I’ve let this site go a bit dormant, as I’ve been too busy campaigning for the Massachusetts State Senate to manage regular updates, but I’ll take a moment to comment on a recent occurrence that I think is of some interest as a reflection on our present society and where people like me fit into it.
The long and short is that I kicked over an SJW ant-hill in referring, in a tweet, to a certain politician as a faggot. I don’t really know anything about the politician; he was essentially a symbol, just a guy in some old C-SPAN footage providing a demonstration of the sort of hypocritical moral-preening that Donald Trump has become so popular for his refusal to humor. Given the age of the video, the man in it must be very old or even dead by now. But none of that matters, of course, because at issue here, as you might guess, isn’t that anyone felt I was being unfair to the poor guy. Rather, the outrage-addicts of the internet swung into action to decry my use of an un-sayable word.
The angle here is that the word “faggot” is offensive to decent sensibilities because it’s a derogatory slang term for homosexual. That it has an even older slang meaning of “old woman,” or that in modern parlance it’s more often used to mean “obnoxious person” (as was obviously the sense in which I meant it), were entirely immaterial. Neither etymology nor present day reality are relevant to the new lexicography of the neo-Puritan Social Justice Warriors.
The whole thing presents an interesting question: Can a word that makes one segment of the population uncomfortable but is in common usage by another segment be “culturally verified” as unspeakable if the segment that doesn’t like it demonstrates a loud enough consensus on the matter? From what I can tell, the attempt to police this word out of public utterance has been going on since at least 2011, though it’s probably been much longer. Notice Guy Fletcher’s rather meek defense of Dire Straits’ use of the word in the article I just linked:
“In it, Mark uses real everyday US street language to describe how a numbskull worker in a hardware department … feels about a video being shown.”
See? It isn’t bad that we say it because we’re just putting the word in the mouth of some uneducated prole. You might actually hear words like that in the street language of the dreadful commoners.
The problem for me is that I am an uneducated prole. And so are all my favorite people. Uneducated proles are the people I most want to represent.
So, I figured it was worth pushing back on this; after all, we already have one “F word,” so why do we need another? Besides, the first people to jump on the tweet (such as one of my opponents) knew full well that I was using the word to describe the bullying pol in the video, and not to make a comment about homosexuals.
Could there really be people who honestly interpreted what I said as a message of hate towards homosexuals? Part of me bristles at the thought; after all, anyone so culturally insulated that they didn’t already realize it could look up the word in urban dictionary to see that it most often carries a non-sexual meaning in its modern usage. However, if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit it’s plausible that some people did have that interpretation. On the one hand, there are obviously people who don’t really care about context and are just jumping on the opportunity to claim victimhood status because they perceive it as conferring material advantage or moral authority. And to those people I refuse to cede any ground. But, on the other hand, it worries me to think that there may be people who didn’t look into it for themselves, and genuinely interpreted that some political candidate somewhere was expressing hatred towards them because of their sexuality. Only because of that possibility, if I had it to do over I’d have chosen a different (more politic?) insult to hurl. And, I’ll go further: I don’t enjoy making random people feel bad (let alone hated), so if the word carries the implication of hatred for some people then I’ll stop using it in public settings. I have a good enough mental thesaurus to pull that off.
However, while I’m personally comfortable dropping one word from my public-speaking lexicon, I want to make the case that we’re hurting ourselves whenever we cede linguistic ground to the professionally aggrieved.
For one thing, pushing the bounds of acceptable language puts extra weapons in the political right’s arsenal. First because not everyone who feels the way that I do wants to write a long, word-mincing essay on why they feel that way. When Donald Trump uses the word “motherfuckers” in a speech, the immediate effect is to grab your attention. But he’s also saying to those people who feel fed up with the system but don’t have the time to think up clever ways of articulating arguments against it, that it’s OK to speak in their own voice. You don’t have to argue with sophists on their terms. You can shut them down just as easily by calling them motherfuckers.
Second, beyond just narrowing the ease with which we can articulate dissent from the status quo, the effort by the new Puritans to make heretofore usable words off-limits is an attempt to circumscribe the range of concepts we can even express. I’m fine with not saying “faggot”, because I’m willing to believe that there are some who genuinely find the term hateful and hurtful. But I’m not blind to the fact that for a contingent of the SJW word-police, the goal is to ban any words that reflect the existence of a culture which views homosexuality unfavorably. Because they’d rather that that culture, my culture, simply didn’t exist.
So I see positive ramifications of refusing to cede ground on our language. But what about the negative implications for our society if we do surrender territory?
Ask yourself: What’s driving my own linguistic mini-scandal? Of course, there’s the obvious short term advantage my opponent intends to gain. But in a broader sense, I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a cultural rift that’s been forming probably for decades. I don’t know whether, when William F. Buckley famously interrupted Gore Vidal in a televised debate with a sentence beginning “now listen, you queer”, there was a subsequent furor over whether that comment was a coded message about homosexuals in general, but I think that most viewers understood that, given the context, it was meant simply as a personal insult to Vidal. Buckley, it’s worth noting, was thought of in his time as one of the more moderate and respectable voices on the right. How do you suppose the snarky, self-righteous, liberal arts set that writes for BuzzFeed would react if those words were used in a debate today?
Clearly there’s a cultural force moving us (or at least a great contingent of us) towards ever-greater sensitivity to coarse language.
I think this is largely on the basis of group identity politics. As I alluded to before, there’s a stratus of society in which victimhood confers real rewards, where one may, for example, forgo the need for any real merit as a requirement for career advancement if they can demonstrate membership in a perceived victim group to whom some reparation is owed. The original beneficiaries of this were of course racial minorities, especially Blacks, benefiting from so-called “affirmative action.” While the argument for some correction of disparities in the case of American Blacks was at least predicated on something real –decades of widespread racial discrimination–, the promotion-via-victimhood precedent that affirmative action set has led to more and more tenuous claims of victim status. Are, for example, American Asians the victims of a racist Western culture? It’s obvious that they aren’t; they outperform their non-Asian neighbors in nearly every way. But don’t tell social parasite Suey Park that. Victimhood is essential to her personal narrative. Indeed, she’s desperate to demonstrate it.
Of course, the political Left promotes this sort of thing, because they’ve honed group victimhood into a very successful electoral strategy, uniting behind their political banner those disparate “oppressed groups” that they can claim have been victimized as a whole at the hands of an “oppressor group” (which is almost always successful White men.) As if to purposefully demonstrate the link between this word-policing and the conferring of cultural power to their vassal groups, for every old word the cultural Right is no longer allowed to use, they coin a shiny new buzzword to line the quivers of the cultural Left. Like “homophobic”, or “micro-aggression.”
Of course, this is terrible for National cohesion, but I see the logic implicit in conferring status on the basis of grievance as taking us in the direction of something maybe even more dangerous than social balkanization:
While positing “homophobia” as a moral equivalent of racism is poor reasoning, setting “islamophobia” next to them is physically-dangerous folly. One could at least make the argument that, while it’s true that the racist disdains some his fellow men because of innate qualities they have no control over whereas the “homophobe” disdains some of his fellow men because of their behavior, a parallel between the two can be drawn on the basis that a homosexual doesn’t really have control over who he’s physically attracted to, and besides that, what makes a homosexual distinct from any other person is something he does in the privacy of his bedroom, so why bother him about it?
Islam, on the other hand, unlike sexual preference and certainly unlike race, is something requiring agency. It’s a religion, whose tenets you have to actively choose to adapt in order to be an adherent. The idea that making a value judgment about Islam or the downsides of Moslem immigration is akin to criticizing blacks on the basis of their skin color, because, after all, both things are offensive to large groups of people, is a form of insanity. But that’s the trajectory we’ve found ourselves on.
Moslems have spent the past decade and a half killing U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, but though we’ve previously mass-detained or even expelled guest populations for less, when Donald Trump first suggested simply not taking in any more Moslem immigrants as a solution, he was attacked both by the committed Left and by a contingent of the ostensible Right as –here it comes– an “islamophobe.” As Tarek Fatah points out, the Left’s efforts to adopt Moslems as a coequal in their coalition of the oppressed has led to bizarrely distorted misrepresentation of the threat they pose. Even if I didn’t oppose the Left’s tone-policing political speech because I viewed it as bad for social cohesion, I’d oppose it because it’s self-evidently enfeebling our national ability to respond to existential threats. I doubt it will even take long for someone to label me an “Islamophobe” just for writing this.
Reactions to my first little tempest in a teapot (keep watching and I bet you there’ll be more) have been mixed. The twitterverse has reacted largely negatively, which may be an indication that my own society has left me behind and my cultural attitudes have become hopelessly anachronistic, or it may just be a product of my not having many “followers” on that platform. [Update: since this has become a news story, reaction has shifted greatly, with the tweet currently sitting at 194 likes.] In the real world, I’ve gotten support from folks saying, essentially, “thanks for not letting these people bully you into submission.” Those, and any people who feel like them, are who I’m running for office to give a voice to. Finally, some people have just been curious, with several e-mailing/calling to ask: “How do you feel about the LGBT community?”
The answer to that depends on what’s meant by the “LGBT community.” If we’re talking about private citizens, I don’t really “feel” towards them in any way. I don’t reckon that it’s my business to. In a meritocratic world, people will rise or fall on a more substantial basis than what they do in their bedrooms. However, if by “LGBT community” we mean an organized political advocacy group, then I’ll declare myself an opponent. That “LGBT community” has been a socially–destructive disaster.
There’s one other aspect of this I want to address: I got a call from another Republican, someone who’s been involved in party politics for a long while, essentially saying “what are you doing to our brand, you idiot?” Here’s the thing: I’m not a politician. I’m just someone running for office because I’m utterly dissatisfied with my choices. My livelihood doesn’t depend on this, and while I’m happy to apologize to anyone I’ve unintentionally insulted (there are some people for whom insult is my intent) by my sometimes coarse language, I’m not going to contort my personality into something blandly unobtrusive just to win an election. I’d rather win or lose on who I really am. In retrospect, I could have expressed the same sentiment while exercising better word-choice. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start self-flagellating because my being one of those uncouth hoi polloi who uses politically incorrect language is tarnishing the state GOP by association. I don’t feel like I owe the state GOP anything. If it weren’t for the fact that for my entire lifetime the Massachusetts Republican Party has been in the business of politely losing to Democrats while barely even paying lip-service to the things that I care about in the process, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to be running for office in the first place.
Finally: I’ve let this little webzine go to seed because I’ve been too busy campaigning to write for it or edit submissions. I set it up as a place that I and a few friends could use as an outlet for any writing we felt like doing, and I’m still happy to put it to that purpose. If anybody reading this would like to submit something, be it political or whatever else, feel free to e-mail it to me at email@example.com . Additionally, out of my sense of fair play, I’d be happy to post responses from either of my opponents. So here’s an open invitation to both of them, and particularly to Jamie Eldridge, to engage me on substance, though I’m sure he’d rather continue to demagogue.