AS249: Tom and Cecil, Part 2

I’ve got those dirty bastards Tom and Cecil back for more! We talk about whether or not Hillary can get more done than Bernie would have, and whether PC culture has led to Trump.

After the dudes are gone I address some of the response I got to the Ania debate over ableist language. It was a lot!

17 thoughts on “AS249: Tom and Cecil, Part 2”

  1. Trump’s support is AT LEAST 1/3 due to PC backlash. Do you guys work in the military/industrial complex? I did till just recently. The last place I worked had approximately 6 democrats on staff in a division of over 180 employees. These guys (and the eight or nine women) have BS degrees minimum, a lot of MS degrees and a few PhDs. These folks have learned to tolerate PC to protect their jobs, but they HATE IT! And they hate Hilary at least as much. It’s not just the blue-collar unemployed guys who are shaking their fists at the system.

    You say you can’t imagine that there are that many people who feel that way. Recalibrate your imaginations. This country is a whole lot more racist than we thought it was before Barack Obama was elected and it’s a whole lot more misogynistic than we realize now. My “Trumpette” acquaintances will vote for Trump simply to thwart Hilary. That’s what bothers me about her as a candidate. This has virtually nothing to do with her policies or her perceived ability to govern. It has to do with HER.

    Yes, I will vote for Hilary over Trump, but we just traded a candidate who was polling 8 to 12 points above Trump for one who polls within two points of him one way or another. We’ll see, I guess.

  2. I’m not sure exactly what James Lindsey had to say about Trump, and political correctness, but let me give my 2 cents. A recent poll showed that 80%+ of republicans, and 60% of democrats consider political correctness a significant issue. Trump supporters cite the fact that he honestly says what he believes as a primary reason they support him. Clearly his pushback against the perceived problem of over the top political correctness is motivating a significant number of his supporters. Add to that the clear anti-establishment sentiment in the country at large. Political correctness is seen as establishment thinking. You, and cogdis seem to scoff at this notion, and may have specificly said something along the lines of “it’s ridiculous to think otherwise reasonable people would be motivated by this”. Who said these people are reasonable, we’re just saying political correctness is in part responsible for the people who might otherwise have supported a Bush, or a Cruz, or a Rubio supporting a Donald Trump. And 30% of the 30-40% who voted Trump in the primaries amounts to only 10-15% of republicans. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that number of republican being motivated by the fact that Trump thumbs his nose at political correctness.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/opinion/trump-obama-and-the-assault-on-political-correctness.html?_r=0

  3. This ep. includes good followup to the debate about ableist language. It is not useful to try to make a broad rule by comparing one word to another (ex: gay and crazy). For each word, the combination speakers, listeners, and contexts are innumerable and unique. I understand that “don’t use that word,” can be a practical shortcut when talking to children, but it doesn’t work with adults. The best thing adults can do is to be aware of who might be offended/harmed and why. Sometimes the offense/harm will be enough to make you pick another word. Sometimes is won’t. There is a reason the Knights Who Say Ni is a funny sketch.

  4. On the ableist language, this might have been convered in the original, but I didn’t hear that.
    You talked about how it is ok to use crazy for objects or events, but I didn’t hear your thoughts on using it for people – is it ok to call the extreme right wingers who believe “crazy things” such as Obama is a secret Muslim who has imported 30 million people to take over the country or whatever, “crazy”?
    I would have thought so, if you are already saying “crazy” is not appropriate for anyone with an actual mental illness, but perhaps in this case, useage is too close to that it is that people actually take offence at

  5. I was just reminded on WEIT (why evolution is true blog) today of a tweet Hillary Clinton made last November.

    “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”

    — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 19, 2015

    Tell me that politically correct rhetoric like that isn’t driving otherwise reasonable people who are particularly fearful of terrorism into the hands of Trump.

  6. I have a couple of thoughts on the ableist language issue.

    1) the key difference between using “gay” and “crazy, etc” as negative adjectives/adverbs is that “crazy, lame, stupid, etc” are unambiguously negative properties while “gay” isn’t. I don’t have any problems with using negative property words metaphoricly in contexts other than their etymological meaning.

    2) I don’t understand why someone would choose to self identify with these words. And if one doesn’t self identify with them, why take offence? To me, the only time to take offence is if the word is being used directly (e.g. calling someone with mental illness “crazy”). If it is obviously not being used in such a way, and I would argue that it is almost always obvious, such words should only be offensive if there is a broad community self-identifying with the term.

    I have been lame in the past, thankfully only temporarily. It sucked. I will be lame again in the future and I expect it will suck even more. I still thing country pop music is lame and will continue to say so to my last dying breath, in bed, lame from multiple organ failures.

    1. I kind of take issue with this conceptualization of “lame” and “crazy” as descriptions of states that are inherently negative. I think this warrants some consideration of who the assumed speaker is meant to be, and whom the language is meant to be describing.

      Saying that it’s inherently more difficult to experience life with some form of disability, and as such, words that have connotations with that experience (e.g., lame) are valid descriptors of difficult or generally unpleasant experiences seems valid in some sense. I accept that this can be a valid argument if the speaker has personal experience with disability, or is adopting that point of view via empathy and/or imagination.

      However, in general use of terms like “lame” and “crazy”, I don’t believe the speaker assumes the role of someone who is enduring hardship due to a disability, but rather it seems more likely that the speaker is using those words to describe something/someone else.

      Aside from the obvious objections to co-opting the experience of others (e.g., “I feel so bipolar today”) and ignoring the fact that people with disabilities are not disenfranchised by their disability but rather by the extent to which society is willing to adjust (e.g., failing to build ramps alongside stairs), I’d like to focus for a moment on the difference between “speaking as” or “speaking about” as it relates to people with disabilities, even in the context of metaphorical use.

      I think an aspect of this discussion that has been ignored is that the negative connotations for words like “crazy” and “lame” do not necessarily arise from empathetic or self-identified assessments of what it is like to have a disability, but rather assessments from a third party about the usefulness of the person with said disability. “Lame” is not solely considered bad because it sucks to have mobility issues, but because a person who can’t perform a required task is perceived to be a burden. “Crazy” isn’t bad only because it’s troubling to experience frightening intrusive thoughts, but because it’s unnerving to be near someone who seems to be responding to voices that you can’t hear.

      It is in this sense, when the speaker uses these words to describe someone or something else that they reinforce the narrative that those who experience disability have less use, value, and desirability than the able-bodied, and crucially, that their existence is inherently burdensome.

      Additionally, I think it’s worth expanding our perspective beyond the inherent properties of words, or even the connotations we create through use. “Difficult” isn’t considered a particularly problematic term, however, it can be used just as problematically as words more commonly understood to have ableist connotations. Children who have trouble sleeping through the night, dislike certain foods, or require more effort to console are commonly referred to as difficult, as if it were an inherent property of the child rather than a description of the requirements of the care-giving relationship. Misattributing the cause of frustration as an inherent aspect of a person can be tremendously damaging for that individual.

      As to your second point, I think it’s worth noting that self-identification and “opting in” is not the only way labels are applied and internalized. I believe an example used in a previous episode was a child who’d been called “dumb” or “stupid” their whole life. No amount of aphorisms like “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” will magically sever that association between themselves, the word “stupid,” and the association with inferiority. Many people with marginalized identities don’t get to opt-out of the labels and connotations applied to them.

      I don’t mean to repeat something I wrote in a post on a previous episode, but I think it’s warranted, words like “crazy” “broken” and “defective” were often used not just to describe people with mental illness, but to dismiss and disenfranchise individuals who sought social change and equal rights. Women who fought for the right to vote did not take on the mantel of “hysteria” but the term was none the less used to reject their arguments. It is absurd to assert that no one should be offended by the use of words that have that function and are still currently being used to inhibit social change (e.g., “mass shooters are just crazy, not evidence that we are failing to respond to gun violence”).

      All that said, I understand drawing your own conclusions about language. Personally, I try to avoid using the words “stupid” and “idiot” when I’m frustrated with a situation (e.g., someone causing a traffic jam) not because I’m worried about offending anyone who might overhear, but because I recognize my attributing that frustrating incident to stupidity (without sufficient evidence) has the secondary effect of linking “stupidity” and “frustration” in my mind. I believe casually using “stupidity” as a scapegoat for my daily frustrations alters my expectations about others and inhibits my ability to respectfully engage.

  7. Note from the Netherlands again: all this PC and Trump stuff so very much is a deja vu for me. Starting from 2001 we had first Pim FOrtuyn (who was murdered) and then Geert Wilders: islomophobic populists. (now: PVV) The Trump rethoric: I’ve all heard it here before since long time. And the moving away from PC in broader polotics: it all already happened here. The sad thing to take away from this is, I fear: it won’t just go away. Ever since the landslide victory of populists here in 2001, there was been a constituency of roundabout 20%.

    Due to our proportional representation system, the PVV party is significant but nowhere near a majority And I think it is unlikely it will. But in the US system ……… they just could get the white house….

    And then you could get into Berlusconian situations: a president introducing laws and judges just to benefit/enforce his own personal(!) goals. (indemnify himself and/or his companies from legal persecution)

    Maybe it is an advantage of the European sticky and inefficient decision making: it is so slow and needs an almost infinite amount of consensus to get anything done: it is very difficult for populist extremists to get a real grip on it. Everything tends to converge to the mean.

    1. Exactly. We in the US need to realize that Trump is not running for President; he’s running for Emperor. Some folks I know already refer to Trump as “Il Duce,” but as you point out, we have an even more recent example in the Berlusconi juggernaut of where unchecked political narcissism can lead.

      I’ll bet if Trump is elected, he’ll want to change the name of the country. Trumponia? Trumporia? Trumperica? The United State of Trump?

  8. On the ableist language (disclaimer: I have no idea which side I fall on. I’m probably somewhere in the middle)

    The biggest problem I see in Tom’s argument for “gay” vs anything else is that at one point those other words where one-to-one related to something/someone that was different than the norm (mental illness, inability to walk, etc…) and over time, the usage of those words became part of the lexicon to mean what they do today.

    So if I were to take your position, Tom, I would argue that saying something is “gay” is, while harmful to those who are homosexual now, in the future, it will come to be another word for something that is bad because that’s how it’s used so we might as well use it for it’s second urban dictionary/colloquial meaning as well.

    Taking to commenters Ernst K’s 2nd point and my above argument: That also means that “gay” will eventually be a slur if said to a person, it just isn’t yet. Obviously I’m making assumptions about the trajectory and usage of the word “gay” over time, but I think my argument still stands.

    1. You’re making a huge assumption about the trajectory of the meaning of the word “gay”. *If* it becomes a slur *then* it would obviously offensive (that’s part of the definition of a slur).

      The “that’s so gay” crowd were/are basically trying to entrench/establish the word “gay” as a slur and they are losing (by my assessment at least) to the gay community who are staking a claim it. I think all the momentum is on their side.

      So the question then is, are words like “crazy, lame, etc.” unambiguous slurs against identifiable groups or just words with negative denotations that (because they are negative) can hurt individuals when that are applied personally?

      I argue they are the latter.

      Otherwise, what are we to make of other words with negative meanings that are sometimes applied personally I’m an offensive way?

      In particular, what are we to make of the word “old”? Should that also be off limits for all but the most specific uses? And if not, how is this distinct from “lame”?

      1. Maybe we should just admit that adjectives are evil and offensive and cease using them at all. The only problem is that you can’t say that adjectives are evil without using and adjective. Or is it an adverb since it’s what they “are?” We’d better outlaw adverbs too, just to be sure. Maybe this is how silent orders of monks and nuns got started. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, and in today’s uber-PC environment there will be nothing you can say without somehow, somewhere, somewhen offending someone. And remember: offense = harm. To say something someone might rather not hear is to assault them full frontally no less than with a switch-blade or a baseball bat. Shhhhhhhh . . . Nothing but harm can issue from your lips.

  9. I keep hearing people say PC culture is responsible for much of Trump’s popularity, but I don’t understand why they seem to think we should feel bad about that.

    If liberals hadn’t voted for Barack Obama in 2008, there wouldn’t have been so much growth among hate groups following the election. I’m not going to accept responsibility for assholes responding assholically.

  10. I was making huge assumptions with the word gay. It will come down to how the kids decide to use it, whether as a pejorative or not.

    So where would you stand on calling something (like an idea or action) “retarded”? It’s similar to crazy in that it is referring to someone with a mental illness if directed at someone, but otherwise used to say an action or an idea is unintelligent or used in engineering and other disciplines to mean to slow down or hold back.

    Is it okay to refer to something as “retarded” if a person with down syndrome is in the room where they can hear you? Is it okay to call something “lame” if you are in a prosthetic lab with people waiting to be fit? Is it okay to refer to something as “crazy” while in a psychiatric ward?

    I think the answer to all those is no, it’s not okay. So more than context must matter. More than colloquial usage must matter.

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