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The Misunderstood Award seeks to accolade those thinkers whose ideas have been so warped as to become as good as opposite to the original intent. Paraphrasing Kipling, they are witnesses to the truth they spoke being twisted by knacks to make a trap for fools. A little tragicomedy where the more someone feels identity with a given thinker, the more likely he’ll be labouring at destroying his thought. So, without much further ado, this year’s prize goes to:

Pierre Bourdieu

Bourdieu, together with some other french sociologists in the last part of the XX century, tried to show that societies create ideas according to their own purposes. This means that the ideas are part of the process whereby the society reproduces itself, both as tools for it and as consequences of it. So for example the set of values a given group espouses helps this group to sort through and incentivize the kinds of member-behaviour that will further the groups’ objectives. In other words, ideas are not independent from the power structures that harbour them, as they incorporate the biases and privileges and asymmetries of society.

This of course takes knowledge and discourse as valuable, and focuses a lot of attention in them, mainly as a fruitful object for study. Misunderstanding arrives when this valuation of discourse is taken as proof that what someone says is so important that you should actually fight over it.

So for example gender-rights people, knowing that gender pronouns reflect gender biases in society, waste their effort trying to coax others into speaking with ugly gender-neutral constructs. In Portuguese you’ll have words usually finished in -o becoming -x or -@, rendering them unspeakable in the process, not to say just ugly. Of course it is totally possible to be just as chauvinist with gender-neutral language, and that is what most girl feminists do anyway since relativizing gender roles is an intellectually challenging process, akin to ethnological research, but since they speak with the -x ended words they are able to fool themselves that they are completely besides it all, that their own attitudes and ideas are neutral and blameless.

The actual consequence of Bourdieu’s analysis is just the opposite: That it is useless to go against the ideas without addressing the power structure. Either the oppositional ideas get ignored or they get incorporated into the power structure, or coopted by a number of different stratagems available.

Obviously, the misguided idea of fighting power-skew with words fools the fighters into complete ineffectiveness. But that is of course the unintended consequences can run much deeper.

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