The Trouble With 'Peoplekind' And Other PC Newspeak

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Mathieu Bock-Côté


MONTREAL — The news spread around the world: Canada had just changed the English version of its national anthem, replacing the line "in all thy sons command" with "in all of us command." Why? To make it gender neutral of course.

Officially, and in order to reduce the significance of this change, they pretend it's a simple return to the original version of "O Canada." But they're not fooling anybody. The people who spent years campaigning for the national anthem to be rewritten did so explicitly as part of the "fight against sexism."

And it's no surprise that their fight should lead to victory now, under the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who hails the reform as a step in the fight for equality between the sexes. Canada thus confirms its reputation as a model country in the pursuit of diversity ideals. Step by step, it seeks to shed its old skin and be reborn as a new nation, free from all discriminations.

But there are also skeptics. For them, the change of lyrics is yet another example of politically correct posturing, one that will only encourage the most radical activists to push their advantage to modify other collective symbols they deem anachronistic. Unchecked, this kind of symbolic reengineering is unstoppable, because there will always be an interest group that feels offended and demands that one word be replaced with another, or that one statue associated with a period of time they no longer identify with be taken down.

The change of lyrics is yet another example of politically correct posturing.

As chance would have it, around the same time as the updated "O Canada" was adopted, Trudeau himself gave an extreme example of what political correctness can be. During a town hall event in Alberta, he corrected a young woman for using the dubious word "mankind." Never mind that it's actually a very common term. The prime minister immediately interrupted the woman and suggested she use the word "peoplekind" instead — because "it's more inclusive."

The video went viral in the English-speaking world, provoking cruel hilarity and an appropriate feeling of exasperation at the same time. Trudeau even had to try and pretend it was a joke, though naturally, nobody believed him.

A logic of purification

So what's next? Should we then erase from the vocabulary all trace of masculinity, as some French ecologists demanded a few months ago when they asked that the word "patrimoine" (patrimony, which also means heritage in French) be replaced with "matrimoine"? The trend isn't new, of course. In the span of a few years, in Quebec, blind people (aveugles) have become visually-impaired (non-voyants, literally non-seeing) and dwarves (nains) have become little people (personnes de petite taille).

Language has lost its descriptive function. Instead it's become a battlefield, where new power struggles take place. Using a word that's been banned or simply deemed old-fashioned can be costly for a male politician, because he would show, even without noticing it, that he belongs to the ancient world, which is unforgivable. This ideological dynamic also complicates things for average citizens, who feel they can't say anything anymore, to reuse the conventional phrasing.

But let's look beyond Canada to think in broader terms. Fundamentally, we are faced with a logic of purification. Its supporters imagine a world that's too white, too masculine, too Western, and make it their mission to deconstruct it, to destroy it even, so that historically marginalized groups are visible in public representations. That is what's at stake, for instance, with "inclusive writing," which caused a stir a few months ago in France and continues to gain ground even if the media has lost interest. In other words, what's left of yesterday's world is a scandal.

The 20th century taught us that the ideologization of language is often a symptom of totalitarian temptation.

One can only imagine what would happen to "La Marseillaise" — France's national anthem — if it was forced through the "inclusive" wringer. We can't accept our place in history, it seems. Instead we denounce everything that came before our time. In this era, emancipation means tearing oneself away from what's already here and banning anything from tradition that doesn't confirm its own prejudice.

Losing touch with reality

The 20th century taught us that the ideologization of language is often a symptom of totalitarian temptation. And in the pro-diversity and neo-feminist orthodoxy currently imposing itself in every corner of the Western world, that temptation clearly exists. It's impossible to reread Orwell's 1984 and not feel dread as you find in the book several of the most distinctive and detestable character traits of our time.

The supporters of this newspeak control the meaning of words, discredit more and more of them, and, more importantly, keep tabs on those who don't adopt the new vocabulary with ostentatious enthusiasm. The inspectors of the media flow are always on the lookout for any potential verbal misstep, and they hand out ideological tickets to anyone who strays from the corridor of correct thought. The intellectual must always be careful not to hurt the new catechism: just read The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Miloscz, the great Polish thinker.

By reinventing words, by bleaching them, they think they're cleansing the language from the past. But all they're really doing is help construct a new regime. For people in the diversity camp, for example, the newspeak includes terms like "radicalized communities' and "non-mixed workshops." The words are supposed to be inclusive, but instead have the opposite effect: They contribute to a suffocating universe that prevents us from naming reality and censors it by all means possible; a parallel universe that condemns us to living in a fantasy world where changing the meaning of words is enough to give birth to a better world.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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