On anger over the word "stupid"

Anti-social-justice folks are attempting to stir the pot and get so-called “big names” to throw down with one another right now. There’s a definite sense of glee coming from certain parts, parts wherein people are evidently incapable of any sort of nuanced argumentation, where all they live for is the “drama” of people disagreeing with one another. It’s the “let’s you and him fight” sort of instigation you expect in high school. And it needs to be pointed out that this is happening, precisely because there is always some manner of painful growth necessary within our movement.

This is exactly the sort of thing they’ve been asked to do and have refused, and are now relishing the moment that the people who asked them to do that sort of growing are themselves being called out for language that has done splash damage. Except, the configuration of this particular fight isn’t quite exactly right for the sort of lines-drawing that we’re doing.

Trigger warning: discussion of slurs in just about every class of such, including and especially ones that are considered ableist since they are at the heart of the current conflagration.

When I was growing up, my mother genuinely mistreated — dare I say it, abused — my father. I don’t consider my father a saint either, mind you, but I do know that in the relationship between the two of them, there was a lot of very one-sided abuse.

Most of that abuse was verbal — my mother liked to call my father stupid. He was not particularly well-educated. He’d dropped out of high school and got a job at Canadian Tire when he’d married her; he moved from that job to a job at the Brunswick Mines where he’d worked as a rock bolter, a general labourer who helped build tunnels underground. He was Acadian French, and mostly only learned his broken English to communicate with my mother, who barely spoke any French and evidently loathed that she had to learn. They had decided to raise my sister and me as English, though in retrospect this seems almost certainly a demand by my mother that was acquiesced-to by my father.

During their relatively frequent fights, my mother hurled abuse at my father. My father, for his part, liked to drink; he was a sloppy sappy drunk and when he came home and fell asleep on the couch with a beer in one hand and a Supertramp or Cat Stevens record playing, my mother would retire to their bedroom and lock the door. Some nights, though, she would confront him angrily over this habit. I recall one time where they came to blows, and my father was the one with the physical evidence of such — a matrix of pinprick holes on his face where my mother had slapped him with a hairbrush.

But of all that abuse, the “stupid” meme stuck with me most, and evidently my father as well — my mother had repeated it so often that he’d obviously internalized it. He’s used his self-perception of being “stupid” to defend his being unable — or more likely, unwilling — to learn new things, to break habits, to fix crystallized behaviour that others have pointed out was hurting him or others.

There are certainly words that are insults, that only serve to do one thing: express displeasure with the target. An insult that has been used to dehumanize and break down a victim’s resolve over time, by calling to mind all the times that that insult has come with threats of or actual violence, can eventually graduate to the level of “slur”, especially when that word is used to hurt any of a whole class of people interchangeably. There is not, however, a hard, solid, bright line that once one crosses, it’s obvious to all parties that the word has graduated to the upper echelons of hurtful insults.

An argument can absolutely be made that the word “stupid” can be used to cause grievous harm to an individual, and I’d be extremely sympathetic to that argument. However, I had stopped using the word myself some years ago, not specifically because of its ableist connotations that a person is only of value if they are traditionally intelligent, or even just neurotypical — rather, I stopped using the word because it is maddeningly imprecise. On the insult scale, it is the polar opposite in my mind to the word “nice” — it means something generally bad, and generally about either the target’s intelligence or the intelligence of the person who designed the object. It doesn’t specify whether that bad thing is inherent in the nature of the object or person; it doesn’t specify whether that bad thing could be rectified or not. Neither does it define the scale or scope of the problem, or whether it’s compounded by a will to stay in its deficient state or a defense of said state as the preferred over the alternative.

To make matters worse, the word “stupid” has been used — along with a number of other words — to dehumanize a class of individuals who are born neuro-atypical. Its prevalence and casual use might serve as microaggressions to people who have been on the receiving end of the insult in matters over which they have no control. They know better than I exactly in what context their lives have been filled with that sort of talk.

But while the word “retard” might have fallen out of general use in pretty much every other context except as a slur against people with Down’s syndrome or who are on the autistic spectrum, the word “stupid” is still largely used as a grossly-generalized and largely mild insult when directed generally. And when the word is used against a specific person, it can mean anything from lacking education (which leads into a socioeconomic argument), to willful ignorance, or obtuseness, imprudence, or even duplicity. It can mean lacking reading comprehension skills, it can mean lacking clear judgment, it can mean arrogance or lack of foresight, and it can mean lacking in empathy. And yes, it can absolutely be intended as a slur against a person for being neuro-atypical. There are simply too many meanings rolled up into a single word for that word to have any utility, simply because the word has gained ubiquity and through that ubiquity, too much cultural baggage around too many contexts.

Intersectionality — of the sort that people here at Freethought Blogs, and Skepchick and the Atheism Plus forums, and that every other sympathetic humanist skeptical blogger espouses — implicitly demands an extremely high level of empathy. We have to be willing to put ourselves in others’ shoes and recognize that the language used against them may carry too much cultural baggage in one specific direction, and recognize that their fights should also be our fights if we imagine ourselves to be any sort of decent humanists. Therein lies the problem. We are supposed to be empathetic individuals — how dare we not have empathy for every fight?

But there are, in fact, ridiculous fights that we should abstain from empathizing with — ones where a person does not wish to be ridiculed for their otherwise ridiculous beliefs, like religiously motivated bigotries, for instance. Ones where a person is unwilling to actually examine the cultural baggage and sociological impact of their beliefs, their actions or — yes — their words. I recognize that some people might be made to feel bad if they are told their liberal use of “cunt” and “bitch” is misogynistic; I recognize that people saying that this-or-that-bad-thing is “gay” might be put out by your telling them that using the word as an insult is demeaning and systemically dehumanizing to homosexuals. I totally empathize with the discomfort caused to a person who cannot examine how their words or deeds affect others. But I cannot call for tolerance of, say, your average homophobic preacher who, despite never committing any direct violence on a gay person, still teaches their flock that hatred of gays is perfectly acceptable and that anyone trying to stop them is just striving for “political correctness”.

Remember, the people crying “you just want to ban words so you can be Politically Correct” are desperate to hold onto language that they personally enjoy using, and they do not wish to have to withstand the discomfort of changing their ways to avoid causing damage to others. In fact, they often don’t care about the damage, because they actively see these classes of people as Less Than. These people almost certainly lack any sort of empathy for their targets. And in most cases, in their calculus, they have determined that the people complaining about being called a certain name are simply too sensitive, and that they are in the right.

As a sidebar, I feel that in that sense, the word “cunt” — as culturally ubiquitous in England as being a contemptible person as it is here as solely being a slur for a woman — is in a similar position in England as the word “stupid” is here. “Stupid” is not, however, as amplified in its slanderous implications as the word “cunt”. In England, the word definitely does still refer to a woman’s genitalia, and it’s even in the upper tier of unacceptable-on-television words (though you’ll see it in movies now and again, but those are going to be rated). The contempt even in England comes almost exclusively from the misogyny that ran through the word; here, it’s retained all of it and is reserved almost exclusively to refer to women. In North America, “stupid” has crossed that same critical mass point — or rather, it’s always been past that point. A closer analogy to “stupid” might, in fact, be “twat” — where in England, the word seems to mean what “twit” or “fool” means here. You’ll notice that the people rushing to defend their use of misogynist slurs in North America never rush to the less-offensive of the pair, though.

In our culture, we’ve valued (and thus privileged) being neurotypical systemically for a very long time. Anyone who was considered neuro-atypical was of less value to society, and any excuse was given to send them to Bedlam. Today, we understand the situation better, and we can actually as a society help provide a good quality of life for people who are neuro-atypical, and in fact, a great many sorts of atypical neurological configurations are perfectly capable of being functional, contributing members of society even without any special help if only we get out of their way and stop telling them they’re not capable.

But that’s how privilege works. The institutions that allowed the word “stupid” to be common parlance rather than a slur, do in fact allow microaggressions against people who are fully-realized, fully-functional human beings because we as a society have always privileged contributing to society as a whole, over people who cannot contribute to society to the same degree or at the same level.

Hell, I’ve even gotten some of this acrimony over taking an Arts degree, rather than a “hard science”. The casual slander that “those who can, do; those who can’t, take Art History” was a meme that could be and was just as easily pointed at Music students, English students, and basically anyone outside the Computer Science school; I’ve even seen it leveled at people taking Sociology or Psychology, and by the same sorts of people who have decided that their preferred vocations are the only ones of use and the only ones that count as “science”. I even see the same sort of bigotries today against sociology within the skeptical and atheist communities. People have decided that certain roles are contributing, and others are not; and it’s always the privileged who make those decisions. I entirely get where a neuro-atypical person might be frustrated with an intractability with regard to ableism in our community and with just about every other.

Ultimately, though, I think the word “stupid” is too ubiquitous and too defanged and too vague to get particularly angry at people who are using it, despite the implications on society’s privileging of neurotypical folk in general. I do think that some people have ascribed the word “stupid” even more meaning than it already has, as suggesting that this lacking quality in the target is somehow immutable. The word simply doesn’t do that, though — certainly not in the same sense that the word “retarded” definitively has, where I’d place “retard” almost as high on the slur-o-meter as “fag”, “trap”, and the whole gamut of racial slurs we humans are so fond of inventing to the end of othering whole classes of human beings and making it so they are more likely targets of physical violence. The word “stupid” simply does not rise to that level. Not every pejorative rises to the level of slur. The context of every use of the word can help determine what is meant, but it is very likely that what you mean and what the target understands is entirely different.

I’ve attempted to give up using the word, though, because of that maddening impreciseness. Henceforth, if I see someone using it, I will ask for clarification of what exactly is meant, and suggest they use a better word instead, but I’m not particularly angry at or calling anyone out over its use. I’m sorry if that hurts anyone.

In my eyes, this isn’t a matter of oversensitivity, or undersensitivity, or privilege-blindness. It’s a matter of the evolution of language, and of context; of empathy, and knowing your audience and your audience knowing you. I genuinely believe that with regard to who actually cares about ableism, you’re going to find a little more empathy on one side of the “great divide” than the other; you should likewise empathize with the person who’s using a phrase that they didn’t know might trigger you, and give them the benefit of the doubt because in this specific case, the word is too doubtful. But by all means, ask for more precision and rip them a new one if they’re demonstrably being ableist and that’s stepping on your or anyone else’s toes.

I had a lot more to say, but I cut out a good-sized chunk of this, as this was already over-long. I expect some of that will come out in discussion or perhaps in a future post. I also expect the most-interested parties are already raw over this topic. Please understand this is not an attempt to dismiss anyone’s concerns. There’s a definite discussion to be had about how we got to this state as a society, but throwing away hard-won friendships over use of an all-too-common word is in my mind both premature and damaging.

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On anger over the word "stupid"

81 thoughts on “On anger over the word "stupid"

  1. 51

    To quote Isaac Asimov quoting Friedrich Schiller – and using it as a novel* title :

    “Against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain!”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves#Asimov.27s_relationship_to_the_story

    I’m not sure that this change will take off and spread or be effective long term since new slurs will arise and mean the same basic thing regardless of what their new form is – but, well, good luck with this attempt to hurt less people, insult more creatively and aptly and make folks think ’bout the language they use and how it affects others. Seriously.

    * Actually, my favourite Asimov novel and one of the best alien stories around IMHON, FWIW.

  2. 52

    I recognize that people saying that this-or-that-bad-thing is “gay” might be put out by your telling them that using the word as an insult is demeaning and systemically dehumanizing to homosexuals.

    As a gay/bisexual atheist, two intersectionality-related things upset me more than anything else.

    The first, as some here will already know, is that I have a particular dislike of anyone perpetuating the word “homosexual” and words derived from it. For me, this particular word draws on a collective mood or a feeling around boxing in gay and bisexual people in an oppressive way that gained a very strong currency when I was growing up. I was rather hoping to spend my later years completely free of that unpleasant feeling. I fail to see why in 2014 the word homosexual hasn’t become completely redundant in all circumstances.

    There may be LGBTQi people who disagree with me. I’m happy to have a discussion with them. Non-LGBTQi people can butt out.

    The second thing that really pisses me off islamophobia. Not the word. The word is fine. Islamophobia itself, and all the vile, snide, labyrinthine, bullying twists and turns of it. I hate every single manifestation of it. Even sarcastic and snide mentions about “Allah”, “Mo”, “Religion of Peace” and variations on “Peace be upon Him” rekindle all the feelings of being put down that I experience when people mercifully less often say things like “back to the wall”, “it’s the way he walks”, “camp as a row of tents” and all the usual put-downs.

    I do not care if the perpetrators are the most revered pronouncers about intersectionality on the internet – Islamophobia stinks and it should be challenged. Empathy with muslims, probably based on my experience as gay/bisexual, has drawn me to this position.

    Language matters. Sensitivity matters. Empathy is essential. Bullying happens. People get stamped on. Good voices get silenced. We must all look at ourselves. No one is blameless.

  3. 53

    I make a distinction between attributing stupidity to an individual and to an idea. The former is capable of emotion so one avoids causing offence by using such a term. The latter however is not so the same degree of reluctance can be disregarded.

    This is an artificial construction. What is a person – just a lump of flesh? Any construction of a person that fails to recognise that they are defined by their consciousness is failing to see the truth. Consciousness exists wholly in a non-physical world – the world of ideas. A person is an idea. Ideas make a person. To insult an idea is to insult a person.

    What’s needed is not the invention of a false people-versus-ideas dualism, but a sense of proportion, based on your judgement as a person. For myself I just can’t see, given the arguments made, why it is disproportionate to expunge the word stupid from my vocabulary. I did so about a year ago, and I haven’t needed it at all since.

  4. 54

    Hi Exi5. Long time no see. You alright ? Just a couple of points here. You are not your ideas. What you believe or think is not the same as who you are. So suggesting one has respect for ones ideas is wrong. One respects the individual because they are a human being. But ideas are thought processes which can be discarded and replaced. So modifying language to avoid offence is a complete no no here. Though I personally do not use brutal language myself when engaging in deconstruction of someone elses idea / ideas. But nor I would not seek to impose any restrictions anyway. Freedom of speech is way too precious to be subject to the sensitivity of those with thin skin. Subjective interpretation matters not therefore, As someone who is actually prepared to die for this I have no problem in justifying it. Would you be prepared to die for what you believe ? And the other point to correct you on is this. Consciousness exists in the physical world. It is after all the product of a physical organ. It is not therefore exclusive to just ideas. Do you only think in abstract terms ? No thought not. Nice talking to again anyway. Take care now

  5. 55

    Calling a person (especially a child) stupid is wrong because it is too easy to internalize. I don’t have a problem with calling an idea stupid, but I agree that it is vague and there are other words that actually would get the point across better.

    I find it difficult to post on many blogs because of the hundreds of common words and phases that are considered inappropriate. Words like bitch are easy. If you have a left wing viewpoint you should know why it is inappropriate. Other words are less obvious. I was temp banned on another site partially because I used the word negotiate. Apparently, on that site the word negotiate has a lot of deep hidden meanings that are sexist.

    Is there a website that lists of common words and phrases that are likely to cause offense?

    For example, I said on one site that making important decisions when you are in a highly emotional state is probably not a good idea. It is better to wait until you are more stable emotionally so you can approach the situation calmly and rationally. Many people on the site were upset with the phrase calmly and rationally because it is frequently used as a weapon against people who suffered from depression etc.

    Also, what words do you use in a situation where there is no appropriate universal word? What the U.S. Government calls mental retardation has many, many words to describe it and every one has some people who support it and others who find the same word insulting and demeaning.

  6. 56

    My approach is the opposite. Rather than wait for permission to be granted I use whatever terminology I deem appropriate. If someone then objects to the use of a particular word or phrase then I will listen to them and consider the response. But irrespective of whatever decision I take it is my decision and no one elses. That is because they are my words. Which means they belong to me and only me. They are my intellectual and moral property and no one can take them away from me. I accept full responsibility for them too as a consequence of that. The one thing everyone always get wrong with freedom of speech is they think it can be subjectively referenced and that the natural default position is what they deem offensive. But freedom of speech is not about that at all. Rather the freedom of all to say whatever one wants. Offence is completely irrelevant. The trouble with drawing imaginary lines in the sand is that no one can agree on where that line is and who gets to hold the pencil. Which is why I believe in no restriction whatsoever. If someone is saying something so offensive then that is already going to be covered by specific legislation anyway. In those instances however it is not the words themselves that is the problem but what they actually mean. But even then one still has the freedom to say whatever they want. The fact that it may be illegal is completely incidental to that fact

    So as long as one is prepared to accept full responsibility for their language and is open minded on being educated about the use or non use of certain words and phrases and believes in zero censorship then there is no problem. Of course not everyone agrees on all these principles but the problem is one they have to resolve and no one else. I am prepared to die for my words so I can say whatever I like. We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful freedom in the first place. Which is why any attempts to curtail it – no matter how well intentioned – are morally wrong in principle. Because restricting language is but one step away from mind control. And that is why it should be resisted at every available opportunity

  7. 57

    surreptitious57 @ 56

    I tend to agree up to a point. Especially on a large open site. Some words and phrases are so obviously offensive that they shouldn’t need to be explained. I’d never use the phrase “Jew him down” when referring to negotiating because it is so clearly and unambiguously wrong. Other words and phrases are much more subtle.

    On some sites it feels like the locals believe that newbies have special magic powers to know what would offend. They say to lurk more but how do you know what not to say when the locals never say it because it is offensive? Sometimes it feels like a Byzantine court where if you hold your finger a certain way while drinking tea on Tuesday, it is wishing a long life to the emperor, If you do the same thing on Thursday its a deadly insult.

  8. 58

    The example you gave in post 55 was perfectly fine if that is actually how you referenced it now. So the extrapolation from that that others made is a complete non sequitur. However if there are specific rules about use of language on that site then you should as a matter of fact accept them. But if not then you have done no wrong. But as I do not know the specifics I cannot comment as such only on what you have said here. Long as you operate within reasonable boundaries and accept responsibility for your language then you should not worry. But try not to moderate based on fear of offence. Do not let the boundaries of others restrict you if you feel that is unjustified now

  9. 59

    FWIW, I’m a newbie and it does appear, at least superficially, like political correctness has run amok here to some degree.

    Admittedly, a big part of it has to be my own limited exposure to topics and issues and terminology related to gender and sexuality and such. Terms like “ableist” or “cis” or “trigger warnings” or “splash damage”, as used here, are new to me. I’m definitely not yet fully up to speed on the proper and current etiquette for gender discussions, for example, and so I admit that my own understanding and sensibilities need to be refined and updated. I also take no issue with the idea that we all ought to, as a general rule, avoid deliberately offending or disparaging others.

    That said, the site of one faction of skeptics confidently insisting that “these words” are off-limits, while at the same time pulling the rug out from under another faction insisting “those words” should be off limits as well – the whole thing looks really silly and petty from the outside. It smacks of the same silly arguments religionists have amongst their various denominations, and we might as well try to agree on how many atheists can dance on the head of a pin.

    The idea that it’s necessary to post “trigger warnings” in the first place, and that there is a list of words that are off-limits gives me serious pause as well. It makes me wonder whether I am insensitive for thinking this kind of self-censorship should be unnecessary amongst allegedly reasonable and generally well-meaning adults, or whether this community consists of a large demographic of folks with PTSD who are actually “triggered” into having a real breakdown at the mere site of written words. People are actually making the case that things like intent and context don’t matter when it comes to the off-limit words, and I find that troubling.

    I tend to agree with the approach described by surreptitious57 @56.

  10. 60

    @surreptitious (55)

    Hi Exi5. Long time no see. You alright ?

    No I am in constant crisis, but that’s just the human condition, it’s a bit of a laugh actually.

    Just a couple of points here. You are not your ideas.

    Oh but this is so wrong.

    What you believe or think is not the same as who you are. So suggesting one has respect for ones ideas is wrong. One respects the individual because they are a human being. But ideas are thought processes which can be discarded and replaced.

    I just don’t know where to begin on the wrongness of all this. What of the frailty and transitory nature of humans – how many have been discarded and replaced in history? Ideas are people, people are ideas. Love is an idea. Government is an idea; countries are ideas, as are families, lovers, sex, everything. Memories are ideas; your are the sum of your memories. Actions become memories as soon as they are performed – they become your ideas, they become yet another part of you. To be is to do. Ideas are people, people are ideas.

    So modifying language to avoid offence is a complete no no here.

    I agree offence seems to have gone out the window as a thing to avoid here. But avoiding oppressive language is not a complete no-no here. It’s what this discussion is all about.

    Though I personally do not use brutal language myself when engaging in deconstruction of someone elses idea / ideas. But nor I would not seek to impose any restrictions anyway. Freedom of speech is way too precious to be subject to the sensitivity of those with thin skin.

    I don’t think I’ve had much freedom of speech in any of the forums we’ve shared time on, do you? My position is that it’s okay for people like me to protest against oppressive language. A lot of people in mod positions have characterised my protests against islamophobia, oppressive homophobic language and bullying as “trolling” or something akin to it. There seems to be a common ideological thread running through their authoritarian behaviour towards me and the false dichotomy of “people are different from ideas” is a fundamental part of that behaviour.

    Subjective interpretation matters not therefore, As someone who is actually prepared to die for this I have no problem in justifying it. Would you be prepared to die for what you believe ?

    I’ve got no idea. Nobody has ever put me in the position of having to choose. Who knows how any of us would act?

    And the other point to correct you on is this. Consciousness exists in the physical world. It is after all the product of a physical organ.

    Ah. You’re saying consciousness is a “product” of the physical thing but the brain is a physical thing. Ok, so they both exist in the same world. But where is this thing called consciousness if not in the same physical world as the brain? In which case, how can ideas be anything different from brains? From people?

    Yes I said consciousness exists in the non-physical world. I just meant you can’t put consciousness on the mantelpiece where someone else can pick it up. But you’re right, there is no other “world” where it can exist. In that sense consciousness exists wholly in the physical world. The physical/non-physical is a false dichotomy. There is only one world, realm, dimension. In which case, there is nothing different between a person and an idea, since ideas come from brains, and are inextricably dependent on them.

    For that reason it really doesn’t matter if you call the world of consciousness abstract or physical. It is all one world. People are their ideas. Yes ideas can change. That just means people can change. People are not fixed. Consciousness is dynamic. To insult a person’s idea is to insult the person.

  11. 63

    Freedom of speech is way too precious to be subject to the sensitivity of those with thin skin. Subjective interpretation matters not therefore, As someone who is actually prepared to die for this I have no problem in justifying it. Would you be prepared to die for what you believe ?

    You do know we only have one life, right? Dying for your ideals may be a good way to get a message out there, but you can do far more by continuing to live and communicate with people. Besides, dying for this conflation of freedom of speech from the predations of government with the ability to say and do whatever you want without regard to how your words and actions effect those around you, or criticism regarding those effects doesn’t give the position merit.

    John Horstman, in post 41, compared the idea of trying not to use words that hurt others with expecting people not to drive at night, but there’s a clear difference. True, both cause pain in others, and we can even argue that being triggered by headlights coming toward you is far more dangerous than by the word ‘stupid’, but expecting people to not drive at night runs a gamut between inconvenient (if you want to go see a film) to basically impossible (if you have to get to work). Expecting people to stop using the word ‘stupid’, on the other hand? Is that really such a problem? It’s a word, it’s not that important to me, I doubt it’s particularly important to anyone not triggered by it. If it isn’t important, why not just drop it and move on? If a thing is meaningless to us and hurtful to others, why should we fight to the death for it? What motivation is there for that? Feel free to correct me if there’s some great and important reason to keep using it, but I can’t think of anything other than tradition.
    Maybe if the government was swooping in and threatening to lock us away for daring to speak the word I could see the desire to fight it, but fighting against a little courtesy in communication? I don’t see the logic behind that. I don’t see it when the topic is feminism, and I have no idea where it would spring from when the topic switches. It’s a meaningless battle, and there’s no reason to fight it. As far as I can see, we’re in the wrong and should yield.

  12. 65

    On the first point – I don’t see how the ‘territory’ is irrelevant, Flewellyn. An understanding of what makes someone a person is central to consideration of what language you select to respect or disrespect their humanity. How is this irrelevant to a discussion based on the rights and wrongs of the word ‘stupid’?

    On your second rather unfriendly statement where you say, “I don’t want to engage with you,” I don’t get it. You have just linked me to a cartoon which seems to be an appeal to treat people well, so you obviously understand the concept. It’s almost like you’re setting out to establish a standard of friendly interaction, and then come in with a sub-agenda of just being downright unpleasant based on some righteousness that you’re not letting people into the secret of. I do wonder if it’s time you looked at the way you treat people.

    Just to clarify my own position on some of the points you’ve raised here (assuming it’s okay to comment on what other people have said here), I believe in respecting people’s humanity above everything else. I don’t use dehumanising language towards others. Hence the reasons why I wouldn’t use any of your favorite and rather nasty expressions below:-

    Blockhead – Dehumanising. Humans have heads, not blocks. A block is thing-like. A head is human-like. A blockhead is a contradiction in terms. It is dehumanising.
    Douche – Dehumanising; a douche is a “thing”; it also has sexually derogatory connotations, because it involves sexual organs.
    Ass – Dehumanising, scatalogical, degrading someone’s humanity (equivocation with donkey reference – also dehumanising)
    Hat – Dehumanising
    Canoe – Dehumanising
    Rectal – Scatalogical, therefore degrading, possibly also sexually derogatory. Slymepitters would love this one.
    Anal – Scatalogical, degrading.
    Asshattery – same problem as “asshat”. Just because it’s directed to a behaviour not a person doesn’t justify it. People are their actions.

    I mean feel free to use any of these expressions or worth if you perceive yourself to be in any kind of danger from someone. But online, that isn’t really the case most of the time, is it? Most of the time the justification for the use of these dehumanising phrases is “two wrongs make a right”. Well it doesn’t.

    On the freedom of speech issue – feel free to continue to use these nasty words and phrases, but recognise that your opponents are free to protest.

    What’s needed in my view is not so much an “Atheism Plus” as an “Atheism Plus Plus Plus”. There are crucial issues around both dehumanisation and misuse of power that were completely ignored in the Atheism Plus start-up. It would be great to take the genre to new heights, but some unhealthy dynamics would need to change to make it possible.

  13. 66

    @Athywren (63) Totally agree. I used the word ‘stupid’ once at Atheism+ Another user asked me not to use it because they said it was ableist. I’ve not used it since in any area of my life. I haven’t missed it in the slightest.

  14. 67

    What’s needed in my view is not so much an “Atheism Plus” as an “Atheism Plus Plus Plus”. There are crucial issues around both dehumanisation and misuse of power that were completely ignored in the Atheism Plus start-up. It would be great to take the genre to new heights, but some unhealthy dynamics would need to change to make it possible.

    Allow me to translate this for those who aren’t familiar with Exi5:

    “I’m mad that I got banned from the A+ forums for repeatedly engaging in intellectual dishonesty, Gish gallops, haranguing people with irrelevant and off-topic derails, and in short being insufferable and arguing in bad faith. So I want to tell them off for not being pure enough.”

    See, this is WHY I don’t want to engage with you, Exi5. And I’m not under any obligation to be friendly or nice.

  15. 68

    I do not have anything to add here in relation to Exi5tentialist because our respective positions are mutually incompatible. But you have been banned from three forums I am still a member of. Which is odd considering how you are so ultra careful when it comes to self expression and I believe in absolute freedom of speech. You have a history of engaging in de rails and so am not surprised you have been banned from Atheism Plus. Please find a forum that you will feel right in and stay there and try to behave yourself. I have always thought of you as very easy going yet you always seem to get on the wrong side of the mods of every forum you have been a member of. Anyway this is all off topic but all the best anyway. I hang around here sometimes so you might see me here. That is all so take care now

  16. 69

    Allow me to translate this for those who aren’t familiar with Exi5:
    “I’m mad that I got banned from the A+ forums for repeatedly engaging in intellectual dishonesty, Gish gallops, haranguing people with irrelevant and off-topic derails, and in short being insufferable and arguing in bad faith. So I want to tell them off for not being pure enough.”

    See, this is WHY I don’t want to engage with you, Exi5. And I’m not under any obligation to be friendly or nice.

    You see, I find it rather surprising that you want to import that amount of hostility into this space. I’ve offered a way towards a little reconciliation, and all you do is throw that lot of vague and unsupported accusations in my face. Again.

    It’s time to move on, Flew. Anti-islamophobia, anti-dehumanisation and routine democratic processes in choosing mods will be the new paradigm.

    Mods calling people douchecanoes then banning them is out, allowing people to express protest at it is in.

    How about it?

    (Incidentally – could I please ask that you do not use the word “mad” when referring to me feeling angry? I have had some experience of mental health problems, and the taunt “You’re mad!” was routinely used in a belittling way that in the circumstances was distinctly ableist. I hope you won’t mind me sharing this. It is real. Thanks.)

  17. 70

    I do not have anything to add here in relation to Exi5tentialist because our respective positions are mutually incompatible. But you have been banned from three forums I am still a member of. Which is odd considering how you are so ultra careful when it comes to self expression and I believe in absolute freedom of speech. You have a history of engaging in de rails

    bzzzzt… Wrong. This is how smears work. One person drops in an unsubstantiated allegation and others repeat it. Merely through repetition it becomes “true”. Well done to the person who started the derail smear.

    and so am not surprised you have been banned from Atheism Plus. Please find a forum that you will feel right in and stay there and try to behave yourself. I have always thought of you as very easy going yet you always seem to get on the wrong side of the mods of every forum you have been a member of

    bzzzzt again… I would agree that an extremely small sample of authoritarian atheist/rationalist forums don’t like my anti-islamophobic and existentialist leanings. That just says more about them than it does about me… so thank you for your advice that I should “behave” but I think the issues are somewhat deeper than that.

    Anyway this is all off topic but all the best anyway.

    Gee thanks

    I hang around here sometimes so you might see me here. That is all so take care now.

    Thanks. You too. It would be great to discuss some philosophical issues with you in more detail sometime. The moderation has to be conducive to it, though.

    Anyway, how about it? A social justice forum which is explicitly anti-islamophobic, where mods don’t go around dehumanising people just for disagreeing with them and which is careful not to let too much power fall into too few hands. An Atheism Plus Plus, perhaps?

  18. 72

    Well for someone who doesn’t want to engage with me you are making a damn good show of engaging with me Flewellyn.

    If you don’t like the way I’ve responded to your list of allegations about me (which weren’t exactly on topic), why don’t you return to the actual subject? I posted some comments on the words you think are perfectly fine… you know – asshat, douchebag, douchecanoe, blockhead. But rather than engage with that conversation you’ve gone on a mission to prove me to be a habitual “derailer”. I think what you mean is you don’t like people answering back when you go on off-topic personal attacks.

    There’s a whole subject worthy of discussion here. I made some comments on topic. Now stay on topic, and respond to them.

  19. 73

    exi5tentialist is definitely derailing the thread–haven’t seen them engage with the OP at all yet. Just a bunch of at-best tangentially related grievances.

    This whole episode has given me a lot to think about re: Language use. I haven’t been the best ally for people with disabilities, I fear. I’ve been hanging back out of uncertainty. I don’t feel like I’ve really comprehended the scope of ableism and how it affects our society, and how many people have to deal with it. I can cope pretty easily with the concept that my current able-bodied state is inevitably temporary, but, like being elderly, it’s a prospect that seems distant and abstract to me. I suppose, like with racism and white privilege, it’s going to take me a while. This discussion has given me a good start, though.

  20. 75

    Excuse me Sally Strange, I have responded to points raised in the the discussion. The OP is just that. It’s an OP. Not everybody in a conversation must respond directly to first comment. That is an extremely rigid view of the process of discussion. In any event, I have expressed my made my comment on the word “stupid” (that’s the subject of the discussion) and I found it very easy to do so. If you have something to say about what I said there, say it.

    Dehumanising language is in itself an issue of intersectionality. If a person has been dehumanised they are by definition in a situation of being oppressed. Regardless of the specific axis I really do not see how anyone can say dehumanisation is not in itself a social justice issue.

    If the apparently dehumanising vocabulary was used out of self-defence I don’t really have a problem with it. However there is a lot of confusion in figuring out whether somebody is punching up or punching down. I do not claim to have easy answers. I’d be suspicious of anyone who does.

  21. 76

    So there are people who honestly feel this is an important issue, and I think they deserve to be respectfully listened to. And not just listened to–the points they bring up, including personal stories, should be thoughtfully considered, not brushed aside as “obviously” ridiculous.

    I’m not so sure that this is entirely, or even mainly, an ableism issue. The main, commonest, nastiest use of ‘stupid’ is very much as Jason described in the OP. Only it’s mainly directed at children – in families, in schools, and in schoolyards – and it is internalised. If you’re thinking of splash damage when it’s used, it’s as likely to be reviving an emotional, psychological, or mental health problem than a reference to any real intellectual problem.

    I spent far too many hours “patrolling” the computers at our tuition centre mainly to interrupt all the “I’m too stupid” self-talk going on from students who were working (or failing to work) at tasks that had been set for them only and entirely because they were assessed as within their capabilities. But they’d internalised the bullying from other students, or teachers, or family members, or all three or, sometimes, none of them – they’d heard the language used and they’d applied it to themselves. And the combination of fear and task avoidance thereafter had only led to failure and reinforced that self-denigration. Parents! I occasionally made the mistake of delightedly telling a parent that their child had achieved something-or-other, only for that to be undercut by a scornful or dismissive insult directed immediately at the child that they should have learned that stuff ages ago. I made sure to avoid such invitations to disaster with those families afterwards.

    People who have strong reactions to the word may or may not have any significant intellectual or learning difficulty, but they *do* have emotional and psychological scars from miserable childhood experiences. And there are _lots_ and _lots_ of such people. Everyone who was ever bullied, everyone who had a nasty sibling or parent (or cousin or neighbour), everyone who was ever a target in a Ms/Mr Nastytongue’s class for a year or two. Those who were bullied for longer or whose sibling didn’t grow out of that nasty phase or whose grand/parent got worse rather than better as they grew up or who were particularly sensitive to start with can have more scars and worse memories that last longer.

    My unhealthily depressing conclusion is that this group is fairly large. A strong reaction to being called stupid, I’d suggest, is not rare, not unusual, but quite common and predictable.

  22. 77

    Childhood internalisation is undoubtedly one of many phenomena around the word ‘stupid’ and is a good reason not to use it.

    Really, though, if someone asks me to stop using a word I’ll do so. Very rarely are such requests made for reasons that aren’t genuine.

  23. 78

    @77: do you think any of the requests to stop using the word that you’ve seen in the fallout around this discussion aren’t genuine? On what grounds do you assume disingenuous actors?

  24. 79

    @78 No I don’t. I think some of the analysis of why one word isn’t a good word to be using feels a bit over-complicated. If someone’s saying the word hurts them, I’ll stop using it; they don’t have to supply a long explanation.

  25. 80

    @79: then this post isn’t for you, is it? To clarify, if this wasn’t apparent from the structure of the argument itself, its target audience is almost expressly the people who claim that “stupid” is too useful to excise from our vocabularies.

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