Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The perils of naming yourself

Dear Hannah,

One thing that I realized after reading a very thoughtful (and extremely Catholic) essay by Anthony Esolen, was that, in the war over gender pronouns and in nearly everything else, it's generally a terrible thing to name yourself.


Christianity in fact may be the first casualty when the Catholics were named the Catholics; and it may be said to be a casualty because naming yourself all there is to see of the Christians has obviously left out a considerable number of Christians.  The Evangelicals are next, and they are next because (almost imitating the error of the Catholics) they named themselves as though Evangelicals were the only people who evangelize.  And anyone "orthodox" follows exactly in line, claiming for themselves to be the source of originality, when in fact they are neither the originals nor original in naming themselves the originals*; and are expressly uninterested in perpetuating the anarchy which persisted in the original centuries of the Christian church (which resulted in the world being given the Catholics).

Christianity isn't the only organization to have suffered from people naming themselves, and the second instance we may think of which proves this is anyone who submits his personal theory of government known as a bill.  Anyone familiar at all with any kind of legislation in any Western society (and any society today, for that matter) is well aware that many modern bills are not actually what they say they are.  And we know this because the people who voted against the Patriot Act were not unpatriotic, the people who censured No Child Left Behind were not for abandoning our children, and (presumably) nobody who voted against the Violence Against Women Act was interested in having American women beaten.  The whole of our rottenly-named bills, from the things labeled one thing that are actually for a hundred others, to the names which imply the opposition are criminals and rebels in general, can be said to prove one thing, and that is even the people entrusted with the representation of the people are liars.  There is only one thing we're more likely to lie about than ourselves, in fact, and it is about our enemies**.    

A fact that we have been living with for centuries and nobody has disputed until recently is that even the most arbitrary things known as our personal names are given to us by others, even if you happen to be named something as embarrassing as Francis.  Even despite the fact that everyone (excepting Johnny Cash) believes a strong name helps make a strong man, and people name their children things like Jefferson and Madison in the hopes that somebody won't embarrass the family, we still give parents the arbitrary power to shape the destinies of people in their most formative years; and children, incapable of changing their names for themselves, are stuck not with an identification based on their physical, mental, or spiritual qualities, but with the whims of their parents for better or for worse.  In short, aside from religious conversions and marriage and going on the lam or becoming a rapper, our names are generally left the way they were given; and if the name doesn't fit us, over a given amount of time we are eventually thought to fit the name.

What's remarkable about the argument over gender pronouns isn't that anyone is interested in naming himself or his bill or his religion, but that he's interested in naming his personal characteristics.  No longer content with being male or female, what the person against gender roles really wants is to define the way he feels and have everyone believe it's the way he actually is.  Nobody is allowed to question genitalia or the dozen other universally recognized traits that the gender benders try to blur and absolutely fail to erase.  The power of definition resides entirely in the will of the individual, and he denies with laws and shaming the ability for anyone else to question or reject it.

It's worth noting that many intelligent but ignorant people make fun of Americans for accepting a 35% corporate tax when their ancestors started a rebellion over a tax for their tea.  But the truth is that the American Revolution was never a war about excises.  It was a war over a principle, that someone out there was able to give one set of laws to another and that the person who was getting the laws didn't have a say in it.  It was that one kind of British citizen was given constitutional rights and another one wasn't.  And I believe that when we examine the war over gender pronouns we are experiencing the same thing.  One set of us is being given the power (and in many cases with the threat of legal punishment) to tell another set how to think and speak of him, even though we have an Amendment specifically for our freedom of speech.  And the other man, realizing that what's being changed is not "Larry" to "Jerry," but something obvious and factual and central to our existence and insulting to our intelligence, would very much prefer to think what he thinks.  Simply put, we have given the sole power of defining his own characteristics to the one kind of person who has historically been responsible for abusing the power.  And that person is the individual.

Your father,
-J

*Any Christian sect in which the sectarians have any brains at all is interested not in promoting the newer doctrines of the sect as newer, but in insisting that the newer doctrines are actually the oldest.  Any Christian sect which deviates from this pattern, insisting that they are doing something different from what Jesus wanted, has shed any pretenses of Christianity, and may be safely qualified as a new religion.

**Macaulay has an interesting passage about naming your enemies in his History of England, relating to the origins of the terms Tories and Whigs.  
It is a curious circumstance that one of these nicknames was of Scotch, and the other of Irish, origin. Both in Scotland and in Ireland, misgovernment had called into existence bands of desperate men whose ferocity was heightened by religious enthusiasm. In Scotland some of the persecuted Covenanters, driven mad by oppression, had lately murdered the Primate, had taken arms against the government, had obtained some advantages against the King's forces, and had not been put down till Monmouth, at the head of some troops from England, had routed them at Bothwell Bridge. These zealots were most numerous among the rustics of the western lowlands, who were vulgarly called Whigs. Thus the appellation of Whig was fastened on the Presbyterian zealots of Scotland, and was transferred to those English politicians who showed a disposition to oppose the court, and to treat Protestant Nonconformists with indulgence. The bogs of Ireland, at the same time, afforded a refuge to Popish outlaws, much resembling those who were afterwards known as Whiteboys. These men were then called Tories. The name of Tory was therefore given to Englishmen who refused to concur in excluding a Roman Catholic prince from the throne.

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