Saturday, February 26, 2011

Whores, Scumbags, And Other Miscreants

My mother, God bless her, taught many valuable lessons in life. Along with learning how to mop properly as well as the necessity of porch-sweeping to a happy marriage, one of the most valuable is a simple one - don't call people names. Now, my mother took that to the extreme that she wasn't thrilled with nicknames. None of her siblings, with the exception of her oldest brother, had them; Eugene was always "Junior" because, well, he was Eugene Johnston, Jr. My father's family, on the other hand, referred to one another only by nicknames. For example, my father, whose first name is "Daniel", was until the end of his father's and brother's lives, "Boone", as in Daniel Boone. My mother always considered that slightly insulting, I think. Woe be unto anyone caught referring to a friend by anything other than their given name. Again, she didn't quite understand that the use of certain words is always context dependent. It is one thing, for example, to refer to one's best friend as "Dork", and refer to a member of a special education class in school as "Dork". Her attitude seemed to be that, if you avoided using them even in jest toward those you liked, you would be less likely to use them in all seriousness toward others you didn't even know.

Now, I would never claim I followed my own modified version of this teaching to the letter. All the same, exposure to the sheer variety of human life I have witnessed in my short span of time has driven home this most basic lesson. Whether it is an unmentionable word to be used in reference to a member of a religious or ethnic minority, a woman, or certain class-based epithets, I make an effort to steer clear of them. In particular this last, most commonly using phrases like "trailer trash" or "poor white trash" (PWT is a common acronym) I avoid for one simple reason. My generation of my family is barely one generation removed from what most would label that way. Furthermore, back during the 1990's, the treatment Paula Jones received from some of Pres. Clinton's supporters was horrible. I shall never forget one - it might even have been Paul Begala, who I never liked much anyway, even greasier than the President - who said, in reference to what was considered the baselessness of the charges, "Well, you know what happens when you drag a $20 bill through a trailer park." At that moment, I knew what was in the hearts and minds of these folks; nothing but contempt and disgust at a whole segment of the American public - the working poor - to whom the President not only offered sympathy, but for whom he and the rest of them should have been working tirelessly.

Now, I have a right-wing interlocutor who tosses around all sorts of epithets with relative ease. Phrases like "cheap whore", "scumbag", and "bastard" flow effortlessly from his fingertips. I have mentioned on several occasions that I find these terms objectionable, not least because they dehumanize those to whom they refer. At heart, really, that is my objection to the use of such extreme terms. Anyone who can compare a young woman using vulgarity to someone speaking like a cheap whore must, in that person's mind, have a class of persons who exhibit characteristics that person label's "cheap whore". Now, I'm not going to pretend there are not people of both genders who are free and loose with their sexual favors, for any number of reasons. On the other hand, calling such persons a whore strips them of their individual integrity, removes them from our center of care and concern. We no longer have to trouble ourselves with questions as to why that person may be acting that way, if their actions present a danger to themselves or others. A cheap whore is, well, just a cheap whore.

Whenever someone uses a term such as these - and there are plenty of others - to refer to a human being, they are not only, in their own mind, classifying such persons as existing within a group of persons whose existence is morally questionable. Such people are also, as I have pointed out, revealing themselves and the way they look at the world.

The world is full of all sorts of people, all individuals, with their own quirks and foibles, their own strengths and weaknesses. For me, it is far better to treat others as having all the integrity and dignity I believe I have. Labeling others, calling them names that reveal an attitude of indifference due to alleged moral turpitude, or socio-economic class, or racial, ethnic, or religious background is one of the few things I find morally reprehensible and worthy of calling out as such. To my mind there are no such things as "whores", cheap or otherwise; a bastard is an outmoded legal term that dismisses another person as of less worth because that person's parents weren't married at the time that person was born; I could continue on down the list, but I think you get the idea.

Jesus said that there are two things that fulfill the Law and Prophets - loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. When some who claim the name Christian toss around terms like this, and defend it in the name of an alleged Christian morality, it discredits the ministry of the churches to all persons. When we look out at the world, we should just see children of God, worthy of love and respect just because they exist; calling them whores and bastards in the name of God's morals makes it that much harder to reach them and convince them that they are, indeed, beloved of God.

Virtual Tin Cup

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