Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Grammar Note About Objectification

In most languages, a sentence may include a subject, a verb, and two different kinds of objects. The distinction between the direct and indirect objects turns out to be very important. It's the difference between rolling a ball to the baby and rolling the baby to the ball. A direct object is what the verb is acting upon; the indirect object explains to or for whom the action is done. The subject puts everything in motion.

This is important to all of us because, grammatically speaking, the Lord has put us all on the earth to be the subjects of the sentences in which we live. The prophet Lehi taught his sons that God, 'hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon... Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself' (2 Nephi 2:14, 16).

One way the devil seeks "to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will" (Moses 4:3-4) is to convince them to treat themselves or others as direct objects to be acted upon rather than subjects that act for themselves (or indirect objects that interact with the subject are subjects themselves from a different point of view). Perceiving or treating someone like an object without a mind and will of their own, known as objectification, leads to grievous sins of all types.

Slavery is an obvious, horrific and continuing example of objectification. So is pornography, controlling and abusive relationships, provocative media and advertising, feuds and warfare, victim mentality, violent crime and even sports fanaticism. Each of these depend to a large extent on one or more people viewing another person or people as an object to be acted upon.

Objectification includes any time someone perceives or treats another person like a tool that can be owned, is good only to meet the objectifier's purposes, and is interchangable with other objects. It includes the denial of autonomy and treating a person as though they are lacking in agency or the capacity to speak. It often involves mentally reducing someone to 'just' a body or body parts and treating them primarily in terms of how they look or appeal to the senses. Objectification also often includes perceiving someone as lacking in boundary-integrity or unable to prevent intrusions into personal space (Nussbaum, Martha, 1995, "Objectification", Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24(4): 249-291 and Langton, Rae, 1995, "Sexual Solipsism", Philosophical Topics, 23(2): 181-219).

When we turn back to the rules of grammar, we may notice that many of the commandments can only be broken when we objectify others. We cannot covet or lust anything other than a direct object. Nor can we hate, fear or kill the subject of a sentence; that comes only after we have turned them into an object in our perception.

Conversely, there are verbs that can only take an indirect object. Grammatically speaking, we can only answer, thank, follow, forgive, help, believe, miss or serve someone we respect as a person with divine agency. We can only be healed as indirect objects interacting with the subject who heals us; or, from another perspective, as subjects taking action to receive that healing.

Elder Bednar has taught, "If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are" (Things As They Really Are, Ensign, June 2010). This includes perceiving or treating ourselves or others as if we did not have the agency the Lord has given us, through our faithfulness, from the beginning.

Moroni spoke with us in mind when he admonished, "Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God" (Mormon 9:28). Objectification is part of the world in which we live, but we don't have to adopt a mindset disconnected from the reality and truths of God if we will follow the counsel of Moroni.

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