Over recent months we have discovered the corpus of C J Sanson, a writer of tight, illuminating historical novels. His premier character is a hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake practising amidst the turbulent times of Henry VIII. It has often been observed that superior historical novels are one of the best ways to access particular historical periods and times: Dr Sanson's work perfectly illustrates the point. His historical knowledge is both comprehensive and compelling.
He has also set novels in the twentieth century. We have recently read Winter in Madrid, a novel set in Franco's Spain in the early 40's. In this novel Sanson portrays (in passing) the fantastical notion held by many communists and socialists of the day: when the revolution comes, human nature will be transformed.
Self-interest, even enlightened self-interest would be naturally and irresistibly replaced with the interests of the collective, or society, being placed first in the heart of every man (recalcitrants having been either re-education camps or executed). The New Model Society both creates the New Model Man and is progressively built by the same transformed humanity.
The idea lingers on today, albeit now widely discredited and exploded. But it keeps appearing, attempting a revival, a comeback in various forms. This transformation in human nature from self-interest to collective-interest is now to be achieved by persuasion, education, conditioning, regulations and laws. The attempts are most often derisory and stupid. For some reason their protagonists don't realise how inane they appear.
Here is one egregious example: the attempt to create the New Model Man in the US State Department. Within the miasmic halls of Foggy Bottom there are attempts underway to bring forth this New Model. In the vanguard is a Chief Diversity Officer. His role is to ensure that all bureaucrats and functionaries within the State Department properly reflect the collective interest, which, in this case, means collective man first. All discrimination between human beings is to be wiped away from the collective memory. All discriminatory language is to be erased from individual memory banks.
Idiotic, but true apparently, according to the Daily Caller:
As Chesterton observed, when men stop believing in God, they don't believe nothing: they believe everything. The idiotic credulity of believing in the creation of the New Model Man at Foggy Bottom is an apt example of the syndrome. Pathetic, but true.
New frontiers in hypersensitivity: State Department officer says ‘holding down the fort’ is racistADVERTISEMENT
John M. Robinson, the Chief Diversity Officer at the U.S. Department of State, wants America’s diplomats to know that common phrases and idioms like “holding down the fort” are, in fact, deeply racist.
Robinson, who also serves as director of the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, used his “Diversity Notes” feature in the July/August issue of the official “State Magazine” to examine the hateful roots of everyday sayings. In one recent public relations kerfuffle at Nike, Inc., he wrote, the company torpedoed a sneaker called the “Black and Tan.”
“What a wonderful celebratory gesture and appreciation for Irish culture. Not!” wrote Robinson, an adult.
Robinson notes that “Black and Tan,” in addition to being an enjoyably robust alcoholic concoction, can refer to the brutal Protestant militiamen who ravaged the Irish countryside in the early 20th century — which is why Irish bartenders always get so upset when you order one.
In an effort to avoid offending those notoriously fragile Irish sensibilities, Nike pulled the shoe from stores. Robinson would like us all to learn from the sneaker company’s inadvertent racism and really start watching what we say. For example, did you know “going Dutch” is a reference to Netherlanders’ apparently well-known parsimoniousness, and that your widowed neighbor, sweet old Mrs. Rasmussen, cries every time she hears you use it?
And did you know using the phrase “holding down the fort” is the linguistic equivalent of scalping a Cherokee? According to Robinson, the phrase dates back to American soldiers on the western frontier who wanted to “hold down” all that land they stole.
“Handicap” and “rule of thumb” are two more figures of speech that Robsinon, in his wisdom, has decreed offensive. The latter, Robinson says, refers to the width of a stick a man could once use to legally beat his wife.
And in case you’re wondering how he could have done all the etymological detective work necessary to conclude that these phrases came from where he says they came from, and still have time to perform his Chief Diversity Officer duties at the State Department, wonder no more: Robinson doesn’t really know if any of this is true.
“Much has been written about whether the etymologies below are true or merely folklore, but this isn’t about their historical validity,” Robinson writes. “[I]nstead, it is an opportunity to remember that our choice of wording affects our professional environment.”
Duly noted, Mr. Robinson.