Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Two Most Abused Phrases over the Past Ten Years

Apart from calling your opponent Hitler (or just a Nazi) in a debate, perhaps the most tired and abused of all phrases in recent years (especially in the context of culture and politics), have to be the expressions "inappropriate" and "hate speech". Ironically, what I have noticed is that when they are misused they are often misused for opposite reasons. For example, ever since the late nineties (and probably before then), individuals have begun to describe the most despicable acts, not as sinful, or even shameful, but rather as "inappropriate". My interest here is not to get political, or distract from the real issue, but it would be futile for me to deny that the first time I ever heard betrayal described as "inappropriate" was during the Clinton administration. And indeed ever since then I have heard any manner of crimes described in like fashion. From student-teacher sexual relationships, to "inappropriate" pictures on the web, to lying, stealing, cheating, and just about everything short of genocide (though the term "ethnic cleansing" would seem to be in that same tradition), very little it would seem falls outside of the broad scope of that particular word. This attempt to downplay wicked behavior has now become so ubiquitous that it has traveled well beyond the political sphere and into the realm of every day life. One wonders how long it will be before some sympathetic soul, not seeking to judge, and highly attentive to every detail of someone's misbegotten childhood, will go so far as to excuse the behavior of some fine young cannibal, under the guise of extending a Christ-like mercy to them. "It is true that this young man has had numerous issues which led to these unfortunate excesses, and that he has behaved in the most inappropriate and anti-social manner, but can we really blame him for this when you consider the hardships of his childhood?" Look, I do not deny that an unpleasant childhood can, and often does, lead to abuses later on, but we certainly will never clean up those "issues" by completely sanitizing them. The goal is to extend mercy, while not excusing, and thus perpetuating, the evil.

The second most abused phrase in the media today (and elsewhere) is the term "hate speech". As before, I do not deny that there are people out there who are filled with bile and hate, and that they should be condemned for said behavior. What I object to is the idea that everyone with whom we strongly disagree should necessarily be put in that category. Having a strong opinion on something, even one that is shared by many others, does not make the opposing view irrational on its face, nor does it make your view infallible. Yes, in spite of your passion and conviction on these matters, you still must (in the spirit of equality) give reasons for your views on it. In other words, you may not declare something is so simply because your blood boils to have to consider your opponent's position.

The most popular example of this today concerns the debate over homosexuality, and whether or not opposition to the homosexual lifestyle amounts to hatred. It may or may not be the case that those who object to it should be regarded as fiends, but can we at least have a real intellectual discussion before we go about uncritically condemning everyone? There must be some reason that society, up until recently, felt very differently about this issue. Shouting someone down does not an argument make. Nevertheless, being on the wrong side of this issue today can get you immediately branded a "hater," and for whatever reason many people find that kind of labeling perfectly acceptable. Is it fair to regard people who reject "homosexual marriage" as tantamount to those who burn crosses and wear white hoods? Let's discuss it and find out. Is a man's sexual behavior to be regarded in the same way as his skin pigment? Let's debate it.

But whatever the case, the way to resolve this issue in the larger sense is quite simple. Let the words correspond to their reality. The word "inappropriate" is suggestive of behavior (like some off-color joke), that may be "appropriate" in one set of circumstances, but not in another. Hence, equating a joke in poor taste, or an outfit that is unsuited for a particular occasion, with the act of adultery and betrayal, would seem to be more than a little bit of a stretch. The phrase "hate-speech" implies a kind of physical threat- coupled with language that tends to reduce the other individual to something which is considerably less than a human being. What should not be included in this definition is a mere disagreement (even an intense one) over the nature and purpose of sex and the family. In this particular situation, no one is looking to denigrate individuals as such (unless you are like the Westboro Baptists). What the disagreement is centered around is the proper understanding and expression of our human sexuality. People are always going to exaggerate in one way or another in an attempt to make their own position seem more palatable- the problem is these days we no longer recognize that we are in fact embellishing. We have made an idol out of Mercury, and Mercury, as I suspect you know, is quite mercurial. And so no one really knows what is "is" anymore- other than the fact that it just so happens to always agree with their position. If I am caught doing something shameful, I deem it "inappropriate". If you are doing something disagreeable, I deem it "hate". Let us restore these words back to their original meaning, not so that everyone can agree with me, but so that everyone can recognize that there is another Truth that exists beyond that of our own.

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