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Politics and What Remains of the English Language

Here is a list of a few trendy words, overused, politicized, and empty of meaning, that now plague popular communications.

“Intersection” How many times have we read a writer, columnist, pundit, or job applicant self-describe himself with this strange word? Here’s an example: “Joe Blow is a social theorist working at the intersection of class oppression, racial stereotyping, and transgendered emergence.”? Or: “Amanda Lopez writes at the intersection of Latina identity, Foucauldian otherness, and social media.” Most of the time “intersection” exists only in the grandiose mind of the writer. It is a patent though feeble attempt to become a threefer or fourfer on the race/gender/generic victim/revolutionary activist scale. The intersected topics are individually irrelevant — and all the more so when cobbled together. The use of “intersection” is a postmodern way of plastering bumper-sticker narcissisms without writing, “I am an identity-studies person without much knowledge of literature, history, or languages, but am desperately trying to convey expertise of some sort by piling up a bunch of pseudo-disciplines that credential my victimhood activism.”

“Diversity” The noun was rebranded in the 1980s, and does not mean what it by nature should — “a range” or “multiplicity.” No one furthers the goals of “diversity” by ensuring plenty of conservatives, liberals, radicals and reactionaries on campus, or welcoming lots of Christian fundamentalists as well as atheists and Muslims. The word instead is a euphemism for non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-Christian, and non-liberal. It is a relative and entirely political noun. The University of Missouri football team can both be 52% African-American and proof of diversity, even if African-Americans make up less than 12% of the population — in a way that all white and elderly Democratic primary candidates are honorifically diverse by virtue of their homogeneous left-wing politics.

Three other observations: First, racial and ethnic diversity, without assimilation and integration into one culture, and when identity becomes essential rather than incidental to a nation (i.e. a salad bowl society rather than the melting pot), leads to Armageddon, whether in Austria-Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or Iraq.

Second, the word gained careerist currency because of the bankruptcy of the idea of affirmative action, after it became impossible to explain and thus defend racial set-asides. Who can define the proper DNA that makes one deserving of admissions and employment reparations: 1/4 African-American, but not Punjabi or Egyptian? Hmong, but not Japanese? Oaxacan, but not Castilian? Muslim, but not Mormon? An indigent Appalachian, but not Eric Holder’s son? As a result, universities had to lump everybody deemed non-white together as they pleased and called the catch-all result “diversity” — regardless of class, income, status or history. If one wishes someone non-white to be hired on the physics faculty, then a South Korean immigrant green-card-holding PhD counts as diversity, in a way that his son would not qualify for traditional affirmative-action status as an 18-year-old applicant to UC Berkeley. Diversity lowered the affirmative-action bar and the natural consequence of vagueness were the fantasies of Elizabeth Warren, Rachel…

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