[The following essay first appeared at Eternity Road on September 29, 2006. Inasmuch as the Left’s principal remaining weapon in the current campaign is their attempt to cause the Right to self-censor with charges of “racism” and such, it feels quite relevant to the moment. Decide for yourself, as always.]
Fran here. Those who know me personally are aware that, when goosed right, I can spin a skein of profanities that would make a longshoreman blush. It’s in the genes; Dad was a Navy veteran, and both the skill and the proclivity have “bred true.” Those who know me only through Eternity Road might find this surprising, as I neither use nor permit profanity here.
Under normal circumstances.
The essay you’ve begun features what we may euphemistically call “rough language,” and plenty of it. Oh my, yes. As rough as it gets, friends. I’m not kidding, and I’m not being coy or facetious about it, either. After the recent fracas over Virginia Senator George Allen’s alleged use of the word “nigger” thirty years ago, I started pondering the whole subject of linguistic taboos and their uses. I’ve come to some rather ugly conclusions, which, unfortunately, will require the use of some ugly words.
I repeat: I AM NOT KIDDING. The language will be ugly because the topic is ugly. The topic is ugly because ugly persons have been doing ugly things, in service to ugly objectives and ideals. Pace Ayn Rand, the ugliness won’t go away simply because we refuse to speak of it — especially if we accept the new shamans’ assertions of linguistic privilege.
To give you every chance to back away cleanly, I’m going to waste a few pixels on a blank barrier. If, rather than surfing away to some more genteel URL, you choose to press the Page Down key and read on, it will be entirely your decision.
Ah, here we are at last. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, linguistic taboos.
Among primitive tribes, a taboo was a mystical prohibition against a word or deed thought to anger the gods. The definition, rationalization, and enforcement of taboos were the province of the tribe’s shamans, to whom the propitiation of the gods was entrusted. Oftentimes, if a primitive society caught one of its members violating a taboo, its shamans would immediately offer him as a sacrifice to the gods, in the hope of averting an explosion of divine wrath.
In our modern lexicon, a taboo is a legally or socially enforced prohibition against speaking openly of certain things: usually, particular topics considered offensive by a politically privileged group. (Note the adverb “openly.” Many a taboo honored scrupulously in conduct open to general scrutiny is violated freely among intimates.) Today’s shamans, the definers and enforcers of taboos, are those politically privileged groups, often in collaboration with non-members who feel some sympathy with their aims or complaints.
What are the taboos du jour? I’m sure you can name a few:
- Differences between the sexes, particularly with regard to specific mental competences and the capacity for aggression or initiative;
- Differences between the races, particularly with regard to general intelligence, proclivity for violent, illegal, or antisocial behavior, and family feeling;
- The origins, nature, and consequences of homosexuality, particularly with regard to its potential mutability, its association with certain diseases, and its tendency to “proselytize” to the unformed young.
- The inheritability of general intelligence, and the extent to which post-natal factors can elicit it, stunt it, or compensate for genetic factors.
- The objective nature of limitations incurred because of handicaps, birth defects, and other irreparable physical conditions.
These are the premier taboo subjects of our day. Indeed, the taboos that cover them are so strong that even to mention that one has an interest in one of these subjects is to draw glares of disapproval and mutterings about one’s character and good sense.
Charles Murray, one of the titans of sociology in our time, said in an interview with Jason de Parle of the New York Times that when Richard Herrnstein approached him about collaborating in an investigation of the inheritability of general intelligence, he got the immediate feeling of having been invited to violate a taboo. (Notably, the article de Parle wrote about Murray was titled “The Most Dangerous Conservative In America.” Good old Times, always willing to let us decide things for ourselves.) The resulting book, The Bell Curve, was a marvel of careful scholarship and restrained reasoning…yet for daring to assert in public that a significant fraction of human intelligence is determined by genetic factors, the two were vilified roundly by every politically correct commentator in America. Indeed, quite a few un-PC persons disposed to agree with Herrnstein and Murray expressed a wistful regret that they’d kept their study and their conclusions to themselves.
Clearly, challenging a taboo is not something to be done lightly. Even here in America, it can have consequences that can be socially, occupationally, or politically devastating. Though no group has yet succeeded in winning a legal ban on what it considers offensive speech, efforts by several groups to suppress statements they find repugnant are unstinting.
One must ask why some subjects are tabooed. The answer is simple, but enormously daunting: to speak of it is to invite inquiry, which threatens the perquisites of the group behind the taboo. Since the American system enshrines freedom of speech as a sacred principle, we can see why taboos must be enforced by social means. Yet the operation of taboos has served to elevate the groups that promulgate them to a position of legal and political advantage over the rest of us, even though equality of all before the law, and a willful blindness toward group membership, are also fundamentals of the American creed.
The mechanism is equally simple: Smith, a member of a taboo-owning group, can always accuse an adversary — Jones, for instance — of violating the taboo out of the public eye. If the taboo-owning group has already been conceded some special status as a victim, and if it’s willing to exploit that status with adequate vigor, it will frequently be conceded guilty-until-proven-innocent powers of accusation. Jones is burdened with having to prove that he never said what Smith has accused him of saying — and it’s well established that one cannot prove a negative of this sort.
This is why accusations about the use of racial, sexual, or other taboo epithets have such force. Even if completely unsubstantiated, they can ruin Jones for life. Persons who fear to be tarred with the taboo-breaker brush will draw away from him reflexively. No one wants to be put in the position of having to prove that he never said this or that, nor did he ever allow a taboo statement to pass unchastized, no matter how simon-pure his motives, how spotless his character, and how well-attested his general benevolence might be.
The damage is done upon the instant a group is accorded enduring victim status, and the privilege of defining taboos. It’s a trump card that can be played over and over again, until society finally rears up on its hind legs and smashes the edifice of guilt built from it. Unfortunately, when that sort of house of cards collapses, it crushes quite a few lives beneath it.
Before we proceed, allow me to state a few things very, very plainly.
- I am a Caucasian of Irish and Italian descent, whose parents were immigrants from those lands.
- My loyalties are to my family and the United States of America. I would defend either or both to the death. Apart from a mortgage and a car loan, I owe nothing else to anyone.
- What matters most to me about others is their character: their willingness to respect the rights of others and to discharge their proper responsibilities, without whining about any of it.
- I believe that there is an American culture, and that it is infinitely superior to all the other cultures of the world, past or present. More, I believe that Americans are the finest people in the world — that no other land produces anything remotely comparable to our general standard of decency, justice, generosity, or good humor.
- I believe that the races, as conventionally defined, differ in various ways. The importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
- I believe that the sexes differ in various ways. As with racial differences, the importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
- I believe that homosexual sodomy is self-destructive, but that, at least in certain cases, sexual orientation can be changed.
- I believe that there is such a thing as general intelligence, that it is at least partly inherited, and that it varies widely.
- I believe that the handicapped should receive our sympathy and compassion as individuals to other individuals, but that they are not entitled to more as a matter of right.
- I believe that laws that mandate preferred treatment for the members of any group, however defined, are both unConstitutional and destructive.
- I hold these convictions not because anyone else holds them, but because the evidence of my senses and my own powers of reasoning have led me to them.
According to the major taboos of our time, this makes me a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic chauvinist abuser of the physically challenged. By copping to all this, I’ve violated all the major, politically correct taboos of our time: about race, gender, sexual orientation, the handicapped, and multiculturalism. Needless to say, the enforcers of those taboos would like to see me boiled in oil.
They can dip their outrage in beaten eggs, roll it in crushed walnuts, and shove it up their asses.
Perhaps the second-greatest crime to spring from preferential treatment for “victim” groups is this: it’s a powerful inducement to members of those groups to see themselves not as individuals, but as instances of the group first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively. Thus, many young black men who could achieve substantially on their own merits are seduced into victimist beliefs about the hostility and power of “the man,” and slide into permanent attitudes of envy, frustration, and resentment. Many young women quite capable of happiness and fulfillment, whether as careerists or as homemakers, are seduced into victimist beliefs about “glass ceilings” and “patriarchal oppression,” surrender their innocence and delight in the dance of the sexes, and live forever in a blend of resentment and fear. Many handicapped persons take to feeling they’re “owed;” many homosexuals take to feeling they’re “hated;” and so on throughout the universe of victim-status groups.
But the essence of Man is that each of us is individual and unique. We are individually motivated; individually pleased or displeased; individually able or unable; and individually responsible for our decisions and deeds. I cannot believe that anyone with the mental horsepower required by self-awareness is wholly unconscious of that. Yet many persons, apparently prizing group affiliation and its privileges more highly than self-respect, adopt total immersion in a group, and the renunciation of the privileges and responsibilities of individuality, as their modus vivendi.
My contempt for such persons is boundless. I was about to say that the English language lacks words adequate to express it, but in fact it doesn’t. Bide a while and you’ll see.
Nor is it only persons of inferior intelligence or abilities that sink to such depths. No one could accuse race-hustlers such as Cornell West or Jesse Jackson of stupidity. These are men of demonstrable talent. Yet they’ve given themselves to a racialist agenda. Similarly, no one could accuse Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon of inferior ability. One might quarrel with the uses to which they put their gifts, but the power of them is easily sensed. Yet they’ve given themselves to a gender-war agenda. In doing so, these persons have persuaded lesser souls, of lesser powers, to follow them and their agenda. And so it goes, among homosexuals…the handicapped…the “homeless”…and similarly with every category of humanity that has striven to be seen as victimized by anyone or any thing in any way.
The essence of the taboo in American society is linguistic: not to speak the forbidden thought or attitude. So one such as I, who holds many taboo beliefs, is supposed to remain silent about them all. That would reduce me to prayers, requests to pass the condiments, and the occasional statement of approbation for the New York Rangers. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to express myself rather more broadly than that.
But even those of us who defy the taboos ideologically are expected to obey their constraints on our vocabulary. Certain words are forbidden to us with a firmness that hints at a mouthful of soap to come.
Some of those words have an ugly cast. But equally ugly words have passed into common parlance:
…and no doubt, our language being a constantly evolving and expanding thing, there are new vulgarities related to sex acts, body parts, elimination, and the like that I haven’t yet learned.
The difference between those common vulgarities and the taboo words claimed by the victim-status groups is this: each of the taboo words is used freely within an owner-group that strives to deny it to outsiders with the force of the taboo:
- Victimist blacks often call one another “nigger,” often as an expression of fellowship or approbation. Indeed, a rap act of some notoriety named itself Niggers With Attitude, apparently without embarrassment.
- Homosexuals feel no constraint about calling one another “queers,” “dykes,” “queens,” or “faggots,” even if the rest of us are not licensed to do so. Indeed, one of its activist groups is named “Queer Nation.”
- Women who ascribe to a particular shade of feminism make free and frequent reference to their “cunts,” which is a hangin’ offense for any possessor of a Y chromosome. A professor of Women’s Studies at a relatively well-known university has been known to discourse on “cuntal dialectics.”
It’s one of my beliefs that, just as to every thing there is a season, to every word there is a proper application. This holds with special force for those words that have acquired their meaning through vulgarization. Perhaps the above uses, unconsciously self-damning as they are, have proved my point. The persons who employ them in such fashion deserve no better.
I could go on, but I believe the point has been made. The shamans of contemporary linguistic taboos have adopted nigger, faggot, cunt, and the other forbidden words as passwords, emblems of group membership — and membership, as American Express has been at pains to remind us, has its privileges. No one outside the shamans’ circle is permitted to speak the password; it’s an arrogation of a jealously guarded status. He who dares must be cut down, ground into the dust, and forbidden ever to speak at all, to any effect, in any context. For as in all systems of nymic magic, the word is deemed congruent with the thing: the taboo words are at the root of the shamans’ power. Failure to enforce the taboo would risk the loss of the group’s privileges and immunities, laboriously amassed over the decades of exploitation of others’ guilt.
Every circle of shamans must have a private language. Better that it be secret, but private above all. The taboo words and their use are all that distinguish the privileged from the hoi polloi. They must be guarded to the death.