Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Death of a Grammar Nazi

I’m a bit of a snob. A nerd, a geek and a smug, superior know-it-all, hell-bent on making you feel stupid.

Okay, maybe not so harsh as all that, but I have been accused of being a grammar nazi, and, ahem, argumentative when it comes to ethics, politics, religion and anything else that makes people uncomfortable to talk about, (ya bunch of wussies). I’d even go so far as to say that I can be rather manic when faced with certain pet peeves.

The point of all of this, however, is that I have been schooled.

Recently, you may recall, the CEO of a major browser company was shit-canned because he expressed views that were anti-gay. He put his money where his mouth is and helped fund a proposition in California. It was a bill against the current national trend of championing the fact the all Americans deserve to be treated equally. The internet, ostensibly his company’s bread-and-butter, went their usual batshit, and hauled this zealot into the light. He was summarily beheaded by shareholders.

Okay, not really, but the outcome is the same. His name is trashed and his prospects for hire in this climate are decidedly slim. Not because of his reprehensible views on this subject. Not because he tried to stifle the rights of others due to his beliefs. Not even because people were loud about their taking offense at his views. No, this guy was shit-canned because the shareholders of his company figured that they would make more money without him than they would with him at the helm. They were afraid.
When I first heard about this, I thought, “I don’t see things the way he sees them, but, is that reason enough to tear this guy’s livelihood apart?” I wouldn’t be using any of their products, but I don’t think I would have called for his head.

Many would say yes. Many more would say it loudly. Still more would demand a boycott of this or that, until their rage had been assuaged.

I thought of a video I had seen recently. It depicted two knuckleheads on a motorcycle, carrying an American Flag upside down. Two former servicemen rushed after them, apparently incensed that someone would do such a thing. The comments beneath the video were decidedly positive. Many hoped for the men on the motorcycle to die, be beaten severely or to suffer some other brand of trauma because they had dishonored the many who had fought for their freedom to do the very thing they were doing. That was ironic to me.

The servicemen were offended. They fought and saw friends die defending the right to be an asshole, but as soon as someone decided to be an asshole, they got bent out of shape. The argument is, “If they are allowed to express their views, then so am I.” which is fine until you start beating the shit out of people. Beating the shit out of people because they don’t share your values is still wrong. Even if they are wrong.

There was a folk singer who died recently. He had a long and storied career of helping his fellow man, being an advocate for the environment and being an all-around nice guy. He was also a Communist. When he died and memorials were held in his honor, some people felt that it was un-American to honor this man because of his views. My feelings on this were instant and pointed. Here was a guy who believed in something, but never let it stop him from helping people, doing what he thought was right and making sure people in power knew that he was doing what he thought was right. No matter what his beliefs were, there is nothing more American than standing up and doing what you feel is right… even when it’s not popular. Walking out on him was the un-American act.

Cognitive dissidence began to fill my head here. On the one side, I’m thinking, “People can express their views, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to harm people because of it.” On the other side, I’m thinking, “It’s ‘could have, not could of, you fucking moron!”

And then I read this…
The “Culture of Shut Up” The Atlantic by Jon Lovett, (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/04/the-culture-of-shut-up/360239/).

Basically, it says people have the right to be offended, but that doesn’t mean that we should all start shouting down people we don’t agree with. That kind of behavior will result in people not speaking their minds, playing it safe, and ultimately turning the keys of the kingdom we call life over to an elite few. It said that this kind of thinking makes shareholders afraid.

It also said that this is precisely the kind of culture we are developing.

The talking heads are just sitting in wait, rubbing their hands, hoping for the chance to punish the free thinker, the iconoclast, the rebel.

The cognitive dissidence in my head came together. I can’t be a grammar nazi and still think people have the right to be assholes without the whole world ganging up on them. I can’t bark at people who confuse ‘to, too and two’ and still think that if I make a mistake somewhere along the way people should just take it easy. I can’t expect everyone to line up on my side of the language line and still breathe the fresh air of freedom of thought.

So, I’ve been schooled.

I never thought for an instant that people didn’t want to know. I always thought that they would be grateful to have it pointed out to them. Here’s how the conversation went in my head:

Me: Excuse me, but the proper word to identify a place would have been “there”. “Their” implies ownership of something.

Person Hoping to be Better: Oh thank you! I was so hoping that someone would come along and explain that to me!

Me: Join me as I brush up on the proper uses of “who” and “whom”, won’t you?

Alas, this is not the case. The internet has taught me that the conversation goes more like this.

Me: Excuse me, but the proper word to identify a place would have been “there”. “Their” implies ownership of something.

Person Who Couldn’t Care Less: Fuck you, Nerd.

So, just as I have decided to back off of discussing religion and politics on the internet, I will stop policing the grammar of my friends and acquaintances. (Religion and politics are not supposed to be discussed because it “isn’t polite”, but think about who benefits from that policy. And then think about… oh… right, sorry).
Anyway, I will try not to be a grammar nazi anymore. I can’t be smug as people go about getting their points across without caring about syntax or proper tense.

My wife just laughed when I told her this. My kids just rolled their eyes.
I don’t think they believed me. I don’t know why.