The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.2 (Spring 2017)
The Stupid: America’s Most Privileged Class
John R. Harris
Though humorously intended (as what piece about political correctness could not be?), this series of observations does little more than draw examples from current events. The alternative to laughter may be too grim to mention.
(An earlier version of this piece appeared as two entries on the author’s blog at https://nilnoviblog.wordpress.com/.)
I’m not a fan of tennis, but I gather that a long-time broadcaster of the sport for ESPN bit the professional dust a few days ago for a “horribly insensitive racist” utterance. He referred to Serena Williams as a practitioner of “guerilla tennis”. The writer of the explanatory piece I read was easily able to trace the offensive phrase back five or six years in the parlance of broadcasters, sportswriters, and players themselves. I infer that “guerilla tactics”, in tennis as elsewhere, involve ambushing your opponent by aggressively appearing where you were not anticipated. The problem, of course, is that “guerilla” is a homophone with “gorilla”, or… well, not really; but people who can’t speak very clearly also tend to have trouble with spelling, and indeed may not know how to read, or at least don’t read anything but the telegraphic gibberish on their Twitter accounts. And if they suffer from all of these problems together, we’re looking at a collection of symptoms that indicates terminal stupidity. So the real problem is that our hapless broadcaster was taken down by the pandemic of crippling, infectious imbecility which has swept across our society.
Something very similar happened several years ago when David Howard, an aide to D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, employed the word “niggardly” to describe stingy behavior. There is no etymological connection whatever between this and the notorious “n” word; and, let’s face it, they are clearly not pronounced the same way, so anyone whose hearing was not as impaired as his cognitive faculties should have been able to figure out that a routine slur wasn’t at issue. No matter. The two words were somewhere in the same ballpark. The reasoning (such as it is) goes something like this. You should have reflected that idiots of my group are too dull to distinguish between the two words, and hence you should have abstained even from coming near the suggestion of an analogy of a relationship. Except… wait: wouldn’t that mean that you really were a racist if you took for granted that everyone in my group is an idiot?
I used the word “aide” above. If I were to say something dismissive about aides in any context, would that imply that I wasn’t concerned about gays dying of AIDS?
A lot of towns and geographical features have names drawn from Native American culture. How many high school football teams are called the Apaches or the Cherokees? Shouldn’t this be stopped—aren’t we demeaning our noble predecessor in North American by reducing him to a mascot or a cartoon character? And what about truly native names, like the Monongahela and Oostanaula Rivers? Shouldn’t we at least be paying royalties to someone for those? Did the tribes in question give us the rights to them?
How many of our fearless leaders and celebrated mouthpieces have maintained that referring to foreign nationals as “aliens” stigmatizes them as if they were little green men from Mars? Never mind that this science-fictional use of the word is itself a tiny backwater in its flow of possible meanings: once again, we’re dealing with people who watch TV and movies rather than read, so we must assume that their exposure to any idea whatever is limited to the experience of it they’re likely to have had through those media. Otherwise, we’re insensitive.
The Stupid would surely be our most privileged minority if they were not (I’m afraid) a growing majority. They enjoy so much special treatment that we are in fact required to anticipate how they will mutilate communications framed in functional-adult language. We must imaginatively squeeze our brains into their tiny skulls or risk losing our jobs—and maybe even, in the near future, going to prison.
Why, then, do we waste so much time promoting education and so much money sending our kids to college? It’s plain that the real key to a bright future in Dumerica is to fry those little gray cells as fast as you can.
On a related matter, I pose this question: Why can’t I say “jackass”?
The flip side of toxifying perfectly useful words through willful, imbecilic misinterpretation (about which I wrote above) is surrendering words to the trash bin because they have acquired “naughty” meanings. The former happens when certain groups desperately trying to keep all their wounds and sore festering for political advantage seize upon anything that has even the echo of a possible slur. The latter happens when people priding themselves upon their home-cooked, family-values decency rush to blackball (excuse me… how about “bullyball”?) anything with a faintly scurrilous echo in order to advertise their devotion to the true faith.
“Ass” can no longer be used among them, for instance. In the Christmas carol, “The Little Drummer Boy”, the line, “The ox and ass kept time,” had to be rewritten, “The ox and lamb kept time.” How inane! The Latin word asellus refers to an equid similar to a donkey. The Old English word “arse”, which appears in Ancient Greek as ouros (e.g., the star Arcturus or arktou ouros, “the Bear’s tail”), has no Latin cognate that I know of. An ass is an ass—you know, a jackass. Now, if you choose to associate the word in you dirty-clean little mind of would-be Puritan censorship, you can certainly strike it from your lexicon in a show of superior virtue… but where does your show end? Any Middle School teacher knows that we would soon be reduced to speechlessness if we nobly abstained from every syllable that has a whiff of scatology or lewdness. Girls named “Regina” must change their names. Football players may no longer be said to “punt” the ball. A threaded nail may no longer be called a screw—and, for that matter, I believe the word “nail” used to have a sordid underbelly in certain company.
Lately the word “pussy” is showing up on the virtue-radar as a seek-and-destroy target. So the old James Bond movie Octopussy must be re-christened Octokitty; and, as a Bond-aficionado friend of mine points out, Pussy Galore of Goldfinger must also have a name change—not to mention the possibly tawdry suggestion in the use of “finger”. Better ban that one categorically, just to be safe. In our revised world, then, the lovely Honor Duskyperson will star as Meow-meow Galore in Golddigit… but, no, Meow-meow sounds like Mau Mau, and we might be heading into racist territory.
What do such people imagine themselves to be safeguarding? To me, they’re revealing that they know a lot more smut-talk than any legitimate saint should ever have heard. Of course, the real point is that being aware of nasty double-entendres has nothing whatever to do with virtue. It’s not the use of any certain word that defiles you: it’s the thoughts with which you accompany that word. The same applies for “good” words associated perversely with base thoughts. Some of my generation have employed (and continue to employ) the word “love” in such dubious circumstances that I now try to save it for very special occasions, just to avoid all possible misunderstanding. This doesn’t amount to giving up on “love”. It’s just recognizing that a variety of other options like “concupiscence” also occupy the dictionary.
On the other hand, letting someone deprive you of a perfectly functional word because that person has decided to confer a squalid sense upon it is essentially surrendering the mastery of your thoughts to parties who do very little thinking. It’s servile, and it disgusts me. What kind of virtue-lite exhibitionist engages in such jack**s antics?
Dr. John Harris (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, U. of Texas at Austin) is the founder and president of The Center for Literate Values.