More About Words: Why Can’t I Say “Jackass”?

The flip side of toxifying perfectly useful words through willful, imbecilic misinterpretation (about which I wrote last time) is surrendering words to the trash bin because they have acquired “naughty” meanings.  The former happens when certain groups desperately trying to keep all their wounds and sore festering for political advantage seize upon anything that has even the echo of a possible slur.  The latter happens when people priding themselves upon their home-cooked, family-values decency rush to blackball (excuse me… how about “banball”?) anything with a faintly scurrilous echo in order to advertise their devotion to the true faith.

“Ass” can no longer be used among them, for instance.  In the Christmas carol, “The Little Drummer Boy”, the line, “The ox and ass kept time,” had to be rewritten, “The ox and lamb kept time.”  How inane!  The Latin word asellus refers to an equid similar to a donkey.  The Old English word “arse”, which appears in Ancient Greek as ouros (e.g., the star Arcturus or arktou ouros, “the Bear’s tail”), has no Latin cognate that I know of.  An ass is an ass–you know, a jackass.  Now, if you choose to associate the word in you dirty-clean little mind of would-be Puritan censorship, you can certainly strike it from your lexicon in a show of superior virtue… but where does your show end?  Any Middle School teacher knows that we would soon be reduced to speechlessness if we nobly abstained from every syllable that has a whiff of scatology or lewdness.  Girls named “Regina” must change their names.  Football players may no longer be said to “punt” the ball.  A threaded nail may no longer be called a screw–and, for that matter, I believe the word “nail” used to have a sordid underbelly in certain company.

Lately the word “pussy” is showing up on the virtue-radar as a seek-and-destroy target.  So the old James Bond movie Octopussy must be re-christened Octokitty; and, as a Bond-aficionado friend of mine points out, Pussy Galore of Goldfinger must also have a name change–not to mention the possibly tawdry suggestion in the use of “finger”.  Better ban that one categorically, just to be safe.  In our revised world, then, the lovely Honor Duskyperson will star as Meow-meow Galore in Golddigit.. but, no, Meow-meow sounds like Mau Mau, and we might be heading into racist territory.

What do such people imagine themselves to be safeguarding?  To me, they’re revealing that they know a lot more smut-talk than any legitimate saint should ever have heard.  Of course, the real point is that being aware of nasty double-entendres has nothing whatever to do with virtue.  It’s not the use of any certain word that defiles you: it’s the thoughts with which you accompany that word.  The same applies for “good” words associated perversely with base thoughts.  Some of my generation have employed (and continue to employ) the word “love” in such dubious circumstances that I now try to save it for very special occasions, just to avoid all possible misunderstanding.  This doesn’t amount to giving up on “love”.  It’s just recognizing that a variety of other options like “concupiscence” also occupy the dictionary.

On the other hand, letting someone deprive you of a perfectly functional word because that person has decided to confer a squalid sense upon it is essentially surrendering the mastery of your thoughts to parties who do very little thinking.  It’s servile, and it disgusts me.  What kind of virtue-lite exhibitionist engages in such jack**s antics?

The Stupid: America’s Most Privileged Class

I’m not a fan of tennis, but I gather that a long-time broadcaster of the sport for ESPN bit the professional dust a few days ago for a “horribly insensitive racist” utterance. He referred to Serena Williams as a practitioner of “guerilla tennis”. The writer of the explanatory piece I read was easily able to trace the offensive phrase back five or six years in the parlance of broadcasters, sportswriters, and players themselves. I infer that “guerilla tactics”, in tennis as elsewhere, involve ambushing your opponent by aggressively appearing where you were not anticipated. The problem, of course, is that “guerilla” is a homophone with “gorilla”, or… well, not really; but people who can’t speak very clearly also tend to have trouble with spelling, and indeed may not know how to read, or at least don’t read anything but the telegraphic gibberish on their Twitter accounts. And if they suffer from all of these problems together, we’re looking at a collection of symptoms that indicates terminal stupidity. So the real problem is that our hapless broadcaster was taken down by the pandemic of crippling, infectious imbecility which has swept across our society.

Something very similar happened several years ago when David Howard, an aide to D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, employed the word “niggardly” to describe stingy behavior. There is no etymological connection whatever between this and the notorious “n” word; and, let’s face it, they are clearly not pronounced the same way, so anyone whose hearing was not as impaired as his brain should have been able to figure out that a routine slur wasn’t at issue. No matter. They’re in the same ballpark. You should have reflected that idiots of my group are too dull to distinguish between the two words, and hence you should have abstained even from coming near the suggestion of an analogy of a relationship. Except… wait: wouldn’t that mean that you really were a racist if you took for granted that everyone in my group is an idiot?

I used the word “aide” above. If I were to say something dismissive about aides in any context, would that imply that I wasn’t concerned about gays dying of AIDS?

A lot of towns and geographical features have names drawn from Native American culture. How many high school football teams are called the Apaches or the Cherokees? Shouldn’t this be stopped—aren’t we demeaning our noble predecessor in North American by reducing him to a mascot or a cartoon character? And what about truly native names, like the Monongahela and Oostanaula Rivers? Shouldn’t we at least be paying royalties to someone for those? Did the tribes in question give us the rights to them?

How many of our fearless leaders and celebrated mouthpieces have maintained that referring to foreign nationals as “aliens” stigmatizes them as if they were little green men from Mars? Never mind that this science-fictional use of the word is itself a tiny backwater in its flow of possible meanings: once again, we’re dealing with people who watch TV and movies rather than read, so we must assume that their exposure to any idea whatever is limited to the experience of it they’re likely to have had through those media. Otherwise, we’re insensitive.

The Stupid would surely be our most privileged minority if they were not (I’m afraid) a growing majority. They enjoy so much special treatment that we are in fact required to anticipate how they will mutilate communications framed in functional-adult language. We must imaginatively squeeze our brains into their tiny skulls or risk losing our jobs—and maybe even, in the near future, going to prison.

Why, then, do we waste so much time promoting education and so much money sending our kids to college? It’s plain that the real key to a bright future in Dumerica is to fry those little gray cells as fast as you can.

Smoke Without Fire

Imagine that you want to ruin my reputation.  You decide to post a video of me torturing dogs on YouTube.  Now, I don’t torture dogs in the real world… but perception is everything, and new technology is ever more able to create convincing perception.  You have some surreptitiously recorded video of me wielding a knife and fork at a restaurant.  From the same venue (or another), you have audio of me as I laugh and casually converse.  You splice this in seamlessly to sequences where dogs are squirming and yelping in a piteous manner.  Oh, those poor dogs!  Oh, that savage bastard!

I doubt that technology has quite reached the point of seamlessness: experts at this moment could probably unravel your evil scheme.  But in a few short years, I’d wager that the product could likely defy the scrutiny of elite investigators, and for about the cost of a software program like PhotoShop a decade ago.  More importantly, the images will already be playing before the world’s eye before their fraud is decisively proved!  A cynical public will greet news of the fraud as itself a fraud.  Sure, Harris is innocent!  He’s paid off someone to say that.

People who like me or support my faction will insist upon my having been framed no matter what evidence they see.  “Everyone knows you can fake that stuff!”  People who dislike me or my coterie will insist that truth most certainly underlies some of the evidence: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  Very soon, no evidence of any sort will have any effect.  Your guys do no wrong: their guys do no right.

Are we not already there?  Technology has so successfully blurred the line between reality and fantasy that deciding guilt is no longer even a matter of verifying the deeds represented on a video.  We’re prepared to concede, rather, that everybody is guilty of everything… and so nobody is guilty of anything.  We don’t care about the merits of the particular case.  Instead, we take a “so what?” attitude.  Innocence, as now defined, is conferred upon our guy by his supporting of our cause.  If he wears our colors, then he does no wrong.

I don’t write these comments with any insinuation that Donald Trump actually did the things alleged of him in the scurrilous Buzz Feed story.  The whole incident gives us just a little taste, however, of what awaits us in the future.  Everybody will be guilty of everything… so nobody will be guilty of anything, as long as he spouts your slogans.  Death by cynicism.  Eradication of truth by truth-mimicking technology.  The virtual world of tomorrow–of this evening–could quickly become a literal hell.

The War on Thinking (Continued)

I may have left the wrong impression yesterday in writing that readers detest big words and closely reasoned arguments nowadays–that there’s a kind of war on thinking, and that some of us who like to think things through (even if we don’t always do so effectively) are starting to feel lonely.  “Targeted” may be too strong a word; and as soon as a word like that flickers across my mind, I shift to recollections of self-perceived victims saying that newly empowered Trump supporters are threatening them on the streets.

So let me be clear.  I didn’t vote for The Donald–honestly, the final vote I cast last year was in the primaries.  (Verbum sagacibus sufficiat.)  But I am not a Trump-a-phobe, either.  My latest encounter with big-league suppression of speech was in a class of English majors last fall.  Annoyed that so many of the group consistently skipped our meetings and/or didn’t produce homework, I tried to pave over my irritation on one mid-semester occasion.  I remarked, “Well, I guess we have ten students missing today because Question Four drove them to suicide.”  You would have thought that I had uttered the “n” word or announced that the Holocaust was a Jewish-devised myth, judging by the reactions of three or four girls.  I was so stunned and appalled by the willfully uncharitable interpretation of my little bid for levity (one girl charged that I was “satirizing suicide”) that I devoted most of the following class to a defense of the First Amendment… to no avail.  I didn’t move any of those who had pounced on me with both feet.  Instead, they trotted out some rather Maoist arguments about how people need to think before they speak and society (read “government” as the Will of Society) should enforce the consequences of “not thinking” (read “not kowtowing to the hyper-active sensibilities of protected groups”).

Late in the semester, much water having flowed under the bridge, the same class was working in groups on a challenging task.  One girl declared very audibly in frustration, “I think I’ll just shoot myself.”  I peeked around for any hint of a response.  All heads remained lowered with utter fixity.  I couldn’t make out whether nobody had registered even a blip on the indignation screen or whether–just as likely–they all realized that one of their one had done exactly what I’d done, and nobody wanted to acknowledge it.

So… please accept my clarification.  The political ideology that imagines itself the home-sweet-home of deep thought is, in my experience, the most repressive of openly shared ideas.  I do understand the complaints of those who’ve been hooted at by rednecks in pick-up trucks.  Every time I try to use my old-fashioned push-mower in the front yard, someone drives by and shouts, “Faggot!” at me out the window of that invariable, stereotypical pick-up.  I don’t know why.  So it’s more manly to park your gluteus maximus on a riding mower and burn gallons of gas than to force a manicure upon your grass with brute strength?  As a walker of long miles in my youth (I once covered 600 miles around Ireland in a month), I’ve also had projectiles hurled at me from passing vehicles that might have killed me outright if they’d landed a headshot.  Apparently, pedestrians are also “faggots”.  Non-faggotry clearly has something to do with gas consumption.

Yes, homo inerectus is among us: I get it.  And he always will be–you need to get that.  My beef is that people who used to think and converse in a calm, civil manner are cutting each other off now.  That’s a crying shame.

Auld Lang Syne… Just Move On

During my long car ride to the eastern seaboard a few days ago, I was able to wile away many hours by scribbling.  Among other things, I ground out a poem answering an invitation to attend my high school class’s forty-fifth reunion.  I’ve posted the whole poem under a pseudonym on another site.  None of my quondam classmates will read it there… and none will read the final fragment here.  (When I notified the whole group of a book I’d published through Smashwords two summers ago, four said that they had bought or would buy a copy, not knowing that I’m automatically informed of sales.  There was one purchase.)  The poem’s first part represents the invitation, full of “school spirit” and almost clad in a letter-jacket.  This brief portion is my answer:

Appreciate the thought

(If no more deep it went

Than matching roster spots

With invitations sent).

 

Someone of your name once

Knew someone who had mine.

Their boyhood, by a chance,

Shared common place and time.

 

They went their separate ways…

Or one stayed, one left town.

With him, he took my name—

But ditched his cap and gown.

 

And how he sought his god,

And what truth found him bare

And dressed him for the road—

That’s nothing I will share.

 

The boy I was is dead—

The one you thought you knew.

Your kindly card was read

To something in a tomb.

 

Me, I remain alive—

But not where beads are pearls.

Appreciate your time.

Right name, but not right world.

 

 

The Fight for Right Has Only Armies of One

A young man who shall remain unnamed recently explained to me his secret of success on Linkedin.  He contacts dozens of mates at his college whom he has not necessarily ever met, expresses a willingness to endorse their special skills on the website, and invites them to do the same on his page.  Result: lots of endorsements.  Problem: the endorsements are largely fake.  But the problem was mine, as I sat listening.  Virtually no one else today seems to care about such picky moral details.

It’s easy for someone in my position to opine grandly, “The Golden Age has yielded to the Age of Lead and Ash.  These young ones… the only reason they’re innocent is that they can’t conceive of a moral principle.  They like little savages!”  Yes… and whose fault is that?  The generation that raised them, perhaps?

I just returned last night from an exhaustive trip to look over some acreage that I’d like to buy, four states away.  I thought that I had booked a hotel at a really great discount through AMAC, the Association of Mature American Citizens.  And indeed I had… but no thanks to AMAC, whose Internet link had essentially routed me through some existing service like Travelocity–where your reservations are prepaid and inalterable.  The Association had not really created a special discount for its members, in other words: it was parasitizing online resources that already existed, and charging a membership fee to do so.  It happened that I finished my business a day early, and of course I didn’t want to blow the expense of another night’s stay.  When the hotel staff insisted that my giving thirty hours’ notice made no difference–that I was paid up for the full time whether I liked it or not–I called AMAC for some back-up support.  The date was Friday, December 30–a work day even for the notoriously vacation-happy USPS; yet I heard nothing but recorded messages.  Now, if I were still a member of AARP, my discount would have been locked in and I could have adjusted the days of my stay as long as the hotel received due notice… and a live person would have answered my calls.

I left AARP because I intensely disliked its backing of big-government causes with my membership fees.  AMAC explicitly advertises itself as the freedom-loving, small-government alternative.  Forgive me if, at the moment, I consider it little more than a scam.  I’m reminded of the very worst con I ever fell for in my life, wherein I lost $5,000.  The operation styled itself CBC (for Christian Businesses C… something-or-other).  I was about to lose my current job, and the soothing, somewhat fulsome promises and good humor of the Elmer Gantry CEO made me think what I really wanted to think: that here was a brother in the faith who had no stronger motive than helping out people in my precarious position.  Boy, did I get screwed!

There are a lot of “bad agents” in the world right now, and “men of good will” (as the French say) want to oppose them.  They want to be on the right side, and they–we–will likely rally round anyone who cries, “Out on thee, vile person!”  We think we’re showing solidarity against the forces of corruption.  Only problem is that being the standard-bearer of the virtuous opposition creates all kinds of opportunity to exploit and scam.

I’ve pretty much decided that there is no virtuous opposition… almost never.  Most of the good wars you wage must be fought alone.  As soon as you put on a uniform, you start to melt–imperceptibly–into the ranks of more bad guys.

Verify before you trust–and then trust no more than you absolutely need to.

Why I Avoid the “C” Word Now

Whenever you do any posting on the Internet, you need a bundle of words and phrases that tell the world–in no wasted space–exactly who you are and what you’re up to.  Good luck with that!  In starting this blog, I was once again faced with the chore of distilling myself into keywords, a ritual which is but one of the e-world’s resemblances to tribal primitivism.  What feathers are you wearing?  Do you wipe your warpaint over the cheeks or the forehead?

I have hazarded the word “Christian” on these occasions before… but I won’t go that way again.  About twenty years ago, I wrote a novel titled Seven Demons Worse and tried to market it through a tiny publishing company which had been assigned a FAX wherein 666 appeared prominently.  My “Christian” clientele crucified me–even though the seven demons are an allusion to one of Christ’s parables.  Generally speaking, more often than not, somebody in my part of the woods who wants to assess your religious faith will ask, “Have you accepted Jesus as your lord and savior?”  And if you return the serve and ask him, “Have you?” you’re likely to get such a cataract of mawkish, quasi-narcissistic sentimentality that you’re reaching for an umbrella with one hand and disinfectant with the other.  Yet if you should ask this person further, “What is the Christian calling?  Is it to help others, or to serve the spirit that others are often trying to throttle in themselves?  If that spirit is the key to our identity, then what comtribution to it does our individuality make?  And do we live eternally only in one great spirit, or does our unique nature continue to color reality beyond this life?”… well, you’ll soon be rid of your companion.  Such questions are received with the same smiling, nervous, arm’s-length discomfort as an outburst from a Turret’s Syndrome sufferer.

So that’s a “c” word which I no longer pin to my lapel when I go audience-hunting.

The one I avoid most cautiously, however, is “conservative”–and not because I’m averse to conserving.  On the contrary.  I want to conserve a pace of life measured by human steps, where people pass each other on sidewalks and speak civilly.  The new “conservative” wants more cars on the roads because more businesses will be reached and drilling for oil will provide more jobs.  I want to conserve an independent way of life where my needs are few and basic enough that I can meet them mostly through my own efforts.  The new “conservative” mocks people like me while proudly confessing his addictions to the latest i-gadgetry and the most convenient remote-control mechanisms.  I want to conserve my dominion over myself and also a certain stilted system of manners that keeps us from grating upon each other too directly.  The new “conservative” wants his appetites satisfied without government intrusion and increasingly allows himself crude displays under the guise of free speech.

That’s not the world of my grandfathers.  I see nothing in this new dog kennel that I want to hold tight.  Indeed, I see an ideology of flux trying to distinguish itself from progressivism by disdaining every centralized–and centrally promoted–vision of the “common good”.  I don’t like thought-police, to be sure: not in the least.  But I want to preserve my freedom of thought precisely so that I may think.

If conservatism is merely intellectual moonshine, then… then I’ll just drink water, if it’s all the same to you.  And even if it’s not.