A world without hate-speech is anything but boring

I was recently g-chatting with someone who was annoyed that their printer wasn’t working. Then they called their printer a “faggot.” Long story short, I won’t be speaking to this person again.

It’s not like I have a “one strike, you’re out” policy on offensive words. Actually, I’m a bit more forgiving than I should be, probably because I have personally found it hard to stop saying a few choice words that I know are wrong. But the point is that I know they are wrong, and I am trying to stop using them. When this person used the real F word and I called him on it, he had no such awareness that it was wrong.  Instead, he threw the classic argument at me: “Being PC (politically correct) is boring/dull/stifling/etc.” Well, I’m sorry to say it but that argument is bullshit.

I pity all the people out there that think that a world where people cannot say hateful words would be “boring” or “stifling.”  Talk about a lack of imagination.  If you cannot even imagine finding other words to use to describe a broken printer or more creative ways to tease your friends, then I feel fucking sorry for you.  How limited your mind must be.

The ridiculous part of this is that there is a large community of people who have colorful, vibrant, and terribly inappropriate conversations on a regular basis using delicious words that are snarky, mean, and biting – but totally PC. (Hello the feminist blogging community!) Enter one of my personal favorites: “douchebag.”

Why is it awesome to call someone a douchebag? Because douching is stupid and unhealthy for women, not to mention gross, and that’s something everyone basically agrees on. Everyone is, and should be, offended by the idea of douching. And that’s why it feels so good to call someone a douchebag. You get to express your feelings in a colorful, pointed way that is not reinforcing the legacy of hate, violence or oppression of a disadvantaged group.

But even the worst of words – “faggot,” “nigger,” “kyke,” etc. – have their place in our culture. No one is advocating (or at least no one SHOULD be advocating) that they disappear entirely.  These words have power, and they need to remain as a testament to the past so that we do not forget the danger of allowing hate to flourish.  Sometimes these words can even be reclaimed and become empowering, like “queer.” It’s truly unfortunate that certain groups really miss the forest for the trees about this – like the people removing “nigger” from Huckleberry Finn. How can we expect to learn the lessons of our own history if we sanitize it, or erase it completely?  As the saying goes, “those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.”  I understand and agree with the argument against that type of censorship, but that’s hardly the same thing as throwing around the word “faggot” for no particular reason.

The underlying truth behind the “PC is boring” myth is that people who cannot envision a world without hate-speech are one of two things.   They either do not have any experience of hate and oppression and therefore do not understand how it is perpetuated by language, or they’re just plain racist/sexist/classist/homophobic/etc. I’m not sure what there is to do about the latter group, but I’m pretty sure the actions of the former make it easier for them to be hateful without owning up to it or even being cognizant of their own prejudice.  A culture in which it’s acceptable to use hateful words allows bigots to slip under the radar and there is no accountability for the perpetuation of hate.

The majority of people, I would like to think, are not actually hateful. They just don’t get it. I wonder how many of them have been privileged never to experience hate-based violence or oppression.  Or how many have experienced it but are somehow unable to recognize the role that language plays.  I am certainly privileged in a number of ways, but I am not that distanced from the reality of hate. Every time I hear someone use the word “faggot” I think about Matthew Shepard.  I think about his brutal and cruel murder.  And I think about my own family.  I think about ovens and ditches full of bodies. I think about the family members that I never got to meet because they were tortured to death.  I am acutely aware of the power of hate-speech. I cannot speak for everyone.  We each react differently to certain words, but I’d venture a guess that most of us have some reaction to at least one of those words. It’s pretty rare to go through life not knowing anyone who has experienced hate. That is a reality that needs to change, and language is an important part of making that change happen.

But I am not the “PC-Police.”  I am not a “PC Nazi.”  (Nazi, like douche, is another great insult to throw around. Everyone hates Nazis!)  After all, I like South Park! And I swear!  Plenty.  My world is anything but boring or dull. I love to insult people and yell obscenities at inanimate objects. When my printer breaks I bash my fists and curse the damned piece of shit as the ILLEGITIMATE PROGENY OF FAIL that it really is!  But I don’t call it a “faggot.”  Not only would that be insensitive and morally repugnant, it’s completely uncreative and boring – not to mention that it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

If the only colorful words you have to work with are hate-speech, then it’s YOUR world, not the PC world, that’s boring, dull, and absolutely stifling. Get an imagination and get a life — or you can get out of mine.

6 thoughts on “A world without hate-speech is anything but boring

  1. In my experience, it has been the case that anyone who cries “Being PC is boring/dull/stifling/etc” is really saying that “Being PC would require me to make an effort to kick a habit I’ve picked up. I HATE making efforts to do things when there isn’t an explicit reward (such as a cookie) in it for me.” In other words, hatespeech is a comfortable-but-smelly couch and people who use it convince themselves that the smell isn’t so bad because cleaning it up would be more of a bother.

    I recently had to stop playing XBox Live with a friend of a friend because he kept referring to meddlesome enemy players as Jews, and accused them of “Jewing” something whenever they did something he didn’t like. It didn’t even make sense as racial slurs go, as there was nothing even negative-stereotypically Jewish about the things they were doing!

    I agree that there are plenty of other fun swear words that people can use. Personally, I’m particularly fond of “dickbag” and/or “bag o’ dicks.” I’m also a big fan of “f***tard” over “retard” because it tends to imply fingers-in-the-ears willful ignorance over actual learning disability.

  2. I very much disagree with your opinion on the term “Nazi,” and on what you call “throw[ing words] around” in general. To me, the unrestricted and unchecked use of any sort of language is a bad idea, because this leads to cliches. Once a word or phrase is cliched, I think that basically three main things can happen, all of which we should want to avoid:

    1. It’s usage becomes embarrassing (i.e. “paradigm,” “outside the box”).
    2. It’s usage becomes perspective-distorting (i.e. the way that many people now refer to high-volume — yet wholly solicited — electronic messaging as “spam”).
    3. It’s usage becomes subliminally weaponized (i.e. the way that people use the term “gay” to connotate that something is undesirable, or “rape” to refer to handily winning a contest or competition over another party).

    “Nazi” fits basically into all three categories. Yes, basically everyone hates Nazis! But there is a reason for that, a reason you point to in the preceding paragraph. “Nazi” is a word that has a meaning that we as human beings should hesitate to water down through expansionary usage of it. If you call everyone a Nazi, then over time, people forget what Nazi actually means, which means that they forget exactly who the Nazis were, and what the Nazis did. As the saying goes, “those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.”

    Not only that, but when we forget what words mean, we allow that communication to be co-opted by skilled hucksters and propagandists. We should fight desperately to avoid this. When we willingly erode the language which with we use to communicate and express ourselves, we are attacking humanity itself. Those without language are slaves to those with it. Without language, we are nothing.

    Also, I really don’t think you should not give up on “my printer is a faggot” guy. To me, one of the most difficult things in the world to do is disagree with others who do not with to be disagreed with in a constructive way. I struggle with this all the time, but regardless of whether or not I know the best way to do it, I am certain that it’s hugely important to try. We’re all people, you know? We need to look out for each other. I’m very wary of power’s tendency to divide and conquer. Those in power try very hard to divide us. We should try not to do this for them.

    If you could design the future, you’d build a world in which you could have a conversation with this guy about this. My opinion is that we as people CAN and DO design the future. There are no guarantees that any one person’s ideas or designs will prevail in the end, but for a human being, what other sensible course of action is there than carrying on as though it’s going to be YOU?

    • Finn – you make really good points about the use of the word Nazi. I’m going to have to keep thinking about that one…

      As for the “printer” guy, rest assured that this was not the first incident or the first time I have tried to have those conversations with him. I certainly believe in constructive disagreement and trying to open the minds of others, but sometimes, with some people, you have to excuse yourself for the sake of your own sanity. Sometimes there comes a point when your energy is better spent doing something else, and in this case, that’s what happened. I hope someone else has the energy to carry on in my stead.

  3. Your example of how to be rude while still being PC is a perfect example for the case against being overly PC. While I don’t believe in using the word “faggot,” or calling negative things “gay,” I do think that some elements of society tend to take political correctness too far. I know people who say that my use of the word “slut” is sexist, even though I apply it to men in exactly the same way. Going back to your example, I admire the creativeness, which is what I strive for when swearing (it’s so much more fun that way!) However, someone might take offense at that because calling your printer “illegitimate progeny” kind of implies that there’s something wrong with being born out of wedlock, in the same way that calling it a faggot implies that there’s something wrong with being gay.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s nearly impossible to be 100% PC, and that it’s hard to draw the line when censoring hate speech, because nearly everything is offensive to some tiny group. Maybe one should be offensive when trying to be profane. And is it okay to be offensive for the sake of provoking thought and debate?

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