Vacating sense

That the “personal is the political” was a piece of leftwing bafflegab that was first presented to my ears in High School — now more than half a century ago. It is what I would call, awkwardly no doubt, “a revision.” The word will be generally misunderstood, and might be taken as a revision itself. To revise something sounds like a harmless activity, and carries an implication of improvement. To tamper with the meanings of words and common phrases is to be “progressive” in some way.

Yet what one is doing is not. One is not replacing one definition with another, that has for better or worse a new meaning or nuance. (This may be necessary when circumstances change, and what one is describing has itself changed, however subtly.) In such cases, the old meaning survives, as a kind of ghost within the new machinery. Rather, one is negating the old meaning; sabotaging, or cancelling it.

Let it not be replaced. The word itself comes to mean anything. Slowly it is transformed not only into the opposite of its “narrow” previous meaning, by linguistic habit with a memory of what it meant, but a neurotic compulsion to turn it over. But eventually it assumes the opposite of meaning, altogether. It now means “whatever.”

By linguistic habit, the “personal” was previously the opposite of the “political.” This could be easily grasped, by the sane. The opposition of the two terms created a barrier between them; it was an invisible wall or border. Tear it down, and you don’t have a wall in a different place. You have no wall.

Most of our modern innovations are like this, even in manufacturing. Where once we, more or less, universally subscribed to contrasts and oppositions between things, reinforced “by nature,” we are now just as universally at sea.

Consider “male” and “female.”

These two categories are still accepted by most people who understand English, or other languages; but they are accepted as meaningless or (another word that has been “revised”) “controversial.” The distinction is being actually suppressed. But it isn’t being revised to something — new and strange — but instead erased. Girls, for instance, continue to be girls, but aren’t, simultaneously. They have become “whatevers” — something else. But nothing specific. The same sort of thing happened to boys. For that matter it goes for mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, daughters, sons, and so forth — distinctions now formally taken out of laws.

Feminism is often blamed for this. But while I would not endorse feminists in any way, I don’t think they can be held responsible. After all, feminists were ideologues who favoured women; but this is a movement that erases women.

I wouldn’t speak with confidence about intentions. If the definitions were being replaced, even systematically, I would suspect a “revolutionary” movement. But it is easier to have a revolution — which is after all something purposeful — without tampering with such phrases. It leaves everyone confused about what you are demanding.

The intention of “revision,” in my limited sense, is deeper. It goes towards the bottom of human experience — indeed, beneath the bottom — and touches on the insane.