Elon Musk keeps getting richer by the day, a fact that clearly entitles him, when tweeting, to choose any target to provoke and to be as outrageous in his expression as his fancy dictates. One of Musk’s latest tweets has provoked Seth Cohen to pen an article in Forbes focused on what he calls an “apparently transphobic two-word Tweet from Friday evening.” The two words Musk chose were, “Pronouns suck.”
Slaves Picked Cotton, Senator Cotton Picks a Fight with History
As everyone should be aware, politically correct culture (PC) — sometimes referred to as “woke” culture, closely related to cancel culture — has become a dominant trend in the era of social media. It offers the permanent opportunity to anyone who feels victimized, or who takes pride in defending groups that are routinely victimized, to interpret the language they read or hear from others in a sense that feeds their sense of outrage.
The text that defines Cohen’s role at Forbes describes him as someone who writes “about leadership, politics, inclusion and social change.” As a defender of inclusion, he has stepped up to the plate to condemn Musk’s attack by agreeing with the collective judgment of the many people who found the billionaire’s cryptic message “to be an offensive and transphobic Tweet.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Parts of speech that infuriate American proponents of critical theory who believe that language itself is a conscious conspiracy invented by one dominant class or gender to oppress another one.
Musk has shown a talent for hiring effective lawyers to defend him whenever he crosses a PC line. When the CEO of Tesla recently attacked cave explorer Vernon Unsworth’s reputation by suggesting that the man who saved a group of youngsters from drowning in Thailand was a pedophile, Musk hired attorney Alex Spiro to argue in court that calling Unsworth “pedo guy” in a tweet “was simply heated rhetoric and not meant as a statement of fact.” If Musk needed him again, Spiro would most likely convincingly point out, concerning the transphobic tweet, that he was simply criticizing the confusing ambiguity of pronouns.
Rapper Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, is the mother of Musk’s most recent child, born only a few weeks ago. The parents named the child X Æ A-12, which some may feel “sucks” as a name for a kid. But Musk would probably argue that it’s his constitutional right to give whatever name he prefers to his baby. And in this hyper-competitive world, there should be no limit to a man’s creativity when he is the CEO or founder of multiple innovative corporations that are all focused on sculpting the landscape of humanity’s technological future.
Grimes appears to have discussed these topics with Musk in the recent past. She agrees with Cohen that Musk’s tweet could be interpreted as a denial of the constitutional right of some members of the LGBTQ community to choose the pronoun they require other people to use when referring to them. (Some will claim that that amounts to the denial of other people’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, but the cycle of denial of rights could go on endlessly.)
The rapper was clear about this when she tweeted: “I love you but please turn off ur phone or give me a dall [sic]. I cannot support this hate. Please stop this. I know this is not your heart.” The fact that Grimes didn’t hesitate to accuse her partner of spreading hate appears to validate Cohen’s interpretation.
Cohen sums up the case against Musk in these terms: “By seemingly mocking the issue of personal pronoun usage, the widely-followed entrepreneur isn’t just sharing the musings of an eccentric businessman, he is also stoking a cultural conflict and diminishing an issue that is an important aspect of the recognition and inclusion of transgender and non-conforming individuals.”
That’s a lot to accomplish in two words. It’s true that earlier this month, sports commentator Adrian Wojnarowski managed to cause a major stir resulting in his two-week suspension without pay from ESPN thanks to a two-word tweet he addressed to Senator Josh Hawley. But Musk played it safe. He avoided targeting an elected official.
Cohen admits that Musk may not have intended to express a form of hate. But he insists that his “comment nonetheless shows an incredible amount of ignorance by a man seen by many as one of the boldest and most insightful entrepreneurs of our lifetime.” He calls for Musk to apologize. Cohen seems troubled by the idea that an entrepreneur acknowledged to be bold and insightful should show such ignorance of social trends
Seth Cohen offers his own historical perspective on this event significant enough to justify an article in Forbes and now a column in The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer. He claims that it “comes at a time when America is already mired in a national debate about issues of identity and inclusion, and in particular, inclusion of transgender individuals.”
There may indeed be a raging debate about pronouns, but in terms of society becoming “mired” at this particular historical moment, shouldn’t other issues take priority, such as wearing a mask, opening schools, defunding the police, kidnapping protesters, tear-gassing mayors, extending or cutting off unemployment benefits and allowing millions of people to be evicted?
Earlier this week, The Daily Devil’s Dictionary cited linguist Krysten Syrett, who in the course of an NPR interview said in no uncertain terms, “We have to shake up our pronoun system.” That was perhaps her slightly more expansive way of saying that pronouns “suck.”
No one can predict what the result will look like once the reformers finish shaking up the system of pronouns. Perhaps “he, him” and “she and her” will be banished from the language in the name of equality or a totally new vocabulary invented. Books by writers from Shakespeare to Philip Roth may then need an asterisk after instances of “he” and an explanation of it as an archaic pronoun reserved for one of the two recognized genders in the past when the belief in precisely two genders was widely shared.
Until very recently, the debate was restricted to academics in humanities departments who adhered to the orthodoxy of “critical theory.” The war against the traditional pronoun system within academia has been raging for some time. But now it would seem that all Americans — or at least those who have Twitter accounts or who read Forbes — are called upon to take sides. The issue has even created a rift down the middle of the very unacademic Musk-Grimes couple. How that will affect the upbringing of X Æ A-12 we can only speculate.
Cohen cites evidence from recent history to prove his assertion that the nation is mired in this war. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “in 2019 at least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people were fatally shot or killed by violence.” Though the figure is relatively small, statistics concerning violent deaths are always alarming and should be taken seriously when evaluating social issues.
But is this truly a problem of intolerance? It seems far more likely that the explanation for these deaths has less to do with hate toward a specific group and more to do with Americans’ predilection for violence, and particularly gun violence. Independently of their sexual orientation or their attitude toward the “non-conforming,” Americans disproportionately tend to resort to violence as the most direct way of solving a problem or simply venting their frustrations.
More than ever, the social fabric of the US appears “mired” to the point of collapsing into civil war. Language is one issue among many, though Americans tend to focus on it in ways that don’t trouble other cultures to the same degree. The strange thing is that a new civil war will be nothing like the original American Civil War under Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, which was conducted across geographical lines and focused essentially on the status of slavery.
The coming war may be about any number of oppositions and may even find ways of combining them. Whether the spark that sets it off is police brutality, income inequality, oligarchic control, racial status or pronouns remains to be seen.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Click here to read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.