Ben Shapiro, Fascist Rhetoric, and Singular “They”

In Ollie Thorn’s excellent video The Philosophy of Antifa, he spends some time discussing the nature of fascist propaganda, how it works, and how liberals tend to miss the point, and unwittingly help with the facsists in their scramble to debunk the vile, stupid views being discussed.

It doesn’t matter to a committed white nationalist how many times you sit down and debunk the ridiculous white nationalist conspiracy theory that the world is secretly being taken over by Jews; because when they say that, they’re not really saying it’s true. What they’re saying is: they want to persecute Jewish people.

This was a difficult concept for me to grasp because, from my point of view, persecution being the goal in itself doesn’t make sense. There must be a reason why they want to persecute Jewish people, right? And they’re saying it’s because they think Jewish people are trying to take over the world, right? I’m sure that some of them do really believe it, but as we’ve seen with so many other groups who deny reality, trying to “debunk” their bullshit doesn’t really make a dent. It doesn’t seem to be about the stated reasons so much as it’s about the circumstances in which they’re able to carry out their desired persecution. It’s about wanting to have the power to do it, and a worldview that revolves around an obsession with power and dominance. That’s also why fascism never stops with just one group – it’s an ideology that uses the persecution and destruction of targeted groups to fuel its rise to power. It’s a system of governance that relies on persecution as a unifying activity, hence the obsession with some level of “purity”. You can’t achieve a made-up level of purity, which means there will always be “impure” people to feed into the fire, to maintain power. The important part isn’t the validity of the story they tell to justify their actions, it’s the story itself. It’s more like a ritual than any serious claim about reality.

That brings me to Ben Shapiro, and his campaign against language. On September 17th, 2019, Merriam Webster added over 530 new words or definitions to their lexicon, including an additional definition for the singular use of the pronoun “they”. For those with a passing familiarity with the English language and its history, the first reaction might be to think, “hey – singular “they” has been around for way longer than that, right?” Right. The update is just recognizing the use of that pronoun for nonbinary people. Shapiro, unsurprisingly, objects.

He made a video ranting about how this “noun” has always been plural, and must always remain plural, and how “wokescolds” are ruining the English language with their made-up words. The knee-jerk reaction to this is to point out that (a) singular “they” has been around for centuries, and (b) “wokescold” is even MORE of a made-up word. And I think it’s important to make that point at least once or twice. If we don’t call people like this on their obvious bullshit, at the very least to get a correction on the record, then we could find ourselves in a situation where people accept their lies simply for lack of a rebuttal being available. That rebuttal, however, probably shouldn’t be where the bulk of our effort lies.

Thoughtslime made a video explaining in a way that helped me understand the white supremacist obsession with Judaism. I’ll summarize the point below, but I recommend watching the video if you can, because Thoughtslime, as usual, does an excellent job explaining what’s going on:

Ben probably knows he’s wrong. Ben’s fans also probably know he’s wrong. The point of his propaganda is not to convince people that singular “they” is a new thing, though we should be on guard against people starting to believe that, but rather to send this message to the marginalized group in question: You will never be safe.

It doesn’t matter that Shapiro’s rant is bullshit. In fact, the more obvious it is that Shapiro is lying, the better. Because Shapiro and his supporters will defend that lie to the death. They’ll bring it up over and over again, no matter how many times it’s debunked, and spend huge amounts of time defending their obvious bullshit, all to send that message, in this case to non-binary people, that it doesn’t matter what arguments are made, or what propaganda is debunked. Reality and accuracy are not the point. The point is that non-binary people must, in their eyes, never be accepted, or legitimized, or given the space to do so much as take a breath without some asshole jumping down their throat.

What’s important is the hierarchy. What’s important is everyone in their place. For anyone that doesn’t fit their long-debunked views of how something like gender operates, the very best you can hope for is to be treated like you’re mentally ill. What’s important is that everyone know that they feel this so strongly that they will declare to the world that the singular usage of a pronoun, which has been used that way for centuries, is not just new, it’s wrong, and bad, and a sign of the degradation of our entire civilization.

It’s important to point out the factual errors, lest they become “common knowledge” like so many other horrible opinions, but also keep in mind that when someone defends something that’s obviously wrong, the facts might not be what they really care about. Look for who they might be trying to hurt, and make sure that in addition to rejecting the bullshit propaganda for its own sake, you’re also supporting the people they’re using it to attack.


  1. says

    What’s important is the hierarchy. What’s important is everyone in their place.

    White supremacy is a tool that maintains the white supremacist power structure in its place. Divide and conquer.

  2. says

    1. Fun Language Note:
    We’ve been down this singular/plural road before — in the 17th century, one reason Quakers were punished or reviled was that they insisted on using the singular “Thou, thee, thine” to one person, rather than the upperclass/elite/urban “Ye, you, your” which then was becoming more common. Guess which usage became “standard”? (Of course, in some regional dialects, as well as among a minority of Quakers, “thee” continues to be used- Yorkshire “tha knows” or Quaker/Plain Speech “thee knows.”).
    It’s why some dialects of modern English have created a new second person plural pronoun (y’all, youse, youse guys, etc. )

    2. More important: Your point about hiercharchy: Yes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *