If you are not for the new "neutralizer", you are for the old "discriminant": this is how we could summarize in a somewhat caricatured way the debate on the so-called "inclusive language". A profound, articulated and quite difficult text that we allow ourselves to simplify in order to divulge it without betraying its thoughts.
In this space, I would like to raise three questions, three invitations to reflect, trying, as far as possible, to overcome the dualistic fallacy that is at the root of the question.
As Adorno wrote, freedom does not lie in choosing between black and white, but in avoiding such a prescribed choice. It is an invitation to escape from the mutilating logic of polarization – that, yes, is a binary one - which mortifies the complexity of any issue, stigmatizes the doubt, which is no longer allowed: because, on both sides, for such a confrontation only the alignment is allowed. Thus, the right of criticizing (from krino, to discern), is killed and without it we surrender to a non-thinking that opens the way to all types of violence, symbolic or otherwise, and to fundamentalisms of all kinds and colors.
1-. The "inclusive language".
The so-called "inclusive language" (asterisks, schwa, etc.), however noble in intention, actually produces a short circuit upon the non-discrimination: the paradoxical effect that erasing differences becomes the only legitimate way to defend them. Countering the violence of discrimination with the violence of erasing differences is a reactive gesture: in the end, one remains trapped in a schism-genesis - a set of interactions that gives rise to divisions between groups or between individuals.
The two polarized positions, equally partial, one opposite to the other, consequently, exclude each other, however holding up tightly each other. The end is an irremediable fracture, ultimately becoming a relationship of mutual dependence.
All to the detriment of the concreteness and complexity that are sacrificed on the altar of opposing ideologies. The challenge, actually, is not to erase differences (an abstract and violent operation), but to prevent them from becoming inequalities. It is no coincidence that in the face of nominalist inclusivism, discrimination and exclusions are de facto growing: women, migrants, young people, families, are victims of an increasingly exasperated social gap, while the neutral’s rhetoric waters down social protest.
Roland Barthes wrote that language is fascist, not because it prevents us from saying things but because it obliges us to say them in a certain way. The invitation is to reflect on the "fascism of the neutral", and on all what this linguistic forcing forces us to cancel. Starting with the "vernacular genre" (Ivan Illich), which is the link between generations, the knowledge of the body, and the resistance to the colonization of techno-economic thinking.
2-. The neutral, the homo oeconomicus’s genre.
As Ivan Illich wrote, the language of the industrial era (and today hyper-technological) is both neutral and sexist at the same time. It is a false universalism, which is actually a reductionism, passed off as a liberation: because human beings are never "neutral" - only things and machines in particular are. "The appearance of a neutral sexuality is one of the necessary preconditions for the appearance of homo oeconomicus. The subject upon which economic theory is based is precisely this neutral human being” (Illich, Gender).
The neutral is the genre of homo oeconomicus, the result and, at the same time, the condition of an exasperated reductionism; insofar only what is 'produced' has value. The neoliberal regime isolates everyone by making him or her to become his or her own producer (Byung-chul Han). Today we "produce" in a compulsive way. "Authenticity" itself represents a neoliberal form of production. "Through the cult of authenticity, the neoliberal regime appropriates the person and transforms it into a highly efficient production site, so the whole person is integrated into the production process. Sovereignty gives way to a new submission that passes itself off as freedom: the subject of neoliberal culture is, in a sense, an absolute servant because it exploits itself without any master”.
In short, the neutral does not contribute to the "construction of a profit-free vocabulary" (Gilbert Simondon); on the contrary, it conforms us to the imperatives of techno-capitalism, swallowing us up into the fatal embrace (Foucault) of individualization and totalization. Fabrice Hadjadj also wondered: where does the project of "coinciding with oneself" (the 'authenticity and self-realization' myth) come from today if not from the technocratic paradigm?
We cannot see it as a liberation, but as a submission to a techno-economic macro system that needs new imagery to make itself as pervasive as possible. A “libertarian paternalism” (Sunstein), which extends in every area the market logic is anything but liberating and respectful of the person’s dignity.
If production (including putting oneself into production) becomes the only legitimate way to personal realization, its necessary fluidity requires "an unscrupulous destruction of all bonds" (Byun-Chul Han); which has a radical individualism as a cultural correlator, eventually condemned to aphasia. The asterisk and the schwa, that are unpronounceable and cacophonous, are tools for a self-expression-affirmation but not for communication, where it is the resounding word that creates I-you bonds (Walter Ong).
The obsession upon one’s identity ignores the fact that we are not "products", but "processes", and that becoming who we are is an individuation dynamic, intrinsically relational. Self-loving when it is not open to the other (the constitutive alter, no the threatens alius) becomes vacuous: "Love that folds in on itself closing the circle is a sad failure of love" (V. Jankélévitch).
3-. The crisis of the symbolic
The neutral, chosen as a way of non-discrimination, is the result of the symbolic crisis that exposes us defenselessly to a technological crossroads where all what is human, is read through the machine code (binary / non-binary precisely). The crisis of the symbolic is a sign of that "crisis of the spirit" (Paul Valéry) which is also a crisis of thinking. This is the real enemy to beware of today.
For Byung-chul Han, the disappearance of symbols refers to the growing atomization of society, which becomes more and more narcissistic. There is more. The production’s extension to every area of human life leads to the reduction of language to the techno-scientific paradigm - that is made up of labels rather than words which are symbols binding those who pronounce them to others and to the world (Panikkar, The spirit of the word) .
In the end, the non-essentialism of the neutral turns into a neo-essentialist metaphysics of the machine and of production that speak a self-referential language not made for communication but to build up oneself; in the illusion of being able to do so one alone, through the sum of individual choices regardless of anything.
Now, the symbol is what binds, what concretizes social ties and circulating feeds them (Gilbert Simondon). We are 'bonds', what is not an impediment but the very condition of our being and our becoming, as the pandemic tried to teach us. Our bonds are an existential and an epistemological reality. The symbol is never neutral. It does not reassure; it does not offer solutions; it gives to thinking (Ricœur). Thinking in symbols means recognizing the duality (not the dualism, even less the binarism) of masculine and feminine, mutually constitutive, unthinkable one without the other, never exhaustively definable, and inexhaustible in the range of possible concretizations, with good peace of grotesque attempts to find a word for every genre nuances.
The question of language
So, we are back to language. Human language is not referential but "differential": there is always a gap; an unspeakable margin that leaves words open. This non-coincidence is the cradle of meaning: “There are only implications in any language”, wrote Merleau-Ponty. The "de coincidence" is what characterizes freedom: a gap that allows the possibility of seeing differently, redefining the situation and thus being able to change the course of things. Paraphrasing Adorno, today freedom does not consist in substituting "binary" with "non-binary", but in escaping this prescribed choice, which pretends reading the human reality with the machines’ code. Let us go back to thinking and talking in symbols, where everyone is welcomed.