A sermon on tolerance and inclusion

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Warning: meandering New Year's sermon ahead, starting at a random point and going somewhere entirely else.

I started reading Martin Kay's book on Translation, and I am enjoying it quite a bit so far. Kay passed away August 2021. His work seems highly relevant for the work on Abstract Wikipedia.

One thing that bummed me though is that for more than a page in the introduction he rants about pronouns and how he is going to use "he" to generically mean both men and women, and how all other solutions have deficits.

He culminates in the explanation: "Another solution to this problem is which is increasing in popularity, is to use both 'he' and 'she', shifting between them more or less randomly. So we will sometimes get 'When a translator is confronted with a situation of this kind, she must decide...'. The trouble with this is that some readers, including the present writer, reacts quite differently to the sentence depending on which version of the generic pronoun it contains. We read the one containing 'he' smoothly and, all else being equal, assimilate the intended meaning. Encountering the one with 'she', on the other hand, is like following a television drama that is suddenly interrupted by a commercial."

Sooo frustratingly close to getting it.

I wish he'd had just not spent over a page on this topic, but just used the generic 'he' in the text, and that's it. I mean, I don't expect everyone born more than eighty years ago to adjust to the modern usage of pronouns.

Now, I am not saying that to drag Kay's name through dirt, or to get him cancelled or whatever. I have never met him, but I am sure he was a person with many positive facets, and given my network I wouldn't be surprised if there are people who knew him and can confirm so. I'm also not saying that to virtue signal and say "oh man, look how much more progressive I am". Yes, I am slightly annoyed by this page. Unlike many others though, I am not actually personally affected by it - I use the pronoun "he" for myself and not any other pronoun, so this really is not about me. Is it because of that that it is easy for me to gloss over this and keep reading?

So is it because I am not affected personally that it is so easy for me to say the following: it is still worthwhile to keep reading his work, and the rest of the book, and to build on top of his work and learn from him. The people we learn some things from, the influences we accept, they don't have to be perfect in every way, right? Would it have been as easy for me to say that if I were personally affected? I don't know.

I am worried about how quickly parts of society seems to be ready to "cancel" and "call out" people, and how willing they are to tag a person as unacceptable because they do not necessarily share every single belief that is currently regarded as a required belief.

I have great difficulties in drawing the line. Which beliefs or actions of a person should be sufficient grounds to shun them or their work? When JK Rowling doubles down on her stance regarding trans women, is this enough to ask everyone to drop all interest in the world she created and the books she wrote? Do we reshoot movie scenes such as the cameo of Donald Trump in Home Alone 2 in order to "purify" the movie and make it acceptable for our new enlightened age again? When Johnny Depp was accused of domestic abuse, does he need to be recast from movies he had already been signed on? Do we also need to stop watching his previous movies? Do the believable accusations of child abuse against Marion Zimmer Bradley mean that we have to ignore her contributions to feminist causes, never mind her books? Should we stop using a font such as Gill Sans because of the sexual abuse Erjc Gill committed against his daughters? Do we have to stop watching movies or listen to music produced by murderers such as OJ Simpson, Phil Spector, or Johnny Lewis?

I intentionally escalated the examples, and they don't compare at all to Kay's defence of his usage of pronouns.

I offer no answers as to where the line should be, I have none. I don't know. In my opinion, none of us is perfect, and none of our idols, paragons, or example model humans will survive the scrutiny for perfection. This is not a new problem. Think of Gandhi, Michael Jackson, Alice Schwarzer, Socrates - no matter where you draw your idols from, they all come with imperfections, sometimes massive ones.

Can we keep and accept their positive contributions - without ignoring their faults? Can we allow people with faults to still continue to contribute their skills to society, or do we reduce them to their faults and negatives? Do we have to get someone fired for tweeting a stupid joke? Do we demand perfection by everyone at all time?

Or do we allow everyone to be human, make and have errors, and have beliefs many don't deem acceptable? Committing or causing actions resulting from these beliefs? Even if these actions and beliefs hurt or endanger people, or deny the humanity of others? We don't have to and should not accept their racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia - but can and should we still recognise their other contributions?

I am worried about something else as well. By pushing out so many because of the one thing they don't want to accept in the basket of required beliefs, we push them all into the group of outsiders. But if there are too many outsiders, the whole system collapses. Do we all have to have the same belief on guns, on climate, on gender, on abortion, on immigration, on race, on crypto, on capitalism, on housing? Or can we integrate and work together even if we have differences?

The vast majority of Americans think that human-caused climate change is real and that we should act to avoid it. Only 10% don't. And yet, because of the way we define and fence our in- and outgroups, we have a strong voting block that repeatedly leads to outright sabotage to effective measures. A large majority of Americans support the right to abortion, but you would never be able to tell given the fights around laws and court cases. Taxing billionaires more effectively is highly popular with voters, but again these majorities fizzle away and don't translate to the respective changes in the tax code.

I think we should be able to work together with people we don't agree with on everything. We should stop requiring perfection and alignment on all issues before moving forward. But then again, that's what I am saying, and I am saying it from a position of privilege, am I not? I am male. I am White. I am heterosexual. I am not Muslim or Jewish. I am well educated. I am not poor. I am reasonably technologically savvy. I am not disabled. What right do I have at all to voice my opinion on these topics? To demand for acceptance people with beliefs that hurt or endanger people who are not like me. Or even to ask for your precious attention for these words of mine?


And yet I hope that we will work together towards progress on the topics we agree on, that we will enlighten each other on the topics we disagree on, and that we will be able to embrace more of us on our way into the future.

P.S.: this post is problematic and not very well written, and I recognise that. Please refer to the discussion about it on Facebook.


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