Coulter, retard, and the better debate

>> Saturday, October 27, 2012

Greetings, friends!

I’ve not determined to begin blogging earnestly again, but as I found myself sharing a video to Facebook and typing a long comment to go with it, it occurred to me that I really ought to just throw it up on my blog and say that I’ve blogged. :-) Video in question here (discussion of retard comment begins at 8:45):

I am not a fan of Ann Coulter because she says things that I am uncomfortable with and believe to be inappropriate (I stopped giving much weight to most of what she said during her 911 widow bashing phase, which I thought was genuinely offensive), and as a Christian I believe firmly that our words should be seasoned with salt and grace. But, that said, I believe Coulter is basically correct when it comes to the "word police" issue. Words aren't "policed" in a vacuum. There is almost always a motive behind that policing, often more political in nature than good-willed, and as well intended as those motives may be, the assumptions made by those doing the policing about those who don't agree with them often just aren't correct. People talk differently. They have different vocabularies, with different assigned meanings, and if we start policing language in the socio/political sphere and sense then we should not be surprised if/when we find ourselves thinking more about not saying anything "incorrect" and less about the substance of what we say. This latest Coulter incident is actually a good example of that.

I am not very concerned that Coulter chose "retard" instead of loser, stupid, dumb, imbecile, etc.. However, I do believe it is silly and disrespectful to call him any of those things. Now, you could say he isn't wise, and that's a good question to ask. You could say he is wrong, and that's a good question to ask. But stupid? A loser? Instead of looking at the merits of the substance of what she says we are debating whether or not it's okay to call someone a retard, and I believe our conversations have suffered because of it. As poor a choice of wording as “retard” is, the sin many have assigned isn’t that the substance of her charge was wrong and disrespectful but that she used an “insensitive” i.e. politically incorrect word. By this standard, Lawrence O’Donnell is okay to make the absurd and obscenely accusations he makes on a routine basis against those who disagree with him, simply because he doesn’t use words deemed politically incorrect by the word police.

If our goal is raise the standard of discourse in the public arena then we must stop obsessing with a litany of ill-defined incorrect words focus instead on the substance of what is said and the reasons it is said. I believe that would lead to a better debate. God bless and veritas supra omnis!


Jennifer October 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM  

I agree with the general spirit of your post--that the problem wasn't that she used an offensive word, but that she's engaging in unhelpful, disrespectful discourse that doesn't help along the political and policy conversation. However, I think the word itself is problematic, above and beyond that. If she HAD said just "loser" or something, it wouldn't have the ADDED issue of tarring an entire segment of the population. Think if she had used a racial slur there. Not to equate "retard" to, say, the n word, but the fact is that they are derogatory terms for groups of people based solely on their biology. I think retard IS worse. But I totally understand what you're saying.

That said, I'm fine never to think much about Ann Coulter ever again.

Mark Hutchins October 28, 2012 at 5:44 PM  

I think what you're basically saying, Jennifer, or what I'm hearing, is that disrespectful and/or inappropriate is always that...disrespectful and inappropriate...which I agree with. And I agree with that. :-)

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