curses from Liberal Street Fighter
It is often pointed out to me that I am … harsh, abrasive, intense, profane, intemperate … rude. In fact, you will hear many people compaining about the decline of civility in general in our society today. There is, of course, some truth in that observation, but in many ways it is a huge LIE.
The plain fact is that civility is a one-way street in this country. If you are poor, powerless, gay, a woman … if perhaps you believe that religion is dangerous or that business SHOULDN’T be the “business” of America, then you are expected to remain quiet, respectful, temperate, quiet-mannered … to get with the program. The ugly fact of life in the feudal twenty-first century is that manners are a requirement for the peons. The deeper you are mired in peony, the more “civil” society demands you to be. The bosses, the wealthy, the “important” and popular, have carte blanche to shit on ANYONE they want, in any manner they choose. This, of course, flows down the societal hill, as we all strike back at the indignities we suffer at our “betters” by directing our wounded ire DOWNWARD. Anybody who works in a service industry knows this, and has experienced the growing nastiness over the past several years as the theocrats and free-market fundamentalists have risen ascendent.
I saw FUCK THAT. I say we redirect our anger where it belongs: at the feudal lords and their ecclesiastical enablers, and especially at the Democratic party courtiers in the House, Senate and consultocracy.
There is an interesting examination of cursing in the NY Times this week, in a piece entitled Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore. Cursing is, of course, only one aspect of civility, but it’s a good starting point.
researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that they have no idea what mystic model of linguistic gentility the critics might have in mind. Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, living or dead, spoken by millions or by a small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech, some variant on comedian George Carlin’s famous list of the seven dirty words that are not supposed to be uttered on radio or television.
The swear word is just the most overt, agressive form of breaking societal demands for civility. Looking at cursing highlights what rules about civil behavior are rooted in: control. Control of behavior, of belief, of opportunity and of access to power. It is the powerful who determine what is “proper” after all, and it is the powerful that demand obeisance to their rules:
Researchers have also examined how words attain the status of forbidden speech and how the evolution of coarse language affects the smoother sheets of civil discourse stacked above it. They have found that what counts as taboo language in a given culture is often a mirror into that culture’s fears and fixations.
“In some cultures, swear words are drawn mainly from sex and bodily functions, whereas in others, they’re drawn mainly from the domain of religion,” Dr. Deutscher said.
In societies where the purity and honor of women is of paramount importance, he said, “it’s not surprising that many swear words are variations on the ‘son of a whore’ theme or refer graphically to the genitalia of the person’s mother or sisters.”
The very concept of a swear word or an oath originates from the profound importance that ancient cultures placed on swearing by the name of a god or gods. In ancient Babylon, swearing by the name of a god was meant to give absolute certainty against lying, Dr. Deutscher said, “and people believed that swearing falsely by a god would bring the terrible wrath of that god upon them.” A warning against any abuse of the sacred oath is reflected in the biblical commandment that one must not “take the Lord’s name in vain,” and even today courtroom witnesses swear on the Bible that they are telling the whole truth and nothing but.
Among Christians, the stricture against taking the Lord’s name in vain extended to casual allusions to God’s son or the son’s corporeal sufferings – no mention of the blood or the wounds or the body, and that goes for clever contractions, too. Nowadays, the phrase, “Oh, golly!” may be considered almost comically wholesome, but it was not always so. “Golly” is a compaction of “God’s body” and, thus, was once a profanity.
The article points out, using chimpanzee studies to make the point, that there is an irony in these attempts to control language … that cursing is often a way of someone wronged or powerless to let off steam. It is a deeply ingrained way to AVOID actual physical conflict. Of course, power and privilege being the intoxicants that they are, the demands to control language come anyway, because they also understand that cursing elicits physical and emotional responses in others HEARING the “foul” language, and they fear that this verbal disrespect will spread to ACTUAL disrespect, and perhaps even rebellion.
That is what this is all really about. Nothing is considered more uncivil than the person who refuses not only to follow the demanded rules of discourse, but moreso the person who refuses to follow the demands of practice. Protesters, say, like Cindy Sheehan:
Cindy Sheehan, the rising star of the anti-war movement, remembers when people used to think of her as one of those crazy activists, speaking out for a cause, inconveniencing all who stumbled onto her path. She remembers, from her days camped outside President Bush’s ranch in Texas, how some drivers would shout out at her, “Get a job!”
Her response was always the same. “I’d say to them, `I have a job,’ ” Sheehan explained Monday night at the last of her New York events, at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “I’d say, `It’s a full-time job, and it’s to hold George Bush accountable.’ ” With that, the 1200-strong crowd of peace activists, war veterans, ministers, and high-school students went wild.
All of the rules are about maintaining the status quo. Remember that. These are times that call for intemperate language. These are times to ruffle feathers, to say NO. If you can, if you have the will or the ability or the bravery, these are times to DROP OUT. This is the real affront that Mrs. Sheehan offers. She is, by her actions, amplified by those around her, saying loudly, “THERE ARE THINGS OF GREATER VALUE THAN BUSINESS, THAN MONEY, THAN MAINTAINING THE CURRENT CORRUPT SYSTEM.
I admire those like Mrs. Sheehan who translate words into physical action. Sadly, I’ve never been good at that, but I will offer my profane words, my support and approbation in support of their efforts. These are the times to curse, to question and to demand.
One last note: it will do little good to make our demands of the Dauphin and his cronies and enablers. His churchmen look at our cries as affirmations that they are doing God’s work. No, our greatest ire must be directed at those who claim to champion us. At the lickspittal minor lords and ladies of Democratic Party at court. They may not rule, but they sup at the tables of those who do. The enjoy the gold sprinkled about by the corrupt merchants who back the Dauphin. The are just fine with the complete disenfrancisement of the poor and of African Americans. Senator Biden himself, resplendent in the tailored garments purchased with the help of his patrons at MBNA, has made it clear that women’s rights are not a first priority for us.
My greatest contempt, my most colorful curses, will continue to be directed UPWARD at those traitorous Lords and Ladies of the Democratic Party who sell us out to maintain their minor fiefdoms courtesy of the rich and the corporations.
More on that to follow.