Avoiding baseless pejoratives

This blog post is something that has been forming in my mind for several months and just recently I read another blog which both helped clarify my thoughts and provided the impetus to write my thoughts.

The general theme is the importance of cultivating a civil environment for exchange of ideas and specifically to follow the guidelines ourself which one advocates for others.  The specific event that spurred me to action is a blog post that is obviously satire and makes reference to a group of people which self-identify with a certain philosophical and political tradition.  For this discussion rather than use the actual text of that other blog (see why at the end) I will modify it so we can focus on some general principles not the specifics of a one or two political traditions. I will change the name of the group mentioned in the other blog to PPPBP (Progressive Political Philosophy and Bheer Party).

Thus the example becomes: When the PPPBP has established their Utopia then members of various groups not commonly considered part of mainstream society will be subject to enslavement, rape, torture and finally being shot.  What is most unusual is that there is a wealth of scholarly articles and books on the PPPBP historical and philosophical tradition and these articles and books argue against slavery, rape, torture and murder.  So why did the original blogger write as they did?  And why do we see other writers making similar rhetorical flourishes?

Well it is difficult to determine the motives and inner thoughts of any person but let us assume for the moment that the other blog post was not made for malicious purposes.  Further let us assume the comment was not made out of ignorance.  I make these assumptions because the blogger in question is of above average intelligence, is (or at least should be) aware of the basics of the PPPBP political philosophy and knows people who self identify with the PPPBP and who would not do any of the harmful things mentioned.  And this is not just confined to one writer; I have observed many different people speaking or writing in a similar fashion.

One possibility that occurred to me today is that perhaps for some people referring to the PPPBP now is not dis-similar to the use of the infamous N-word in times past (and not so past unfortunately).  I can remember decades ago as a young lad hearing people referring to someone who had taken many one dollar bills folded and wrapped a twenty dollar bill showing on the outside and put in a money clip as having a "n*gg*r bankroll" (and note that I will slightly obfuscate a few words to avoid offence and also to avoid attracting those whose main purposes are disruption and grief).  Note that this usage of "n*gg*r bankroll" was applied regardless of the race of the person with the money clip.  The use of the word "n*gg*r" appears to be a way to characterize a particular action as poor, phony, lower-class, cheap or unsophisticated.  Fortunately I have heard this usage in many years so perhaps there is improvement.

Consider the recent growth and decline of the phrase "th*t's so g*y".  For a variety of reasons the usage as declined and for that I think we are all grateful.  In considering this and the use of "n*gg*r" it seems to me that these terms often take on the role of "throw away general purpose pejorative" which are safe to use perhaps because the person using the term assumes their audience will know their reference is to some group that is it safe to denigrate.

And in many of these cases one hears the reply "Oh I was just kidding", "Can't you take a joke" or "I was not referring to all of them just some of them" or similar comments.  And for something such as money clips it is not completely uncommon to see people using money clips instead of wallets and if you consider that some people doing so will have have the larger bills on the outside as opposed to the inside and the number of African-Americans in the USA then it is probably true that there are likely several perhaps many African-Americans who use a money clip with the largest bill on the outside.  Does that mean I think it is a good idea to use the term "n*gg*r bankroll"?  No; I think it is generally improper in almost all situations. 

OK hopefully we all agree to avoid "n*gg*r bankroll" and similar terms; but what are the broader implications.  The most obvious is that we should strive to improve the arena of discourse for everyone by reducing the use of "general purpose personal pejorative" and similar terms.  The narrower implication for any blogger is that if you do not want some terms used about you personally or a group with which you identify then avoid the pejorative yourself.  If you do not like hearing African-Americans referred to as "n*gg*rs" then it might be a good not to refer to "f*gg*ts" when writing about a same-sex couple.  Similarly if you do not want the use of "f*gg*t" consider setting a good example by not using PPPBP as a pejorative particularly in a manner which distorts the philosophy behind the PPPBP. Similarly if you do not want to have a trans-woman referred to as "tr*nny" then perhaps a good place to begin is to not use a baseless pejorative on another group.

We humans are social creatures and we do learn (sometimes slowly) from others.  Thus we can each help our fellow social creatures by encouraging a better arena of discourse.  Does this mean that we will all agree?  No.  Does it mean that I am always correct? No.  I would go further as say that as far as I can ascertain none of us is completely correct in everything.  We all have limited knowledge, perspective and experience; what we can do is use our critical thinking skills to improve our knowledge and understanding.  And a key to this is improving our arena for discourse.

There is a lot more that could be said about this; such as what about the real jerks who do identify with various groups and movements.  For example what about people who claim to be Fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy yet act boorish and use a malicious pejorative about others?  Do we want to paint all of SF fandom baaed on a few persons?  No and similarly for other groups.

Now some will have read to this final paragraph (or shipped here directly) expecting a link to the blog which gave me the impetus to write my blog entry.  I have thought about this and at least at this point I am not going to post the link.  And I have obfuscated the content of the other blog such that it will likely not be found with a simple search.  The reason is that I do not want to have a bunch of people going to that other bloggers site and leaving numerous messages with annotation, references and a detailed explanation of the errors implicit and explicit in that other blog post.  As I mentioned above we are social creatures and we learn in social situations; sometimes that learning works when everyone is yelling and screaming STOP and sometimes that learning works best when someone hears something said in a less threatening manner.  And often it takes hearing something multiple times; I know it often does more me.

However I will give one link since I have touched previously on related topics: