgendered white frat-guy coworker can be surprisingly rewarding, if you feel safe doing it. (This probably sounds more prescriptive than I mean it to be).

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Aug 26 2013 16:31

Tom de Clerye wrote -

Quote:
Same thing with the people I fuck

Sorry, I might be showing my age here a bit... I'm no David Niven but that has a horribly arrogant and contemptuous tone about that. Do those lucky people introduce themselves as someone Tom has fucked? probably doesn't matter what they say, coz you're Tom - 20something sceney guy, who fucks people.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 16:53

What is the problem with using that poor little word? It s not sceney, it not complicated.

Well i was playing on the ridiculous idea that because someone has sexual relationships with LGB people it gives them some insight into why people should ban the word cisgender. I am a woman. I'm not sceney and couldn't pass as sceney if i tried. I do fuck people, with their consent.

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Aug 26 2013 17:05
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What's your point?

Maybe it's just a tad annoying hearing some snot nosed, probably younger, know it all queer telling a stroppy curmudgeonly older queer that failing to appreciate iffy ghetto neologisms like 'cisgendered' means I don't care about the 'queer movement'. What a load of fucking twatbubble.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 17:06

If people can't see that shaming people who use the word cisgender is not a behaviour that is acceptable among people who are supposed to want a society of free and equal individuals, I don't know what to tell you.

I do avoid a lot of feminist writing because it is way too complicated and obscurely phrased, but the word cisgender is really not that hard to learn.

I do explain it (it takes 5 seconds) when unsure whether the person im talking to has heard it before, so it is not sceney.

This is not about whether I should get out more, or stop fucking, this is not about me. I'm not even a trans ally, I make a transphobic fool of myself more often than i get anything right about trans people.

But the word cisgender is not hard to understand or use. Really. It is the worst possible example of the misuse of language because it has a precise meaning that is not covered by any other word.

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Aug 26 2013 17:12
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I'm not even a trans ally, I make a transphobic fool of myself more often than i get anything right about trans people.

Oh, for fuck's sake. First you play the victim card over people supposedly 'shaming' you, then you tell us you have transphobic tendencies. So, a transphobe is now telling those of us who are not transphobic that we don't care about the 'queer movement'. I think I need a fucking lie down wall

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Aug 26 2013 17:17

The whole point of the article, Tom, is about language and how we unintentionally isolate ourselves as a "movement" by the use of jargon and academic and sceney words. Personally I feel it is a core problem with anarchists making any inroads into the real world; as well as communicating amongst one another. Granted there is a time and a place for certain words, but overall, are we not about class struggle and inclusion?
Like Serge, I've never come across anyone (outside tinternet) that uses the word cis. But what comes with this word and a whole load of other world from queer ideology that you read on anarchist boards is a sort of presumptuousness about the language, this is how LBGT people talk and think. The reality as we know, or the reality I know very well for that matter, is you're every bit as likely to find a complete lack of politics and sociological language as you are outside the LGBT scene. And this is crucial, IMO. If even the people that are assumed to be using this language, don't use it... then why the hell is anyone? Look, we done cis to death here, it's about all those strange other world words that serve to exclude others.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 17:25

I am not worried about you shaming me, but about you accusing anyone who uses the word cisgender, who might very well by shy and know very little about anarchism, and trying to see if they can find comrades to fight oppression, who uses that word.

I dont say im a transphobe, but ive done many transphobic things, through ignorance, carelessness, etc. I dont flagellate myself over it, but i do try not to hurt people AGAIN. Thinking with words such as cisgender greatly helps. Trans people write at length very easily understandable blogs and articles about why they want this word to be used. A lot of gay lesbian and bi people are transphobic, so once again, not sure what the LGBT label as to do with anything?

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Aug 26 2013 17:25

And Tom...

Quote:
I do avoid a lot of feminist writing because it is way too complicated and obscurely phrased

Isn't this the whole point?

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 17:26

But cisgender is not part of these texts. Cisgender is not complicated. It is not obscurely phrased. It is one word corresponding to one idea that does not have another word for it.

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Aug 26 2013 17:34
Tom de Cleyre wrote:
But cisgender is not part of these texts. Cisgender is not complicated. It is not obscurely phrased. It is one word corresponding to one idea that does not have another word for it.

I agree except it is obscure. I don't want to prescribe, but if trans folk want to describe non trans folk as cis, then that's fine. It isn't aggression or bigoted to question the labels being attached from the outside in.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 26 2013 17:42

It isn't obscurely phrased, as it is coined on the exact same model as transgender. It is obscure because there are not many trans people or cis people that do not see themselves as "normal", "real" people, etc. The fact that this word is obscure in the sense that a little number of people use it is precisely why explaining what it means is important. It is not important so that we can be the cool kids around, it is important as the idea of it itself helps making the fight against transphobia possible. Same reason why associations of auisic people try to propagate neuroypical.

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Aug 26 2013 21:03

And how, one wonders, will all this language malarkey disrupt the circulation of commodities?

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Aug 27 2013 01:50

I might not know what my neo-pagan trans-humanist barista is doing with that grass-fed-cow, those david lynch coffee beans, and that sultry haircut behind the counter but I do know that it is my god-given right as an American to be hemmed to the fetishism, revel in the bourgeois categories, and realize the fuck out of the value oozing out of my latte with this here floating-rate of exchange money-form horse-hockey I got. I can M-C like nobody's business.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 27 2013 08:06

In the same way than naming the categories to capital and spreading the use of these concepts is necessary (but by no way sufficient) to dismantling commodity society, saying you want to fight all oppressions while refusing to name the different groups created by that oppression is shooting yourself in the foot.

Tom de Cleyre
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Aug 27 2013 08:27

Where does the stereotype come from that trans people, or people who accept to use one word used by trans people because they talked to some anarcho trans people once, drink expensive coffee? Or is that because I'm supposed to be an American trendy gay man, and they obviously drink expensive drinks?

Well, I drink mugs of tea I make myself, because i'm broke and british, but know what? They are commodities just like a something double shot latte whatever would be, and I make myself no illusion that it gives me any kind of revolutionnary credibility.

Fight gobbledook wherever it appears, fight the creation of unnecessary words and unnecessary name-dropping "as Bakunin once said"... That is healthy for the movement. Being bigoted and refusing a word that is necessary, that is just pushing away comrades because they know one long word you don't, and they would be very glad to explain it to you. It's not perfect, but hey, "heterosexual", sounds a lo more interesting than what it actually designates, and it still caught on.

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Aug 27 2013 08:59

There's nothing wrong with saying, 'as Bakunin, Marx or Sylvia Pankhurst once said' as it's a way of backing up your points, finding support for, or validation of, your views.

Quote:
use one word used by trans people

You're taking the piss. I've only ever met one trans person who uses the 'cis-' prefix and she's an anarchist. So just which imaginary or idealised trans people are you talking about here?

Edit: actually, I'm not sure if she does use the 'cis-' term but she is aware of it.