Topics

A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Let the finger pointing begin…

The News Media’s Responsibility for 2016

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Some things that rational people have suspected for many years have been confirmed over the last year and a half of the US presidential campaign.

Those of us who watch the United States from outside of its borders have long suspected colorblind-thoughtthat racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny were alive and well in the US; they were bubbling and seething just below the surface, ready to explode into the mainstream, if societal pressure was released for a moment. The Donald J Trump candidacy did exactly that. It made hatred and intolerance legitimate and exposed the depth and intensity of the hatred that, until Trump gave it his blessing, couldn’t be expressed in polite company. Trump’s campaign even managed to do away with the notion of polite company.

Prior to Donald Trump’s announcement of his intention to seek the highest office in the land and the position of most powerful person in the world, many political observers, including me, have remarked upon the dumbing down of public discourse; some, also including me, have even tried to focus attention on the very real decrease in the average IQ of Americans, as stupidity is being selected for in the patterns of human reproduction in the country. Of course, as intelligence wanes, an understanding of evolution tends to fade away too; there is a correlated disappearance of worry about the increasing stupidity that defines the US.

But even more than those suspicions, which the presidential campaign has confirmed, newsthe frequently noted degeneration of the American news media has become patently evident. Whatever happens on November 8 and in the immediate aftermath, it’s important that we be very aware of the fact that the entire debacle of the 2016 election campaign was largely the result of a news industry that has completely lost its way. The clusterfuck that we have been force-fed for one and a half years is the result of a news media that no longer deserves to be called anything but entertainment.

When television networks looked at their programming lineups decades ago, and50s-tv noticed that their most reliable and consistent viewership was during the time set aside for the news, the powers of capitalism and free enterprise couldn’t be restrained. For years, the news had been broadcast as a public service. It was not intended that news be a profit centre. Back in the days before everyone controlled their television viewing with a remote control, people had to stand up, walk to the TV, and physically change the dial to the network they wanted to watch. Network loyalty was an important factor in programming. So, the only reason ratings were important to news broadcasts was for the bragging rights and the rather nebulous assumption that people would be inclined to leave the dial on whatever channel they were watching when the news broadcast ended and prime-time viewing started.

networksocialmediachart_6But when the big money people realised that they could sell advertising on news broadcasts, it became a race for the bottom. News was only as important as it was likely to increase viewership. If it bleeds, it leads, was always a cynical dictum of news editing; with the race for ratings, blood became only one of the leads. Celebrity gossip, pathos, sex; all of those were sure to bring in the viewers, so they became the standard fare of broadcast ‘journalism’. Politics made the editorial cut if it involved the White House, because the president could be sold as a celebrity. Other politicians were only interesting if they could be reported on as celebrities, too. Salacious stories involving the sexual misadventures of legislators became newsworthy; actual political news didn’t grab the lowest common denominator, the hypothetical viewer for whom the news is edited.

Newsworthiness is judged simply by the ratings. The desperate battle for attention spilled over to other media; print media started to die when it tried to compete for internet-newssalaciousness and titillation; the Internet spawned thousands of sites that cater to every perverted taste. The result was a vast, nearly infinite forum in which genuine professional journalism is given equal time with rabidly fanatic partisan propaganda; with clickbait sites devoid of content but displaying outrageous headlines; with joke sites that parody the news; with hate sites; with sites claiming to be journalism, but lacking any understanding of basics like sourcing, independent confirmation, or fact-checking.

And the bastard child of the media’s infatuation with ratings is the dismissal and rejection of reporting on anything of substance. Only the sexy, the violent, or the outrageous draws enough attention to make it into the mainstream news. And the mainstream news fell for the ploy of one of the world’s greatest media whores and media-whorecheesiest hucksters. They let him define the terms of the election coverage and they played into his tacky, tasteless, deeply offensive strategy.

Donald Trump is not smart enough to have planned this campaign and then followed through on a pre-existing strategy. But he does have a low animal cunning and some sort of instinct for manipulating the media. Modern media manipulation isn’t all that complicated. All it takes is a willingness to wallow in sewage and have no regard whatsoever for human decency or civilised behaviour.

He started garnering media coverage by targeting those who share his racist views. In his very first speech as a candidate, he fired up anti-immigrant sentiment and described Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. He followed that up with an absurd promise topoorly-educated build an enormous wall along the US/Mexican border to eliminate illegal migration, despite the fact (barely mentioned in the media) that net migration is southward, as Hispanics overall are leaving the US to return to Mexico. The press, true to its mission of whoring for ratings (or clicks), reported the outrageous promise as though it deserved to be taken seriously. And Trump, true to the B.F. Skinner model of human behaviour, was gratified by the positive reinforcement he received from an uncritical press. He quickly realised that he could press the buttons that result in adulation from his fellow bigots, and they found themselves able to express their long suppressed bigotry without condemnation in the media. Hatred was not only okay again; it was a courageous refusal to kowtow to ‘political correctness’. And the mainstream media kept reporting the increasingly delusional statements, pledges, and promises of a clearly mentally disturbed candidate as though he was making sense.

Trump was a goldmine. He was ignorant enough to appeal (“I love the poorly educated”) to the ignorant. And, as we have seen, the ignorant were forming an increasingly word-saladsignificant block of the electorate. But because Trump could be depended upon to do or say something over-the-top and outrageously offensive, the news media gave him so much airtime that he spent zero on television campaign ads in the primaries. It didn’t matter if it made the slightest bit of sense; Trump meant ratings. Media analysts have estimated the advertising value of the unwarranted coverage he got, for simply being a loudmouthed asshole, in the billions of dollars.

The media was enjoying a windfall and they didn’t want it ever to end. They handed him the nomination and no one was more surprised than Trump insiders that he was now the candidate of one of the two major political parties in the US. Trump, who had started the idiotic campaign with no more of an agenda than increasing his brand’s value through media manipulation, soon started to believe his own press; he began to believe that he is the future of America. And as we watch Americans go to the polls, we can all be afraid that he is.

I'm a defense attorney and this clown is our consultant in the event the case becomes a media circus.

But starting now, whatever happens on the 8th, the news industry is going to have to take a long hard look at themselves. Trump is a refection of every ignoble aspect of the American psyche and is an embarrassment to the nation. He was created by the systemic bigotry and ignorance espoused by the party that nominated him, and he is a logical outgrowth of their platform and policies. But he was elevated to importance and to a level of significance that makes him an existential threat to democracy in the United States by the media. It is time that the news industry does some real soul searching and rethinks the very paradigms that have dominated the news media for several decades.

ENDITEM…

 

Lyin’, and Soundbites, and Memes…Oh My

Attention spans and politics

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) It’s no secret that attention spans are getting shorter. Arguably, that’s the fault of the Internet providing nearly instant response times, and keeping text content small while graphic and video content dominate on most sites. When I first started writing analysis and opinion pieces many years ago, the average column was about 1500 words and contained no visual content other than a headshot at the top, over the byline. Today, most of my editors are looking for columns of half that length, with 800 words the standard maximum.

attention-span

            I’ve had editors argue that the pay for shorter columns ought therefore to be about half of what they’d pay for twice the number of words. Truly professional editors, editors who started out as writers, see the fallacy in that argument. Winston Churchill, when he was earning his living as a political writer after he withdrew from political life, was once asked to write a specific piece of critical analysis for the London Times on short notice. He told the editor that he could get them 4000 words by the next day’s deadline. The editor responded that he would be happy with 2000 words, to which Churchill replied that he didn’t have enough time to write it that short. Churchill was acutely aware that cramming that much insight into a smaller piece was a far more difficult challenge than covering the same territory with enough room to express himself freely; condensing his thoughts and maintaining the same quality of analysis was a much tougher proposition.

            If a good writer takes a certain number of words to make and justify a point and then edits his

Winston Churchill...5th June 1941: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) pins his flag into his lapel after he had bought one in aid of Red Cross Day in London. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

own writing, eliminating any UEUE[1], any further cutting by an editor necessarily takes something away from the point and its supporting argument. And it’s safe to say that Churchill, the winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature, was a good writer. Ideally, in commentary and analysis in periodicals, a writer will produce a piece that expresses a single main point and argue for it in the minimum number of words she or he feels covers the idea thoroughly. If the editorial constraints are too strict, the piece will be too short, and will spark rebuttals from readers who wish to dispute the points raised but insufficiently supported. If the piece is too long for a daily, it should perhaps be submitted to a weekly, or, if still too long, a monthly. If no periodical can accommodate its length, clearly the writer should be thinking in terms of a book.

            When I first started this site, I used to post 800 word pieces, sometimes with a graphic or two. That was because I had developed the habit of writing pieces on opinion pages of daily print media, for attentionwhom 800 words had become the standard. But over the years, I have discovered that 1300 to 1700 words is a far more comfortable size with which to get my point across. And now I add 5 or 6 graphics to each post because my research shows that, on the ‘net, people who are just clicking through, are put off by seeing blocks of text that aren’t broken up by visual content, and are likely to “bounce” as SEO experts express it.

            Having said all that, what is revolutionary about the current state of political reporting and commentary is that even the briefest analysis is beyond the attention span of the majority of people who aren’t either in politics, or in the media, or simply obsessed with the current US presidential election. A little over a year ago, the alt. right, after endorsing Donald Trump, claimed that they would win this election by memes. And of course the Trump campaign has taken on board as their CEO, the former head of alt. right news source, Breitbart, Stephen Bannon. And since Bannon took over, the campaign’s reliance on clickbait, memes, prepared soundbites, provocative tweets, and a refusal to take questions or engage in dialogue at press “conferences”, has contributed to Trump’s resurgence in the polls.

            Today, even the 800-word standard is too much for the demographic that gravitates to Trump. It is too much for them actually to read and understand facts in news reporting; it is completely beyond their grasp to understand thoughtful analysis. Memes are their preferred bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.memes For that demographic, memes are ideal. They say something briefly; they usually say it as though their opinion is an established fact; and the more offensive and confrontational they are, the more they are shared and circulated. Memes can’t be argued against because the person who posts them doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for them, and, like Trump, when called on it, they can claim to have been joking.

            The left doesn’t seem to be restricted to the same extent as the right is to those tiny thoughts expressed in photo shopped visuals and often misspelled one and two syllable words; the right wing, however, seems to employ them to the exclusion of more thorough analysis. Certainly, the left employs memes and tweets, but there is almost no thoughtful analysis of politics from a right wing viewpoint available online. In print, there is the Wall Street Journal, but even that bastion of conservative journalism has abandoned Trump and the alt. right. Right leaning blogs and news outlets tend to be hyperbolic in their condemnation and ad hominem pickard-facepalmattacks on the left; they tend to state opinions as fact, they support the wildest conspiracy theories without any critical analysis. In short, The National Enquirer is the standard of journalism to which they seem to aspire.

            There used to be intelligent if misguided think pieces in sensible right wing periodicals. Besides the WSJ, there was the National Review and other conservative outlets. The right wing, however, has moved so far into fascist territory that even William Buckley’s pseudo-intellectual conservative platform finds itself uncomfortably close to the centre.

            And this is the new face of journalism. On one side you have twfoxnewseets, memes, soundbites, slogans, catchphrases, and low rent sewer attack journalism. This is the Trump universe. There is not one single responsible and professional news outlet, in print, in broadcast, or in electronic format that supports Trump unreservedly. Even the worst excuse for television news, Fox News, can’t bring themselves to get fully behind their own creature; Trump has made the right wing echo chamber hesitate before fully committing to his political psychosis.

            The Trump ascendancy has destroyed civil political discourse, it has eliminated human decency in political campaigning, and perhaps worst of all, it has reduced journalism to the lowest ebb in its venerable and proud history. What Trump will do to international relations and world politics in the unthinkable event of his election is too horrible to contemplate rationally.

[1] UEUE is a word I invented to mean “extraneous and unnecessary additions to that which is essential”. Its genesis is the spelling of the word “queue”, in which the letters UEUE add nothing that isn’t said simply by “Q”.

ENDITEM….

The World According to Trump

Looking to a Grim Future

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The 2016 United States presidential election is different from any previous presidential political race. Few of the elements that make this election unique are, in and of themselves, completely new to US politics; taken together, though, they add up to an unprecedented political campaign.

            There have been candidates before Donald Trump who ran on an “America First” platform; indeed, the America First Committee formed in 1940 was a powerful pressure america firstgroup whose avowed purpose was to keep the US out of World War 2. Naturally, the group attracted Nazi supporters, including Hitler admirer Charles Lindbergh; The Trump campaign’s use of the slogan is a dogwhistle call to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other race baiting groups. But Trump’s overt racism and in-your-face hatred of minorities was also foreshadowed by George Wallace’s segregationist presidential bid.

            The vitriolic hate speech that forms the backbone of Trump’s rallies is different only in degree from some earlier campaigns. That Trump regularly and unabashedly calls his opponents criminals, bigots, and traitors, that Trump leads his acolytes in chants of “lock her up!”, that Trump routinely encourages violence against peaceful protesters, are all behaviours that are simply quantum leaps more extreme than previous campaign outrages.

            Even Trump’s success in creating a political atmosphere in which his policies are utterly incomprehensible, his statements contradict themselves daily, and in which he is free to lie, to mislead, and to make and double down on outrageous and entirely false and easily disproven accusations, is merely taking old unethical political tactics to their extreme. Candidates have accused one another of a variety of unsavoury actions in previous campaigns, but it took the Trump candidacy before we would see the Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-ISISRepublican nominee stating flatly that the incumbent president and the current Democratic nominee and former secretary of state were literally co-founders of ISIS. Not in any metaphorical or figurative sense or anything, Trump assured us; but literally and factually, actual founders of the radical Islamic terrorist organisation.

            Donald Trump with his “political outsider” pretense is degrading not only the way politics is done in the US, but he is debasing the entire social atmosphere of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world. In the year that Trump has dominated the media with his ludicrous campaign, the culture of the United States has been demonstrably coarsened and human decency, trump-effecttolerance, courtesy, and critical thinking have receded to the point that they are all treated as the laughable conceits of the cowardly and the pretentious. The emergence of ignorance, hatred, and violent confrontation as virtues can be credited to the account of Donald Trump.

            On this Labour Day, as I am busy gathering my seven-year-old boy’s back-to-school stuff in preparation for Grade Two tomorrow, I am naturally inclined to look toward the future that he is going to face both this year, and over the course of his life. With two more months to go until we can be certain that the Donald Trump infection has been finally eradicated, that future is somewhat uncertain. But I know one thing for sure; the world in which JJ will grow to adulthood is darker, uglier, and more dangerous than it was, even eighteen months ago.

            When I was his age, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylanover the perceived chaos in the world as a result of the baby boom bubble coming into its own. Youth culture was emerging and the previous generation was afraid, was offended, but mostly was bewildered. The zeitgeist was indeed chaotic in the early Sixties. My generation was stretching its wings and flexing its muscles; we knew we wanted change although we weren’t sure what we wanted to change into. But whatever ideas we had about what the world ought to look like, we took it for granted that with cooperation, with dedication, and byhippy3 bringing our energy and commitment to bear, we could make it happen. We had great dreams and endless supplies of hope.

            Before that energy dissipated and our generation scattered and then succumbed to the “me” generation that followed, we managed to accomplish things that today would be considered hopeless tasks. By applying our will and energy, we managed to get civil rights legislation passed in the US, legal segregation was ended, Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, a Catholic president was elected, the Peace Corps was founded, we put humans on the moon, feminism became second nature to most people, environmental issues were raised and became part of the world’s discussion, we managed to turn the world against the Vietnam conflict and forced a president to pull American troops out, and far from least, we held a president’s feet to the fire and forced his resignation for having done politics in the traditional, unaccountable way.

Bookends

Time it was

And what a time it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Simon and Garfunkel

simon and garfunkel

            But I look around now and I see what my son is going to face and I worry for his future. My son is a remarkable person. Although he can be exhausting because of his ADHD, I’m convinced that I learn as much from him as he does from me. He’s wicked smart; in some things, like places he’s been and people he’s met, his memory is eidetic; he has an autism-related difficulty with language acquisition, preferring to use words in a way that make sense to him, rather than employ the socially agreed-upon syntax. But mostly I am struck daily by his very un-autistic sense of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. He is always the first one to run and hug another child who is sad or afraid. He cries when he hears something sad, he is more likely to give his lunch or his toys to someone who needs or wants them, than to monopolise or hoard them as most kids his age do. But he is of a visible minority, being brown skinned; he has speech issues; he is hypersensitive both physically and emotionally; he is very vulnerable.

            He will almost certainly be the target of bullying as he grows up and goes to school. The world that he is now inhabiting is far more likely to treat him cruelly or harshly than it was when I was young, and he is far less equipped than I was to cope with those sharp corners and elbows. The world that Donald Trump exemplifies and encourages, is full of intolerance and hatred. It is a world where walking all overBleakFutureAhead_B our weaker fellow humans is encouraged and admired, where kindness and decency are disdained as weakness or cowardice. It is a world without genuine confidence in the future, or any real hope for improvement as the result of our actions. Idealism, that sense of right and wrong and the value of working to make the world better, simply isn’t a big part of the world at the moment. And it makes me want to weep for him. Since I became a father late in life – I’m sixty and he’s seven – I am increasingly aware that I won’t be around to cushion the slings and arrows of everyday fortune when he is an adult.

            Largely for that reason, I have chosen to spend his critical early elementary school years in a small village in rural Vancouver Island, where we know all our neighbours, where there is a community of artists, hippies, free thinkers, and back to the land people, as well as environmentalists, vegans, and traditional farmers. A place where we often keep our doors unlocked, where neighbours take care of one another and their children feel free to knock on one’s door if frightened, or tired or lost.

            But eventually, when he is better able to accept that not everyone in this world is prepared for a _donald-trump-insanelittle boy who will spontaneously hug a stranger in a queue at the general store because he likes her voice, he will have to take his place in the hate-filled, and intolerant world that we are creating by accepting Donald Trump and his ilk. By letting his viciousness, his narcissism, his pathological inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and his bigotry to slide without instant, unanimous and vocal condemnation, we are normalising it and allowing it to become part of the new world order.

            Where we stand right now, should Trump manage to get himself elected, the world will be a nightmarish dystopia, and one for which it is impossible to prepare because of Trump’s instability and refusal to prepare in any way for the position he wants. But even if, as seems likely, he is trounced and sent packing, his legacy will live on. The world is a palpably worse place for his having occupied so much of our attention. And before the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, the world that my son should be looking forward to being a part of is going to be unpleasant, inhospitable, and a bleak, cold place. For that I can never forgive Donald Trump and his supporters.

ENDITEM….

Licence to Hate

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Political Correctness

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The first time I heard the phrase “political correctness” was some time back in the 70s, and it was used by my then agent to criticise a publisher’s rejection letter. She had submitted a manuscript of a mystery/thriller I had written, in which one of my more unsavoury characters, a debt collection agency owner, was named Lenny Stein. She faxed me a copy (faxes were new and high tech back then) of the rejection letter, as it was actually a personal note and not a form letter. The publisher, rejection-letter-socialin his rejection of one of the few substantial pieces of fiction I have ever written, was positive, if not actually effusive about my novel. He recommended a number of changes if I were to submit it elsewhere and explained frankly why he was turning it down and not asking me to resubmit it to him. He was offended, he explained, by my rampant antisemitism. That Lenny Stein was clearly intended to be an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector, was pure bigotry and intolerable to him.

Ironically, the character was actually deliberately based on an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector with a similar name. The character and his real life counterpart were similar, even in their physical descriptions, right down tpreppy waspo the perpetual dusting of dandruff on the shoulders of their cheap suits. (I wanted him to recognise himself despite the disclaimer). Nevertheless, the publisher was right; the character was clichéd and worked much better when I changed him to a very WASPish Upper Canada College preppy type, slumming in the debt recovery business. But it was my agent who was furious. She said in a very sarcastic tone that the submission had only been rejected as it was insufficiently “politically correct”.

The expression, “political correctness”, as a neologism of the latter half of the 20th Century became part of our everyday lexicon as a reaction to an historical period in which civil rights and racial, ethnic, and gender equality were finally becoming a reality against strong social pushback. By the late 60’s some of the most offensive epithets, slurs which had been commonly deployed in casual middle class discourse, had been suppressed and were recognised as trace hatehe hurtful expressions they always were. But ordinary people no longer felt free to use words like nigger, kike, spic, or broad any more. Civilised and courteous people eschewed language that was likely to offend; the now sidelined derogatory labels were only employed by die-hard bigots, and were used specifically because of their verboten nature when offense was the aim.

But like many other benign and even beneficial notions, the societal pressure to avoid giving offense became an exercise in playing gotcha! People began militantly dissecting the language of others in an attempt to find an expression, word, or phrase that carried the possibility of offending someone or some group. People without the tiniest bigoted bone in their bodies found themselves accused of being insensitive or even of willfully offending when they used a word they had no idea could be interpreted as racist. Someone who had routinely used the word “gypsy” metaphorically, or even simply to describe the people known for their caravans,colourful head scarfs, and fortune tellers, would find himself accused of unforgiveable racism. “Gypsy” was no longer politically correct; the proper descriptive term was now “Romany” people. My suspicion is that not a single Romany person had ever objected to being called a gypsy. As I recall, being a young boy in France in the late 50’s and early 60’s who loved to play with the children of the Romany people when they camped in the fields behind our house, they called themselves “gypsies” or its equivalent in the various languages they spoke.

There is no question that the PC impulse got out of hand, with people demanding the right to go politically correct fightingthrough life in a racially and culturally diverse society without ever being offended. At the height of the PC zeitgeist, I wrote emphatically against the restrictive nature of society’s impulse to stifle others’ freedom of expression. I remember moderating a discussion in which John Cleese (at the time still best known as a Python) very firmly held that he had the right to offend; that offending people was his job and was the job of all social critics and relevant comedians and always had been. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with him. Political correctness, toward the end of the last century, found itself being disparaged and mocked.

People, while still trying to express themselves in ways that didn’t cause needless pain to others, began to refuse to tie themselves into knots simply to be politically correct. Referring to short people as being altitudinally challenged became the kind of joke critics of PC were making. The pendulum had swung far enough that simply referring to someone as being politically correct was the equivalent of saying they were unimaginative and feckless; that they were prissy prudes; simply put, they had a stick up their ass. clint_eastwood__by_cameron1395-d5spzncIn the current US election cycle, no less an icon than Clint Eastwood called those who reject Donald Trump’s in-your-face race baiting, “pussies” and urged us to “get over it”.

Arch liberal Bill Maher, called his ground-breaking political commentary/comedy show “Politically Incorrect” in an effort to re-humanise the parameters of permissible discussion. (As an aside, he was handed his walking papers for being, wait for it….politically incorrect when he said on his show that, to be realistic, one couldn’t honestly describe the suicide terrorists of 9/11 as being “cowards”. He was right, of course, but the PC police wanted his ass, and they got it.) So now it was the conservatives who were demanding political correctness while the progressives and liberals were rejecting it as stultifying and unreasonably restrictive.

The phrase was never employed in an approving manner; it has always carried some connotation of reflecting a sheep-like mindset, a knee-jerk deference to popular social trendiness. Until fairly recently it had seemed as though political correctness had completed its life cycle and was soon to be consigned to the dust bin of anachronistic language. In the last few years, however, the phrase has come roaring back into the vocabulary. The radicalised right wing has suddenly discovered that no one has had much respect for political correctness for years; that to describe someone as being politically correct is to suggest that their freedom of expression has been stolen from them, and that to abjure political correctness is to demonstrate courage and independence of thought.

Trump and PC           With Donald Trump leading the charge, the right, particularly the alt right, has embraced the disdain for PC and employs its rejection as protective colouration for the most appallingly vile public discourse the United States, and the world, has seen since the pre-civil rights era. They have discovered that all they have to do is preface a statement with the assertion that they refuse to be politically correct, and then they have somehow given themselves permission to speak hatred, racism, sexism, or any sort of disgusting bigotry. Where, not very long ago, even the worst example of a redneck racist hillbilly would have thought twice before using the word “nigger” in public, today, people are openly using it as a taunt and a verbal assault.

By implicitly claiming that the only reason people don’t use that and similar repugnant epithets is that they are slaves to PC; they seek to perpetuate the fiction that everyone has their kind of crude bigotry and intolerance bubbling just below the surface. They want everyone to think that only people of courage and honesty, that is people like them, have the integrity to reject political correctness and state the obvious.

So repulsive and so offensive is the licence they give themselves to speak hatred, that sometime soon, we will start to see a reaction to their hatred of and their disdain for political correctness. I believegood-manners- that PC will be reborn. It will have a different name, or no name at all, but the use of society’s surfeit of PC as an excuse to engage in hate speech and vicious, open bigotry will not continue to be acceptable in normal society. The idea of moderating one’s language in an effort to avoid unnecessary hurt will make a comeback as a reaction against the debasement of public discourse that is a direct result of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political landscape.

I just watched a video some Hillary Clinton hater posted on Facebook. Within the first 30 seconds of the ham-fisted clip, the narrator casually refers to Mrs. Clinton as, “that cunt.” By and large, in the comments, even those who don’t support her or her politics reacted negatively to that kind of offensive speech disguised as merely being politically incorrect. The coarsening of the public forums and the negative reaction to it from more enlightened souls is not a matter of political correctness or its rejection. That kind of political attack is simply too vulgar, to gratuitously hurtful, and too personally insulting to be taken seriously or accepted as anything more than ignorant logorrhea.free speech

Assuming, as we must, that Trump will be soundly defeated and Hillary Clinton will be the next US president, it seems likely that society will generally begin to reject the Trump style of rhetoric. There will be a period during which there will be incessant Trump style attacks on the president, but Trump himself will eventually get bored and leave, and his minions will disperse without him as a rallying point. In time it will once again become unacceptable to use racial or ethnic or sexual epithets; their casual employment in conversation will not much longer be seen as honest and brave. People who read, people who are able to think critically, people who have educated themselves will see through the smokescreen; decency, courtesy, and respect in all our dealings will once again be seen as virtues. All we have to do is send Trump and his knuckle dragging, mouth breathing band of bigots back down to the minors.

ENDITEM…

 

Either Or

The Choicenaughty-chimpanzee

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Political campaigns in the United States have a venerable tradition of being rough, combative, and down and dirty; not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin. In the last few election cycles, though, the race for the presidency has become an exercise in vicious, no holds barred exhibitions of adults behaving like primates flinging their excrement at one another.

The two-party system into which the American political structure has settled has created a style of politics that has degenerated into a shameful gladiatorial display of brutality. Every four years we watch the ritual of bloodletting that starts with having the parties tear themselves apart in the primaries by pitting their higher profile members against one another in a zero-sum, winner takes all slugfest for the nomination. This is then followed up by a cringe-inducing spectacle of the bruised and bloody vanquished mimicking sincerity as they endorse the similarly wounded nominee in a disingenuous spectacle of faux unity.

Then comes the main bout. After a full year of nonstop thrusting, parrying, feinting, and slashing, the nominated Trudeaucombatant of each party chooses a running mate to be thrust into the arena and then, to the sound of taunts, cheers, heckling, and wild applause, locks horns with the other contender. For the next three or four months, vitriolic abuse and accusations of various iniquities are raised, denied, and responded to in kind. Lies are told, fact-checked, and repeated. Rumours are started, spread, and embellished. Characters are assassinated, past sins are blown out of proportion, words are quoted out of context, outrage is ginned up at an awkward turn of phrase, inconsistencies pounced upon, and guilt assigned by association. Opponents do not disagree on matters of policy; they strive not to persuade the electorate of their suitability for the office, but to annihilate their opponent. The last candidate standing is then awarded the golden ticket to the White House and, after a transition period of a couple of months, settles in to govern the most powerful and fractious country on Earth.

The new president now faces people from both parties who are still harbouring resentment and hidden thoughts of vengeance over the personal abuse to which the were subjected during the last year and a half; these people are expected to work together and somehow collaborate on legislating in bipartisan ways. The campaigns are over and it is now customary to treat the vitriolic bellicosity of the previous year as though it was all pantomime. The pitiless ad hominem rhetoric, the ruthless personal attacks, the deliberate poisoning of reputations are all supposed to be forgotten and a new collegial spirit is supposed to emerge in order to govern with only the best interests of the nation as considerations.

It never happens.

On the contrary; old wounds fester and vengeance is planned and prepared to be served up as a cold dish. Partisan animosity Obama plotprevails and cooperation is only for the cameras. While President Barack Obama was taking the oath of office at his first inauguration in 2008, the Republican old guard, including most of today’s GOP leadership, met to plot their strategy for undermining his administration. The Republican senators and congressmen settled on a strategy of obfuscation and obstruction; they agreed that the party’s only priority for the next four years would be to ensure that President Obama would be a one-term president. When Mr. Obama was re-elected to a second term, they doubled down. Now their stated aim would be to deny their president any accomplishment and to block any initiative he might support. They put it this way: If he was for it, they were against it.

The result was a gridlocked Congress. The 113th and 114th Congresses were among the least productive in the country’s history. The GOP used the previously rarely employed filibuster regularly and routinely to stall any movement on anything their president initiated or even approved of. They willingly brought upon themselves the lowest approval ratings in history; as long as it thrust a stick in the spokes of the Obama administration, they embraced it. Then, without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame, they screamed for change, arguing that government was ineffective and needed to be reduced to nothing more than the military and a mechanism for enacting legislation to deny human rights to LGBT people, women, and minorities.

And now we have Donald Trump. He saw the dysfunctional, broken American political system and picked up on the acrimonious and hyper-partisan machinations that characterise modern Washington; he thought that he might just be able to increase his visibility and feed his voracious ego in that kind of environment. The infighting, the backstabbing, the personal abuse, all these appealed to him; he would be in his element. In this toxic milieu, he could thrive; he knew he was a master at lies and deception, at reneging on promises and commitments, at insulting and demeaning those who disagree, let alone oppose him. He knew instinctively that the world of national politics was so crippled and anger-filled that someone with his character, or lack thereof, could get in there and push it until it degenerated into an utter, chaotic, demolition derby. And he was right.

No one alive today has seen such a debased, ugly, and hateful exhibition at the highest level of American political discourse. perot quoteThe potential for this degraded spectacle has been there for a long time, and has been steadily increasing, but we might have thought that rock bottom had been reached with the reaction of the GOP to the country’s first black president. If we did, we were wrong. Candidate Trump has embraced that only partly latent bigotry in the country. He has liberated the beast of racial, religious, and gender-based hatred and given permission for divisive odium to be freely expressed. And to ensure that the political arena continues to morph into the hostile, angry, and bigoted environment in which he is comfortable, he deliberately and repeatedly stokes the prejudices and fears of his followers. He points to the ugly chaos he thrives in and tells them that only he can lead them to the Elysian Fields where they will be free to hate and to apply his version of ethnic cleansing by rounding up the Hispanics, the Muslims, and anyone else that pops into his mind.

A Trump victory in November will seal the fate of the American political system. It has been ailing for several decades now; a Trump presidency will sound the death knell for the remnants of the great democratic experiment that is the United States of America.

On the other side of the ledger is Hillary Clinton, a flawed but clearly not venal professional politician. Despite the smear campaign of the GOP, she is not a criminal and no individual in American history has been more thoroughly investigated. There have been active ongoing investigations with Hillary Clinton as a target for 25 years now, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars and the person years spent on trying to find some dirt that will stick, she has never been found to have broken a law. Most of us couldn’t survive that level of scrutiny; I know I couldn’t. Moreover, as President Obama has pointed out, there has never been a presidential candidate who was as thoroughly prepared for the office of the presidency than Hillary Clinton.

So it comes down to this: Hillary Clinton, certain to be an effective president but perhaps low on the likeability scale on the one hand; Donald Trump, on the other, unconditionally guaranteed to plunge the United States and the world into an economic and moral whirlpool. A Trump presidency could realistically spell an end to any genuine democracy in the USA; he

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with civil rights leaders at the National Urban League in the Manhattan borough of New York City, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTX277XM

literally poses an existential threat to the country. Anger at the status quo is understandable; the GOP ensured that by their subversive policies of the last two presidential terms. But to elect Trump would be a paradigm case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is no question that the bathwater needs to be replaced, but the baby – the once respected United States of America – needs not only to be kept, but protected and nurtured.

For anyone who thinks the US has any decency remaining, anything of value left after what we have seen on the political scene, that is the choice.

ENDITEM….

 

 

Offense: Seek and Ye Shall Find

Outrage Junkies

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As we move toward the middle years of the 21st Century (I can’t believe I just wrote that in a non-fiction piece), more and more people are reacting against “political correctness”. The phrase first entered the lexicon in the 1980s and was used in an ironic way. It referred to the increasing inclination toward orthodoxy in avoiding offensiveness in speech and actions. If someone, for example, wrote an article in a mainstream publication criticising feminism, shouts of outrage would be heard from all quarters and those in support of the author’s views would wryly remark that the writer hadn’t been politically correct. The phrase was an implied criticism; it rebelled against a perceived rigidity of culturally approved norms of behaving, speaking, writing, and even thinking. To say that someone was being politically correct was to say that whatever the person was saying was not thought out, was not original, or was not honest; it was saying that only an adherence to orthodoxy was at work. And, equally, to accuse someone of political incorrectness was an implied compliment; it suggested that the person in question was more honest, was willing to speak Bill-Maher-Quotes-3courageously, and wasn’t intimidated by narrow minded opposition.

That ironic phrase, political correctness, was the battle cry of the intellectual renegade who wished to defy convention and speak from the heart; being politically incorrect, at that time, meant being unafraid of censure for going against society’s grain. That’s why Bill Maher used the phrase as the title of his first talk/comedy/political show. And as long as we’re speaking of irony, that show, entitled “Politically Incorrect” was cancelled for being just that.[1]

Political correctness came to mean any position held by someone who was being careful not to offend a group or individual. Political correctness was the recognition that words could hurt, that everyday language had the capacity for causing offense. As reasonable people strived to avoid offending, others began looking for the slightest deviation from PC and calling foul when they found it.

Predictably, political correctness came to be seen as a reflexive kowtowing to outrage junkies. This opened the door for truly hateful bigots and racists to preface their most virulent bigotry with the claim that they were not being cruelly offensive, they were simply refusing to be politically PC Santacorrect. By invoking the despised label of political correctness, crudely vicious demagogues like Ted Cruz and, most obviously, Donald Trump can pretend that expressing their vilest thoughts is heroic in its courageous refusal to be politically correct.

In just a few decades, the phrase has come full circle. When Donald Trump or any other fascist-leaning demagogue begins with the phrase, “I’m not going to be politically correct here…” we can be sure that something of stunning offensiveness is about to be said. Being politically incorrect has reverted to its earliest meaning, but this time without the irony. Being politically correct, insofar as it means couching our language and moderating our actions in such a way as to avoid giving offense, is now a good thing. Being politically incorrect has come to mean being a loathsome human being without consideration for others.

However, those who turned PC into a bad thing, from an ironic way of describing something essentially positive, are still out there and they never seem to rest. The outrage junkies are still lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on anyone or anything that can be shown to cause offense. And the outrage junkies can find offense virtually anywhere.

I just had a pointless online discussion with a woman who had always seemed to me to be reasonably intelligent and rational. She posted a reaction to a news story that went something like this: A man was interviewed after having saved a drowning woman. When asked by the interviewer why he had risked his life to save a stranger, he had replied something to the effect that he realised that the stranger was someone’s mother, wife, or beloved and he couldn’t let her just die. Now my interlocutor was enraged by that man’s answer; she was offended, she said, by society’s inclination to value women only insofar as they are a wife, mother, or whatever, and not as individuals in their own right.

I had commented that I saw nothing wrong with what the man had said and pointed out that men who are killed are routinely referred to as husbands, fathers, and sons; usually characterised by their utility joseph heller quoteat providing for others. She and another woman who joined in insisted that the cases were completely different and that I was being “snarky” and told not to be such a “jerk”.

I put it out there…I don’t think I was wrong. At least I don’t think I was being a snarky jerk. I don’t even think I was being politically incorrect. But it does strike me that if someone finds that a man’s recognition that a woman in peril probably had a family and loved ones offensive, that person is looking for a reason to be offended. If a rather quotidian but heartwarming story of a life being saved by a stranger leaves you with outrage as the main takeaway, I would say that you’re an outrage junkie. And the existence and ubiquity of outrage junkies is the reason PC has become a justification for the most egregious hate speech. The fact that some people, claiming to speak for many others, can find offense in the most innocuous and well-meant comment gives people with hate in their hearts permission to stop even trying to avoid hurtful statements. And that’s where we are now.

If, while we castigate those who genuinely say hurtful things, whether it’s deliberate or simply tone deaf (Donald Trump and his taco on May 5 for example), we also seek to interpret their words in a charitable way, we ourselves will be less angry. When we spend our time and energy trying to find something about which we can claim outrage, we are sure to find it; we’ll look stupid and petty, we’ll justify people not worrying anymore about hurting feelings, and we’ll be a lot less happy than we could be. To be sure there are offensive things to decry, and they are everywhere and easy to find. But if we can’t really find one, instead of manufacturing one, why not be pleased that today was an offense-free day? That would be a good thing.

Bottom line? I’m sorry if this is politically incorrect, but lighten the fuck up.

 

keep-calm-and-lighten-up-4

 

 

[1] The show lost advertisers largely as a result of Mr. Maher’s having said that the 9/11 terrorists, having committed suicide along with their mass murders could not honestly be called “cowards” as president George W Bush had just done.

 

ENDITEM…

Evangelism, not debate: my mistake

house on religionReligious debate
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Having recently been involved in a number of debates and having given several seminars on the topic of critical thinking – debates and seminars which inevitably drifted toward religious questions – I am now beginning to rethink some of my previously held positions. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t been persuaded of the existence of an imaginary superfriend or anything like that; I heard nothing new, persuasive, or even any arguments worth much more than a few moment’s consideration. It’s just that I am rethinking my views with respect to those who actually find the arguments or exhortations for the existence of a particular god to be persuasive.

I have always approached discussions of religion (or virtually anything else, for that matter) from the perspective that the subject is only worth discussing if both sides are open to the possibility of being persuaded by the reasoning or rhetoric of the other. I don’t mean that neither side ought to have firm views or strongly held positions; on the contrary, such logic 4discussions are only interesting if people are motivated to provide a robust defense of their views and to advance their position vigorously. That, however, is not the same as knowing beyond any possibility of error that one is one hundred percent right and there doesn’t even exist the slightest possibility of being mistaken. That degree of certainty is reserved for the religious and for giving first year lectures to classes of a hundred or more students. But to engage in open discussion with that mindset is intellectual fraud, unless it’s disclosed at the outset.

logic 1

What if our religious leaders told the truth?

Intellectual fraud is a salient characteristic of virtually all discussions with the religiously inclined. The very fact that the unpersuadable are willing, even anxious to engage in discussions of the validity of their beliefs is hypocritical to begin with. Lecture us on their beliefs? Sure. If they can find an audience outside of the captive one in front of the pulpit. But to engage in a pretend-rational exchange of ideas, when they take pride in not being capable of accepting a differing view? That is clearly dishonest.

Examples of that sort of dishonesty are legion in what passes for religious discussion today. Take the question of scientific proof for any of the assertions commonly made by theists. The devout leap on any report of a new observation that questions previously accepted scientific consensus. “See?” they gleefully cry. “Proof that science doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” This display of a clear misunderstanding of science and the scientific epistemology is not necessarily dishonest; it may be merely ignorant. What is certainly dishonest is when they leap with equal enthusiasm on any scientific observation that they can interpret as supporting in any way some fragment of their doctrine.

Remember the Shroud of Turin debates from a decade and more ago? For true believers in the logic 3authenticity of the shroud as the burial cloth of the biblical Jesus, the reports that pollen from plants indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean ca. 2000 years ago were seized upon and trumpeted as validation of that which they already believed. But when Carbon 14 tests were permitted by the Vatican and they demonstrated that the organic material in the shroud was alive at some time in the early Renaissance, suddenly science was not to be trusted and science was once again an inappropriate tool to use to investigate religious claims.

Another example of the characteristic dishonesty of religious apologists is seen in the linguistic sophistry commonly employed. This isn`t just ignorance either; this is dishonesty. Take the deliberate misuse of the word “theory” as one of the most pervasive and deceptive techniques used by the devout. That is especially evident in discussions of their pet peeve, the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution, they say, being only a theory, should be taught alongside other theories like creationism or its uptown cousin, “intelligent design”.

This is the logical fallacy of false equivalence. The truth (if the devout were to be interested in truth as opposed to “Truth”) is that evolution is a scientific theory because it meets the criteria required to describe it as such; the notion of creationism doesn’t.

Evolution is experimentally verifiable. It is logically possible to disprove it. It has survived science-religioncountless challenges. It is consistent with laws of science as currently understood. It rises to the level of theory. It is a theory like gravity is. Not one of those things can be said of creationism. It is not a theory under any scientific definition of the term. There is no equivalence despite the vocal assertions of science deniers. And that fact exposes yet another layer of the deceit that is at the centre of religious apologetics: theists like to employ scientific “proofs” and scientific language, and claim that their unfounded assertions are “scientific”, while in the next breath they are perfectly willing to dismiss science itself as man-made and profane.

But while we can resent the duplicity and hypocrisy of the argumentation employed by the devout, we ought not be surprised.

logic 2

 

They are not discussing anything with any intent of expanding our understanding, or of considering other possibilities; they know, you see. They are not the slightest bit interested in analysing your points, in thinking about your reservations, in considering your views. They are interested in repeating their beliefs in various different words and persuading you to accept them, or at least to persuade you stop expressing your own views. They are there to evangelise, not to seek understanding or to grow intellectually. When you are right, and any contradictory view is not only wrong but inspired by Satan, then any kind of intellectual dishonesty is justified.

So, as the devout gird themselves to do intellectual battle with atheists, they are not preparing for an intellectual discussion; they are only preparing to lie, cheat, mislead, and obfuscate. It is their duty, you see. They are right, so whatever it takes to get their point across is valid. Logic doesn’t matter. Reason is irrelevant. Truth doesn’t count. Because they have Truth.

…enditem…

Fie! Zounds! and a pox on’t

The fine art of swearing (1)

Pagun

 

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – I, for one, am bored to tears with articles decrying the degeneration of the English language as commonly used today. I’m even bored with my own whining about the fact that any real understanding of the language we share has lapsed to the point that you’d be hard pressed to find a high school student who could explain the usage of who vs. whom.  But hand in hand with the degeneration of the elegant and beautiful employment of everyday English has been the deterioration of the elegant and beautiful swearing that was once a minor art form. 

While hearing Samuel Jackson on a red carpet describe his role in Snakes on a Plane as someone who had to battle “a whole motherfucking mess of motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane”, provided a small frisson of satisfaction, even of transient joy, it was not unmixed with nostalgia at the passing of the truly great cursing of the past. While there are a few heroes of the curse word still fighting a rearguard action to preserve the use of the disagreeable epithet and offensive language, the truly artistic deployment of vulgarity is, sadly, disappearing. 

Samuel Jackson does a wonderful job of preserving the judicious use of cursing, and we all owe a debt to Quenton Tarantino, nevertheless the sublime use of truly offensive language has lost a great deal of its lustre since the great days of oaths. It has become pedestrian and unimaginative. The bluenosed and pretentious holier than thou attitude that has prevailed since the resurgence of the conservative movement has rendered swearing dull and lacklustre; its power to shock is manifested by the very fact of its use, no longer by its artistic merit. 

Five hundred years ago, during the great flowering of language of the Jacobean and Elizabethan periods, people took great delight in the language…it was far more flexible and adaptable to circumstances. Words were often invented to suit the occasion and often those words became part of the lexicon; Shakespeare alone invented somewhere between 800 and 1700 words, or at least was the first to publish them. Many were by changing verbs into nouns adjectives into verbs and vice versa, and a great many he just invented whole cloth because they were needed and his infallible ear felt them to be suitable to his purpose. Just a few examples of Shakespearean words are: GROVEL, from Henry VI Part II; SWAGGER, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and one of my favourites, RANT, from Hamlet. 

But more even than inventing words, the Elizabethans revelled in using words in imaginative ways to deride, insult, and abuse. In the movie Predator, Arnold Schwarzennegger’s character, Dutch, said to the eponymous alien, “You’re one ugly motherfucker!” Contrast that with the Elizabethan insult, “Thy vile canker-blossomed countenance curdles milk and sours beer.” Now that’s harsh. Whether that would have been more or less effective at hurting the predator’s feelings isn’t really the point here. The significance is that swearing today is merely perfunctory; it can be, and once was, gloriously, creatively, offensive. 

We call it swearing because originally to swear was something specific, not the mere use of proscribed words. In Victorian novels, uncouth characters are said to utter “loathsome oaths”; that is swearing in its purest sense…to take an evil oath or to swear to do something in a way that would be considered sinful. That was the purest contravention of the Fourth Commandment…taking the Lord’s name in vain. It was wrong, presumably because swearing before God that you intended to do something you ultimately wouldn’t was a waste of His time; taking His name in vain, in other words. 

That was something subtly different from cursing. Cursing meant the wishing of something evil upon someone or a family, country, group, place, or anything at which the curser was sufficiently pissed off.  Perhaps because we have lost our belief in the efficacy of formal cursing, in modern times decent cursing is generally only done for the comedic value. Johnny Carson, in character as Carnac the Magnificent deployed a new curse for Ed McMahon each time the classic sketch was deployed. For some of us, that was always the high moment of the routine. A few examples of Carson’s version of Middle Eastern curses:

May a crazed weightlifter clean and jerk your sister.

May a camel with a weak kidney condition find your hope chest

May a bag of Pop Rocks explode in your shorts.

May the winds of the Sahara blow a desert scorpion up your turban.

May a swarm of gay chiggers open a disco on your grandfather.

May you fall asleep under a camel with postnasal drip.

May the swami of Baghdad squat on your fez.

May a weird doctor join you at the hump of a camel.

May an evil genie put splinters in your Aurora tissue.

May a carsick mongoose change the color of your seats.

May a crazed sultan force you into mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with a sick lizard.

May a camel chip float in your martini.

May a weird customs inspector discover a secret compartment in your sister.

May you be forced to visit a near-sighted proctologist.

May a weird holy man light a Roman candle in your pants.

May a crazed furniture refinisher stain your sister’s hope chest.

May a diseased yak squat in your hot tub 

Swearing has now become an entirely different and much lesser art form. It is no longer an extravagant and creative but futile and graphic wish; it isn’t a poetic and over-the-top description of someone’s less attractive qualities; it has been reduced to the insertion of expletives into a conversation at more or less random intervals. 

The simple expression of a proscribed word is considered swearing or cursing today. Simply saying a word that society has deemed unacceptable has people either up in arms, covering their children’s ears, or falling down laughing. George Carlin in 1972 famously had us all doing all three. Carlin had a signature routine, The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, that drew its power from the sheer offensiveness of the words and his explanations and examples of their usage. Over the years the words change and some had to be eliminated from the list as they grew more common and tolerable and were replaced by others, but the original and still most enjoyably offensive list contains these expletives: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Much of the humour of the bit came from the repetition of the words until they lost any meaning, an almost Zen-like exercise, reducing to absurdity the outrage evoked by those meaningless sounds.             

Lenny Bruce took aim at the outrage junkies who find certain sounds people make so offensive that they would have them jailed for uttering them. But Lenny addressed the meaning of those words and exposed his accusers to ridicule for the absurdity of their obsession with those very words. On trial for obscenity, he insisted that the arresting officer say out loud the specific word for which he had been arrested in his act. At first the cop was reluctant to say it, but at the insistence of the judge, he acknowledged that the word was “cocksucker”. From then on, throughout the trial and particularly during Lenny’s testimony, the word “cocksucker” was repeated, including by the defendant, so often that it became hysterically funny. 

During Lenny’s testimony, he disputed the notion that the word was obscene at all. The prosecution insisted that is was obscene because, as he explained, it denoted a certain obscene homosexual act. Lenny feigned astonishment and explained to the prosecutor and the court and everyone in it that he had no idea if the word “cocksucker” referred to a homosexual act; what he was certain of however, was that he was heterosexual, his wife was heterosexual, that she was a cocksucker, and that he probably wouldn’t have married her if she couldn’t reasonably be described as a cocksucker. He even speculated that giving up being a cocksucker might be cause for divorce.

Years later Lenny said that he had thoroughly enjoyed watching how much all the court officials enjoyed saying, “cocksucker” with impunity and how, once the dam was broken, they all said it at every opportunity. But most of all, what he found funny was that the judge found him guilty after solemnly explaining that some words had appropriate times and places to be said out loud; apparently a nightclub patronised exclusively by adults was inappropriate for the word to be uttered even once in the context of a criticism of society, whereas a staid and formal courtroom was a reasonable place for one after another official to blurt it out with reckless abandon. 

So now swearing has become little more than seeing who has the temerity to utter one of society’s verboten words. The only real humour comes, not from the artistic flourishing of a creative curse or insult, but from the situation in which the word is employed. It is the incongruity of the circumstance or the shock value of the selected audience that gives us the laugh. The humour in that incongruity is exemplified in the link I included because of the intended audience. It ain’t much, but it’s all we have left of the grand tradition in the English language of insults, curses, and swearing. 

As a final note to this, the first reflection I am posting on swearing and related linguistic transgressions, I want to say that I have read that bedtime story[1] to my son since I first ran across it, and continue to do so whenever he asks me for it. And the more I think of it, the more it simply baffles me that anyone could find anything fundamentally wrong with exposing JJ to that charming book. And to those who disagree…

…enditem…


[1] Go the Fuck to Sleep, Written by Adam Mansbach, Illustrated by Ricardo Cortes

css.php