Gender-neutral Alternatives to “Man”

While gradually falling out of use, the general “man” is still sometimes used in various registers of English. So, “Man is a political animal.” My favourite example is its use in Jurassic Park, which also demonstrates its limits by poking fun at it at the same time:

Appreciation of the general “man” is especially the case in my discipline, theology, much of which seems to make a habit of allying itself with cultural conservatism. Most seem to prefer it for want of an alternative, some claim literary reasons for their preference, and others still decry any change as an unnecessary exercise in political correctness. Moreover, none of these explanations are limited to male authors. See, for example, Fleming Rutledge’s comments in her masterful work of scholarship, The Crucifixion. I will briefly address these objections in reverse order.

First, that avoiding the general “man” is unnecessary. All that is being said here, by those who advocate alternatives, is that English, like all languages, in various ways reflects the history and beliefs of the millions of people who have contributed to what it now is. It is not immutable, nor should it be, and did not fall out of the sky, nor should it have. If it reflects an (or various) ancient assumption(s) that equates the male with the centre of that which is human and the female with the periphery, so that the latter is an afterthought and does not share this centre, then the history of the word’s use should be held to account. It should be held to account for its participation in patriarchal societies and its complicity in their oppression of women and gender minorities. As such, alternatives should also be sought for the basic reason that our language should reflect the society we want to become. I myself am not going to be dogmatic about its use, though if I had say in the publication of formal writing I would recommend using alternatives for this reason.

Second, that the general “man” is literary. The substance of this objection is that the general “man” is valuable precisely because of its history of usage. It enhances the joy and appreciation of the reader in transporting them into a world where a language that is at once familiar and foreign is spoken. This is what I understand to be part of Rutledge’s explanation. Although she presents an academic work, she does not want to cut herself off from the riches of her linguistic heritage. Again, I am not being dogmatic. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this objection, though it has not convinced me to use the general “man” myself.

concert-2527495_1280
The party which I may be a little late to (Pixabay)

Third, that English lacks an adequate alternative. And hence the reason for this post! I had once thought, along with advocates of the general “man,” that English lacked an alternative that represented the general and the particular at the same time. This did not mean I agreed with the use of the general “man” in formal writing, but only that “humanity is a political animal” and “human beings are political animals” were preferable, albeit inadequate, alternatives. (They are inadequate because “humanity” has only the general and not the particular, and “human beings” is in the plural). Lo and behold, however, today when I was reading Moltmann, translations of whose works often employ the general “man” to translate the German “Mensch,” which, interestingly, is not the word for “man” in German–“Mann” holds that position–I realised something. I realised that the particular and general could come together with a subtle change: “the human being is a political animal.” The perks are that this construction is singular, thus representing the particular, though it can also be taken to mean the representative of a class, as in “the kiwi is a national icon,” and that its genderlessness is more representative of human beings. The one downside I see is that I’m not sure how common this usage is. But I don’t see that as a major issue. Finally, if you’ve already discovered this useful alternative, well done! I might be a little late to the party.

Some Thoughts on Being Colourblind

1200px-Ishihara_9
A dotted circle, apparently with numbers (Wikipedia)

This afternoon I went downstairs for an afternoon break and was perusing the posters on the poster board. Sometimes people are doing research and they get funding so it’s good to see if you qualify so that you can get a little extra dosh. Sometimes people can’t offer any incentive but the good that is you being apart of their research. I don’t usually take time to participate in the second type, though I try to convince myself sometimes if it looks like particularly important stuff. Today I found a dotted circle, the kind that I instantly recognised from the time we all got taken out of class in primary school, one-by-one, to get a free eye test. I was excited to tell my parents that I was colourblind. Not because that was good in itself, but that I felt validated that someone finally knew something of me that I always knew but did not yet have the framework within which to express it. I felt again that same excitement today, eagerly texting the student to demonstrate my interest in participating in her research on the experiences of colourblind people.

I thought, also, that it would be good to write a wee post to share with the world and gather my thoughts before turning up for a research interview and realising I have little to say. If I were more diligent, I would get around to reading what other people have said about their experiences, and dig into some popular science around it. Alas, I am not diligent, so I present here my experiences as I know them, minimally unsullied by extra conceptual frameworks. Unfortunately, I could not tell you what type I am. I can only give you vague assertions around what colours I have difficulty seeing. (This could probably be easily remedied by doing a free online test but I can’t be bothered right now, lol).

I have a faint recollection of one of my first frustrations with colourblindness, though I’m not sure if I actually recall it or if I have created a memory from what I’ve been told. But the feelings of frustration remain, so I must have remembered something of it. When I was at my Nana’s house, I either could not tell Nana (or Mum?) what colour the numbers were on the microwave, or I couldn’t see them at all. I would have been anywhere between four and seven. Anyway, neither Nana nor Mum believed me–whatever it was that I said–and it was only after I got the word from the specialist lady at school (warm fuzzy times!) that they could retrospectively regain my trust in matters microwavial.

Post-diagnosis, other frustrations continued. There was bullying. My younger brother took advantage of my disability and called me stupid when I couldn’t tell what colour something was, for example, if I were to refer to a purple car as blue. Even though it hurt at the time and I hated him for it, I can understand it now because I was such an arse to him and he was younger than me. We both capitalised on anything socially undesirable, however minor, of the other’s. In high school, when I started making some friends outside of our typical friend group, a couple of guys would say, “Go hang out with your other friends, colourblind!” That sounds really weird, and it was. They certainly weren’t being serious. I think they thought it’d be a funny and random thing to say. It did hurt though. Finally, I remember the oddest time when one of my friends said that I wasn’t even colourblind because he knew someone who was dyslexic and colourblind together. They’d get the bright green bus mixed up with the bright red one. I never had that trouble so I had nothing to complain about. That really sucks for that guy, but I reserve the right to politely reject my friend’s claim, keeping in mind that this friend was not himself colourblind, nor dyslexic.

There were other frustrations too. When people found out I was colourblind (usually from me accidentally misnaming an object), they would be fascinated and want to test me. “What colour’s this? What colour’s that?” I’d disappoint them when I often got all of their questions correct, usually with some good guesswork! In high school this sometimes elicited the response, “Oh, you’re not really colourblind.” Sometimes this had led me to secretly ask someone in the know what colour something was before talking about it aloud. But the problem with people who know you’re colourblind is that they’ll unwittingly take advantage of your colourblindness to affirm something that even people with typical vision would debate, for example, whether you call a particular sunset orange (me and some people) or red (some other people) or yellow (other people yet again). All might be true, as it is a matter of linguistics and not sight, but it automatically becomes a matter of sight. You’re wrong because you’re colourblind, even though you hadn’t asked whether you were right or wrong. And both people are actually right anyway. Another time I remember we were looking at different stars and people would talk about red ones and white ones and blue ones. It seems little, and it was, but I can’t shake the feeling of having missed out then. They all look the same colour to me, and they’re so small that I can’t quite know what colour that might be!

milky-way-923738_1920
(Pixabay)

One particularly interesting frustration is the use of the word colourblind to denote a particular form of racism. For many, those who say that blacks and whites have equal opportunities in the States (and elsewhere, for example), are colourblind. That is, they “don’t see colour.” They don’t see that which is otherwise obvious to an oppressed people group, which is that the odds are clearly stacked against them. I have no problem with this analysis. Indeed, it’s more important than what I’m writing about here. But I don’t think the wording is helpful at all. It makes use of a person’s disability (and there are much more major forms of colourblindness than mine, as my high school friend graciously reminded me) to characterise something undesirable. Unfortunately, as far as I know, regardless of the term’s origin, it is most at home on the left, people who might otherwise know better. If they didn’t know, that’s fine with me, someone who once made a habit of calling everything “lame.” But now is the time to find a replacement term.

A more comical frustration for me, perhaps because it doesn’t really happen in a social context, is the difficulty I’ve had gaming sometimes. For example, when playing Age of Empires II, which I played a lot as a kid, I always found it difficult to distinguish yellow and green players on the mini-map, as well as both of these from gold mining spots. This problem was the worst on a campaign(s?) where you had to play as a yellow or green player, and you’d be attacked by or attacking the other colour and not be able to distinguish your own guys from the enemy’s. Recently, when Pokemon Go came out, I couldn’t tell if I’d swiped a PokeStop or not, which changed from blue to purple when swiped, because the colour change was too subtle for me. Another funny one is the men’s toilets outside my office. There are two cubicles with red or green to indicate whether engaged or vacant, except they don’t have the writing, just the colour. Because I do better with colours close-up, I have to walk right up to the closed cubicle door (which is always closed, vacant or no) and inspect the lock.

The thing that I’ve only just realised in the last couple years is that my colourblindness is located in a world beyond the literal workings of my vision. It’s never my eyes alone that tell me the colour (wrong or right) of an object. This is the same with people who have typical vision. That is, I cannot tell you how my eyes see the sky because my brain has already told me, from myriad stories and interactions, etc, that the sky is blue. I don’t know if I see it or ever saw it as purple. Healthy grass is green and not brown. But I can’t tell you if that’s my eyes or my brain. And unless I see objects in new contexts or objects I have never seen before, I cannot say where my eye starts and my brain finishes.

As you can see, my experiences with colourblindness haven’t been the end of my world. They have led me to mild frustration and sadness sometimes, and I think it is right to acknowledge them. They are little compared with the experiences of those with more major impairments, not least those with more major vision impairments. Indeed, they have allowed me a greater understanding of myself and others. I hope you learned something, and feel free to ask questions and share your experiences (colourblind or otherwise) in the comments.

The Possibility of Rhyming “Clod” and “God”

excavator-2724309_1920
Image from Pixabay

Moltmann is fond of quoting a couplet penned by Robert Browning in the nineteenth century. It reads:

For the loving worm within its clod
Were diviner than a loveless God

The first time I read this, however, I was confused. In what world do clod and God rhyme? Possibly in the world of nineteenth century England, and likely in living dialects today. For example, I noticed last night when my wife was watching “Call the Midwife,” in season six which is set in the sixties, that one of the characters pronounced God with the same vowel sound as that of clod. The OED lists the vowel sounds in each as identical: in British and American /klɒd/ and /klɑd/, and /ɡɒd/ and /ɡɑd/.

But in the NZ English I know and love, this is not the case. A related difference is recognised by the US Merriam Webster, which has \ˈkläd\ and then  \ˈgäd\, but also \ˈgȯd\ as a secondary pronunciation. According to their pronunciation guide, ä designates the bother and cot vowel, whereas ȯ the saw, gnaw, and caught vowel. But neither does this apply to NZ English, expect in cases where “gawd” is used, which if anything indicates a pronunciation not typical in NZ English. While I don’t have any formal linguistic training–so that my interpretation might not be spot on here–I understand the difference in clod and God in NZ English to be one of vowel length. The vowel is slightly longer in God in the same sense as park is not pronounced identical to puk. A better example:

Don’t put the spanner beside the bonnet;
Put it on it.

The vowel sound in bonnet and on is the same as that of clod in NZ English. Yet because I have added italics for emphasis in this couplet, a couplet that would otherwise likely rhyme, the vowel sound in bonnet differs from that of on. The latter is lengthened, similar to the way that clod differs in pronunciation from God in NZ English. There are other words like this too. As far as my ears are concerned, Todd and rod, body and shoddy, lot and bot, rock and hock, doff and Hasselhoff, dodge and lodge, for example, take the short vowel, whereas hog and bog, and scone (as a noun but not as a verb) take the long vowel. The special significance of clod and God is that they share the same final consonant but differ in their vowel length.

Some questions follow:

  1. Is this the NZ English that you know and love, or does Browning’s couplet rhyme for you? If you are not a speaker of NZ English and they yet don’t rhyme then I would especially love to hear from you.
  2. Under what historical circumstances did this change take place? My guess is that liturgical or everyday reverential pronunciation of God contributed to the lengthening of its vowel sound. But that’s just a guess. In reality I have no idea. It is notable that the plural gods for me does not either rhyme with clods. If the liturgical thesis is correct then the pronunciation of the singular God would have been transferred to the plural as well.

The Best Secondary Works in English for Getting a Handle on Moltmann’s Theology

There is a lot of secondary literature available on Moltmann’s theology, as can already be seen in the large list of dissertations and theses that you can find on this blog. I thought I would provide a short list of what I think are the best book-length secondary works for getting an overview of Moltmann’s theology.

51UtW7TffKL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_
Image taken from Amazon.com

1. Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, trans. by John Bowden (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001).

In my opinion, The Kingdom and the Power is the best currently available work exploring the major themes of Moltmann’s theology. The book begins with two biographical chapters and is then structured around each of Moltmann’s major works from Theology of Hope to The Coming of God, engaging to some extent with other works and essays written over this time. (The book was published in German before Müller-Fahrenholz could attend to Moltmann’s final major work, Experiences in Theology, and other important works such as Ethics of Hope). Two summary chapters outline key characteristics of and themes in Moltmann’s theology. Müller-Fahrenholz also provides short comment throughout on critical issues in Moltmann’s theology, such as his relationship to Ernst Bloch and the feminist critique of Moltmann’s presentation of a “sado-machistic” God. As far as I am aware, the book is still in print. A Kindle and a paperback version are available, and at a good price too. If your library doesn’t have any secondary literature available on Moltmann, this would be the first one for them to buy.

71sdmdpgNZL
Image taken from Amazon.com

2. Richard Bauckham, Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making (Hants, UK: Marshall Pickering, 1987); The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (London: T&T Clark, 1995).

Richard Bauckham is still the best Moltmann scholar in both the English and the German world. Besides these two works, he has edited a volume on Moltmann’s eschatology, supervised doctoral dissertations on Moltmann, and engaged with various other aspects of Moltmann’s theology throughout his extensive corpus. The first of these works is unfortunately out of print. You might be lucky to pick up a secondhand copy online, though I can’t guarantee that it would be cheap, or you could request a reprinting, which I think would be a fair request! The book engages Moltmann’s Theology of Hope, his political theology of the late sixties and early seventies, his Crucified God, and his Church in the Power of the Spirit. Before this final chapter, however, Bauckham has also included a chapter on the development of Moltmann’s doctrine of the Trinity leading up to the publication of The Trinity and the Kingdom. The second work is still available on Amazon and other retailers (I’m not sure if it’s still in print), though it might be a bit expensive for the student or general reader. It provides an overview of Moltmann’s theology, including key themes; another chapter on Theology of Hope, this time attending especially to Moltmann’s approach to the resurrection; a chapter on divine suffering; on theodicy, discussing Moltmann in the context of Dostoevsky, Camus, and Elie Wiesel; on political theology, engaging with Moltmann’s later works; on ecclesiology; on the Holy Spirit; on human freedom; on creation and evolution; on Moltmann’s messianic christology in The Way of Jesus Christ; and on mysticism. The book concludes with a bibliography of primary and secondary works, though if you have access to Wakefield’s bibliography you might want to look there first as it is later and more comprehensive. Bauckham is widely read and has great critical insights to share. His work might go beyond the interests of the general reader, but for the student of Moltmann it should not be overlooked.

41jaIcfQu-L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_
Image taken from Amazon.com

3. Ryan A. Neal, Theology as Hope: On the Ground and Implications of Jürgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008).

In Theology as Hope, Neal argues that the central theme of Moltmann’s theology is hope. He investigates Moltmann’s work on this basis, engaging with a wide range of primary and secondary sources, offering his own critical comments too. For example, he argues against the assumption that The Crucified God is a natural development of Theology of Hope, something widely taken for granted in the secondary literature. While Neal’s work does not have the same scope as that of Müller-Fahrenholz or Bauckham, it is one of the best monographs on Moltmann’s work that I have encountered and its being relatively recent makes it all the more valuable. A paperback is available, as well as an affordable Kindle version.

4. Joy Ann McDougall, Pilgrimage of Love: Moltmann on the Trinity and Christian Life (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005).

In the published edition of her doctoral dissertation, McDougall attends to the theme of love in Moltmann’s theology, not the first theme that comes to mind when thinking of what characterises Moltmann’s theology but, as McDougall shows, a prominent one nonetheless. This is another great monograph, proceeding through Moltmann’s major works while being guided by the theme of love. Although McDougall’s engagement with the literature on Moltmann is not as extensive as Neal’s, the quality of her writing makes up for it. She, too, offers her own critical comments, such as in regard to Moltmann’s apparent lack of attention given to sin. There are Kindle and hardcover editions available, though unfortunately they tend to be quite expensive. Make sure you take a look to see if your library has a copy!

I have attended here to what I think are the top 5 book-length works for getting a handle on Moltmann’s overall theology. Is there anything that you’d add? Let me know in the comments.