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E-Pluribus | January 24, 2022
Google's word police, government and the holes in our souls, and has Joe Biden's rhetoric gone off the rails?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Lawrence Krauss: Google’s ‘Inclusive Language’ Police
One of the ironies of “inclusive” language is the growing list of excluded words. Lawrence Krauss writes at the Wall Street Journal how Google has waded into the fray with new guidelines that range from predictable to puzzling to just plain silly.
Google has created guidelines for “inclusive” language in software and documentation that describe how software should reflect the hypersensitive feelings of programmers who are immersed in woke culture and fixated on victimhood and offense. Apparently these guidelines will be enforced in the future in all new open-source projects, and the company will scrub earlier versions as well. Various other technology groups, including some at universities and professional associations, have developed their own guidelines. Microsoft recently introduced a feature for its popular Word software that can ferret out and replace noninclusive words and phrases.
It isn’t surprising that standard programming terms such as “master/slave” and “whitelist/blacklist” are now verboten. Nor is the nixing of gendered pronouns. But apparently, for reasons that elude me, the use of “black box,” which has no negative connotations I am aware of, is also inappropriate, according to Google’s guidelines.
Other terms describing computer programs have also been proscribed. A developer can no longer say that some functionality is “crippled” by a bug or that anomalous data seem “crazy.” And “dummy variable,” a key term in coding, should now be replaced with “placeholder,” which seems no more inclusive to me, and I doubt a dummy variable, even if it could care, would.
My favorite proscription is against the word “smartphone.” Presumably Google assumes other phones will be offended.
Read the whole thing.
Jonah Goldberg: M&Ms, Masterminding, and Meandering
In an admittedly (by Goldberg himself) somewhat stream of consciousness piece (though to be fair, that’s how the G-File generally works), Jonah Goldberg plays off the latest pop culture kerfuffle involving the latest update to the M&M spokescandies. Goldberg writes of the incident as at once trivial and serious because of the weight given to the social, cultural and political implications of even the most inconsequential matters and what it says about how we live our lives and, perhaps more importantly, how we believe others should live theirs.
I have been writing for decades now that the government cannot love you. This was, until recently, an admonition aimed almost entirely leftward. But today it works in every direction. Yes, you can get a sense of belonging from being part of a political campaign, and you can get a sense of meaning from being physically part of a movement. But the belonging and meaning come from the participation with other human beings in a cause or community. The state cannot deliver these things to you. It can increase your net worth, but it is largely powerless to improve your self worth—at least at scale. Sure, teachers, social workers, and other agents of the government can make some progress in this regard. But it is a face-to-face, person-to-person endeavor, and there’s little evidence that they’re better at it than people who don’t work for the government.
And the more effort the government puts into filling the holes in your soul—real or alleged —the less energy it puts into doing what government is for. One of the reasons parents are becoming radicalized these days is that they sense, often with good reason, that their kids’ schools and the politicians—beholden to the unions and bureaucracies around them—care more about what people do with pencils than doing their part in making pencils. One reason crime is becoming such a salient issue is that lots of people are increasingly convinced that politicians think criminal justice is a lower priority than social justice.
Many on the right look at the folly of generations of progressive social engineering and think the folly stems not from the social engineering, but solely from the progressivism. As a conservative, I have no problem conceding that the progressivism has often made the social engineering worse. But centralized social engineering, masterminding soulcraft, doesn’t work from any angle. Social media heightens the problem by shrinking the space we live in. We get mad when our neighbors “live wrong.” But with social media everybody is our neighbor.
I believe there is such a thing as living wrong. But the solution to that, again, is dealing with the whole person, in the rich complexity of their lived experience. You can’t do that from a distance. And that fact doesn’t change just by changing the definition of living right. You want a religious revival in this country? Fine. Work from the ground up, “one-by-one, from the inside out,” as Glenn Loury put it.
Read it all.
Tevi Troy: Presidential Rhetoric and the Return to Normalcy
After Donald Trump, the assumption was that whoever assumed the office of the presidency in his wake would return some sense of normalcy. Tevi Troy at Discourse Magazine raises the possibility that Joe Biden is proving that assumption to have been overly optimistic.
So, when Biden assumed office, there were reasons to argue that he could be either divisive or unifying. But while the inaugural address used unifying language, once the hard choices of governing emerged, Biden’s choices tended more toward the divisive rather than the unifying.
The first divisive decision was on the personnel front. There is a long-standing practice of having a representative of the other party in the president’s cabinet. The practice dates back to Franklin Roosevelt, although it was unfortunately broken by Biden’s immediate predecessor. Biden, however, had an opportunity to reestablish the practice and to pick a Republican cabinet secretary. While Biden did select some members of the opposing party for sub-cabinet or ambassadorial positions—as did his predecessor—he did not do so with any departmental secretaries. This early move showed a lack of willingness to take governing actions that would match his initial unifying rhetoric.
Then, in his first major legislative push, Biden rejected Republican efforts to negotiate on his COVID relief package. At the very beginning of the administration, moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins came to the White House and offered to bring 10 Republicans along if they could agree on a bipartisan COVID relief package. This would have allowed Biden to get past the 60-vote threshold in the Senate and to pass his bill without using the one-party budget reconciliation process. Despite his professed interest in unity and bipartisanship, however, Biden rejected the overture and refused even to put forward a counteroffer. This early decision set the tone for a presidency that, so far, has tried to legislate without seeking votes from the other side of the aisle.
It is on top of this history that Biden gave his offensive Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis speech, a comparison that even Democratic Senator Dick Durbin thought went too far. Biden press secretary Jen Psaki tried to dismiss critiques of the Bull Connor language by saying, “I know there has been a lot of claim of the offensive nature of the speech yesterday, which is hilarious on many levels, given how many people sat silently over the last four years for the former president.” Her response, however, misses the point. Biden was not elected to be a Democratic version of his predecessor. Biden quite consciously ran on the promise of a different, more unifying approach.
Read it all here.
Peter Boghossian’s take on “intellectual integrity”:
Liz Cheney, Newt Gingrich, the January 6th committee and the Rule of Law:
Glenn Greenwald on The Good Guy:
Finally, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on being “woke”: