On the Weakness of Slurs

I was surprised to find I didn’t have a version of this on my blog. I’ve certainly said it often enough elsewhere, though the earliest I’ve found was in response to “critics” of Hillary Clinton.

We don’t use gendered, fat-shaming, homophobic, etc. insults not because they have to be reserved for the worst of bad people but because they say you think there’s something wrong with the everyday people they apply to.

“Ugh, that—I don’t usually say this—bitch!”

I see this or a version of this using another slur remarkably often. It reflects such a strange misunderstanding of how language works that I boggle every time.

If you say this, you’re trying to tell me that only “bitch” works in this context because it’s the only insult that’s strong enough for you. Weaker, lesser insults just won’t convey how terrible this person is. But that isn’t how slurs work.

Contrary to your assumption, slurs are among the weakest insults. That’s why they can be reclaimed. No one stands up with fire in their eye and says, “Yes, I’m a poopyhead.” There are a lot of proud bitches out there though.

The power of a slur doesn’t come from the insult. It comes from the reminder that we exist in a system ready to put bitches back in their place. That’s not an insult but a threat. And the power of reclamation comes from facing that threat and persisting anyway.

Any insult inherent in a slur is merely a statement that the person you’re using a slur on doesn’t know “their place”. That you want them to, because you can’t win whatever conflict you have on equal ground. And that’s just not particularly insulting, at least not to them.

On the Weakness of Slurs

If You Don’t Want Us Speaking Ill of the Dead

If it disturbs you to see people speak ill of the dead, it might be time to examine the apparent compulsion to speak well of them. There will always be those who mean so much to us that we have to eulogize them. Of course. Observances of death are for the living, including the mourners.

After that, well, we always have the option to say nothing. We take it too rarely. Even more rarely do we think about how our words may prompt responses, how our statements invite argument.

You don’t owe it to the dead to speak well of them. They can’t be helped or harmed by it. They’re dead. Your words, if any, are for the living. That includes the people injured by the dead. If you don’t want them to speak of those injuries, consider simply not speaking praise that erases them. It’s easier than you might think.

If You Don’t Want Us Speaking Ill of the Dead

No Debate

They don’t actually want to debate us.

These people–mostly men, mostly white–claiming that we’re destroying the world by shutting down debate? These people claiming that blocking someone instead of hashing out their issues (personal or political) is damaging public discourse? These people claiming that telling them to “get bent” is abridging their freedom of speech?

Yeah, that’s as far as they really want things to go. Complaining bolsters their reputations, at least among the people who don’t think things through. It generates easy content. It garners cheap outrage. It requires neither work nor accountability. Smears and insinuations are much, much simpler.

That’s a big reason there aren’t many of these debates. Sure, plenty of people aren’t willing to directly debate racism and sexism any more than they’re willing to share a stage or their spotlight with creationists. Some people refuse to be harassed into a debate. Some people know debate is bad both for getting at the truth and because framing every disagreement as a debate is bad for communication. But when the smear merchants come up against someone who is willing to engage them directly, they tend to get a bit scarce.

Take, for example, “The Amazing Atheist” (aka a number of names, but we’ll call him “Kirk” here, since that’s the last name he’s currently using publicly) deciding not to debate Martin Hughes. Continue reading “No Debate”

No Debate

About That Opinion…

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

I have a dirty little secret. It’s the kind of thing that people as involved in social media as I am aren’t supposed to think, much less say. It’s certainly something that bloggers who put their opinions out there as I do aren’t supposed to think.

Here’s how it works: I publish a blog post on a subject, anything from a few hundred to a few thousand words. Or it could be a Facebook post or a series of tweets if it’s a shorter observation that I want to make sure people can see without clicking through to anything. Then people respond to tell me their opinions on the subject.

And I…I don’t care.

This isn’t universal, of course. There are many circumstances in which I do care. There are people who provide data I don’t have: studies, personal insight on something that’s confusing me, experiences I can’t share. There are people with whom I’ve been engaged in years-long discussions about the world, often even though we’ve never met. There are people who raise substantial objections over my reasoning or premises. I’m not talking about those, usually. I have my days when I don’t care much about any of that either, but those are just bad days.

Photo of small child in a pink shirt and jeans leaning across the seat of a chair, cheek resting on hands, looking into the camera
“bored” by greg westfall, CC BY 2.0

Then there are the people who notice that I have put my opinion out into the world and decide that this is an invitation for them to tell me what they think. Often their comments are literally nothing more than that. “I think X.”

That’s nice. I don’t care.

I won’t tell you I never think I should care. I do. I mean, I’m putting my opinions out there, right? Plus socialization. Plus a model of online writing that says readers are my customers, consumers who must be catered to in order for me to succeed.

Still, I don’t care. Not only that, but I think most of the things that tell me I should care miss the point of social media at a minimum. Continue reading “About That Opinion…”

About That Opinion…

Repost: Sam and Max Rules

This post is ancient, but I still think about it when people tell me I have give someone the benefit of the doubt, to be more charitable. I’ve been thinking about it now as well as Ive been working on a post about relationships and argument.

A bit more than a decade ago, my husband and I played a bunch of LucasArts adventure games. Remember, this was pre-Episode One. Pre-Grim Fandango not being released for Macs for that matter. LucasArts was still okay then. In fact, they were pretty cool.

Sure, the Indiana Jones game was kinda dull, but Day of the Tentacle was a geek’s dream. Personally, though, I preferred Sam & Max Hit the Road. It’s still the most surreal game I’ve played, although Psychonauts came close. But even Psychonauts’ meat circus (really) didn’t quite compare to the combination of conspiracy theory, circus freaks and roadside attractions that was Sam & Max. Gator Golf, anyone? A bigfoot underground? How about a rotating restaurant atop the world’s largest ball of twine?

Photo of a motorcyle parked outside a glass-enclosed gazebo housing a very large ball of twine.
Sam and Max fans will understand why the lack of restaurant in this picture of a ball of twine is disappointing. The bar up the street is quite nice, though.
Photo by Ben Zvan. Used with permission.

Still, my favorite part of the Sam & Max gameplay was the dialog. It was menu based. All the options tended to be snarky, but there were a few that would get a person decked in real life. Really funny, but nothing you’d actually say unless you wanted to end the conversation immediately.

The first time we came across one of these, we looked at each other, figured out how much progress we stood to lose, and picked the least helpful option. Continue reading “Repost: Sam and Max Rules”

Repost: Sam and Max Rules

With Room to Learn

There has been a lot of talk in the last few months about how “call-out culture” causes problems. Some of it is ridiculous, as when writers take to large magazines and newspapers to complain of being silenced. Some of it is not, as when those already marginalized note that dealing with fierce blowback for mistakes as they enter and acclimate to activist spaces is one more barrier than they have energy for.

I want to deal more with the latter as I get back into writing more regularly. There are things I want to say about languages of power once I’m comfortable that my views are fully fleshed out. In the meantime, however, there are a couple of posts contemporaneous with my earlier writing on the topic that I want to highlight, both from Angus Johnston on the Student Activism blog. Continue reading “With Room to Learn”

With Room to Learn

Fuck Your Civility

Well, here it is a day later, and still no one had told Steve Snyder that it his comment at JT’s was unacceptably sexist. So I did.

Well, Steve Snyder/SocraticGadfly, since no one else can be assed to step up and say this, no matter how much me being harassed “pisses them off”, no matter how much they’ll stand up for JT, fuck off, you putrid, obsessive, pointless, sexist smear of slime. It is not anything but vilely anti-social to spend two and half years after a woman tells you that rape allegations need to be taken seriously popping up any time she and the man on whose blog you were schooled are mentioned together to say that this woman is controlling this man’s behavior by having sex with him.

It only gets you two things. The first is a reputation as someone who isn’t capable of making a socially acceptable argument about why treating rape seriously is bad but can’t let the issue go, and the second is secular and skeptical movements that are distinctly hostile to women.

So fuck right the hell off.

And the same goes for anyone incapable of telling Steve here the same thing.

If none of the people preaching for civility are going to stop this behavior, if none of the people telling me how to behave are going to do anything to see that I’m treated well in return, they get to deal with how I deal with it. And they get to deal with how I deal with it after a day of my mistreatment being ignored in a forum where putting the smack down on bad behavior is supposedly the order of the day.

And if they really want to know how their version of “civility” fits into this, they can ask me. Very nicely. I doubt they’ll like any answer they get today, though.

Fuck Your Civility

Feedback for American Atheists

So I kept reading the transcript of the chat room during yesterday’s “Brave Hero” radio show. I know. I know. But that sort of thing is hard to look away from once you’ve looked, like any traffic disaster.

I found something I wasn’t expecting.

DaveMuscato: Hey folks, I just wanted to mention that I’m here (Public Relations Director for American Atheists). I did not catch Dave on the air but I caught some of the calls at  the end. I’m happy to do what I can do listen to your feedback if you

DaveMuscato: have something you want me or Dave to know

Color me impressed.

So what did Dave and Dave get for feedback? It’s a bit hard to tell, because PZ was also in the chat room at the time having all sort of accusations thrown at him. Here are the bits I think were probably meant for American Atheists. Continue reading “Feedback for American Atheists”

Feedback for American Atheists

The Appeal to the Naive Observer

I get rather a remarkable number of comments like this one about a letter I sent to CFI regarding Justin Vacula’s attendance at the Women in Secularism conference this weekend.

Attempting to have him excluded from the event –which is clearly the subtext of the letter you quote here, if it wasn’t why give them a “situation” to “resolve” – will force people like me, who are new to this whole kerfluffle, to believe that you really don’t have ideas worth defending.

Now, setting aside the fact that I, at least, am aware of several ways that conference organizers can limit the disruptiveness of an attendee short of barring them from the conference, and setting aside that I thanked CFI for taking one of those options, there’s a failure of critical thinking in this comment and comments like these that boggles my mind.

Continue reading “The Appeal to the Naive Observer”

The Appeal to the Naive Observer