Response to David Blankenhorn's Response to Me Regarding The Definition Of Bigotry

(On Family Scholar’s Blog, David Blankenhorn responded to one of my earlier posts. In comments, David Schraub responded in turn. I then posted this comment, but thought I’d also post it here, so Alas and TADA readers who aren’t following FSB closely will get a chance to follow the debate.)

(Following Mr. Blankenhorn’s lead, I will refer to David and David as “Mr. Blankenhorn” and “Mr. Schraub,” respectively.)

Mr. Schraub has covered most of what I’d say, and frankly said it better than I would have.

But to his excellent comment, I’d add that dictionaries are not prescriptive, and to wave a dictionary definition around as if it were prescriptive displays a misunderstanding of how English works.

If a dictionary definition doesn’t describe how people commonly use a word, then the dictionary definition is incomplete. (The linguist Stephen Pinker discusses this in his book The Language Instinct.) Dictionaries are updated very slowly; it’s not uncommon for dictionary definitions to lag a decade or more behind actual usage by English speakers.

Mr. Blankenhorn, you suggest that my definition of “bigotry” is an “entirely new and idiosyncratic definition” — which is pretty amazing, since only five days ago you wrote “I like [Mr. Deutsch's] definition just fine, and I don’t see much difference between it and what I said.”

But, as Mr. Schraub correctly observes, there’s nothing new or idiosyncratic about my usage! It’s common — especially among liberals (and I am a liberal) — to ascribe bigotry to things that aren’t people, and thus possess no intent. Processes, policies, laws, arguments, TV shows, songs, comic strips, and goodness knows other things are described as bigoted (or racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or classist, or ablist, etc) all the time.

So while you may disagree with that usage, Mr. Blankenhorn, it is nonetheless an extremely common usage in contemporary English speech. It’s especially common, I suspect, among some (not all) of the most highly educated speakers; go to Harvard or Yale or even my beloved Oberlin, and few people will find it odd if you refer to a policy or an idea or a TV show as bigoted. To call that usage “entirely new and idiosyncratic” is ludicrous.

* * *

I admit, there is an argument I’m trying to avoid. It goes something like this:

JILL: Even though crack cocaine and powder cocaine are objectively very similar substances, crack, overwhelmingly used by black people, is punished far more harshly than equal amounts of powder. The effect of this federal law is bigoted, in that black people are punished much more harshly than white people for the same crime.

LUCY: Are you saying the Senators who wrote the law were bigots? What evidence do you have that they were acting out of malice towards black people? How dare you maliciously attack Senators this way, just as the commies once maliciously attacked FDR?

Jill wants to talk about a bigoted policy. But Lucy diverts the discussion from one about policy, to one about what’s in people’s hearts. A few points about this:

1) Note that this tactic Lucy uses also changes who we’re discussing. Jill was talking about harms to black people; but Lucy diverts the discussion to one being about Senators, an overwhelmingly white group of people.

Similarly, when I talk about how banning same-sex marriage is a bigoted policy, the main thing I’m discussing is how that policy harms same-sex couples and their children. When someone responds “how dare you call me a bigot!” — even though I’ve done no such thing — what they’re generally doing is kicking LGBT people out of the center of the discussion, and instead attempting to make the discussion all about what’s in straight people’s hearts.

2) When Lucy changes the debate to what’s in someone’s heart, she’s cutting off a potentially fruitful debate about policy, and replacing it with a useless debate about what’s in people’s hearts. How can Jill possibly know what’s in the hearts of the 50 or more people who in some way contributed to writing a policy? How could such a thing possibly be proven or disproven?

The debate is turned into garbage by Lucy, who it would appear prefers to spend her time in a discussion that looks like this:

JILL: Anyone who supports this policy is a bigot!
LUCY: You’re just calling anyone who disagrees with you a hater!

Mr. Blankenhorn, is that the discussion you want to have? I hope it’s not. But that’s where you’re driving this discussion, by refusing to accept that we can discuss if a policy is bigoted without discussing what’s in people’s hearts.

* * *

I want to have a discussion of one of the things that is crucial to me and to most supporters of marriage equality — fighting bigotry and inequality against LGBT people — and I want to do it without attacking you or Ms. Marquardt personally. But I can’t do that if you refuse to meet me halfway.

Look, there are (as far as I can see) three positions here.

1) Any discussion of how a policy is bigoted, is the same as saying that anyone advocating that policy is a bigot, and is a personal attack. If Barry claims otherwise, he’s being disingenuous. Therefore, Mr. Deutsch should just go ahead and say that Blankenhorn is a bigot!

Position 1 is untenable for a debate, because it’s not fair to Mr. Blankenhorn to have to put up with personal attacks.

2) Any discussion of how a policy is bigoted, is the same as saying that anyone advocating that policy is a bigot, and is a personal attack. If Mr. Deutsch claims otherwise, he’s being disingenuous. Therefore discussion of how policies might be bigoted against LGBT people should be taken off the table.

Position 2 is untenable for a debate, because it’s not fair to me to take one of my crucial issues off the table as a prerequisite for having a discussion.

3) We can talk about how a policy might be bigoted without implicitly accusing everyone who favors that policy of being a bigot.

Obviously that’s the position I favor.

But Mr. Blankenhorn, here’s my question for you.

Position #1 and position #2 are both untenable foundations for debate; #1 is unfair to you, #2 is unfair to me.

You seemingly reject position #3, as well.

So could you please propose a position #4, as an alternative?

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82 Responses to Response to David Blankenhorn's Response to Me Regarding The Definition Of Bigotry

  1. 1
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Without going into details, I found that the OED hadn’t updated the definition of a word for over a century.

  2. 2
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    How about this?

    JILL: Even though crack cocaine and powder cocaine are objectively very similar substances, crack, overwhelmingly used by black people, is punished far more harshly than equal amounts of powder. The effect of this federal law is bigoted, in that black people are punished much more harshly than white people for the same crime.

    LUCY: There were a variety of historical reasons why someone might have passed the laws, and even now there are still a variety of reasons why someone might want to differentiate between those drugs. If the reasons are valid, it’s not bigoted.* By calling the difference “bigoted,” you’re trying to pretend a priori that those reasons aren’t worth discussing.

    Worse yet, you’re trying to deflect the entire discussion away from those reasons, by deliberately describing the position as “bigoted.” You know damn well that there’s a social hazard there, and you’re trying to misuse what amounts to an ad hominem association to affect a policy debate.

    We might have discussed the issues about crack v. powder cocaine. We might have discussed the issue–an interesting one–about neutral laws with disparate effects. There’s an ongoing debate regarding “disparate impact on ___” and the links to “unlawfully or unethically discriminatory against _____.” There are similar ethical debates about the degree to which we should consider potential impacts of laws. A lot of intelligent people come down on both sides of the debate.

    I’m sorry…. I meant that some intelligent people come down on one side, and some people–obviously of questionable morals–come down on the bigoted side.

    I’ll be damned if I’ll discuss the issue with you, if you plan to toss labels around.

    -Lucy.

    * Unless you are in the camp who believes that “anything which has a negative effect on ___ is bigoted against ____ and/or ____ist.” In which case you have a different set of problems.

  3. 3
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Also:

    1) Any discussion of how a policy is bigoted, is the same as saying that anyone advocating that policy is a bigot, and is a personal attack. If Barry claims otherwise, he’s being disingenuous. Therefore, Mr. Deutsch should just go ahead and say that Blankenhorn is a bigot!

    Position 1 is untenable for a debate, because it’s not fair to Mr. Blankenhorn to have to put up with personal attacks.

    Now, THAT’S disingenuous. The solution to Mr. Blankenhorn is for you to avoid using “bigoted.” (as opposed to “unfair,” “unjust,” “improper,” etc.)

    2) Any discussion of how a policy is bigoted, is the same as saying that anyone advocating that policy is a bigot, and is a personal attack. If Mr. Deutsch claims otherwise, he’s being disingenuous. Therefore discussion of how policies might be bigoted against LGBT people should be taken off the table.

    Position 2 is untenable for a debate, because it’s not fair to me to take one of my crucial issues off the table as a prerequisite for having a discussion.

    Disingenuous again. You don’t need to take the issue off of the table; you can still discuss the merits of DOMA, and whether or not it is unfair, unjust, or improper. You just need to change one, little, word.

    I don’t like DOMA. It is a horrible law. But I’m capable of describing it without using “bigoted” to refer to either my opponents or my opponents’ position. So are you.

    Here’s the root of the debate:

    1) Bigotry isn’t an especially difficult word to get around. You can convey the exact same point with simple, non-controversial language. Its not an unusual term of art.

    2) The reason that people insist on using “bigotry” or other words like it, is because of its negative, ad-hom-like, associations. After all if “bigotry” were NOT being used for its ad hominem benefits, then there would be no particular reason to use it in the face of protest and widely available alternatives.

    3) This tactic isn’t limited to the liberal sphere. The right wing has done it plenty of times, including “Communist” or “traitorous” or “unamerican” or “socialist” etc. It sucks when they do it, too. You should be ashamed to be using the same tactic, and even more embarrassed to claim it’s “civil discourse.”

    4) But, of course, it works. People use nasty labels and terminology because they work. Are the ends worth the means?

  4. 4
    nobody.really says:

    So could you please propose a position #4, as an alternative?

    This discussion baffles me. Position 4 seems so obvious, gin-and-whiskey was able to spot it before 8am: Find substitutes for the word bigot.

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Amp uses the word bigot and its variations in the same manner as most English-speaking people, and that we can find this same usage in the King James Bible, Shakespeare’s sonnets and the collective works of Maya Anjelou. Imagine that Amp has no duty in law or social custom to avoid using the term in precisely the manner he uses it. Imagine that only Blankenhorn, alone in all the world, has difficulty with the manner in which Amp uses the term.

    Nevertheless — what difficulty arises from avoiding that term when speaking with Blankenhorn?

  5. 5
    paul says:

    Hmm. “Has a negative disparate impact, not at present visibly justified by reasonable consideration of current conditions, in line with other structural disparate impacts on the group in question, such that the possibility its effect is consistent with the intentions of a bigot cannot immediately be excluded.” Rolls right off the tongue.

    “Handy” for short.

  6. 6
    MisterMephisto says:

    What happens when those who support DOMA (or any other policy, really) decide that they don’t like what they support being called “unjust”, “unfair”, or “improper” either?

    I mean, since we’re assuming that whatever we’re labeling the policy automatically “tars” that policy’s supporters with the same brush, no one wants to be labeled “unjust” or “unfair” either. And certainly no one thinks that what they believe is “improper”.

    I mean, if that’s the response, (which is what seems to be being advocated here by gin-and-whiskey nobody.really), then clearly there still isn’t any interest in discussing the fairness, or justice, or impropriety, or bigoted-ness of the policy, because those on the other side can just as easily draw the line somewhere else.

  7. 7
    Myca says:

    The best comment on the reluctance of bigots to allow non-bigots to use the perfectly accurate and useful word “bigoted” that I’ve ever seen.

    I also have to wonder if ‘racist’ sets off people’s alarms. How about ‘conservative’? ‘Radical’? How far into sanitizing language do we have to go before it’s enough?

    —Myca

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I said:

    We might have discussed the issues about crack v. powder cocaine. We might have discussed the issue–an interesting one–about neutral laws with disparate effects. There’s an ongoing debate regarding “disparate impact on ___” and the links to “unlawfully or unethically discriminatory against _____.” There are similar ethical debates about the degree to which we should consider potential impacts of laws. A lot of intelligent people come down on both sides of the debate.

    You said:

    MisterMephisto says:
    I mean, if that’s the response, (which is what seems to be being advocated here by gin-and-whiskey nobody.really), then clearly there still isn’t any interest in discussing the fairness, or justice, or impropriety, or bigoted-ness of the policy, because those on the other side can just as easily draw the line somewhere else.

    That is precisely the opposite of what I said. I am more than happy to discuss the justice or fairness of things. I’m just not willing to discuss them with people who call me names or who use equivalent tactics.

    A retraction would be appreciated.

  9. 9
    Myca says:

    I’m just not willing to discuss them with people who call me names or who use equivalent tactics.

    Words have definitions.

    Saying, “this policy is bigoted,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a bigot,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a shithead.”

    And I think you need to reread MisterMephisto’s comment, because you seem to have totally missed his obvious point about sanitizing language and moving goalposts.

    —Myca

  10. 10
    Emberly says:

    “Supporters of a bigoted policy” is one of the more value-neutral ways that I can think of to describe those who are in favor of same sex marriage bans.

    I suppose I could also say “supporters of an unjust policy” (which Gin and Whiskey seems to think would be a good alternative) or even “opponents of equal rights for LGBT couples”. But I cannot see how these are much different then the first statement with the ‘B’ word.

    In a personal discussion with a SSM opponent who was an acquaintance or family member I might choose to put things even more mildly (“I know you are genuinely trying to defend family values, but this has terrible unintended consequences for actual families”). I might choose to regulate my vocabulary to keep their guard down and possibly win them over. That type of self-editing is not something that it would occur to me to do for David Blankenhorn, who (so far as I can tell) is an informed and intelligent leader within the anti-SSM movement and not in need of any coddling, just general civility.

    In a formal discussion of whether or not a policy that gives LGBT couples fewer rights than straight couples should be enacted, the term “bigoted”, when used to describe policies rather than people, seems relevant and appropriate. Especially since, if policies enforcing marriage segregation are bigoted, that is one of the major reasons NOT to support them.

    Also, I know I am echoing Thene in an earlier thread, but how is it that any remote inference that someone who actively opposes equal rights based on sexual orientation and gender might hold a bigoted position can be seen as outrageous and uncivil in a way that arguing that loving committed LGBT families should not have the same rights as heterosexual families is not? I truly fail to understand.

  11. 11
    Myca says:

    Also, I know I am echoing Thene in an earlier thread, but how is it
    that any remote inference that someone who actively opposes equal
    rights based on sexual orientation and gender might hold a
    bigoted position can be seen as outrageous and uncivil in a way that
    arguing that loving committed LGBT families should not have the same
    rights as heterosexual families is not? I truly fail to understand.

    Yes. This. Absolutely.

    If calling a position bigoted is bad, then opposing civil rights for gay people must be much worse, what with it having actual consequences and the implication that gay people are lesser humans and all.

    But of course the difference is that the people whose position is being called bigoted are heterosexual, and the people whose rights are being denied are gay, so yeah, I can see how that would be less important.

    —Myca

  12. 12
    nobody.really says:

    Nevertheless — what difficulty arises from avoiding that term when speaking with Blankenhorn?

    Hmm. “Has a negative disparate impact, not at present visibly justified by reasonable consideration of current conditions, in line with other structural disparate impacts on the group in question, such that the possibility its effect is consistent with the intentions of a bigot cannot immediately be excluded.” Rolls right off the tongue.

    Indeed it does – at least when compared with that lengthy discourse Amp has had to put forth defending the use of the word bigot. I can’t see how anyone could say that using the word bigot saves time and effort, given the time and effort displayed here and elsewhere in defending this word choice.

    As an aside, I must point out that Paul’s substitute language defines a bigot in terms of consequences that would be consistent with “the intentions o f a bigot.” In other words, Paul understands the term bigot to imply something about a person’s intentions – all Amp’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. This illustrates the challenge of defending this word choice.

    What happens when those who support DOMA (or any other policy, really) decide that they don’t like what they support being called “unjust”, “unfair”, or “improper” either?
    * * *
    I also have to wonder if ‘racist’ sets off people’s alarms. How about ‘conservative’? ‘Radical’?

    I think of words as tools. I try to decide upon what I want to accomplish, and then I pick the tools best suited to the task.

    If you want to engage in combat, go right ahead and use whatever words you like. I don’t prefer this kind of combat, in part because my allies often have greater vulnerability to hurtful words than do my adversaries.

    If you want to engage in reasoning, however, then you may want to choose different tools. In this context I rarely find any use for words such as “unjust,” “unfair,” “radical,” “conservative,” etc. These words imply conclusions. If I haven’t persuaded a person to my point of view using other words, then these words will accomplish nothing; and if I have persuaded them, then these words still accomplish nothing.

    I try not to tell my audience that something is beautiful. I offer my audience a factual description, and respect the audience members enough to draw their own conclusions about a thing’s beauty.

    I respect few people’s reasoning skills more than Amp’s. While I don’t envy Amp’s task of defending the use of the word bigot, he is mounting a valiant effort. But to what end? I still have not heard anyone identify the harm of presenting arguments to Blankenhorn without relying on the word bigot.

    So I offer Amp a true challenge, one worthy of his talents: the challenge of courage and generosity. Does Amp really need to fear that, deprived of the word bigot, his ideas will cease to persuade? While no words will pry open the closed mind (“You cannot awaken the one who merely pretends to sleep….”), Amp’s arguments will reach anyone who has ears to hear them.

    Have confidence, Amp! A person with all the tools at your disposal has no need of this rusty old relic.

  13. 13
    Myca says:

    Although I’m wary of the whole “trade race for sexual orientation” method, I do think that it might be useful here.

    Do you really think it ought to be more socially acceptable to argue for making interracial marriage illegal than it is to call that position racist?

    Because it seems clearly and obviously racist to me.

    —Myca

  14. 14
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Myca says:
    10/4/2010 at 11:41 am
    Saying, “this policy is bigoted,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a bigot,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a shithead.”

    We disagree, and I’ve explained my position. You haven’t addressed my arguments. Why not?

    To make it easier for you, I’ll ask four non-rhetorical questions:

    1) Is labeling a liberal policy position as “communist” (in the McCarthy era, or even now) or “socialist” or “un-American,” or “ungodly” or “perverted” or whatever the right wing insult-of-the-moment is, OK?

    2) Can non-bigots support a bigoted policy? If people can support a policy without being bigoted, how then can the policy accurately be termed a bigoted policy?

    3) if there is no functional backlash against the supporters of said “bigoted policy,” why are you fighting so hard to continue with that labeling structure?

    And I think you need to reread MisterMephisto’s comment, because you seem to have totally missed his obvious point about sanitizing language and moving goalposts.

    I didn’t miss it, it’s just not a valid point: people haven’t actually moved a goalpost. In fact, people have explicitly stated their WILLINGNESS to engage in discussion about some fairly sticky stuff.

    And so what if a few words get left out? Discussions of nasty topics, between people on opposite ends of the spectrum, sometimes require a lot of politeness and a bit of sanitizing. You can still discuss what you need to say.

    And he misquoted me, so I’m a bit peeved.

    Emberly said:
    I cannot see how [some alternatives] are much different then the first statement with the ‘B’ word.

    So? You can see that they are different to the people who are raising the complaint. Why do they need to be different to you?

    If something was important to you, would you want it respected?

    Also, I know I am echoing Thene in an earlier thread, but how is it
    that any remote inference that someone who actively opposes equal
    rights based on sexual orientation and gender might hold a
    bigoted position can be seen as outrageous and uncivil in a way that
    arguing that loving committed LGBT families should not have the same
    rights as heterosexual families is not? I truly fail to understand.

    I would not discuss DOMA with someone who used terms like “fag,” “perverted,” etc. I would not be willing to let my opponent claim that “they didn’t see the difference between calling someone a “gay” and a [nasty insult that I'd rather not repeat] so I shouldn’t make a difference, either.” But as part of making my demands for them to rein in their language, it’s reasonable to rein in my own language as well.

    I recognize that even though I believe them to be wrong, a productive conversation requires us both to be polite. You may think that their entire point of view is impolite. But of course, they probably think that about you, too. You may think that their perspective is outrageous. They think that, too. You may think they’re bigots, assholes, etc. They think you’re [nasty insult that I'd rather not repeat] as well.

  15. 15
    Myca says:

    1) Is labeling a liberal policy position as “communist” (in the McCarthy era, or even now) or “socialist” or “un-American,” or “ungodly” or “perverted” or whatever the right wing insult-of-the-moment is, OK?

    IF a policy is a socialist policy, then yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to call it socialist. If you’re doing it as an all-purpose insult, then no.

    If I’m advocating for, say, state control of the means of production and nationalization of all major industries, then yes, calling my position socialist is accurate. If I don’t like that, I should have less socialist positions.

    Like ‘bigoted’, ‘socialist’ is a word with a meaning. Sometimes positions fit that meaning. When they fit that meaning, using that word is appropriate.

    Certainly we can have a discussion about whether or not the position fits the meaning, but to banish the word socialist as a descriptor just because it’s been misused by guys like Glen Beck is pretty dumb.

    2) Can non-bigots support a bigoted policy? If people can support a policy without being bigoted, how then can the policy accurately be termed a bigoted policy?

    Perhaps they’re misguided. Perhaps they’re confused. Perhaps they believe that the policy is not bigoted, when it in fact is. Maybe they’re incredibly stupid.

    Part of the point of using the word bigoted to describe a position is that, if it’s being used accurately, people who do not conceive of themselves as bigots, but nevertheless support a bigoted policy will rethink their support.

    —Myca

  16. 16
    Myca says:

    Okay, it seems that there are two arguments here.

    First: Is ‘bigoted’ a word with an actual meaning (like socialist) or is it an all-purpose insult (like shithead)?

    Second: Obviously, if it’s an all-purpose insult, it ought not be used in almost any situation, but if it’s a word with a meaning … a descriptor … should SSM proponents refrain from using it out of deference to the sensibilities of SSM opponents?

    Do people think that I’m asking the right questions here?

    —Myca

  17. 17
    Emberly says:

    @gin-and-whiskey

    I have no particular commitment to the term “bigoted” myself. I think it is a useful descriptor, but when engaging in private conversation with someone who finds the word triggering I would be happy to leave it out and use substitutes. If you and I were engaged in a personal conversation that was not about the word I would almost certainly do the same for you.

    What I am not willing to do is remove a term that succinctly summarizes my main objection to policies enforcing marriage segregation from my public vocabulary. Naming institutional (and even individual) homophobia, racism, misogyny, sexism and other forms of bigotry for what they are is a vital step in working against these systems. Comparing the naming of unjust policy as the bigotry that it is to the use of hate speech against gays is extremely inappropriate.

  18. 18
    Robert says:

    Social Security, because it is age-based, is facially racially and sexually discriminatory. Black men, with a typical lifespan in the United States of 69 years, get fucked – pay in all their working lives then die. White and Asian women, with typical lifespans closing on 80 years, get a great deal – pay in all their working lives and then live a long time collecting checks.

    There is no factual or empirical argument that can be marshalled against that paragraph. Those are data. Black men die younger. White women die older. Social Security starts at age 65 (or 62 or what have you). Math is math.

    Other than the ordinary freight of racism and sexism that weigh every human heart, I have absolutely no reason to believe that the creators of, and the current defenders of, the Social Security program were racist or sexist.

    Yet, the preservation of Social Security as it currently exists, EMPIRICALLY upholds a set of outcomes with overwhelming racist and sexist implications.

    Would it be fair for me to describe “support for Social Security in its current form” as a racist, sexist policy?

    Would it be useful?

  19. 19
    Robert says:

    Nobody.really asks what harm there is in not using the word “bigot” if it makes the person you’re arguing with uncomfortable. I can think of one harm: allowing that type of linguistic veto gives unearned power over the discourse to a small number of people. Linguistic vetoes, when applied, ought to be applied by large numbers of people on a subject where the connection between the subject and the people is part of consensus reality. Black people get to decide, kind-of-collectively, that the N-word is no longer part of polite usage. But I don’t get to decide that Amp isn’t allowed to call me a radical.

    Now, if you think that something is bigoted, you ought to say so. You ought to be aware that you are arguing an emotional position rather than a strictly rational one, but that is OK. If I have to make the case against slavery, I don’t think I’m going to start off with a dry recitation of the social sciences literature showing that unwanted servitude is bad for self-esteem; I’m going to start off with why all slavers are scum and why people who think they own other people ought to be gutted and hung from lampposts as an example to others. Nothing wrong with emotion – when we know that’s what it is, and don’t mistake our feelings for our analysis.

    Gay marriage is an emotional issue. Strategically, the move by pro-SSM advocates to emotionalize it further with terms like “bigotry” is sheer genius. It turns the reasonable, multi-valued empirical question “is this a social change that our society can absorb, will it have acceptable outcomes, will it have unforeseen negative consequences” into the much more dramatic and two-valued “do you think gay people deserve human rights, or are you a bigot?”

  20. 20
    fannie says:

    This discussion seems to be about whether a person who calls an opponent equality a bigot is a bigot for doing so.

    It is disturbing in the way that the anti-equality charge of “you’re intolerant for not tolerating my intolerance of you” is disturbing. Like, equality opponents are the ones opposing actual equal rights for LGBT people and suddenly the civility of LGBT people (and allies) is on trial here?

    There seems to be a serious misunderstanding of cause and effect in these conversations. For instance, “gin and whiskey” threatens to storm out the door if people here toss around “labels” of bigotry. As if we would call him/her a bigot For No Reason At All And Definitely Not Because S/He’s Advocating Against, Say, My Equal Rights In The Real World.

    Rather than debating the merits/demerits of the substantive policy issue, the conversation centers the feelings of those opposed to equality and privileges their “right” to oppose equality and not be stigmatized by their political positions. I mean, thus far (and to build upon what others have said above) I’ve learned that it is outrageously unfair, conversation-ending, and uncivil to stigmatize an opponent of my equal rights as a “bigot,” but that when folks stigmatize my partner and I as unfit for equal rights it’s totally civil, fair, and just an expected part of the discourse.

    (And, for the record, I do think someone can have reasons for opposing equality that are not rooted in anti-gay animus.)

  21. 21
    james says:

    It is called a metaphor. When Shakespeare wrote:

    “Look, love, what envious streaks
    Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East”

    he was not trying out some alternative meaning of the word envious.

    I suspect, when you talk about bigotted policy, you’re using a metaphor and for some reason just don’t see it. If, however, I accept people really have started using some new meaning of the word bigotted; you can see what a pickle this puts everyone in. Like it or not, metaphors are a perfectly legitimate use of language too. When people start throwing around the word bigotted, how the hell are we supposed to know whether it’s a condemnation of a policies unjust denegration of a group’s humanity, or just an old fashioned figure of speech?

    You can hardly criticise people for getting a little confused.

  22. 22
    nobody.really says:

    Rather than debating the merits/demerits of the substantive policy issue, the conversation centers the feelings of those opposed to equality and privileges their “right” to oppose equality and not be stigmatized by their political positions. I mean, thus far (and to build upon what others have said above) I’ve learned that it is outrageously unfair, conversation-ending, and uncivil to stigmatize an opponent of my equal rights as a “bigot,” but that when folks stigmatize my partner and I as unfit for equal rights it’s totally civil, fair, and just an expected part of the discourse.

    That’s … awful. To say it’s unfair really understates the point. I can’t really imagine that kind of abuse, day after day. And if people started giving crap to my wife, I doubt I’d be about to maintain a very constructive outlook, to say the least. I hate to add to your burdens, but if I might ask a favor?

    Maintain a constructive outlook.

    Again, think about what you want to accomplish. Has anyone ever persuade you to change? Did they do it by calling you a bigot (even if true)? Or did they do it in some other fashion?

    Face it: People hate to change. Many smokers will die rather than change. Change is hard work. Asking someone to change is asking a lot. If you want someone to change, then you may have to go the extra mile — and THEN some. You need to find the teachable moments. And you need to develop the relationships before those teachable moments come so that you have something to build on.

    Eyes on the prize, guys; eyes on the prize. Public opinion is swinging in favor of civil rights. We’re on the winning side. It’s just a matter of time.

    Here was my teachable moment: Remember, the Republicans took a drubbing at the polls two years into Reagan’s first term, in 1982. So two years after that I dropped out of school to work the campaign to unseat Reagan. The unemployment rate was still at about 8%, but it was trending downward along with oil prices. That was enough to trigger a Republican landslide, ushering in a decades-long Republican romp.

    We could see the deluge coming in 1984. And I’ve been looking for the opportunity to turn back the flood ever since. Now here we sit, on the eve of a Democratic drubbing, and I can see a chance to finally drain the swamp.

    Patience in adversity; magnanimity in victory. I know, it’s easy for me to talk. But the Promise Land awaits those who persevere. You know you’re on the winning side; it’s just a matter of time. Eyes on the prize.

  23. 23
    MisterMephisto says:

    gin-and-whiskey said:

    I am more than happy to discuss the justice or fairness of things. I’m just not willing to discuss them with people who call me names or who use equivalent tactics.

    You are internalizing the descriptive term used to discuss a policy. Your choice to internalize the descriptor is just that: a choice.

    Injustice or unfairness caused by discrimination is, accurately, referred to as “bigotry”.

    I will admit that it’s a word that strikes chords within the human psyche. That neither makes the term inappropriate nor inaccurate. Especially since the point is, if one objects to bigotry, to examine whether the policy is, in fact, bigoted or not.

    gin-and-whiskey said:

    A retraction would be appreciated.

    One is not forthcoming, since nothing I have said is inaccurate.

    You are stating that the term “bigoted” should not be used to describe a policy that is, in fact, bigoted, because it might “hurt the feelings” of the “other side” and is “not conducive to discussion”. I am suggesting that, if “bigoted” is no longer applicable, it is not unreasonable that this form of questionable justification makes it “fair game” to also bar the terms “unjust”, “unfair”, or “improper” as well for equally specious reasons.

    gin-and-whiskey said:

    I didn’t miss it, it’s just not a valid point: people haven’t actually moved a goalpost. In fact, people have explicitly stated their WILLINGNESS to engage in discussion about some fairly sticky stuff.

    It’s absolutely valid. I’m stating that by refusing to allow an accurate term to describe the policy under discussion, those claiming willingness to engage in discussion are not actually willing.

    They are, instead, distracting from the actual discussion in order to appear willing.

    Now, I, personally, would assume that this is an intellectually dishonest attempt to demonize the opposing side for “being so unreasonable” as to call the policy what it actually is. But I’m inherently suspicious of people’s motives for doing things. Others would likely very much disagree with me.

  24. 24
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    See, the problem is that I don’t trust you, and you’re asking me to.

    Whether you open by calling something “bigoted” or “racist” or “traitorous and un-American” then you’re basically asking me to sign on to your judgment call that whatever it is we’re talking about is wrong and unjustifiable. You’re signaling your unwillingness to adopt it. You’re even signaling your unwillingness to consider it in realistic terms.

    But your judgment isn’t trustworthy from my perspective, any more than mine is to you.

    After all, if you ask the question “should we act like racists?” then the answer is (should be) “no.”

    But if you ask the question “what are the pros and cons of continuing AA practices in federal contracting?” or “should the U.S. be able to control who enters its borders, and should it consider only its own citizens’ wishes in making its selection?” then you get all sorts of different answers.

    Similarly, if a right winger asks whether we should “make an un-American decision which will put our soldiers at risk, promote sexual deviancy, help destroy the American family, and [insert insult here]” the answer would (or should) be “no.”

    But of course, once you figure out that they really mean “should we promote equal rights for gay people?” then you get a very different answer.

    Do you, generally, expect me (or anyone else) to accept that because you think something is bigoted, it is? Do you, generally, expect me (or anyone else) to trust your judgment in that respect? Do you think that you should have the power to functionally take certain discussions off of the table? Do you respect the requests of your political opponents to do the same?

    When I’m in a conversation with someone–you, Myca, Amp, anyone else–I value your opinions. I value your logic. I especially value your facts that you present. But I don’t really value your own personal judgment. I like mine better.

  25. 25
    Schala says:

    Yet, the preservation of Social Security as it currently exists, EMPIRICALLY upholds a set of outcomes with overwhelming racist and sexist implications.

    Personally, I thought the age of retirement was a mere artifact that, at about a certain age countries have thought was generally between 60 and 65, we are in no physical form to continue working productively enough (especially physical jobs). Countries where few, or even very few people, reach above 50, well, they no doubt don’t even know what retirement is. In their country, people don’t retire, they die well before.

    And why we get social security and stuff? Well, because people would think euthanasia at the end of your work life is inhuman. So we rather tolerate a drain on our rather comfortable collective finances (as compared to third world countries) than to kill our parents.

    Not that euthanasia of the permanently-inactive population wasn’t ever attempted…those considered mentally deficient enough could be subject to such policies, in the past, and widely-condoned abuse, now (Judge Rotenberg Center, for example).

    So yeah, governments have no doubt instituted retirement policies as a result of people being unable to keep working, hence unable to bring income…and you don’t throw them in the street. It’s a practical thing.

    I doubt they considered the life expectancy gap between men and women, or between white and black people. Ironically, the UK has the age at 60 for women, and 65 for men, even if men live shorter lives on average. The same for Austria and Italy, maybe others.

    In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries. Previously, low life expectancy and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement in the 1880s.

    from wiki’s article about Retirement

  26. 26
    Sebastian H says:

    “Saying, “this policy is bigoted,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a bigot,” is not the same thing as saying, “the person advocating this policy is a shithead.””

    That is what you claim, but I don’t really see it. So far as I can tell the word ‘bigoted’ really truly means: the type of view held by a bigot. It doesn’t merely describe difference in outcomes, it ascribes malignant intent. It implies a person because it implies intolerance for views other than one’s own. These types of things can’t easily be ascribed to policy divorced from the person advocating it.

    You say that Lucy is diverting the discussion, but can’t you at least theoretically admit that you are already freighting it by insisting on bigoted instead of discriminatory or unfair? Both of those words have a strong association with policy, often unforseen policy outcomes, and seem to imply everything that you want to say with bigoted *if it is really true that you don’t intend to imply a personal affront*.

    If that is really true, what exactly are you trying to imply with ‘bigoted’ that you aren’t getting out of discriminatory or unfair?

    “But, as Mr. Schraub correctly observes, there’s nothing new or idiosyncratic about my usage! It’s common — especially among liberals (and I am a liberal) — to ascribe bigotry to things that aren’t people, and thus possess no intent.”

    First of all this could easily be an insider/outsider problem. You can’t use idiosyncratic in-group terms when trying to have a discussion with an outside group member if the in-group term doesn’t mean the same thing to the outsider. For example, ‘pro-abortion’ is certainly an in-group label used by pro-life advocates to describe their opponents. Yet I’m pretty sure that you we be willing to admit that a pro-life advocate who attempted to start a discussion purely about the laws and policies of very late term abortions (where I think everyone admits the moral problems are the hardest) but absolutely *insisted* on calling the opposing policy ‘pro-abortion’ would generate significant pushback even though in her in-group it was a perfectly normal way to categorize. Why? Because it isn’t as descriptive as some of the alternatives, and it freights the discussion unnecessarily. You might argue that it doesn’t “mean” the same thing, but now you are looking at it from your group’s point of view not the point of view of the pro-lifer using her in-group’s definitions.

    Further query, if, as I believe, that bigoted is normally used to describe intentional policies to invidiously discriminate, what word do you use to say *that* now that you have removed such a definition from ‘bigoted’. What do you call the American poll tax laws that I would say are bigoted in the strong intentional sense? What do you use to describe South Africa’s “Group Areas Act” or “Separate Representation of Voters Act” or “Bantu Homelands Citizen Act”?

    It seems to me that you’re destroying the word that describes that kind of thing.

    Now it may be that you want to describe the policies as bigoted in the stronger sense. And that may even be accurate. But then you really are accusing the person supporting the polices of being a bigot and you should own up to it.

  27. 27
    Sebastian H says:

    On a slightly different note I wonder if there isn’t something about the suffix -ed itself that makes the word sound accusatory.

    I’m trying to think of -ed adjectives that don’t imply intentional action. I come up with things like gilded, anticipated, protected, entrusted, glanced, focused, looked, increased, faked, locked, scanned, stared, aimed, levelled, realized, heeded. But those all seem very intentional.

    Some things that seem to have elements of intention but might be divorced are: vaulted (since it can be an architectural description), collapsed (since it can be linked to inanimate objects), seeped (since it has to with water), rolled (since it can be inanimate).

    It isn’t scientific, but the adjectives I can think of right now make it feel like action, usually done by a person.

    -ory seems like more of a mixed bag.

    Accessory, directory, exculpatory, hallucinatory, illusory, inventory, laudatory, unsatisfactory, cursory, laudatory…

    Some of these are admittedly nouns, but even the adjectives seem a little more removed from direct personal action than the adjectival -ed words.

    I’m not sure I’m even convinced by this comment, but I wanted to throw it out there anyway.

  28. 28
    Myca says:

    Since there seems to be general confusion over this, it should probably be addressed.

    Sebastian said:

    So far as I can tell the word ‘bigoted’ really truly means: the type of view held by a bigot. It doesn’t merely describe difference in outcomes, it ascribes malignant intent.

    A while back, Gin and Whiskey said:

    2) Can non-bigots support a bigoted policy? If people can support a policy without being bigoted, how then can the policy accurately be termed a bigoted policy?

    Do either of you think that a good person can do a bad thing without being a bad person?

    —Myca

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    Yes, a good person can do a bad thing, a wrong thing, an evil thing, without being a bad person.

    Do you think that if that good person’s action is constantly discussed with the words “bad”, “evil”, “wrong”, that the person will continue to be thought of as “good”?

  30. 30
    fannie says:

    nobody.really-

    “Again, think about what you want to accomplish. Has anyone ever persuade you to change? Did they do it by calling you a bigot (even if true)? Or did they do it in some other fashion?”

    I agree that calling people “bigots” is not a pragmatic way to change hearts and minds. Personally, I only use the term aloud in reference to those who are Fred Phelpsian in their homobigotry.

    I think some people who oppose same-sex marriage are not bigots, as they believe they are taking a principled stand for the good of (heterosexual) families and (heterosexual) society.

    But, admittedly, I also think some of these people who oppose equality for what they see as “good, civil reaons” are also bigots, even though I wouldn’t verbalize my opinion. I have interacted with enough “marriage defenders” on the internet who believe they are civil, loving, and kind but who say some of the most horrendous, judgmental things about LGBT people. They have said these things with the approval of their own consciences and thus would be utterly appalled at being “personally attacked” with the bigot label.

  31. 31
    paul says:

    As an aside, I must point out that Paul’s substitute language defines a bigot[ed policy] in terms of consequences that would be consistent with “the intentions o f a bigot.” In other words, Paul understands the term bigot to imply something about a person’s intentions – all Amp’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

    This would seem to show how easy it is for people who are triggered by the word “bigot” to misread sentences that use the term. Of course the term “bigot” implies something about a person’s intentions — that’s why people are complaining about it. But the term “bigoted” about a policy or a structure doesn’t do that, because policies and structures aren’t people. What the would-be language police seem to be doing is is complaining that “This is a policy that a bigoted person would support” is morally equivalent to “This is a policy that only a bigoted person would support — which is something of a leap.

    And there’s a long history of privilege and faux “reasonableness”, of course, in the “I will only deign to engage with you if you agree to couch your argument in the terms that I consider suitably inoffensive.” Typically such limitations force the arguer to go through gay rights/feminism/racial justice/whatever 101 three or four times before getting to the actual meat of the argument: is it really a disparate impact? are all disparate impacts necessarily unfair? haven’t some people nominally on your side argued a stronger version of your position that I’m going to claim opposes what you say? aren’t you getting a bit strident? how can you possibly suggest I’m debating in bad faith? and so on. So if people really wanted to engage with Barry, they wouldn’t take the risk of offending him like this by questioning his use of the word “bigoted”. Um.

    Oh, and the life-expectancy claims about Social Security? Here’s a hint: it is consistent with bad-faith argument (or with repairable ignorance) to use life expectancy at birth as a measure of how long someone will continue to live after having reached retirement age.

  32. 32
    Jake Squid says:

    Do you think that if that good person’s action is constantly discussed with the words “bad”, “evil”, “wrong”, that the person will continue to be thought of as “good”?

    A single action? Yes, depending on that action.

  33. 33
    Emberly says:

    @gin-and-whiskey

    I think we have a misunderstanding. I certainly do not expect you, or SSM opponents to trust me or my judgement. I do not expect the conversation to end after I say “bigoted policy”. I expect the conversation to continue, maybe we discuss why I believe a same sex marriage ban to bigoted, or whether I am incorrect. Maybe we then discuss my opponents view, how a Same Sex Marriage Ban is good for families, I explain how I disagree, they rebuff my arguements. I do not go in to this sort of debate expecting to change people’s minds, but I do expect to be able to accurately describe my position. Maybe my opponent agrees that the policies are somewhat unfair, but decides that the benefits are enough to make up for it. This conversation can play out many ways, most of these ways are interesting and informative for both of us.

    Maybe the person I am speaking to has suffered some trauma before that the word “bigoted” brings up for them, even when applied to the policy and not to themselves, or maybe they are so unwilling to examine their stance, and the homophobia that they are feeding that they use it as an excuse to disengage rather than state their case.

    “Bigoted” is value laden. I agree with that, but it is not inaccurate or inappropriate in a public discussion of Same Sex Marriage Opposition. It aptly describes policies that tell LGBT people that they cannot get married, adopt children, or serve in the military, adding to a culture of intolerance where young LGBT kids are bullied horrendously. Five of these young people killed themselves last month. Were their bullies (who are just young kids too) performing “bigoted actions”?

    Also, I find it interesting that no one in this thread has expressed any disagreement about Same Sex Marriage itself. If you are an SSM supporter be curious to know if you would use the term “bigoted policy” in private conversation with friends who agree with you.

  34. 34
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Do either of you think that a good person can do a bad thing without being a bad person?
    —Myca

    Accidentally or through ignorance: yes.
    For other justifying reasons (“lesser of two evils” type of stuff:) yes.
    Intentionally, just for the hell of it: no, not really, though a single action doesn’t make someone “good” or “bad.”

    But to paraphrase Robert and use a different example: Would you like others to refer to you as a supporter of racist policies? Would it matter if you knew that the person who first gave that label was using an extraordinarily broad definition of racist, that would capture most every policy with which she personally disagreed? Would you be frustrated at being forced to battle the “racist” stigma before you could even get to the question of “whether or not it’s a good idea to amend the Constitution to prohibit affirmative action bake sales?”

    Or would you rather have that conversation (assuming you care about the subject) without the “racist” label floating around?

    Or, to use feminism: because of certain biological differences between the sexes, there are good arguments, in certain cases, for different treatments. So there’s a balance between “same” and “different” with pros and cons on both sides.* Do you enjoy talking about those issues–hell, are you even willing to talk about those issues–with someone who views all of the opposition as “sexist”?

    *for example: the effect of varying parental leave issues by sex, as per another Alas thread.

  35. 35
    lauren says:

    Are we seriously saying that the “tone-arguement” is a valid arguement to make? Because that’s what all this “look at the goal” “you have to be nice to people or they have the right to ignore and belittle you” stuff seems to be implying.

    What people achieve by making it impossible to use accurate description because it “might hurt someone’s feelings” is that they are making it impossible to address the heart of the problem.

    If you tell someone that they need to be discriminated against, that this discrimination is not something they are allowed to complain about, and that the discrimination needs to be upheld because it is good for someone else? When people tell someone that, basically, it is ok for them to be treated as somehow less-than- then they have absolutely no obligation to spare their poor widdle feelings by not calling them on their shit.

    If you don’t want your policy to be called bigoted- great. Go ahead and convince me that it isn’t bigoted. Prove that the description doesn’t apply. Do not tell me that you can’t talk to me because I refuse to take the shit you throw at me and pretend it smells like roses.

    When you weigh being called a bigot against being told that you are abnormal, that your family doesn’t count, that you shouldn’t have the same rights as everybody else- being called a bigot really, really doesn’t hold anywhere near the same weight, or cause the same suffering.

    Being associated with the word bigotry hurts you feelings? Poor you. You can simply stop being a biggot. The people who suffer from the effects of your bigoted policies? They can’t simply escape those effects.

  36. 36
    Ampersand says:

    Yes, a good person can do a bad thing, a wrong thing, an evil thing, without being a bad person.

    Do you think that if that good person’s action is constantly discussed with the words “bad”, “evil”, “wrong”, that the person will continue to be thought of as “good”?

    So therefore we should never call any policy “bad” or “wrong” — let alone “evil”?

    * * *

    There is no factual or empirical argument that can be marshalled against that paragraph.

    Yes, there is. You can get the short version from Krugman, or a longer version from CBPP.

    But if reality was what you seem to believe — if every black man dropped dead at age 69, if disability benefits and the greater payout for low-income people weren’t also racially skewed (in a way that increases benefits per dollar paid for black men), etc.. — then yes, it would be fair to describe the effects of Social Security as racist. And if I were persuaded you were right about that, and if you had an alternative that wasn’t worse than the status quo, that would be a strong argument in favor of your alternative.

  37. 37
    Ampersand says:

    You say that Lucy is diverting the discussion, but can’t you at least theoretically admit that you are already freighting it by insisting on bigoted instead of discriminatory or unfair? Both of those words have a strong association with policy, often unforseen policy outcomes, and seem to imply everything that you want to say with bigoted *if it is really true that you don’t intend to imply a personal affront*.

    My experience is that people see through your clever code, and in fact react to “discriminatory” exactly the same way they do to “bigoted.” If you were correct — if all the objections to bringing up the subject disappeared if I used “discriminatory” and its variants — then that would indeed be a very strong argument for using “discriminatory” instead of “bigoted.”

    As for “unfair,” it simply doesn’t carry anywhere close to the same meaning as “discriminatory” or “bigoted.” In fact, it excises out some of the most important aspects of meaning. That’s to the advantage of people who’d rather that we never, ever discuss bigoted, racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., outcomes of policy, but it’s not fair to expect me or anyone else who cares about those issues to refrain from naming them.

  38. 38
    Sebastian H says:

    “My experience is that people see through your clever code, and in fact react to “discriminatory” exactly the same way they do to “bigoted.” If you were correct — if all the objections to bringing up the subject disappeared if I used “discriminatory” and its variants — then that would indeed be a very strong argument for using “discriminatory” instead of “bigoted.””

    It feels like you have to rely a lot on “ALL the objections” in that sentence. It seems to me that you reduce the intensity of those objections a huge amount, though without entirely getting them to disappear, by using “discriminatory”.

    So now that you’ve coopted bigoted to mean exactly the same thing as discriminatory, what do you use to describe policies that are standard-usage bigoted? That is to say policies that were designed specifically for bigoted ends and with specifically bigoted principles behind them? You now don’t have a word that describes that.

    And you wouldn’t object to pro-lifer trying to have a deep discussion but constantly (and correctly as defined by their in-group, and after all language changes by usage) referring to the policies as pro-abortion? Is this new?

    And what exactly are you getting out of ‘bigoted’ that you can’t get out of discriminatory (that doesn’t implicate choices of bigots–since you are talking ONLY about the policies)? It seems to me you are washing out a perfectly good word, for no apparent reason, without giving us a replacement.

  39. 39
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    10/5/2010 at 8:51 am
    My experience is that people see through your clever code, and in fact react to “discriminatory” exactly the same way they do to “bigoted.”

    That’s funny, because I don’t have that experience.

    In fact, my experience is that people who agree on a word will then accept it.

    Of course, someone who has found a word to be effective in stopping or slowing opposing arguments will, whether or not the word is really accurate, start using it more and more and more. That’s why name-calling exists: it works. And that’s why you’ve chosen a word like bigotry, with its associations of horrible behavior: it works even better.

    I don’t think that you are really incapable of finding an alternative to “bigot” or “bigoted.” Sure there may be some opponents who won’t accept any of your words, but not all or even most. Rather, I think that you recognize–consciously or not–that it is a valuable argumentative tool, and you’re hanging on to it because you like to win your arguments.

  40. 40
    Robert says:

    If Amp doesn’t mean to call people bigots when he says their policy is bigoted, then why is Lauren talking about how people who don’t want to be perceived as bigots should just change their policy preferences?

    Because she fills in the blanks that Amp left and reaches a conclusion about what he really meant, as most people listening to Amp would do.

    Krugman actually makes some good points. (Gee, it’s like he’s a trained economist or something.) I’ll have to come up with a different example.

  41. 41
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Hey, a great example!

    Ampersand says:
    10/5/2010 at 8:43 am
    …if reality was what you seem to believe — if every black man dropped dead at age 69, if disability benefits and the greater payout for low-income people weren’t also racially skewed (in a way that increases benefits per dollar paid for black men), etc.. — then yes, it would be fair to describe the effects of Social Security as racist.

    Wow. It’s easy to get you to the “racist” label.

    but let’s see what you imply:

    -that the program is discriminatory? (Does “Discriminatory” mean “a failure to individualize by race?” Does that mean that we must always consider the end result, not the process, of every social policy? that’s a really complex statement, there…)

    -That the program has a negative effect on black people? (Is every such negative effect racist? Why? How many degrees do you go to analyze the effect?)

    -That the program’s cons outweigh the benefits? (surely we shouldn’t support ‘racist’ policies, right?)

    Or god knows what else.

    Of course, in order to even talk about why SS-as-it-stands could be a good or proper or just choice, even if the assumptions above were true… I’d have to break through the initial label of “racist,”, chosen carefully to associate the program (in the minds of many Americans, though not race theorists) with unusually atrocious behavior. And I’d have to consider my willingness to publicly support a policy which you labeled (perhaps wrongly, in my view) as “racist.”

    in other words, you’ve tossed an ad hom into the mix, which is total bullshit, and you’re pretending that it’s just a way of defining it.

    Simply ridiculous. And dishonest, to boot.

  42. 42
    nobody.really says:

    Are we seriously saying that the “tone-argument” is a valid argument to make? Because that’s what all this “look at the goal” “you have to be nice to people or they have the right to ignore and belittle you” stuff seems to be implying.

    Who is this “we” you speak of? As far as I can tell, this refers to me alone.

    And, as far as I know, people have the right to ignore and belittle me no matter what I do. I don’t see how the right to ignore or belittle enters into the discussion at all.

    Except to this extent: When I feel belitted, or ignored when I had cause to expect attention, I become defensive. I may want to lash out, to punish the people who are ignoring or belittling me. I’ll teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget! And how do I know that I’ve succeeded? I know immediately: I feel good for having told those jerks off!

    And that’s fine. Again, I think of words as tools. If I want to use my language as a form of ego-gratification, to satisfy ME, then I feel pretty free to pick whichever words will … well, whichever words gratify my ego. I can scream at someone in Klingon for all it matters. (Ok, my Klingon is a bit rusty, but you get the idea.)

    Alternatively, if I want to persuade another person to do something, then I want to choose my words with greater care. In particular, I want to take into account the needs of that other person. Different purposes, different strategies, different tools. That’s why I emphasize all that “look at the goal” stuff.

    I read a number of comments here and hear people’s pain. I hear people’s anger. I hear people’s burning desire to lash back at those who have hurt them. I hear that. And, to the best of my ability, I honor it. Naturally, people are completely pissed. And indignant. And exhausted. And tired.

    Naturally people what to strike back. I mean that: naturally. The fight-or-flight response is part of what we’ve learned about the behavior of natural organisms. We’re only human. We’re hard-wired to feel this way.

    And there’s even some practical consequence to publicly striking back. It can embolden our allies and intimidate our adversaries. Indeed, Blankenhorn argues that the practice of labeling opponents of same-sex marriage as bigots has discouraged people from taking that stand publicly. But let’s be careful here. I know I’m predisposed to imagine that lashing out accomplishes good because, let’s face it, it FEELS SO GOOD to lash out at people. I try to temper my propensity to lash out with the realization that it probably does a lot less good than I imagine.

    And, if I’m in a long-term relationship with the person I’m lashing, it may do a lot more harm than I want to admit. (If you’ve got kids – or if you’ve been a kid – you probably know this already.)

    So, here we are: Amp is in a conversation with Blankenhorn. What’s Amp’s goal? If his goal is to lash out at Blankenhorn, he’s doing a pretty tame job of it. I surmised – perhaps incorrectly – that Amp is trying to have a reasoned discussion. On that basis, I’d suggested that Amp modify his language to better conform to what Blankenhorn can hear. Doing so would enable Amp to avoid needless distractions and to focus on the issues. Of course, I was assuming that Amp wanted to avoid needless distractions and to focus on the issues….

    Is it fair that people should have to modify their language in this manner? Absolutely not; no one should have to modify his or her language in this way. Amp has no duty to refrain from using the word bigot in his discussions. And Blankenhorn has no duty to pay attention to anything Amp says. So if people want to hunker down in their I’ve-got-my-rights! bunkers, it’s not hard to see where that leads.

    If, in contrast, Amp wants to reach out to Blankenhorn, appeal to Blankenhorn’s reason, then Amp may want to adopt strategies designed to achieve that end. Fairness has got nothing to do with this. Indeed, I get suspicious when I find myself focusing on fairness to myself. That tells me that I’m really focused on myself, not the other.

    Rather than focus on fairness, I’d suggest a different analysis: cost/benefit. Is the benefit of reaching out to Blankenhorn worth the bother? If not, then simply quit. If you really think that the other person’s sensitivity to the word “bigot” demonstrates that the other person is unreasonable – that is, unreachable through reason – then what do you think all your words will accomplish? Skip it. Go straight to lashing out, or call it a day.

    Ultimately, there’s no way around it: You need to decide what you’re trying to accomplish, and then adopt the strategy. What’s the goal?

  43. 43
    lauren says:

    Calling people out on their behaviour, and on the way it hurts others, is not “lashing out”. Not being willing to silently sit by and listen while people proclaim that you are less than is not about “making yourself feel good”.

    But if that is the position you are presenting, then I guess you answered the question and you really think that the tone arguement is valid.

  44. 44
    Myca says:

    Lauren … I actually think that part of the answer to dealing with people like this is to put the ball in their court. We’re asking why advocating marriage segregation is considered more socially acceptable to people like G&W and N.R than calling that position out for being bigoted … well, it doesn’t have to be.

    When someone says, “Gosh, I don’t think that gay people ought to be able to get married,” rather than arguing, I think that maybe the proper response is to say, “You know, that’s really fucking rude of you. That kind of shit isn’t acceptable. I can’t believe you would attack other humans like that.”

    Let’s treat it like they just dropped their pants and took a shit in public. Let’s stop pretending it’s a legitimate thing.

    We’re rude? No. Trying to deny American citizens equal rights is way fucking rude.

    —Myca

  45. 45
    lauren says:

    We’re rude? No. Trying to deny American citizens equal rights is way fucking rude.

    Exactly.

  46. 47
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Complaining about being called a bigot is a “tone argument.”
    But the same people who are doing the complaining are often insisting that their own preferred terms be respected. That’s also a “tone argument.”

    If I tell Amp that he needs to discuss a position without using certain offensive-to-me language, it is a “tone argument.”
    But of course, Alas is full of banned or frowned-on terms, from “illegals” to “blind” and demanding that opponents avoid all those words, and/or adopt the words that Amp likes, is also a “tone argument.”

    It would be pretty silly to try to claim that my own restrictions on your language had no effect at all on your ability to express yourself. Of course it does.

    So why not admit that it runs both ways? Hell, liberal boards, what with their moderating and all, are almost the bastions of “appropriate tone enforced for one side only.” In my experience, people who dismiss things as a “tone argument” are often the same people who pretend that they’re not making the exact same type of argument, in reverse.

    But the solution is simple. As nobody.really says, you only have to drop the facade that you’re being civil. Then you and they can both say what you want.

  47. 48
    mythago says:

    On that basis, I’d suggested that Amp modify his language to better conform to what Blankenhorn can hear.

    You are assuming that there is anything Amp can say that Blankenhorn will hear, and by ‘hear’ I mean ‘consider objectively in a way that might affect his position’.

    Frankly, professional gay-bashers have no interest in ‘listening’. You don’t talk to them to have a conversation with them, but to have a conversation with others. (See, e.g., the chocolate-vs-vanilla scene in Thank You For Smoking.)

    I’m sure Blankenhorn will object to being called a professional gay-basher. If he testified as an expert witness for Proposition 8 at trial pro bono, then I admit my error.

  48. 49
    Mandolin says:

    What about the term anti-semitism, G-A-W? Do you feel that no policy or action should be called anti-semitic to avoid hurting its supporter’s feelings?

  49. 50
    Ampersand says:

    We’re rude? No. Trying to deny American citizens equal rights is way fucking rude.

    False dichotomy. :-P

  50. 51
    Myca says:

    I’m sure Blankenhorn will object to being called a professional gay-basher. If he testified as an expert witness for Proposition 8 at trial pro bono, then I admit my error.

    Good point. In that case, he would be an amateur gay-basher.

    —Myca

  51. 52
    Elusis says:

    In this Live Journal post, Trinker asks people to consider “what is racism” and the concepts of “colorblindness” and “good person vs. racist.” And the conversation winds up in the same place, over and over again, with some people saying “well if only you wouldn’t use that word, you’d be more effective” (aka the Tone Argument*).

    An excerpt from one of my comments on the subject:

    focusing on whether someone should say “that was a racist and sexist remark” or “that was an insensitive remark” is a conversation that goes nowhere in my experience, because 1) most people are no more likely to say “you’re right, that was insensitive” than they are to acknowledge the racist or sexist implications of their behavior, and 2) we are in a culture where “sensitivity” often gets said with the same sneering tone as “politically correct” and “self-esteem,” and attempts to talk about in/sensitivity immediately derail into “well maybe you shouldn’t be so sensitive” and the like. Screeds like this one (warning – link to the full text goes to a site that may contain material some will find offensive or hurtful) and this one and this one and this one circulate via email lists and web sites. People who are defensive about their behavior have just as much support in blowing off requests to practice sensitivity as they do requests to think critically about their racial or gender privilege.

    Directing people to use different tactics in how they identify problematic attitudes and behaviors is really just moving the goalposts. Any minute now the code-word that is meant to connote “racism lite” will be “inhumane” or “dominating” or some other thing, and marginalized people will be instructed to use that term so people won’t get defensive, and ten minutes later there will be five different chain letters all purporting to be by George Carlin that will be sniggering over “Why I’m Proud to Be Inhumane” or “Dominate This, Baby.”

    * Which is not an argument that marginalized people generally employ, gin-and-whiskey – Ampersand saying “don’t call people ‘illegals’” is not him saying “we won’t listen to you because your words are so off-putting,” which is the essential message of the TA. It’s him saying “that term is inherently demeaning and I won’t support its use in my space.” The TA offers the false promise of listening/acceptance if only the speaker would change him or herself to be more pleasing to those in power, and equates anything that upsets those in power with anger or an attack.

  52. 53
    Myca says:

    What about the term anti-semitism, G-A-W? Do you feel that no policy or action should be called anti-semitic to avoid hurting its supporter’s feelings?

    Mandolin!

    Don’t you know that the Nazis weren’t anti-semitic, the Klan wasn’t racist, and that the men who murdered Matthew Shepard weren’t homophobes? They weren’t bigots, and none of their ideology was bigoted.

    To even suggest any of that is to be rude, to indicate that you’re not interested in an honest conversation, to indicate that you’re not open to changing your views, and to ask G-N-W to ‘trust you.’

    —Myca

  53. 54
    Elusis says:

    Another comment I made that I think is applicable here (note that I do not think racial oppression and GLBT oppression are exact equivalents or even always analgous, but I do think that the current fetish for saying “well you’re the (racist/bigot) because you called me (racist/bigoted)” functions in fairly similar ways, for similar reasons – Y HALLO THAR KYRIARCHY, would you care for another helping of Foucault?) -

    Ken Hardy and Tracy Laszloffy tried this tactic in their chapter “The Dynamics of a Pro-Racist Ideology” in Re-Visioning Family Therapy (excerpt available here.) They draw a distinction between the totalizing effect of calling someone “a racist” and pointing out how their words or actions “support a pro-racist ideology,” which can include tolerating existing conditions that are inherently racist (in other words – benefiting from, ignoring, or failing to see/challenge structural racism, which can include “accidents” like mistaking one person of color for another, which evokes the “all ___ people look alike” stereotype).

    Despite the fact that the chapter is some dozen pages of drawing distinctions between “calling people racists” and “identifying ways in which people may, intentionally or unintentionally, support a pro-racist ideology,” I have had dozens of (almost all white) students react vigorously against this chapter and complain about how it “calls all white people racist.”

    I have seen people characterize the mildest of comments identifying potential problematic racial (and sexist, homophobic, etc.) implications of people’s words as “an attack” or “a punch in the teeth” or “a dogpile.” One problem with the “Tone Argument” is that there is no way to win the Tone Argument if it is leveled against you. You have already lost in the mind of the leveler and in any witnesses who have similar anxieties about having their words or actions identified as problematic. And particularly in the case of a person of color being told that they are “too angry” or “attacking,” there is an enormous amount of cultural, racial baggage around POC as the violent, angry, savage, uncivilized, dangerous proto-human that immediately gets evoked.** I have watched exchanges in which a white person only labeled the black people as “aggressive” or “bitchy” or “angry” while never criticizing white people making the same arguments. I have been the white person on both sides of that dynamic.

    There is also hundreds of years of cultural baggage around POC needing to tiptoe around their white masters/superiors/overseers/bosses lest they evoke ire and retaliation. There is a reason that one theme that the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Gay Rights movements had in common during their heydays in the mid-20th century is not shutting up, not being “nice” any more. Because people on the margins live constantly under the enforced threat of what might happen to you if you are not nice, and with the knowledge that the ultimate arbiter of sufficent niceness is not likely to be one of them.

    ** This is one place where the connection between conversations about racism and sexual/gender minorities clearly fails. GLBT POC obviously are stuck with these racialized tropes about their aggression, but white GLBT people are not. On the other hand, there are tropes about the aggressive and mannish lesbian who hates men, and the shrill, shrieking faggot, that can get evoked when queer people are perceived as angry. Not to mention the more recent history of seeing gay men’s bodies as dangerous because if they attack you, you might get t3h AIDS from them, or they might rape you (because “you” is coded as male). But white queer aggression does not have anything like the connotation that perceived aggression from POC, particularly African-Americans, has.

  54. 55
    Myca says:

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    Incidentally, the very first comment in that thread was from me, 6.5 years ago.

    —Myca

  55. 56
    nobody.really says:

    I encourage everyone to check out jenniejoy’s link at Post 46 above. “The nukers and the appeasers should be friends…!”

    When someone says, “Gosh, I don’t think that gay people ought to be able to get married,” rather than arguing, I think that maybe the proper response is to say, “You know, that’s really fucking rude of you. That kind of shit isn’t acceptable. I can’t believe you would attack other humans like that.”

    Really? Here’s an experiment: Blankenhorn opposes same-sex marriage. Go post your thoughts on his blog and report back all the constructive things that result. My hypothesis is that the chief result would be that you’d embarrass Amp. But let’s find out.

    I don’t know of any correct use of English or incorrect use of English; I can only judge language within a specific context. Yes, lashing out – calling out, if you prefer – may be an appropriate response in some contexts. And not in others. I humbly suggest that context matters. In the context under consideration – Blankenhorn’s blog – I doubt that the language quoted above would produce useful results.

    (Unless you think that venting your frustration is a useful result, of course.)

    [P]rofessional gay-bashers have no interest in ‘listening’. You don’t talk to them to have a conversation with them, but to have a conversation with others.

    Ooh. Nice insight, mythago. I’m reminded of Dan Savage’s insight about advice columns and pornography: When you take an action that’s normally done in private and instead do it for others to see, you cannot help but change it. I don’t want to suggest that Amp is not arguing in good faith with Blankenhorn. But I have been writing as if Amp were having a one-on-one conversation with him. Upon reflection, Amp is writing for a larger audience than one guy. I concede that this does limit the extent to which Amp might want to tailor his remarks to suit Blankenhorn’s preferences.

    Finally, various people express doubts that efforts to modify your language will influence how well your message is received. I suspect we could all identify circumstances in which that’s true and circumstances in which that’s false. If you think that Amp’s word choices will have no bearing on his conversation with Blankenhorn, I won’t attempt to dissuade you. Again, I encourage people to consider their goals. If, having considered your goals, you conclude that you’re best strategy is to use the language of your preference, go right ahead. I mostly want to argue against the idea that the rightness or wrongness of any language usage can be judged regardless of audience or context.

  56. 57
    Sebastian H says:

    “Calling people out on their behaviour, and on the way it hurts others, is not “lashing out”.”

    Are we calling people out now? I thought we were only talking about ‘bigoted’ policy?

    I think the whole problem is that even most people on the liberal side think that bigoted is talking specifically at people.

  57. 58
    Myca says:

    Really? Here’s an experiment: Blankenhorn opposes same-sex marriage. Go post your thoughts on his blog and report back all the constructive things that result. My hypothesis is that the chief result would be that you’d embarrass Amp. But let’s find out.

    Actually, I’m working on a post for this blog in which I’ll address the habitual tendency of straight white male commenters to insist on gay people, women, and minorities being polite to their oppressors … all while whining in plaintive tones, “but I support you,” and never actually calling the oppressors out for the hostility inherent in their anti-equality views.

    So I’m busy right now, but maybe later.

    —Myca

  58. 59
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Mandolin says:
    10/5/2010 at 1:41 pm

    What about the term anti-semitism, G-A-W? Do you feel that no policy or action should be called anti-semitic to avoid hurting its supporter’s feelings?

    Of course, if you care about their feelings.

    How would I be expected to discuss Israeli policy if I refer to my opponent’s policies as anti-semitic and pro-terrorism, and she refers to mine as racist and pro-apartheid? How could that end up being a productive discussion?

    I’m willing to moderate my language for the purposes of engaging in a debate with someone who requires it, if (a) I’m otherwise interested in having a civil debate with them and (b) they are willing to pay me the same courtesy.

    I wouldn’t go there with a Holocaust denier, but then again I’m not interested in bothering with civil debate against Holocaust deniers. Nor do I claim that I am interested in respecting their feelings.

    Was that supposed to be some sort of “gotcha” question?

  59. 60
    Mandolin says:

    Gotcha? Yeah, well, I’ve seen you participate in conversations where you certainly did not use the most temperate language, and I seem to recall anti-semitism being one of the least controversial of those. So I’m sort of confused by your stance here. Unless you’re just annoyed by Myca right now.

  60. 61
    Myca says:

    Are we calling people out now? I thought we were only talking about ‘bigoted’ policy?

    Jesus Christ, Sebastian. The bit you quoted was “Calling people out on their behaviour, and on the way it hurts others.”

    Behavior = Supporting bigoted policy.

    It’s NOT ‘you are bad.’
    It IS “this is bad, so you should not do it.”

    Similarly, if a good person does a bad thing, it’s okay to say, “you just did a bad thing.”

    —Myca

  61. 62
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Mandolin says:
    10/5/2010 at 3:30 pm

    Gotcha? Yeah, well, I’ve seen you participate in conversations where you certainly did not use the most temperate language, and I seem to recall anti-semitism being one of the least controversial of those.

    Yes. Neither were my opponents, IIRC. See (b).

    I can have (and have had) discussions where I have been willing to put my pet issues on the table, for open negotiations. But there needs to be a potential benefit to match.

    And, of course, I am certainly capable of violating my own rules. All that I can do is try not to break them, and alter my behavior (or globally alter my standards for me and for everyone else) if I realize I’m doing it.

    So I’m sort of confused by your stance here. Unless you’re just annoyed by Myca right now.

    Interesting example. In truth, I do find his posts here annoying and I’m almost positive he feels the same way about me. But I’m trying to keep the discourse civil, and so is he. And that’s the best part of the whole “mutual respect = civil discourse” thing: we may not like each other, and we may not agree with all of each other’s policies…. but we can occasionally discuss issues and find some common ground on which to be productive. Absent civil discourse that would not happen.

    Of course, being a mod and all, he (or you) is also able to call me whiny or whatever, and I can’t do the same. That’s the whole “one sided respect enforced through power differential” thing, which is also pretty common in the world. (Commonality aside, it happens to be an interesting statistical anomaly that the number of people who hold that power is almost identical to the number of people who firmly believe that they are Using It For The Right Reasons, and/or that Even If They’re Not, The End Justifies The Means. But that’s a side track.)

  62. 63
    Sebastian H says:

    Maybe I’m misreading, but it looks to me like the example of “calling people out on their behaviour” is in fact the very policy we are talking about.

    I’m perfectly ok with the assertion that being against gay marriage is bigoted in the strong “policy engaged in by bigots for the purpose of pursuing their bigotry” if you want to.

    It is the pretense that we are talking about policy without calling them bigots that I’m against. You can either have the righteous self-righteous indignation of calling them bigots and their actions bigoted, OR you can be having a policy discussion with them without insulting them and talk about how having different rules for gay people hurts gay people. But you probably can’t have both.

    “Any discussion of how a policy is bigoted, is the same as saying that anyone advocating that policy is a bigot, and is a personal attack. If Barry claims otherwise, he’s being disingenuous. Therefore, Mr. Deutsch should just go ahead and say that Blankenhorn is a bigot!”

    The problem is you are so amazingly wedded to the word bigoted.

    Yes you are calling them bigots. Either accept that you are calling them bigots (which may or may not be fine depending on what you are trying to do) or don’t call them bigots by using a word like discriminatory to describe the policy.

    Saying that the your narrow in-group of people uses bigoted in some allegedly neutral way doesn’t excuse you when you are talking to the general public. The standard usage of ‘bigoted’ is something very much like “actions performed by a bigot in the furtherance of his bigotry”. That is how people are going to respond to your use of a common term in an uncommon way, if indeed you are using it really to mean “policies with discriminatory outcomes with no moral judgment to be ascribed to those supporting it”. Now as it happens, it appears that even right here on this forum, even while we are talking about it, people have trouble restricting ‘bigoted’ to that meaning. The slip into ‘policies advocated by bigots in the furtherance of their bigotry’ has happened repeatedly.

    I would suggest that this happens because many of the users of the phrase ‘bigoted policy’ really do intend to ascribe ‘bigot’ to the policy advocates. Which is totally fine if that is what you want. But then don’t get so bent out of shape when people get offended that you are calling them a bigot.

    You are. Maybe you don’t mean to. But that is how you are going to be heard by people outside of your in-group. If you don’t want to be heard that way, don’t use it. If you don’t mind being heard that way, go for it. Saying that the usage is normal jargon for your in-group doesn’t make the standard usage go away.

    And frankly, I’m pretty well read in discrimination law discussions, and I rarely see them called ‘bigoted’ policies unless the implication is that they were intentionally enacted by bigots for bigoted purposes (see for example poll taxes). So I strongly suspect that this neutral usage, while not totally shocking to people from Harvard, Yale or Oberlin, is not even close to standard.

  63. 64
    mythago says:

    I concede that this does limit the extent to which Amp might want to tailor his remarks to suit Blankenhorn’s preferences.

    This is a very odd phrasing. Why would Amp want to tailor his remarks ‘to suit Blankenhorn’s preferences’? Presumably that would be Amp making himself look as irrational, foolish and emotional as possible so that Blankenhorn looks not only correct, but personally superior, but I don’t think that furthers Amp’s goals.

    Your statement that Amp’s choices have “no bearing” is a rhetorical trick of presenting an absurd, absolutist position (nothing Amp could say, no matter how offensive or angry, could affect the conversation) in place of an actual argument (to what degree can Amp’s word choices influence the conversation?): please don’t do that.

    But setting aside the extremes, the question is whether it’s useful to allow somebody you disagree with to pretend that what’s really at issue is your tone and word choice, and if only you jump through the right verbal hoop like a good little doggie, you have earned the right to have the substance of your argument considered.

  64. 65
    Sebastian H says:

    “But setting aside the extremes, the question is whether it’s useful to allow somebody you disagree with to pretend that what’s really at issue is your tone and word choice, and if only you jump through the right verbal hoop like a good little doggie, you have earned the right to have the substance of your argument considered.”

    So you’d be ok with letting someone discuss abortion policy and keep calling the pro-choice position ‘pro-abortion’ without raising that as special verbal hoop before they get the right to have the substance of their argument considered?

    Because I would have sworn I’ve seen that get jumped all over. And maybe even here…

  65. 66
    Elusis says:

    Another comment I made that I think is applicable here (note that I do not think racial oppression and GLBT oppression are exact equivalents or even always analgous, but I do think that the current fetish for saying “well you’re the (racist/bigot) because you called me (racist/bigoted)” functions in fairly similar ways, for similar reasons – Y HALLO THAR KYRIARCHY, would you care for another helping of Foucault?) -

    Ken Hardy and Tracy Laszloffy tried this tactic in their chapter “The Dynamics of a Pro-Racist Ideology” in Re-Visioning Family Therapy (excerpt available here.) They draw a distinction between the totalizing effect of calling someone “a racist” and pointing out how their words or actions “support a pro-racist ideology,” which can include tolerating existing conditions that are inherently racist (in other words – benefiting from, ignoring, or failing to see/challenge structural racism, which can include “accidents” like mistaking one person of color for another, which evokes the “all ___ people look alike” stereotype).

    Despite the fact that the chapter is some dozen pages of drawing distinctions between “calling people racists” and “identifying ways in which people may, intentionally or unintentionally, support a pro-racist ideology,” I have had dozens of (almost all white) students react vigorously against this chapter and complain about how it “calls all white people racist.”

    I have seen people characterize the mildest of comments identifying potential problematic racial (and sexist, homophobic, etc.) implications of people’s words as “an attack” or “a punch in the teeth” or “a dogpile.” One problem with the “Tone Argument” is that there is no way to win the Tone Argument if it is leveled against you. You have already lost in the mind of the leveler and in any witnesses who have similar anxieties about having their words or actions identified as problematic. And particularly in the case of a person of color being told that they are “too angry” or “attacking,” there is an enormous amount of cultural, racial baggage around POC as the violent, angry, savage, uncivilized, dangerous proto-human that immediately gets evoked.** I have watched exchanges in which a white person only labeled the black people as “aggressive” or “bitchy” or “angry” while never criticizing white people making the same arguments. I have been the white person on both sides of that dynamic.

    There is also hundreds of years of cultural baggage around POC needing to tiptoe around their white masters/superiors/overseers/bosses lest they evoke ire and retaliation. There is a reason that one theme that the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Gay Rights movements had in common during their heydays in the mid-20th century is not shutting up, not being “nice” any more. Because people on the margins live constantly under the enforced threat of what might happen to you if you are not nice, and with the knowledge that the ultimate arbiter of sufficent niceness is not likely to be one of them.

    ** This is one place where the connection between conversations about racism and sexual/gender minorities clearly fails. GLBT POC obviously are stuck with these racialized tropes about their aggression, but white GLBT people are not. On the other hand, there are tropes about the aggressive and mannish lesbian who hates men, and the shrill, shrieking faggot, that can get evoked when queer people are perceived as angry. Not to mention the more recent history of seeing gay men’s bodies as dangerous because if they attack you, you might get t3h AIDS from them, or they might rape you (because “you” is coded as male). But white queer aggression does not have anything like the connotation that perceived aggression from POC, particularly African-Americans, has.

  66. 67
    mythago says:

    Sebastian, so you think that if somebody describes their opposition to abortion as “pro-life,” that I should refuse to consider anything they say until they call themselves “anti-choice” because I, personally, think that it’s offensive and inaccurate for them to use the term “pro-life” to the point that I won’t discuss anything else? Really?

    This is like the stereotypical situation where A confronts their spouse, B, with evidence that B has been cheating and B’s response is to derail the discussion with “I can’t discuss something with you when you’re this angry and suspicious. When you can be reasonable maybe we can talk about it.”

  67. 68
    Sebastian H says:

    I think insisting that someone change *their own* label for themselves is a whole different world.

    And I think you do to.

  68. 69
    mythago says:

    I’m answering your inflammatory and extreme example. Sorry if I didn’t do so in a way that was pleasing to you.

    But analogizing to the situation at hand, look at two different approaches:

    A: “You’re pro-abortion.”
    B: “This policy you support encourages more abortions.”

    Do you not see the difference between the two? Do you believe they are identical, or that it is fair to tell person B “I’m angry that you just called me ‘pro-abortion’ and I won’t talk to you until you agree to call me ‘pro-choice’”?

  69. 70
    Myca says:

    Maybe I’m misreading, but it looks to me like the example of “calling people out on their behaviour” is in fact the very policy we are talking about.

    I think you are misreading. Let me give you an example.

    Let’s say I have a buddy who’s generally a good guy, treats people with equality, does not seem to be more racist, sexist, or homophobic than the sort of ‘everyone has some racist attitudes’ type of thing, but he does often recognize his crap and work to change it.

    Then one day we’re hanging out with some of his other friends, and they start cracking jokes of the sort that men often crack when there’s a group of them hanging out together. My buddy joins in and makes an offensive joke … maybe it’s racist, maybe it’s sexist, maybe it’s homophobic. Whatever.

    I turn to my buddy, and I say, “Hey, that’s really uncool. That was a sexist/racist/homophobic joke.”

    I am calling him out for his behavior, but that doesn’t change that he is generally a very good person who doesn’t act habitually in bigoted ways.

    This is like that.

    And to not call the racist joke racist because it will be perceived as an insult? Fuck that noise.

    —Myca

  70. 71
    Sebastian H says:

    “I’m answering your inflammatory and extreme example. Sorry if I didn’t do so in a way that was pleasing to you.”

    Strange. My example: inflammatory. You however get to call people’s actions bigoted and don’t get to worry about how that pleases people. Hmmm.

    Your version of the analogy fails because calling a person’s actions ‘bigoted’ *in normal usage* implies intention.

    If I say that something is likely to get someone killed, that is one thing. If I say the action is ‘murderous’ that is another thing.

    Even if my in-group used the word ‘murderous’ to mean “things which through negligence or regular use may increase some chance of death even if very small” that wouldn’t mean that in normal conversation with people outside of my in-group that calling the use of Advil ‘murderous’ would likely be very inflammatory.

    Amp, suggests that he isn’t trying to call people bigots. But the regular usage of bigoted doesn’t allow for that. So when using it in outside of his in-group it is weird to complain that people are interpreting it using normal usage. It is especially weird when there is a perfectly good word, that means exactly what he is trying to convey, and allows bigoted to be reserved for the cases where you really do intend to imply that the people are being bigots.

    And btw, I still haven’t heard what word you intend to use for “policies used with the intention of furthering bigotry” now that you can’t use bigoted. Or is that something you don’t think we need a word for?

  71. 72
    mythago says:

    Strange. My example: inflammatory. You however get to call people’s actions bigoted and don’t get to worry about how that pleases people. Hmmm.

    Protip: when you descent into bad mindreading and making shit up, people will tend to assume you’re feeling a bit desperate.

    As Myca pointed out at @70, one can say ‘this is a racist joke’ or ‘this law is homophobic’ or ‘this policy is bigoted’ without saying, or even implying, ‘you are a racist, because you told that joke’ or ‘you are homophobic, because you voted for that law’ or ‘you supported that policy so you are a bigot’.

    I am not really sure why you are having difficulty with this.

  72. 73
    Phil says:

    Again, think about what you want to accomplish. Has anyone ever persuade you to change? Did they do it by calling you a bigot (even if true)? Or did they do it in some other fashion?

    Humans are social creatures, and we are hardwired to think of ourselves and others in terms of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” High schools and colleges take advantage of this all the time, in order to instill school pride and rile up the crowds to beat their athletic opponents.

    A term like “bigot,” applied to a person, creates an out-group. But bigotry, and bigoted policies, are related directly to actions and choices. So the out-group can be hypothetical. I can say to you, “Look at this bigoted position. That’s a position we don’t want to support.” I’m not calling you a bigot; I’m describing a position.

    It’s possible, upon first hearing about Arizona’s SB 1070, to not see what the big deal is. In fact, I think that is often possible for someone coming from a position of privilege–a policy can be racist or sexist and I might just not see it. If you call the policy racist or sexist–and more than that, if you explain to me how the policy is racist, or sexist–you stand a good chance of persuading me about an angle that I might previously not have seen.

    As such, the only category of people who we should assume are completely unpersuadable by the use of a term like “bigoted” are people who actually are bigots. It doesn’t mean that if you support a policy that I find bigoted that you necessarily are a bigot, but it does mean there’s little reason to take the word off the table. You might indeed see my point of view, if I can explain it clearly. And explaining it clearly means using words that have the meanings I wish to express.

  73. 74
    AndiF says:

    When I first moved to the rural area where I live now I ran into a lot of people who used the phrase “jew ‘em down”. When I explained to them that the phrase was based on a bigoted stereotype, not one got huffy and refused to discuss the phrase unless I couched it in carefully euphemistic terms. Instead, most would say that they hadn’t realized it and that they’d never use it again. There were a few who said it wasn’t a big deal because it was just a saying that everybody knew didn’t really mean anything bad about Jews and they weren’t going to stop using it.

    I don’t think that the second group of people are bigots but rather that they self-identified as people who believe their own desires and values are more important than not giving aid and comfort to a bigoted practice. And with no malign intent involved.

  74. 75
    nobody.really says:

    Finally, various people express doubts that efforts to modify your language will influence how well your message is received. I suspect we could all identify circumstances in which that’s true and circumstances in which that’s false. If you think that Amp’s word choices will have no bearing on his conversation with Blankenhorn, I won’t attempt to dissuade you. Again, I encourage people to consider their goals. If, having considered your goals, you conclude that you’re best strategy is to use the language of your preference, go right ahead. I mostly want to argue against the idea that the rightness or wrongness of any language usage can be judged regardless of audience or context.

    Your statement that Amp’s choices have “no bearing” is a rhetorical trick of presenting an absurd, absolutist position (nothing Amp could say, no matter how offensive or angry, could affect the conversation) in place of an actual argument (to what degree can Amp’s word choices influence the conversation?): please don’t do that.

    Oh, I’m sorry. Permit me to rephrase:

    I’ve suggested that Amp consider what he hopes to accomplish in his conversation with Blankenhorn and then pick the strategy best designed to accomplish that goal. In particular, if Amp desires to appeal to Blankenhorn’s reason, Amp might want to avoid using language that he knows will distract Blankenhorn – especially if Amp can make the same points by simply rephrasing.

    Some commentors have argued that rephrasing would not, in this instance, better help Amp appeal to Blankenhorn’s reason. I want to observe that even if we disagree about the facts of this particular circumstances, we may yet agree on the merits of speaking strategically – that is, of tailoring language to suit the audience and context, rather than simply tailoring it to suit the speaker.

    As I had noted previously, I can choose to try to persuade or — if I find that a hopeless task — I can abandon the effort. I generally find that people who post to Alas, a Blog (and the Debate Annex) write with a reasonable degree of openness and good faith. Consequently, I appreciate it when I’m given the opportunity to rephrase. As my old buddy Chuang Tzu told me,

    The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish. When the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten.

    The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten.

    The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

    But where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He’s the guy I want to talk to.

  75. 76
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    10/5/2010 at 6:05 pm
    analogizing to the situation at hand, look at two different approaches:

    A: “You’re pro-abortion.”
    B: “This policy you support encourages more abortions.”

    Do you not see the difference between the two?

    You didn’t ask me, but A and B are absolutely different, in my view. The second example is the type of “civil restatement” that I’m talking about.

    I think where some folks have been butting heads, though, is here:
    A: “You’re pro-abortion.”
    B: “This policy you support encourages more abortions.”
    C: “This policy you support is a pro-abortion policy.”

    B and C are also different, in my view.

  76. 77
    Doug S. says:

    Sometimes I wish I could make reading this sequence of blog posts a prerequisite for arguing on the Internet.

    Whenever an argument becomes an argument about definitions, or what words people should or shouldn’t use, something has almost certainly gone horribly wrong.

  77. 78
    Freemage says:

    Gin-and-whiskey: But my question would be, do you see a difference between A & C, then? Because I do. And if the putative opponent in that discussion stated up-front, “I consider any policy which would result in more abortions being performed to be pro-abortion policies,” I could readily debate them in that context. FREX, I would initially point out that opposing contraception access and supporting abstinence-only sex-ed programs are both proven pro-abortion policies, as are efforts to limit welfare for single mothers, and arguably even the War on Drugs (a woman who is two months pregnant with the child of a man who just got locked up for years on a drug charge is, I suspect, far more likely to choose to terminate the pregnancy).

    In short, whatever definition they insisted on, I would demand that the definition be used evenly. And I would be angered if they then took a quote from that discussion without addressing the definition that was being used.

    As others noted, when it was asked about “racist Social Security policies”, if the proof could be made that SS payouts were racist by the definition being presented here, that would be a fine point to begin discussion, and might suggest that the policies need to be examined to see if they can achieve a more equitable result.

  78. 79
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Freemage says:
    10/11/2010 at 4:29 pm

    Gin-and-whiskey: But my question would be, do you see a difference between A & C, then? Because I do.
    Sure. Though of course, being “pro-abortion” doesn’t carry the same social stigma as being a bigot or a racist. It’s not an excellent example.

    …In short, whatever definition they insisted on, I would demand that the definition be used evenly. And I would be angered if they then took a quote from that discussion without addressing the definition that was being used.

    I’m not sure where you’re going here.

    As others noted, when it was asked about “racist Social Security policies”, if the proof could be made that SS payouts were racist by the definition being presented here,

    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes, is it by definition a racist program?
    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes and leaves POC on the “worse” side of the difference, is it by definition a racist program?
    If we don’t agree on that underlying definition, would it be appropriate to call the program “racist” in our discussion?

    that would be a fine point to begin discussion, and might suggest that the policies need to be examined to see if they can achieve a more equitable result.

    Oh, no no, no. There’s no “might” about it. If you’ve tagged a program as racist, that program is bad. It’s wrong. It needs to be changed. The question of “is the program OK?” can be answered as simply as “is racism OK?” And I suspect the answer is never “yes.”

    See? It’s magic! All you have to do is to use the word “racism” (which of course is only being used as a definition and not to make a particular point) and you don’t have to get into all that sticky stuff about whether or not the program is actually good, or bad, or balanced, or appropriate, or just a part of a larger governmental thread which contains various programs across a spectrum of benefit.

    It’s wonderfully efficient. But it doesn’t lead to good discussion.

  79. 80
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Freemage says:
    10/11/2010 at 4:29 pm

    Gin-and-whiskey: But my question would be, do you see a difference between A & C, then? Because I do.
    Sure. Though of course, being “pro-abortion” doesn’t carry the same social stigma as being a bigot or a racist. It’s not an excellent example.

    …In short, whatever definition they insisted on, I would demand that the definition be used evenly. And I would be angered if they then took a quote from that discussion without addressing the definition that was being used.

    I’m not sure where you’re going here.

    As others noted, when it was asked about �racist Social Security policies�, if the proof could be made that SS payouts were racist by the definition being presented here,

    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes, is it by definition a racist program?
    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes and leaves POC on the “worse” side of the difference, is it by definition a racist program?
    If we don’t agree on that underlying definition, would it be appropriate to call the program “racist” in our discussion?

    that would be a fine point to begin discussion, and might suggest that the policies need to be examined to see if they can achieve a more equitable result.

    Oh, no no, no. There’s no “might” about it. If you’ve tagged a program as racist, that program is bad. It’s wrong. It needs to be changed. The question of “is the program OK?” can be answered as simply as “is racism OK?” And I suspect the answer is never “yes.”

    See? It’s magic! All you have to do is to use the word “racism” (which of course is only being used as a definition and not to make a particular point) and you don’t have to get into all that sticky stuff about whether or not the program is actually good, or bad, or balanced, or appropriate, or just a part of a larger governmental thread which contains various programs across a spectrum of benefit.

    It’s wonderfully efficient. But it doesn’t lead to good discussion.

  80. 81
    Freemage says:

    G&W:

    The bit about “I would be angered” was, in essence, me acknowledging the one potential pitfall of actually agreeing to use the language you’re considering inflammatory–if taken out of context, a quote from that discussion could then be used to smear someone.

    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes, is it by definition a racist program?
    If a program results in a difference in racial outcomes and leaves POC on the “worse” side of the difference, is it by definition a racist program?
    If we don’t agree on that underlying definition, would it be appropriate to call the program “racist” in our discussion?

    Yes, yes and yes.

    Oh, no no, no. There’s no “might” about it. If you’ve tagged a program as racist, that program is bad. It’s wrong. It needs to be changed. The question of “is the program OK?” can be answered as simply as “is racism OK?” And I suspect the answer is never “yes.”

    See? It’s magic! All you have to do is to use the word “racism” (which of course is only being used as a definition and not to make a particular point) and you don’t have to get into all that sticky stuff about whether or not the program is actually good, or bad, or balanced, or appropriate, or just a part of a larger governmental thread which contains various programs across a spectrum of benefit.

    No, see, this is the part you’re not getting. Just because a program can be demonstrated to be racist under this definition doesn’t mean that the program itself needs to be changed; it just highlights the fact that it needs to be examined in the first place. FREX: It’s possible that the most effective way to address a putative racial discrepancy in Social Security payouts would be to address the inequities in medical care in minority communities (thereby bringing up black life expectancy more in line with the white majority’s). Or it might be to alter the program. But until it’s acknowledged that the discrepancy exists, you can’t even begin to try and show why the subsequent conversation is necessary at all.

    But let’s say that, in order to fully accommodate the tone-critics, we create a completely new word: frafacken (adj): to have unequal and unfair outcomes along racial, gender or sexual preference lines. I can guarantee you that as soon as that word becomes commonplace, the tone-critics will insist that labeling a policy frafacken is just an attempt to be inflammatory and control the debate.

  81. 82
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Imagine: You say something (“I’ll agree to stop calling you a racist if you’ll stop _____!”) and your opponent says “well, you’re lying. If I stop _____ you’ll just find something else, because you want to be able to call me a racist.”

    Would anyone of the people here ever accept that argument as used against them? Anyone?

    It’s ridiculous.