Dear 454729: Welcome to CUNY


Probably I should save this for a Word Watch column, but here goes. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, once a distinguished academic institution, has commanded staff to drop “Mr.,” “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” and I suppose “Miss,” when addressing people. Faculty are urged to follow suit. The preferred option is, apparently, to address people as “John Doe” or “Mary Roe,” not as the hated, sexist, “Mr. Doe” and “Ms. Roe.” It is intimated by the administration that federal anti-discrimination laws require this.

Of course, it’s all idiotic. It is also grossly tasteless, despite the pretense that it is intended to "ensure a respectful, welcoming and gender-inclusive learning environment.” “Gender-inclusive” is different from “genderless.” And how do you feel when someone starts a letter with “Mary Roe: Welcome to the fall semester” — let alone “Mary Roe: I am sorry to tell you that your mom has died.” I don’t feel warmly welcomed or deeply respected when strangers can’t come up with a better door opener than “Stephen Cox” when they want to confide their thoughts and feelings to me. Returning to “inclusive”: if inclusivity means not knowing whether someone is a man or a woman, we will have to banish all first names, too. They might give it away. And if you want to be ethnically inclusive as well as gender inclusive, there go the last names. Soon the only way to communicate a respectful welcome will be to address people by numbers.

Invariably, rules intended to remold society come from people whose minds are too small to grasp the real diversity of society, minds with but one idea.

This stuff is hypocritical. Do you think the exalted leaders of the City University of New York have stopped referring to themselves as “Dr.,” despite the class distinction and often the ethnic distinction involved in that? I mean, to call oneself “Dr. Smith” shows that you are better than other people, doesn’t it? And aren’t most people with Ph.D.’s Caucasians? Case closed.

But why is this important? One reason is that laws — while bad enough in themselves — become the basis of decrees, which are ordinarily worse. These decrees proceed from someplace so deep in Cubicle City that no one can tell what perpetrator to fire, supposing that anyone had the power to fire anyone. Invariably, rules intended to remold society come from people whose minds are too small to grasp the real diversity of society, minds with but one idea (in this case the bureaucratic sponsorship of the “transgendered”). Nothing else matters: custom, grace, the real respect owing to the people with whom one wants to communicate, nothing.

A society that allows itself to be thus cheapened, bit by bit, day by day, will eventually have no customs, social graces, or respectful gestures to enable differing people to dwell together sociably. It will be a constant, meaningless drama of inflamed sensitivities on the part of some and sullen acquiescence on the part of others.

Libertarians are often remarkable for our lack of intellectual interest in the kinds of daily interaction that make liberty possible. Hayek didn’t suffer from that lack; neither did Mises or Paterson. But for too many of us, nothing bad can happen unless a government agency is directly responsible for making it happen. That leaves the rest of the culture, the culture whose values enable the government to do whatever it does, completely off the hook. You may say, “Well, CUNY is an agency of government,” and it is; but you know, or else should know, that private colleges are almost equally busy coarsening our intellectual and cultural life. We can’t let ourselves off the intellectual hook by imagining that individualism can be robust no matter how debased the surrounding culture may be.

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Just as people foolishly order vanity plates, failing to understand the authoritarian nature of a car registration scheme, perhaps we will see a trend of people trying to get the coolest ID numbers.

I am claiming THX 1138 as my own now to beat the rush.

Scott Robinson

Dear Mr. Cox,

I wouldn't hold my breath (probably one of your beloved catchphrases), but it would be very cool if the students rose up and protested. They shouldn't demand that the staff and faculty be more than good subjects, but the student protest group could say, "I am Mister, hear me roar." It is worth consideration too, weren't all the Jews in concentration camps just walking, talking numbers?

Have a Good Day,

P.S. Since I called you Mr. Cox, you could do the modern thing and say you are MC. To mean either master of ceremonies or a rapper for liberty. :)

Stephen Cox

Dear Mr. Robinson,

I can't write a better comment than yours, and therefore don't want to compete with it, but your surname reminded me of the enormous sexism of "The Graduate." Not only is Mrs. Robinson never given a first name, but there's actually a song that says, sarcastically, "And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson." Is it too late to insert a revision? "And here's to you, Sarah Robinson"? Or would it have to be "And here's to you, Sarah Jane Smiggens-Robinson"? I ask you.

As always,

Scott Robinson

Dear Stephen,

That is a good point about the sexism. The next line of that song is, "Jesus loves you more than you will know." Why does He get first name recognition instead of Mr. Christ? Also, the hyphenated last name is very interesting. I remember a co-worker whose parents had done the hyphenated last name. When she got married, I wondered if she was going to do the triple hyphenated last name. She didn't, but it does still make me wonder if anyone has. That would be very challenging for the fifth generation child having to spell out her or his full name. Maybe that is the progressive strategy to reduce us all to the easier to write and remember number :).



Can't we address everyone by the neutered "citizen"? This will have the added benefit of inferring one's desire to have a more socialist country. Following is a suggested conversation-opener to indicate just how kind, caring, and imbecilic one is:

"Citizen, I don't mean to get up on my high horse, but just one short lifetime ago people were routinely addressing one another as comrade. Isn't this a vast improvement, citizen?"

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