Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hellspawn of Dude, I'm a Fag

Aside from getting ready to return to the US on Friday, I've been writing comments on other people's blogs instead of writing posts for my own. It's occurred to me that some of those comments could, with a little more work, be adapted and posted here. In particular the one that underlies what I'm writing now, in which I was struggling to articulate what I meant. I'll try again here.

So, from here I went to here, which made me go Huh. I thought I'd look to see what else the blogger had written, and found this. Some people are now up in arms about the phrase, "Just sayin'." According to Virtual Lee, the phrase is "most often used at the end of a rant or at the end of suggestion ameliorating a hot pitch with a shrug and an I don’t care." That's not how I recall having seen it used, or having used it myself. Gawker wants it banned, which seems to me like a good reason to keep using it. The writer at Gawker signed off with:
If you didn’t mean what you said or if there was no import to it, don’t say it. Why say it? Don’t say it. But worse than that, you obviously did mean what you said so don’t veil it with pretending you didn’t. Last month was the R-Word Month, during which the public was meant to avoid saying “retard” as an insult. Let’s make this the month of not saying Just Sayin’. It’s dumb and retarded. Just sayin’.
Lee, I think, missed what the Gawker writer meant to do. According to both of them, "Just sayin'" is like adding "Not!" to the end of a possibly incendiary sentence, or "No Homo", or pretending that you didn't mean a slur or other insult, you were just joking, geez, don't be so PC, chill out! "Dumb and retarded" was, I thought, intended to be an example of what the writer meant, since he had already established that calling someone or something "retarded" is a no-no. But Lee huffed,
... ‘Just sayin” is certainly not as hurtfull [sic] as accusing someone of having a specific neurological illness. Easy to ban, not so easy to dscern [sic]. Just sayin’
The word "accusing" struck me strange. Maybe calling someone a retard is an accusation, but it doesn't make much sense as one. Having a low IQ is not a moral, let alone a criminal failing; it's nonvoluntary. (And Down Syndrome, which I think is what most people associate with mental retardation nowadays, is a chromosomological disorder, not really a neurological one. I'm just sayin'.) The same goes for a lot of slurs. Naomi Klein reminded Barack Obama during last year's election campaign that "being called a Muslim is not a smear"; treating it as if it were only surrenders to the attacker. Being called gay, or even queer, is not an accusation, though many gay people inexplicably act as if it were. (Oh, not inexplicably -- it's because they agree that being gay is bad, only We Can't Help It, It's In Our Genes.) Refusing to use the smarts Nature gave you, however, arguably is a moral failing, and calling someone a retard is a good example of same.

I suppose that the people who throw around insults like "retard" mostly know that their targets aren't retarded, just as they know that the people they call "faggots" aren't gay. Which doesn't mean that they wouldn't pick on real retarded or gay people, of course; they probably would. They know it's not an accusation; rather it's a taunt, thrown to see if it will draw blood. That's why kids call each other "fag," "queer," "dumb," "fat," "girl," to see if the target will flinch. But I'm not being fair to kids there, since so many adults never outgrow this practice. The right 'accuses' Michael Moore of being fat; the left and the near right 'accuse' Rush Limbaugh of being fat. It would be one thing if such childishness were a way of letting off steam before moving on to more substantive matters, but in many cases it's all they know how to do. (As shown by the popular jape: "Arguing on the Internet is like entering the Special Olympics -- even if you win, your [sic -- they always write it this way] still retarded." In other words, they don't know how to debate or argue or think, which are done pretty much the same on the Internet as elsewhere, and they think their incapacity makes them superior. Superior to whom? To just about everybody, from their tone.

In our national political discourse, it matters a lot more how much you weigh, how you dress, your accent, your hairstyle, the "message" you're sending, than what you believe or do, and why. It matters more that you be "responsible," "positive," and "civil" than that you have any idea what you're talking about. Liberals dwelt much more on Dubya's inability to pronounce "nuclear" than on his real crimes, and now they're much more interested in Obama's comparative eloquence, his poise, how good he is with children (American ones, that is -- what he's done to Afghan and Pakistani children is not to be mentioned), what a great couple he and Michelle are, than in his policies and actions.

I suppose the same reason underlies the panic so many adults exhibit when someone throws a slur in their direction -- they've never outgrown the panic children feel when a gang of other kids call them names. Mommy! they're being mean to me! Still, we need to outgrow it. It's so much easier to try to ban words we don't like than to get people to change their ideas and feelings. (I bet the Gawker's R-Word Month made a big difference, don't you?)

Once, when I was about twelve, I fell off my bike, scraping my knee and hand. It was the first time I'd done that in a long time. I reflexively drew in a breath to start crying, which is what you're supposed to do when you fall and hurt yourself, but then stopped when I realized that though the scrapes hurt, they didn't hurt that much. After pondering this for a moment, I got back on the bike and rode on. I've had much the same reaction to some of the slurs and insults that were directed at me as an adult: they don't hurt that much, not enough to keep me from riding figuratively on -- and when possible, all over the person who used the slur. If I've left tire marks on their souls, then my life has not been entirely in vain.