August 29, 2004

A Philosophical Argument Against Profanity

For some time now, the issue of profanity has troubled me. For years, society has told me that it’s wrong to utter certain words, but I’ve never understood why. And like many people, I don’t like to do something just because someone tells me I shouldn’t; rather, I want to know why I shouldn’t. Well, I’ve come to this tentative conclusion: one’s language is profane when it: (1) trivializes that which is sacred, (2) denigrates that which is good, or (3) encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts.

1) Language is profane when it trivializes that which is sacred. Why is it wrong to yell "Goddammit!" when you’re angry or to say "By God!" when you’re amazed? The answer is because when we do so, we are speaking about that which is sacred as though it were trivial. We are using the name of God in the same way we would use such expressions as "Ouch!" or "Wow!" And this, I think, is wrong.

2) Language is profane when it denigrates that which is good. For example, it’s wrong to use such words as "dick," "cunt," and "tits" because these words belittle the human body. The human body is a wonderful, beautiful creation, but the aforementioned terms have impure and crude connotative meanings. Therefore, using these terms cheapens and demeans that which is worthy of reverence.

3) Language is profane when it encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts. A good example of this is the f-word. Although it has many different meanings, its primary meaning, both denotatively and connotatively, is that of impure sexual intercourse. Now there are times when it’s appropriate to think and talk about sexual immorality—e.g., for purposes of education and moral instruction. However, it’s wrong to think and talk about it more than necessary. And when we use the f-word, this is exactly what we’re doing.

Even if I just use the f-word for emphasis (e.g., "I’ve had an f-ing bad week"), I run the risk of directing the thoughts of myself and my hearers to impurity. Perhaps I don’t always consciously get sexual images in my head when I say or hear the word, but it’s possible that exposure to the word often encourages such thoughts to unconsciously enter my mind.

Now before leaving this discussion about profanity, there are two important comments I’d like to make. First, profanity is relative. For example, saying "nigger" in some communities is profane because in such communities it degrades black people. However, certain black communities use this word in non-derogatory ways—strange as it may seem to some of us white folks, "nigger" is virtually "synonymous" with "brother" in such circles. So given the relativity of profanity, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s always wrong to use certain words. Depending on the speaker and the discourse community he or she is in, a word can be appropriate in one context even though it might not be in another.

Second, I don’t understand why people think "shit" is a bad word and "poop" and "feces" are not. First, using the word shit is not trivializing that which is sacred—unless, of course, you subscribe to some weird theology that worships feces. Second, it’s not denigrating that which is good—it’s not like feces is a beautiful thing and I’m cheapening it by calling it shit. Third, I don’t think it encourages those who say or hear it to have impure thoughts any more than saying "poop" or "feces." I personally don’t say the word around most people because I know it would offend them and that’s reason enough not to say it. But between you and me, I think shit is an unfairly maligned word.

Post-Blog Commentary with Jim and Leslie
JIM: So Leslie, what are your initial thoughts of Don’s blog?

LESLIE: Well, Jim, to be honest with you, I’m a bit disappointed. First of all, Don brought a ton of presuppositions into the blog and never once acknowledged them.

J: Such as?

L: Such as his views of sexuality. It’s obvious that he takes a very pre-Enlightenment view of sexuality, which obviously influences his disapproval of the f-word. But why not acknowledge these presuppositions? Why not come out and tell us his assumptions before going into his argument?

J: Well we all make presuppositions. Even right now, your insistence that he should have spelled out his presuppositions is presupposing that people should spell out their presuppositions. But let’s not dwell on this point. What are some other thoughts you have about his presentation?

L: I must say, I’m unconvinced by his argument against the f-word.

J: Okay, but let’s start with points one and two. Did you think they were fairly well-supported?

L: Well, sure. Especially point number two. Don proved himself to be a true friend of feminism with his condemnation of those who use crude terms to describe the female body. But let’s talk about point number three, which was, in my opinion, his weakest argument.

J: Okay.

L: Does Don really expect us to believe that people get images of "sexually impure" acts in their heads whenever someone says the f-word? Here, let me try it on you, Jim… So, Jim, it was an f-ing beautiful day today, wasn’t it? Okay, now what came to your mind when I asked you that question? Did you picture two unmarried people having sex?

J: No.

L: That proves my point. It’s clear that Don is making a huge leap with his third point.

J: Well, obviously you didn’t listen to his argument. I mean, he clearly addressed your objections. And I think he’s right. Historically the f-word has been used to describe less than moral behavior—even by non-Christian standards. And when we use that word, we are, even if only in subtle ways, directing our conversation and unconscious thoughts toward such behavior. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s there nonetheless.

L: Well, that’s disputable. What’d you think of his view of shit?

J: I thought he went overboard there. I mean, historically, that word has been used by unintelligent, immature people, people in rebellion against society. Therefore, when you use the word, you are endorsing such rebellious attitudes and making yourself more likely to adopt them yourelf.

L: I couldn’t disagree more. I thought this part of the argument made a lot of sense. Americans have such an irrational hatred of that word, and I thought Don, through both humor and logic, cut through all this crap.

J: Don’t you mean "shit"?
L: Right.

August 18, 2004

Some Thoughts on the Election

Proof that George W. Bush is a weak candidate can be found in the fact that the only thing Republicans seem to be doing these days is bad-mouthing John Kerry. Whenever I go on a neoconservative website that’s all I see: John Kerry lied about his war record; John Kerry’s views are constantly changing; John Kerry is a big-government liberal. It’s well known truth in politics that you only attack your opponent when you don’t have much good to say about your own candidate. This is certainly the case here. Consider Bush’s record over the past four years:

* Deficits have skyrocketed and the national debt has ballooned under Bush. And this isn’t just due to defense spending, as the rate of discretionary nondefense spending has also drastically increased. Republicans boast about Bush’s tax cuts, but government deficit spending results in higher inflation, which essentially amounts to hidden tax increases. (So much for the Contract with America.)

* The size and scope of the federal government has greatly increased under Bush. Examples include his education and Medicare bills, as well as the Patriot Act. (So much for the Contract with America, Part II.)

* Bush has done nothing to cut down on corporate welfare and has, instead, allowed many such subsidies to increase—most notably subsidies to energy and agricultural firms.

* Bush led America into a war that was based completely on fabrications. It’s now obvious to all but the most brainwashed Republicans that there were no WMDs, that Saddam’s government had no links to al-Qaeda, and that Iraq was not a threat to the U.S. or even to the Middle East.

I agree with the Republicans that Kerry is not fit to be president. But does anyone who’s not been in a coma the last four years honestly think that Bush is? Let’s face it, the main difference between the two candidates is their rhetoric. Bush talks like a conservative, while Kerry talks like a liberal. But both men have continually supported war, cutbacks to big businesses, and big-government solutions.

Instead of trying to decide which candidate is the lesser evil (if you ask me, it’s really a tossup), let’s spend our time looking for a third party candidate who’s truly worthy of our vote.

August 10, 2004

Shame on Evangelicals

We Evangelical Christians ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Our “Christian president”—who many of us voted for and many of us continue to support—waged a war based on lies. There was never any connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and Saddam was never a threat to the United States. All this is clear. What is also clear is that the Iraq War has killed well over 10,000 Iraqi civilians and several tens of thousands of Iraqi militiamen.

Let me repeat myself. The United States military has killed tens of thousands of people. And for what? Why are we fighting? Nobody knows the real reasons, because all of the administration’s rhetoric has proven to be fallacious.

Yet what do we Christians do? We wrap ourselves up in the flag, reaffirm our support for our troops, and applaud the earnestness and sincerity of our “born again” president, a man who’s not afraid to speak up about his faith.

I believe that it is possible for a war to be justified, but this war is not one of them. Let me repeat the facts. No al-Qaeda connection. No threat to America. Some have justified the war by claiming that we removed an evil man from power. And, although it’s true that Saddam was a cruel leader, war supporters have greatly exaggerated his human rights record. Truth be told, he wasn’t half as bad as many current world leaders. In fact, Saddam did a number of good things for Iraq—for example, he gave liberties and protection to many groups (e.g., Christians and Sunnis) that are greatly persecuted in Islamic fundamentalist countries.

We haven’t liberated the Iraqi people. Rather, we’ve left thousands of Iraqi parents without sons and thousands of children without fathers. We’ve dropped bombs on women and children and left countless young men forever maimed. In fact, the United States has killed far more Iraqis than Saddam’s government ever did. And far from making the world a safer place, we’ve given Muslim fundamentalists another rallying call to fight against “the Great Satan.”

Yet Evangelicals couldn’t care less. No, while their tax dollars are funding the production of guns and bombs, they head off to their Bible studies and sing along to their Third Day CDs. And, of course, they make a point of telling their friends that they’re going to vote for Bush this November. After all, he, too, believes in Jesus. Rarely do Evangelicals strive to open their minds and seek the truth. No, they don’t want their minds “polluted” by the liberal media or secular academia. So, instead, they strive to keep their thoughts on otherworldly things and, when forced to think about public policy, make sure they only get their information from such “unbiased” sources as Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh.

Christians today look back at the Crusades and wonder, “How could we have done that?” Christians in the not so distant future, I believe, will look back on the American Evangelical church in the early 21st century and ask the very same question.

August 9, 2004

Don’s Guide to Watching Movies

Rule #4: Don’t watch cool movies in the company of squares.

There’s nothing worse than watching a cool movie with a square. I mean nothing. Example: a couple months ago, I went and saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with my dad. Now Eternal Sunshine is a great movie. But it’s not a Baby Boomer movie—it’s just another work of art that the Boomers don’t get. So, needless to say, although I enjoyed the film immensely, my dad disliked it. In fact, he fell asleep a couple times throughout it—I had to gently nudge him once so he’d stop snoring. It wasn’t tough to perceive my dad’s displeasure and, as a result, my movie watching experience was hurt. I once had a similar experience watching The Burbs with my grandparents. Judging from their expressions, you would have thought that they were at a funeral.

I’m sure we’ve all had similar experiences. Even some Boomer probably once went and saw something like The Graduate with his parents and had his movie experience diminished because of their silent yet obvious disapproval. (Which raises an important question—why don’t older generations ever seem to get younger generations? But that’s an enormous topic that’s best left for some poor schmoe’s dissertation.)

There are plenty of good ways to spend time with squares: playing Parcheesi, sharing pound cake recipes, discussing recent weather trends… But to watch a movie with them, especially a hip one? Fuggetaboutit.