There’s a story that Sir Isaac Newton watched a chandelier in a church swing back and forth after an acolyte lighted the candles. Newton didn’t have a stop-watch, so he timed the swing by his pulse and reached the conclusion that the duration of the swing, from one extreme to the other, remained the same even though the swing covered less and less distance and eventually, bereft of a stimulus, stopped.
The story continues with the assertion that this led Newton to formulate some of his important laws of motion.
The story is likely anecdotal—perhaps apocryphal. But the pendulum is important. You see, there is a pendulum in the affairs of humankind which, taken at its best, leads on to fortune.
On the other hand, we are now afloat on a full sweep of the pendulum which is swinging from one extreme to the other (as pendulums do) and which is now swinging in a direction and at a speed that brooks nothing but ill.
That pendulum began as something called political correctness. Using “he” and “him” to refer to persons of the female sex became anathema and workarounds such as “he or she” and “him or her,” as well as idiocies such as “heshesh” became the only proper way to speak. Grammar took a back seat, as the plural pronouns “they” and “their” became acceptable (although improper) for a singular antecedent. White people became “melanin deficient,” short people became “height challenged.”
“Handicapped” became “disabled” became “differently abled” became… or will become… who knows what. What’s wrong with “handicapped”? Nothing, except in the mind of some idiots it became associated with “cap-in-hand” begging(1), which in reality was a children’s game played without any disrespect.
It’s not that much different from the situation that existed until the mid-20th century (and in some cases later) when “persons who happened to have Down Syndrome” were locked in attics and not taken out to be displayed with the same reverence that some people apply to their rescue dogs. [“Yes, it’s a Rescue Dog. Aren’t we wonderful for rescuing from death a dog that some idiot allowed to be born because the idiot didn’t have the parent spayed or neutered?” Maybe we should have the people who allowed that dog’s parents to breed spayed or neutered.]
“My child has Down Syndrome. You know that children with Down syndrome are more loving than other children.”
Actually, I don’t know that. But I know not to say “Down’s” — it would only show what an unfeeling and un-correct person I am.)
“Don’t you dare criticize him or her [another work-around] when he or she screams uncontrollably in the library or the supermarket. After all, he or she has Down syndrome.”
I don’t know that “more loving” is the right assessment. “More pathetic and therefore more susceptible to our pity—often confused with love,” may be more accurate.
“Persons who happened to be (or have)…” has become another work-around. You aren’t a Jew. You are a person who happens to be Jewish. You don’t have Down Syndrome. You are a person who happens to have Down Syndrome. You aren’t homosexual. You are a person who happens to be gay/lesbian/bisexual. You aren’t crippled. You are a person who happens to be mobility challenged.
I can agree with this workaround. That someone is Jewish, with Down Syndrome, and gay doesn’t necessarily define that person. He or she (there’s that work around, again) is much more than his or her (ditto) Jewishness, mental ability, or sexual orientation. Yes, even a gay, Jewish, homosexual is more than those words can convey.
The pendulum has swung so far that it now encompasses “trigger warnings.” These are introductory words to a document that warn people they might be offended if they read the article, blog, or book. Book and movie reviews often are prefaced by “Spoiler” because the person cannot write a review without revealing too much of the story. Examples (which I made up):
For Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”: (Spoiler) This book portrays adultery and sexual conduct by unmarried persons including a man of the cloth. If these subjects might offend you, please select another book. Perhaps something from the “McGuffey Readers” series.
For my blogs: WARNING: If you are a dumbass, you may be offended by the use of correct grammar and vocabulary in the following essay. Of course, if you’re a dumbass, you probably don’t know it, so go ahead and read.
For Alexandre Dumas, père’s “The Man in the Iron Mask”: This book may offend or cause severe psychological damage to any person who has a phobia of having his or her head covered with an iron mask and then being imprisoned.
For Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”: This book includes dialectic speech that demeans Persons of Color as well as speech by melanin-deficient persons who use the “n-word.”
For the Jewish Bible (the so-called “Old Testament”): This book treats incest, adultery, and polygamy as normal. It includes more than twenty million murders and the first recorded incident of date rape.
My inventions, above, are not exaggerations. However, they’re all true, including the “date rape” in the Bible. [Lot’s daughters, after he and they escaped from the destruction of Sodom. The story is told in Genesis 19, especially verse 31 and following.]
1. True story. I was teaching supervision and management, including a segment on dealing with reasonable accommodation for persons with handicaps, when a government-employed lawyer complained to the contracting officer that I had used the word, “handicapped,” and that it was demeaning because it was associated with begging. I resisted calling the lawyer an idiot in the subsequent meeting. I kind’a wish I had.
2. When I searched the internet for “Down Syndrome,” one of the options was “How do you have a baby with Down syndrome?” Okay, that’s entirely TMI. Someone wants to do that? Please, whoever asked that question: go to the pound (sorry, “Animal Rescue Facility and Shelter”) and get a Rescue Dog. I promise it will be a lot easier to train and rear.
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.