Note: I'm pretty sick so I can't write today. Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago but, unfortunately, it's as timely now as it was then.
As entire classes of people are still subjected to destructive inequality and the protest against that inequality has been made to seem passé, the far easier to assert equality of words seems to have become entrenched as an assumption. This is, to not mince words, stupid.
Words aren’t enumerated as a class having rights under the Bill of Rights, The Civil Rights amendments or the Civil Rights Act, they are not all created equal. They are not all “perfectly good words”. Some of them should be suppressed. Some should be hunted to extinction, remaining only as mounted, academic specimens.
Achieving the suppression of the language of bigotry is straight forward, you suppress it. You make the use of the words uncomfortable and an invitation to be hassled. For example, the blog boys use the word “cunt”. The way to make them uncomfortable is to constantly call them on it when they use it. It’s simple as that. They refer to women in that way, you make that uncomfortable for them, you harass them whenever they say it. You make it not worth their wile to use the word. When they whine about your calling them on it, you just do it anyway. They pout about you ruining their fun and boy bonding, you ignore it and keep calling them on it while taking pleasure at their discomfort. Their discomfort is a sign your plan is working, I see nothing wrong with enjoying it, privately. Of course, you've got to give up using language like that yourself, you've got to have credibility.
Whenever you propose something like this you can count on two things happening. The first is the invocation of “freedom of speech” or “The First Amendment”. I’m happy to report to you that we are not bound in our personal lives to uphold the “speech rights” of bigots. As I never tire of pointing out, we are not the government. You’d think the left has been out of power long enough to not suffer from that mistaken idea. If a commercial establishment can suppress the use of profane language on its property, individual people certainly have that right in the common ground of life. Those we target for this kind of coercion have no recourse to constitutional relief from us. When it comes to bigots, it’s a mistake to worry about their right to promote the violation of other peoples’ rights. Let them do the worrying. And it gets better, there is no reason for us to treat bigotry as equal to other modes of human interaction. It intentionally hurts people, it has no rightful place in the world. And, let it not be forgotten, strident objection to hateful words is just as much an expression as bigotry, only it doesn’t try to harm entire groups of people on the basis of who they are.
The second thing brought up is whether or not it is the most important issue, the matter of priorities. Who knows what’s “most important”? This election season has certainly shown that it isn’t a little problem, IT HURTS MEMBERS OF OUR CAUCUS. If the protection from harm to our members isn’t a priority for us then we’ve got to rearrange our priorities. It also divides the left, it harms our efforts to make progress. This is a big deal, as well, because it prevents other important things from happening. This is a fact to use against blog bigots as well. Calling Ann Coulter sexist names doesn’t hurt her but it hurts her opposition which then has to deal with the division of the left due to the childishness of these jerks. It’s not as if we’ve got a rip roaring huge majority to work with as it is and can spare the members or time spent trying to patch things up. If anyone wants to be on the left, the minimal requirement is that they not divide and distract those who are doing the real work and so enable our opponents. If they choose to run their mouths at our expense, kick them out. It’s not as if the Coulters of the world aren’t vulnerable onhg the basis of things they say, themselves, many of those on the grounds of bigotry. Being a bigot in response weakens your position against someone like her.
Those words and similar ones shouldn’t be tolerated no matter what comedian or pop star has used them in their act, no matter how gratifyingly transgressive they make the user feel. People using them have to be made to feel too hot to mistake it as ‘cool’. The soft-handed, man-talkin’, tough guys who, in reality, risk nothing in life more serious than repetitive stress should be derided and made to feel the fools they are.
Not using those words is a part of removing bad habits of thinking from the common discourse. If I was planning a strategy I’d say go after the clear cut offenses first, the easiest ones to target. Just getting rid of those annoyances would be worth the effort, I’d think. I don’t want people thinking in those terms and I do think that is important. I don’t think pay equity or Title Nine or the equal right to public accommodation would have ever become law if those terms were an acceptable default way to think about the covered classes in the voting public. It was certainly no coincidence that gay rights legislation finally started making it out of committees as it became less acceptable to target us with bigoted language and that those reforms fail in those places where verbal gay bashing is still tolerated It really matters.
I’ve never been much on adopting the language of the enemy. I never believed that it would subvert the intentions of the ones who really meant it. You can’t redeem a term of hatred in common use by using it yourself, you can’t capture it and change its meaning. Words obtain their meaning by their history and their contemporary common use. Words of bigotry are defined by bigots who use them. No matter what the language-pop-sci folk would lead you to believe.
The use of bigotry in “comedy” isn’t funny, even when used by otherwise funny comedians. Though it will get you a cheap laugh from other schmucks. Hearing bigotry freely expressed makes it seem acceptable and it influences the thinking of those who might go either way. It gives permission.
It certainly snowballed on the blogs of the left in ways I’d never have believed before last year. It was a real shock that even anti-gay invective is less accepted than the most revolting terms of misogyny. But I’ve also seen real racism, religious bigotry, ethnic bigotry and other forms of expression destructive of the effort to promote real equality and freedom. It all has to be called, it’s not as if we don’t have real ideas and problems that need to be addressed. Making all forms of bigotry out of bounds is helpful to making any form of bigotry unacceptable. The partial acceptance of bigotry is a stupid blunder.
I am just about certain that the real names of the ideals of liberalism, freedom, equality, yes, especially, love, would be considered more outré than the words of real, explicit, misogyny on some blogs of the left. And racism on others, While that might be due to their overuse in some rather gooey contexts, their intrinsically negative context doesn’t seem to have rendered the hateful words unfashionable in the same way. Though they’ve certainly gotten old.
It's one of the more irrational aspects of this that those words, the sure sign of childish, lazy thinking, are, somehow, mistaken to be a sign of adulthood. I don't know what you can do about that except to refuse to go along with that stupid idea.
So feel free to be inventive, be clever, be scathing in your suppression of the “c” word and others worthy of destruction. If you don't like it, you have every right to say so. And do it every time.
Addendum: There is a third thing that can happen in this kind of effort.
I firmly suspect that there is a constant temptation in people to be as bad as they figure they can get away with, though some people regularly seem to be able to resist. This effort can’t be seen as a license to do another stupid, divisive and time wasting* thing, inventing convenient, imaginary implied slights.
In our pop-psych addled age, the temptation of those on the losing end of an argument is sometimes to go from what’s explicitly stated to conveniently asserting things like “body language” and “unconscious intentions”, which aren’t stated explicitly. Usually it is the minutia of nuance beloved of some leftists that elicits that response rather than in the important, commonly agreed to, difference. Occult, interior motives are asserted to be the unseen taint, the mark of the bad seed, in otherwise sound leftists, asserting their otherwise reasoned arguments to be functionally unsound for the vaguest of reasons. I’d say that splitting those hairs should wait until the explicit expression of bigotry is effectively eliminated. That’s going to be a big enough job to start with. Effectively targeting those who are explicit bigots might help to eliminate those in the second tier of bigoted expression without spending time on them.
As anyone who has ever played cards knows, it’s a hallmark of the unexpressed idea that you really don’t know what it might mean or even if it’s there to begin with. Maybe it exists only in your imagination. If it’s really there it will find explicit expression, if it doesn’t you are free to assume that the interpretation more favorable to you is what was intended all along and to act accordingly. I’ve found that assuming that sometimes has the gratifying result of avoiding a pointless argument and sometimes actually turns things in a more productive direction than angry confrontation over the imagined slight. On many occasions, when the assumed interior intention becomes clear, it was quite harmless anyway.
* I’ve noticed in meetings of non-profits something like this often takes the form of “not wanting to set a precedent”. Who hasn’t sat though twenty-five minute of loftily vicious and absurd argument about just such a “precedent” issue? Well, unless explicitly stated, non-profits can pick and choose on the basis of individual merits and their own contemporary situation without worrying about precedents of that kind. I’ve never yet seen the bylaws of one that forbids that.