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rrneck's Journal
rrneck's Journal
January 7, 2012

Indeed words are used to communicate and frame ideas

and it doesn't matter what words are used. That's the point.

How to retask a symbol:

The image on the left is a Torah cover. The center image is a Jewish woman in Nazi Germany. The image on the right is from a recent protest in Jerusalem.

Words mean exactly what we want them to mean, and we can change the meaning through the way they are used. The definition of a word is determined primarily by descriptive means with prescriptive annotations.

Lexicographers apply two basic philosophies to the defining of words: prescriptive or descriptive. Large 20th-century dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Webster's Third are descriptive, and attempt to describe the actual use of words.

The prescriptive/descriptive issue has been given much consideration in modern times. Most dictionaries of English now apply the descriptive method to a word's definition, and then, outside of the definition itself, add information alerting readers to attitudes which may influence their choices on words often considered vulgar, offensive, erroneous, or easily confused.

I had a friend once who insisted on using the made up word "murpin" in place of another. I found it annoying and told him constantly, "Look, I know you mean motherfucker, so why don't you just say motherfucker". If you call someone a fornicator of swine with undetermined parentage you have still called him a pig fucking son of a bitch. Demanding people sanitize language to suit our sensibilities is an exercise in futility and just leads to mendacious insinuations that drive hate and bigotry underground where it's harder to fight.

The ideas that are communicated by language are at issue, not the language itself. Language is plastic and can be stretched around any kind of hate and ugliness that can be dredged up from the worst mankind has to offer. Changing words doesn't change minds. Minds change words.
January 6, 2012

I disagree.

There are no bad words. And there are no good words. There are only words. They are tools we use to communicate ideas. Words themselves do not have magical properties that give them power. The ideas they transmit are what do the damage. I have always held that you can say anything to anyone under the right circumstances. Of course the operational envelope for some words is extremely narrow.

Is the color red a bad color? Is #b a bad note? Is a polka a bad dance step? Okay, I'll give you that one. But it's not the form itself that is evil, but the ideas that are transmitted by the form. For example, I'm currently working on three paintings that contain a swastika. And I don't mean there's one in there somewhere either. The shape of each work is based on a swastika. The paintings are about the erosion of the commons, corporatism and corporate influence on government at the expense of the people, and the brutalization of people through the elimination of cultural alternatives to the profit motive. So a swastika, the universal symbol of fascism, is a perfectly appropriate symbol to include in the work. The formal challenge is how do I include this very powerful symbol in the work and not have it overwhelm it at the expense of what I'm trying to say. A large part of that challenge involves the viewer. My Jewish friends spot it right off while others don't find their way to it nearly as quickly or not at all. That's the challenge; how do I, as an artist, use the tools of the visual arts to convey a message to people with widely differing opinions and experiences, say anything worthwhile and make them understand it?

There will always be stigmatizing language because there will always be people willing to stigmatize others. Make one word verboten and they will just gin up another. Unfortunately, the effort expended to control language will be wasted on a Pyrrhic victory that won't significantly change anyone's mind. Just because they can't say it doesn't mean they won't think it. Take a look at how this grinning fucker handles the problem of language usage to spread his bullshit. To really appreciate it turn down the volume and try to pretend you don't know who he is.

You put all that work into language control and some asshole like this can just step right around it and continue to spew his message of hate without missing a beat.

Liberal ideology is nurturing by nature. We leap to empathize with the travails of others. That's how caring and supportive communities get formed. But liberals are human too and subject to the same foibles as anybody else. Sometimes we use our empathy for others as an excuse to exercise our umbrage to satisfy our ego and sense of self righteousness. When we are tempted to use the misfortunes of others for our own selfish ends we should remind ourselves that it's not about us. The impulse to guard our own sense of affected empathy is a good way to divide us and create circular firing squads. We are so busy lambasting each other we can't pull together to get anything done.

You can't tell people how they feel, and you can't legislate how they should feel in Washington or at DU. The most we can hope for is to pay attention, try to give people the benefit of the doubt, try to work it out if there is a misunderstanding and if you think you're skating close to the edge be extra clear and extra careful.

And if you fuck up, apologize and try to do better next time.

January 6, 2012

It seems fairly simple to me.

1. Chew people out for what they do, not for who they are.

2. Don't insult fellow DUers.

I think there are grey areas though, as well there should be. For some reason I don't mind calling Michelle Bachman an "idiot". But I wouldn't call her a "retard" here.

An idiot, dolt, or dullard is a mentally deficient person, or someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way.

Mental retardation (MR) is a generalized disorder appearing before adulthood, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors.

There is a much greater difference between the way those two words are understood than between the two words themselves. In everyday use, one is worse than the other when used as an epithet. Our use of language should depend on our sensitivity to those hearing it. Since this is a public forum we have to take into consideration the wide and largely anonymous number of people who will read our words. That awareness will tend to make our discourse a bit more sanitized than it might otherwise be among intimates.

I think it is incumbent on those speaking and those listening to exercise sensitivity and pay attention to exactly who is being lambasted and why. For those speaking, only insult people outside of DU. For those listening, try to remember that if someone is being insulted it's not about you, so try not to take something personally that wasn't intended to be so. Of course if you want to call our president something unfortunate you take your chances. I don't think it's a good idea to pick on the friends of friends either.

Liberals tend to reflexively go to bat for the underdog and insulting even a douchebag, scum sucking, piece of shit, ass licking, reject from the slop bucket bottom of the gene pool like G.W. Bush will strike a sympathetic cord in the hearts of people around here.

January 5, 2012

Then give up. But please note

that I did not say nor did I imply that sexism is a specifically male trait or a an acceptable way for men or women to behave. Aggressive, confrontational affect was crucial for the survival of our species for most of its history. We live in a world today that does not require every man to behave that way, nevertheless men were designed to be able to do that and evolution can't turn on a dime. That's why civilized societies try to have have sports instead of wars. And of course, when we run out of oil all that aggressiveness may come in handy again. I predict an ugly fight in our future just to keep the lights on.

If you feel you have the right, and I think you do, to demand sensitivity and consideration for your sensibilities then the only way to make that happen is to go over there and get it. If you need a majority to get it done then round one up. It won't be easy and I have no idea how you will accomplish that task. In any event don't expect the men to be the only ones changed.

It seems to me that the injustices perpetrated against women and minorities were done not because of who they were, but for money. It always comes down to resources. There may be a bunch of jerks over there, but they are a bunch of jerks that will probably vote Democratic, and that's what counts. If you want respect then work to get your cut of the pie. That effort will require you to work with guys that will spend a fair amount of time looking at your chest and calling you baby, but who suffer from the same financial injustice that causes sexism and bigotry. Politics makes strange bedfellows in Washington and at Democraticunderground.

Push back and keep pushing. Who gives a fuck if they retaliate? Retaliate back. It's what men do, and it doesn't hurt if women do the same.

January 5, 2012


So go over there and straighten them out.

Of course, you run the risk of having your opinion changed if you do. That's the difference between taking care of business yourself and having management defend your sensibilities for you. You may find that your understanding of the issue isn't as complete or correct as you think it is and have to admit that some of those neanderthals over there are at least a tiny little bit right.

I'll give you an easy straight line here. When you read what I have written do I sound intelligent? I usually use, when I take the time and trouble, a higher level of lexical density and a more expansive vocabulary than most people. But if you met me face to face you would swear you were talking to the guy on the right. I have been misunderstood a lot because of my accent. It was actually pretty painful to go to graduate school and have everyone there assume I wore a pillowcase on my head on weekends just because of the way I spoke. It takes work to understand and change people, and that effort entails a degree of risk. The question we should always ask ourselves is do we care more about change or our own ideology?

The Democratic party is not an exclusive club or the last bastion of moral integrity in a corrupt world. It's a political party, and political parties don't win elections by behaving like a bunch of elitists telling people how to feel about each other. The reality is that there is no justice, morality, or good taste in politics. Politics is the art of who gets what and the purpose of government is the equitable distribution of resources. Everything else is just window dressing and the real work of cultural reform is done by people working directly with people.

If you really believe you are right here, and I largely agree with you, then go get 'em. Asking Skinner, a bunch of anonymous jurors, or the government to compel people to respect you just won't work.

January 5, 2012

It is a room full of people who need to be understood.

A theory of mind is a uniquely human trait. A good question to ask when we hear a phrase like "suck on it" is why it was used. Was it used as a personal insult, an insult toward a group of people, a reference to something that has nothing to do with sex, an unintentional slip of the lip, or a holdover from an old habit that has simply gone unnoticed? And that's just a small sampling of why someone might use a particular phrase. And the only way to know why someone uses it it to get into their head and find out.

I have never liked the underlying purpose of the whole "political correctness" thing on either side of the aisle. It makes no sense to me to expect that demanding someone use a certain kind of language will result in a change in the way they think. They may not say it, but there is nothing to keep them from thinking it. It only results in a the promotion of disingenuous behavior, unenforceable social criteria by authorities that have no business doing so, and the distortion and ossification of the language. It only creates a minefield of confusion for those who aren't lucky enough to have the power to demand what is said by others.

Another example from my experience: I heard racial epithets, homophobic slurs and sexist innuendos that would curl your hair every day. But in something like a serious conversation about equal rights with those same users of that language most of the time the guys using them were actually very accepting and supportive of women, gays, and people of color. You know why? We worked together every day. We all had the same shitty job for the same shitty pay working for the same shitty sons of bitches.

In too small a nutshell I am reminded of a trite truism that is nevertheless pretty accurate: Change is not an event, it's a process.

January 5, 2012

The definition of what's ok and what's not

depends heavily on what is being said to whom and why. Sports talk is invariably testosterone laden and confrontational. It's part of being male and sports is a male dominated activity. Hanging out with the guys means you have to listen to a lot of guy talk. It frequently isn't pretty and on a political discussion board full of liberals it seems very out of place. That's why the sports forum (and the guns forum and the religion forum) were created. To get them out of the way of serious political discussion. They are also places where people who may not have been Democrats in the past find their way to a place where they find common ground with liberals. Every big tent needs a door.

Here's another example. I love where I live. Since I moved out here I haven't had to offer to kick the shit out of anybody even once. I'm not a big guy nor am I very aggressive. That's just the kind of attitude you have to have if you're going to work on loading docks because those are the people you're dealing with. And none of those people makes enough money to consider themselves Republicans. I'm trained as an artist and it usually took about six months for someone to ask me, "What kinda art you make"? The best answer is, "Crazy shit nobody understands." That always gets a laugh. After that it takes at least another six months of cussing them on loading docks for someone to offer to have an actual conversation about art. That's jut how long it takes.

I'm not saying that every sports fan is a knuckle dragging wingnut, but the attitude that goes along with sports flies in the face of the kind of politics that have driven the Democratic party for the last half century. Identity politics was a wonderful thing in the seventies, but it has cost Democrats a lot of elections since around 1980 and will continue to do so until we learn that everyone is not as sensitive to linguistic aesthetics as your average liberal. In a place like the sports forum they're gonna cross the line. The best way to deal with it isn't necessarily outsourcing it to a set of rules handed down by management, but going over there and straightening them out personally. It's a lot more work, but it pays off in the long run.

In terms of the whole cheerleader thing he was fucking with you, plain and simple. It wasn't right to intentionally needle you like that and the thread should have been locked. That's the difference between posting images of cheerleaders because football has cheerleaders and posting them as a personal attack. The best solution for dealing with a bully is to not let them get to you and give back better than you get. It may be "their place" but there's no lock on the door. Go over there and fuck with them right back. If it works the way it's supposed to everybody will learn something.

January 5, 2012

That's a very good question

that should be asked constantly. Unfortunately there will be no clear answer. Sexual terminology reduced to a colloquialism depends on the context in which it is offered and received. Language is plastic and can refer to any number of things that may or may not be prejudicial.

"Suck on it" could be a sexist, homophobic slur or it could refer to "go suck an egg" or "suck air you windbag". Add to that the reality that we are in a public forum with areas that are understood to be semi private places for those who share specific interests. So if someone says "suck on it" is the phrase offered in public or between intimates in a private conversation?

We find trash talk and images of cheerleaders in the sports group, references to goblins, thugs and punks in the guns group, accusations of religious graft in the religion forum, and insulting references to the intelligence and character of Republicans all over the website. While words have power and some words have more power than others, much of that power depends on the opinion of the individual hearing it. In a place like this, with such a wide range of people in on the conversation, I don't know of any way to establish an enforceable understanding of any particular phrase. And I really don't mind. Language is supposed to evolve, and we are watching the process right here.

For example, I post a lot in the guns group. I don't like the use of the terms "goblin", "thug" or "punk" and I think it's wrong to revel in the death of anyone no matter the circumstances. Sometimes, when I have the time and energy to fool with it, I take issue with the terms and how they are used with whoever uses them and we talk about it. I don't know whether I change any minds or not, and that's just fine. That's how it's supposed to work. People talk and meaningful change takes time.

Back when the concept of recycling was new those cardboard soda can recycling boxes appeared in the halls of my undergraduate school. I had an English professor who, for that time and place, was unusually environmentally conscious. I noticed that as we walked down the halls he would frequently reach down and pick up soda cans and put them in the recycling boxes. He didn't make a big show of it or expect anybody else to do it. It was just a thing he did. And I found myself following his example.

I think that's how it's supposed to work. We can't tell people how to feel, and we can't demand they use certain words in certain contexts and expect our language or feelings to change in any meaningful way. I can see why you would find that use of language annoying an I don't necessarily disagree with you. To my mind, the only meaningful way to change behavior you find unfair or insulting is to wander over there from time to time and talk to them about it. Often as not you will be beaten about the head and shoulders but eventually the jerks will be purged by their jerkiness or learn to behave themselves and we will all benefit. Civilized behavior depends on generosity, and generosity means giving first.

January 4, 2012

There are no Shakespeares here.

I find the new DU fascinating. The admins appear to be trying to let the cats herd themselves. It will be an interesting experiment to see whether it will cause us to devour ourselves or take flight and swoop around like a flock of starlings. This whole jury system gives us a window into how hard it is to decide if someone is really out of line or not. Although I doubt he would admit it, I'm pretty sure Skinner is laughing his ass off at our efforts to manage this thing ourselves.

It seems to me that part of the problem when it comes to being a juror is that we just don't have enough to work with in the post in question to make an informed decision. I have noticed any number of suggestions regarding clarification of rules or the establishment of some sort of standard to guide us, which may be a good idea, but I think it might be better if before we do that we simply try to give each other something more to work with before we kick it up to a jury. Just like in the real world we don't adjudicate bad people, we adjudicate bad acts. Since none of us is Shakespeare it won't hurt to have a little patience and actually talk to someone to get to the root of what they are trying to say before we indict them.

Toward that end here are a few suggestions to chew on or, if you like, an excuse to rake me over the coals. Either way could be fun.

1. Try not to assume the worst. This is just an internet message board. The only access you have to the vast majority of other members is what they write here. If someone posts here for long they will reveal a few details about their lives, but try not to assume you understand even a sliver of who they really are or why they say the things they say.

2. Ask for clarification. If that little bell (or klaxon horn) goes off in your head when you read what somebody says, ask them to elaborate. This can do three things: It will allow them to support their opinion and give you important information that you may not have considered. It will give them a signal that they are on the way to screwing up and an opportunity to back off. It will give you ammunition to really skewer them if they need skewering. Either way it's a win, win, win.

3. Listening is not just half the conversation, it's about ninety percent of it. Again, if you pay attention not just to what somebody says, but consider what they mean when they say it one of two things can happen: You may learn something new or you will know just how to hoist them on their own petard without a lot of linguistic effort.

4. Try and be clear and give people some objective information to work with. If you think some person or issue is an outrage and annoys the piss out of you, give people something to discuss in addition to your emotions. Surrounding ourselves only with people that simply feel the same way we do is how self destructive cliques form. Nobody learns anything new in an echo chamber.

5. Everybody has a story. I don't think I've met anyone in my entire life that has not had to endure some soul crushing experience, debilitating condition, permanently disabling injury or horrible social injustice. We are at our best when we are trying to figure out what has happened to others rather than stumping for our own pet misfortunes.

6. Nobody's perfect. Relax and grow a skin.

January 4, 2012

It's real simple.

Here's the rationale:

1.People don't want to die
2.People don't want to restrict the right of others to defend themselves.
3.People enjoy precision and closure.

The first two shouldn't need explanation. The third might although for someone with OCD it shouldn't be a stretch. Some people simply enjoy living their lives with precision. They enjoy feeling like they have their shit together. Carrying a gun is no small thing and you have to really have your shit together to do it right. If you haven't noticed, not a few of the firearms enthusiasts here have a military or LEO background. Others have an interest in engineering or machine work. People who do that for a living rather enjoy doing things by the numbers and figuring close. The mindset required for firearms demands that kind of thinking.

There are very few things in this world that say closure more than a bullet leaving the muzzle of a gun. I can almost guarantee that anybody that ever carried a gun and even took it remotely seriously has considered exactly what would have to happen for them to pull the trigger. You have to think that way to do it right. You have to know the law and how it would apply under any number of circumstances. That's just part of responsible gun ownership.

Now, I'd be willing to bet that at this point you are thinking, "If people like thinking that way why does it have to involve a gun?" It doesn't necessarily have to involve a gun at all. If I really want to focus like that a gun isn't my favorite means of doing so. Nothing says focus and pay attentionto me like throwing a motorcycle into a turn and feeling that footpeg touch down. Personally I find thinking like that for extended periods of time exhausting. I'm trained as an artist and I hate numbers with a passion. What's more, I'm a process artist. That means that the process of making art is actually more important than the actual work. You can well imagine how I feel about closure. But I own guns, and I have to reconfigure my mindset to one that applies to the handling of firearms when I pick one up. The fact remains that if people enjoy thinking with precision it isn't your or my goddamn business how they go about it. Period.

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