Remember that language is a cultural signifier that evolves as the culture does.
Remember that, even in highly formalized academic circles, there are two equally powerful approaches to language and usage:
- Prescriptivism, which holds that they are or should be precise, unyielding rules about word usage and about what is or isn’t a word.
- Descriptivism, which holds that language is ever-changing, so speaking of ironclad ‘rules’ is to fight impotently against shifting cultural mores.
No matter how much of a hot-shot, smarty-assed grammarian you are, you must acknowledge that there are two approaches to language. Because one massive “camp” believes that the goal of studying language is simply to describe and understand, you cannot act as if the prescriptivists’ rules are universally accepted “laws”.
Furthermore, the prescriptivists have historically been in favor of controlling language in order to prevent or alter social changes that they found frightening, distasteful, or threatening. Prescriptivism has been tied up in ethnocentrism, academic elistism, and racial prejudice for a long, long time.
And if you think I’m making an ad hominem attack here, keep in mind that prescriptivism continues to be tied up in those ideas. Arguably, prescriptivism is nothing but a tool of traditionalist ideology — and only exists for the purpose of judging people who speak/write differently as “stupid” or “unworthy”.
So going around correcting everyone who uses slang, memes, vernacular, or dialects in everyday casual communication is both super rude and intellectually bankrupt. When you do that, you’re actually being the ignorant one.
Milton was surprised to find the hotel room robed in darkness. The searingly bright December sun shone in the window from behind a mass of uniform, ash-white clouds, and the monitors beeped and bled red lights into the room, but the overhead fluorescents were off and so was the TV.
As he entered, his shoes squeaked over a wet spot on the tile. Surbhi’s eyes fluttered slightly with his approach, or the sound of him – or some other mode of sensation, Milton wasn’t quite sure which. He rounded the bed and took a seat in a low wooden chair covered in scratchy mauve upholstery.
Surbhi had not woken since the incident at the Peoria testing facility. Her parents were gearing up to sue, and LifeMedia’s could only respond by giving her the plushest hospital accommodations. Dani had consulted with the top doctors on LifeMedia’s own research staff, as well as the Coma Ward specialists from her own premium insurance plan. Surbhi was ferried off to the Kessler Institute for stroke rehabilitation in hilly West Orange, NJ.
Milton never got to travel except for LifeMedia business. That was the fate of a literal company man. Once, when he was in college, he’d done a semester at sea, on an overpriced cruise line loosely affiliated with the university. He remembered the lazy days spent curled with a book on a beach chair, staring off at a sparkling ocean. The guilt of pulling into port in the Dominica Republic, Puerto Rico, Key West and spending a day or two days lolling around tourist centers, fingering handmade bracelets and trying to buy rum or vodka or good weed.
He’d taken two courses, one a puff piece called “Cursory Intro to Anthropology”, and a cooking class. The credits barely counted for anything. Most of the time Milton wandered the boat feeling claustrophobic and scanning the horizon line for ships, islands, giant alien hangars landing and releasing invading hordes, anything. He got home five thousand dollars in debt and his mother was furious.
After that, after graduation, he was obliged to work at LifeMedia. His life was on loan essentially until he perished. That was the scam of it, worse even than college. He’d signed on for empty opportunities without knowing he’d be paying the cost for decades upon decades.
And the surgeries. Nobody had even asked him if he wanted to be cut up, implanted with prosthetics, wired, and owned. He couldn’t take a vacation day even if he jammed an ice pick through his synthetic eyes and into the front of his brain, destroying LifeMedia’s chips. He made business trips to New York, Silicon Valley, Japan once, Pittsburgh, Boston, Houston, and Newark. He sat in hotel rooms thinking of the ice pick thing. Then Dani would find out during a routine scan, and send him an email laden with insincere emoticons, bucking him up. Always the same.
He sat before Surbhi’s limp body. It was odd, seeing her stretched out and limp, without her wheelchair or her sharp, smart gaze. One could tell she was very bright just by locking eyes with her. Someone in the facility had taped those eyes shut. The guilt was in him, black and coiled and slick like a cancerous organ or a long smear of sludge. In two hours, he would meet with Surbhi’s parents at a four-star restaurant, LifeMedia’s lawyer in tow, and try to come to terms.
The girl’s brain was gone. The doctors reported that her body was sustaining itself – breathing, blood flow, everything was normal – but there was no higher-order activity. Sometimes, she appeared to process sensory input, such as pain, sound, and heat, but that always fizzled out fast.
The moment she put on the exoskeleton and connected to the network, it was over. This was a hint of what they had been warning him about. All the other brains in the collective.
<Milton.> A voice said in his head.
He was accustomed, by now, to the many-voiced hiss of the three thousand brains in the collective. To hear just one, simulated as it was, was astonishing. His fake heart paused and fluttered in his chest like a dying butterfly.
<That sounds like Surbhi.> he messaged back.
<It is,> she told him. <In a way.>
Milton rose and stared down at her body, though he knew the source of her voice was the back of his mind. Surbhi wasn’t in there anymore. <Why are you doing this? This is disgusting.>
<We are not playing a game,> the collective droned. Then Surbhi’s voice rang out once again, clear and sweet. <This small portion of our consciousness once belonged to Surbhi Pratap, a college student and tester of the LifeMedia ExoSkel project.>
He looked down at her face and could picture it moving, smiling politely the way she always did, with a closed mouth as they affixed the sensors to her. There was nothing behind it now. A twinge brushed Milton’s shoulder, as if she were standing behind him and giving a light squeeze.
<It can’t actually be you. The uploading process…the network. They’re all…> he struggled to find the words. <You’re all swirling in there together, in a big cloud.>
<It’s not exactly me,> Surbhi conceded. <I will never be the same after what’s happened. I will never be me. But for now, for a little while, I can still express thoughts as some version of myself. The greater our Haze gets, the harder it will be for that to happen.>
<Haze?> It was the first time he’d heard them use that term for it before.
<Yes, the Haze. We think that’s more fitting and less conspiratorial than calling it “the collective,> Surbhi’s voice said, and laughter rang in Milton’s ears. It wasn’t quite right, not authentic, but it was close.
She continued, <As more minds join us, we shift and adapt. New perspectives improve us and enrich us. The idea to call us “The Haze” was a development that was only possible with the cognitive uploading of Surbhi Pratap. She has made us better already.>
She was speaking for herself and for all the other minds. Milton backed away from her hospital bed and proceeded to rub at the back of his head, as if trying to knock them loose. The cold air from the window radiated against his back. He thought of Jeanette, of his sister’s charred body.
<Is Joey in there too? Can I talk to Joey?>
There was a pause. <…It will be harder to find her and extract her. She has been with us since the beginning.>
<Try.> He gulped and messaged, <Surbhi, are you mad at me?>
Surprise flickered through his brain. The collective – the Haze, or maybe just Surbhi —hadn’t been expecting that question.
<For what?> She asked.
<For getting you in this, this mess. If I. If we hadn’t hooked you up to that machine you would still…>
Surbhi laughed again. This time it sounded more joyous, maybe a little unhinged. <Steven. No. You’ve misunderstood all this time. I realize that now. We realize that now.>
His legs buckled under their control, forcing him to sit down. A pressure like a hand pushed against his chest. It was warm. Soft.
<We have not been warning you about the ExoSkeleton project because it is a bad fate. The problem is that it’s irresistible. Once you feel that sense of all-knowing, that boundless connection with other people…Steven, part of me wanted to go back, when I connected. I wanted to go to graduate school, do something great with myself. But once you connect, you realize that the self is such a small and piddling idea…>
They could give him a glimpse of it. They had asked him before if he wanted to join their ranks, and Milton had said no. He gasped.
<Oh. You want people to have a choice?>
<Most of us do,> Surbhi said.
Milton dully remembered Lily, the radical. She wanted everyone to upload their brains, join together and eradicate human life. But surely the whole Haze wasn’t like that. Not Joey, surely…?
<But the ExoSkel…>
<When a person connects their body to the ExoSkeleton,> Surbhi said, <They are networked automatically and have access to the Haze. We’re part of LifeMedia’s servers, after all. But when a person connects, the urge to disappear inside of us is so powerful it cannot be denied. We do not want to coerce. Most of us. We have decided we want humans to have a choice.>
<But the BrightBoxes..>
Surbhi said, <That was different. The brains in those computers were of dead people. There was nothing left for them but isolation unless they linked together. The ExoSkeleton is designed for disabled living breathers. They deserve to live, to explore their options…it would be terrible if every paralyzed person was pushed to vacate their body.>
Milton opened his eyes. He hadn’t realized they were closed. The voices were swirling back in, now, joining Surbhi’s and chiming their message.
<Do you see?>
<Do you see?>
<Do you see?>
<Do you see? Milton, do you see?>
<Steven. You get it. Don’t you?>
“Enough. OKAY!” He moaned, aloud, clutching his temple. The room was dark. Surbhi’s body was so diminished, so sad. He turned squinting into the massive grey glow of the hidden sun.
“You gave me a choice,” he stammered. They could have pulled him into their Haze right from the start, made him an agent, made him their bodily representative. They could take every ExoSkel user and do the very same thing. But they didn’t want to. They couldn’t explain it as a mass. They needed Surbhi’s voice, the clarity she brought as a new upload, to make it make sense to Milton.
He was breaking out in a cold sweat. His phone vibrated. It was a message from Jeanette:
And looked at the bright grey world outside.
<You have to stop this,> one small female voice chirped in his ear.
<I don’t know if I can.> he said.
Black parenting is often too authoritative. White parenting is often too permissive. Both need to change.
In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors. As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train. His mother never moved to restrain him. But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers. They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian. I, too, was appalled. I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately. My professor took the opportunity to teach: ‘Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?’
'Yes,' I nodded. “What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?”
And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.
Then I thought about what it means to parent a black child, any black child, in similar circumstances. I think of the swiftness with which a black mother would have ushered her child into a seat, with firm looks and not a little a scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance. So much is wrapped up in that moment: a desire to demonstrate that one’s black child is well-behaved, non-threatening, well-trained. Disciplined. I think of the centuries of imminent fear that have shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternness of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force.
I think with fond memories of the big tree that grew in my grandmother’s yard, with branches that were the perfect size for switches. I hear her booming and shrill voice now, commanding, “Go and pick a switch.” I laugh when I remember that she cut that tree down once we were all past the age of switches.
And then I turn to Adrian Peterson. Not even a year ago, Peterson’s 2-year-old son, whom he did not know, was murdered by his son’s mother’s boyfriend. More recently, Adrian Peterson has been charged with negligent injury to a child, for hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch, in a disciplinary episode that left the child with bruises and open cuts on his hands, legs, buttocks and scrotum.”
Brittney C Cooper, Ph.D., "The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing" (via sonofbaldwin)