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outbursts from the word-hose

“Survival of the Fittest” (and why it’s bullshit when discussing bullying and victimization)

Ok, on “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest”.

Lots of people use those terms and don’t fully grasp what they mean in a scientific sense, and why applying them to human social interactions and the intentional systems we’ve set up is bad business, both morally and survival-wise.

It is an evolutionary term, and evolution doesn’t happen on an individual scale. You can’t “kill off” the traits in a person that are “unfit” the way an unfit member of a population might die off relative to the population. On an individual level, you’re not talking about improving a person via abuse, you’re talking about killing them off, in a very real sense.  Self-improvement and maturation happen on a *very* different model or experience, reflection, and exploration; one that is not at all reliant upon or aided by (or even entirely resilient to) being systematically and intentionally abused.

But taking it on an individual level, “fitness”, even in the wild, doesn’t mean being fastest or strongest or “best”. Sometimes it means being the smallest, the least delicious-looking, the quietest. Because in nature, it’s not a contest between the rabbit and the wolf, it’s a contest of the population of rabbits and wolves against the random and un-intending circumstances of the wild, in the very very long-term. The rapid repopulation rate of rabbits that helps make them “fit” into the ecosystem long-term also contributes to the survivability and “fitness” of wolves by maintaining their food source. To put it another way, “Fitness” isn’t a contest of strength against strength, it’s an assessment of adaptability versus semi-randomly-changing conditions.

And the thing that helps a population remain fit over long periods of time is diversity. Encouraging monoculture and life-stunting and/or -ending brutalities within a population does not make that population more fit, even in the naturalistic sense. Letting bullies prey on other children does not strengthen either subset of children, or the school culture, or the town culture, or the country, or the human population on the large scale. On any level where there is change, that change would be to make us overall less fit as a species or sub-group. The “chain” model of a population with “weak” links and “strong” links is a very inadequate model, because fitness doesn’t occur in a binary or even on a continuum, the fitness of a population is a multi-dimensional spectrum that cannot be observed in any measure by figuring out who’s big enough to hit who.

And all of that is before we even start talking about how our human “fitness” rests pretty solidly on our unique ability to *remove* ourselves from the randomness of nature and impose our own institutions and schema on our environment. A belief in the commonly accepted (and wrong) definition of “survival of the fittest” is precisely the best way to oppose all of our evolutionary fitness.

“Tall”: an analogy about social perceptions and filing systems

Let’s say you’re tall.  Just for the sake of this experiment.  Not bizarro tall, just notably above-average-bell-curve tall.  If you don’t like tall or can’t imagine it, go with some other generally-positive, slightly distinctive, innate-but-not-central thing that has worked its way into your identity.  I trust you.  I’m going with tall.

Let’s say you’re tall.  To the people in your close family, you’re “the tall one”.  They ask you to get stuff down off shelves, and you maybe even have some kind of praiseful-ribbing family nickname like Stretch McHelpfulkid.  When you made it onto the basketball team with other kids who were of your general relevant demographics, most seasons you got to play center.  You know you are tall, and you have good empirical evidence that it is also apparent to other people.

But not *all* other people.

You go out into the world and start making cool friends.  And it’s cool…except there’s sometimes this weirdness about you being tall.  Not overt weirdness, just…nobody seems to know.  Like, you were at this one party where a corner of the conversation turned to what a hassle it could be to be tall, and you chimed in with a “Oh I know, I hate having to duck ceiling fan cords, amirite?” and nobody disagreed at you it just didn’t quite register…the boisterous conviviality of the other tall folks just muted slightly for a moment, then went on without you.  And those times at work where you and Dan share a cubicle, and sometimes people drop by to ask Dan to get stuff down off the shelf for them…and you’re pretty sure Dan’s no nicer or better or more popular than you (in fact, let’s declare that objectively true, for the sake of this world)…and when you stand side by side he’s at least an inch shorter than you (though still tall)…what gives?  The kicker was when that survey went around your hobby/friends group to determine who people thought were the five tallest people they knew to enter the tall-members contest with a rival group…and not one of them put your name down.  Three of the people on the list are, in fact, measurably shorter than you.  

You don’t want to obsess, because it’s not a big deal, and you don’t want to raise a fuss and make people think that you think it’s a big deal, but you feel gaslighted.  This is something that you know about yourself, it’s a generally positive thing, it’s something that you like about yourself and have always found handy, and thought of as a way you could be handy to others and fit in.  It is *measurably real* and *readily apparent*.  But for whatever reason, nobody that’s not super-close to you sees it.  That does bad things to a person’s head.

This is sort of what it’s like to be a woman and be tall.  Or handy.  Or physically strong.  Or funny.  Or artistically gifted in some non-domestic way. Or a math genius.  Or spiritually insightful in ways that don’t revolve around helping others directly with their angst.  Or good with spatial tasks.  Or a good tactician.  Or pretty much anything besides…well…pretty.  It’s not like people see these things, process them, and choose to reject them because they’re prejudiced against women…the problem is that people are prejudiced against women, so whether they see us being tall or not, it just never enters their fund of knowledge.  To put it in a filing metaphor, it’s not that they mark us down on the evaluation form more harshly for being women, the moment a person sees a woman a totally different evaluation sheet gets filled out and entered into their recall system.  For whole entire catagories of traits, we don’t even get a yes or no entry in the column.  

So where a man would get cross-referenced into a person’s worldview/monkey-sphere based on personability, humor, presence, achievements, ego presentation, perceived rank in the pecking order, and probably a wide array of other things (not all of them flattering, certainly) there is less about a woman that is considered important to know.  I think that’s a big part of the reason why people *just can’t stop* mentioning the outfits and haircuts of female public figures in what ought to be serious journalism…their inner observation-sheet about a woman is sparser than for a man, and when you have to bang out 500 words, you go with what’s in your hopper.  In my experience, everyday women mostly get filed in peoples’ heads in terms of attractiveness, and niceness, and other things only if they’re *really* outstanding (pro athlete, literally saved your life with CPR that one time) or fit super-neatly into a feminine-resource paradigm (knows how to work the old ditto machine, made those really good cookies that one time).

Seriously, this seems like the shape of a lot of people’s inner worlds to me (even those of other women).  I have observed men recounting anecdotes and listing off who was present for an event list off only the men and forget the women (the problem of history in microcosm).  I have seen women who any reasonably observant person would know to be very physically strong get passed over when picking people for heavy tasks in favor of very out-of-shape men.  I have moved people to physical tears with a well-timed witticism, only to find that they don’t summon my name to mind when asked who they know that’s funny.  I know women with an exquisite appreciation for beer and no lack of social skills who don’t get invited to beer night because they’re not a guy or a  guy’s girlfriend.  And…things…just lots of things.  I bet everyone can think of a few.  I bet if you examine your mental files of your female acquaintances vs. your male acquaintances (and even closer friends), you can’t entirely compare what you know about them head-to-head, because you just don’t retain certain data about women.  

To try to make a proof from the other direction, isn’t this what men complain about too?  They feel judged and examined on SO MANY levels, they have to keep all their personal and professional plates spinning to not been seen as failing on some level, where all women have to do is be pretty and not completely insane (amirite?).  But it’s still generally to their advantage to have lots of places where they can make an impression as valuable, compared to women who are almost completely out of the running in all categories if they can’t make it past the swimsuit round.  Isn’t that how the joke goes?   If a friend promotes a blind date on her personality, it must mean she’s ugly? (they’re close to her, you see, they can see and value that she’s “tall”…but why would that matter to anyone else?)  Isn’t that what we’re shown in media?  Women can be hyper-competent butt-kicking ninja-strike-force leaders with backstory…but only if they’re also 90% cuter than all their male co-stars.  And this is from people who are *trying* to be better, to create prominent female characters and have their friend’s awesome personality acknowledged.  If a guy’s only good trait is that he’s good at math, the woman that’s a little better at math still loses the scholarship recommendation to him because the professor didn’t call her invisibly-unappealing face to mind when writing up candidates.

I’m tall.  Not hugely, but clearly.  In most places and societies, that’s a good thing.  There is a noticeable privileging bias in favor of tall people.  Yet I’ve had people apologize my tallness for me when I’ve mentioned it, the way you excuse someone’s acne as “hardly noticeable” or their horrible sweater that they “wear well”.  Because, I think it can be argued, we try to bail out of conversations that contain data we can’t add to our known forms.  The only way people can file my tallness is by noting that it doesn’t make me not-pretty.

The people I know that notice women and catalog us on equal footing are the ones who have made a conscious effort to do so.  Even if it’s just to prove the shrill paranoid bitter feminist wrong by memorizing woman-stats in the future, I hope more people make a conscious effort to do the same.  BY ALL MEANS prove me wrong by creating the same multi-dimensional mind-models of women in your head that you do for men, cross-referencing them equally by the kinds of things they can be called on for and recommended for and deserve praise and recognition for.  Double dog dare.

Civility vs Graciousness: Why it’s Totally Ok to Ban Graciousness Trolls from Debates.

This is one of those pieces of writing I feel like I’m throwing on the cyber-pile.  I feel like there have to be a dozen or a hundred articles about this idea already, but seeing as I run across it frequently, and (given the subject) always at a time when bothering to explain would undercut the explanation, I feel a pressure to write my feelings out. So, more for the pile.

Understand that I’m talking about informal and semi-formal debates (the kinds that generally happen on purpose on the internet, but can come up in conversation as well), which I recognize to have different necessary dynamics than other forms of interaction (and hope you do too).  I’m not advocating a right to be a strident jerk where other peoples’ feelings and friendships and personal issues are concerned, or to shout anybody down, or to ignore a need for give-and-take in order to “win”, or to refuse to examine meta-factors in discussions and silencing like privilege and just bullahead as if all things are equal and logic will automatically prevail.  I’m advocating an awareness of how discussion of ideas is at its best (both in terms of productivity and enjoyment) when we focus on the ideas and our social-intellectual investment in improving them, and keep our aggressive ego-investment on a short leash.  Though I’m mostly addressing conflict-model exchanges, I’m not trying to advocate a conflict-model of discussion over a consensus-model…I vastly prefer consensus-model discussions, personally.  This is my attempt at keeping conflict-model debates I find myself in as consensus-oriented as possible, without falling into the trap of saying that even a robust conflict (of ideas) is inherently wrong and can’t be fun or productive for all involved.  So anyway…

Civility vs Graciousness: Why it’s Totally Ok to Ban Graciousness Trolls from Debates

Civility, as I’m defining it, is vitally important to the basic exchange and cross-testing of ideas.  It is the bare bedrock of discussion and debate, because without it, ideas aren’t being exchanged or tested, and it’s just so much noise.  I am using the term to refer to a specific social contract.  The parameters of this civility are very basic, and can be summarized simply as arguing in good faith:

  • Discuss ideas on their merits, comparing evidence or arguments.  When dealing with matters that aren’t about facts, do your human best to be honest, truthful, and (when applicable) logical.  Use facts and words accurately and intentionally and do your best to present them clearly.
  • Seek to convince, not to silence; to make the other side(s) stop using flawed arguments, not to stop arguing.  Be active in your refusal to silence other good-faith participants.  Refusing to take advantage of an uneven social playing field isn’t a special courtesy, it is an ethical necessity and a matter of basic civility.
  • No threats, lies, abusive language, shock tactics, or emotional hostage-taking.  Contribute your idea rather than your ego.  Dissect the other person’s idea rather than their character, motives or personal vulnerabilities.
  • Remember that debate, even in the conflict model, is about accepting or rejecting ideas, not people.  Do not ego-bait.  Do not tolerate being ego-baited.  Be as fierce or irreverent as you want in calling out and disproving a bad idea, but keep it about the idea and be aware that some language has an emotional splash radius.  Expect other people to do the same.
  • No over-simplifying complex concepts (e.g. the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire) to suit your idea, or pretending to complexity/unknowability where that’s not really a thing (e.g. “tide comes in, tide goes out, nobody can explain that”).
  • Vigilantly scrutinize your social mythologies and prejudices.  Learn to recognize the sensation of cognitive dissonance.
  • Cultivate an enthusiasm for improving your ideas.  Admitting to doubt is not conceding the entire point and can actually work to strengthen and clarify other points.  Concede when your idea is not proving resilient to fair scrutiny.
  • Listening to other ideas and encouraging their proponent to explain them more fully before engaging them makes everyone better and actually makes the exchange run more efficiently by heading off misunderstandings.  Freely admit to places where you agree.
  • Try to keep arguments in some kind of sequence from idea to idea rather than jumping from specifics to hypotheticals to generalities for strategic reasons.  If you’re feeling frantic, it’s time to reign-in your ego for your own good and the good of the discussion/debate.  If you find you’re working to obfuscate your point rather than clarify it, it could be that you just have a bad idea.
  • Accept that some facts are actually facts and really not subject to wild innovation or re-assessment of “everything we think we know” on the fly, especially when this kind of thing falls unacceptably far afield of the kernel of topic under discussion.  That’s as much of a conversational “tactic” as flipping the board in monopoly…just because it stops the game doesn’t mean that you won.
  • It’s ok to stop for any reason.  You don’t need to fabricate a reason to withdraw.  You don’t even have to state your reason, but it’s good to know what it is for your own sake.
  • Don’t be a dick.

That’s all it is (in a very rough-draft kind of way), and despite the abundant text, it’s really not that much.  Don’t bully or silence or lose your perspective.  It doesn’t forbid being fierce or passionate or humorous, it doesn’t mean opening your mind so far that your brains fall out, it just means being honest and acceding to the common aim of keeping the conversation on the sort of track that, at the end of the argument, will mean that all the sound and fury actually meant something.  When it comes to debate, it is possible to be entirely civil, and to have an excellent and productive exchange of ideas that everyone enjoys and where everyone gets heard, without being the least bit gracious.  It is also possible to use graciousness to be utterly uncivil…and to do it so relentlessly that it constitutes trolling.

Graciousness, at its heart, is a form of generosity or indulgence.  I believe in being gracious; it is certainly not a bad thing in and of itself, and in the proper doses can help make things more congenial, generally.  It is a mode of behavior intended to soothe egos and avoid personal offense when discussing personal topics.  At its best, it is a way of taking care of one another.  It’s nice.  I firmly believe in doing that.  But when it comes to ideas argued in good faith, graciousness isn’t necessary. There is nothing wrong with being gracious in a civil debate so long as it doesn’t impede the exchange assessment, and testing of ideas.  But too often people (especially those speaking from a position of social power or advantage and the special kind of ignorance that cultivates) presume upon the graciousness of others to the point that they break the basic rules of civility, trying to leverage the social expectations of their identity and ego (or the group’s identity) into a bad-faith prevention of discussion.  That’s throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.

The key thing to understand is that, by its very nature and definition, graciousness is not a thing that anyone is ever entitled to.  When it is extended, it is entirely as a function of the generosity of the one extending it, not as a tithe owed to the one receiving it.  Graciousness in debate includes things like offering help or education or encouragement to people who came to the argument with unreasonably bad information or limited understanding of what a debate is, rather than dismissing them out of hand for being irrelevant and unprepared; using polite, passive, “clean”, utterly emotionless and/or hypothetical language and syntax when less accommodating terms would be just as accurate and communicate the weight or scale of the issue better; allowing doubt to be beneficial to the other side rather than factually neutral; being careful of people’s ego when they have failed to keep it from getting too deeply mixed up in their ideas or the concept of winning; and continuing to engage with someone who has failed to be civil or argue in good faith with the aim of bringing them back to civil debate or letting them exit gracefully.  These are all lovely things to do for other people if you have the time and patience, and can be beneficial (on a case-by-case cost/benefit basis) to the overall quality of a civil debate, but if you find you are requiring people to do these things for you in a discussion, you are imposing upon their graciousness…you are the guest at the wedding who complains bitterly and incessantly that there’s no open bar.  It doesn’t make the behavior any better if you’re complaining on behalf of some other guest, either.  Just to be crystal clear to the point of being tiresome (because good gravy there’s no end to the people who don’t get this idea), civility is vital to debate, graciousness is merely nice-as-long-as-it’s-not-violating-civility.  

Some of the more pernicious go-to forms of graciousness trolling include “bias towards false fairness/neutrality”, “tone arguing”, and one of my new favorites that I don’t think has a google-ready name yet but which I think of as “the how-dare-you pit-trap”.  All function, intentionally or unintentionally, to leverage expectations of pointless graciousness to stop the process of pointed civil debate while pretending (or mistakenly intending, if you’re feeling gracious) to enhance it.

To start, in no way does civil debate require that all assertions be treated with a “bias towards fairness” view that all ideas are equally valid or even that they all be recognized as meaningful sides of the issue at hand.  Honoring even ideas that have long since been proven bad would actually be a fundamental negation of the debate process.  Most of the time, people only demand this kind of graciousness because they are breaking the rule of civility that participants try to keep the debate within a certain bounds of scope, complexity, and evidence base.  I am emphatically not talking about the civil obligation to try and assure all good-faith participants get equal time and regard despite unequal social realities, I’m talking about the right to ban people who disruptively insist upon a false “fairness” that prevents ideas from being excluded even if they are patently wrong, as an appeal to graciousness.

To make an extreme example, no one is required to take time out of  their established discussion of evidence of the geological impact of fracking to “refute” an assertion that the earth is flat or any syllogism that contains that assertion, or to provide even a single google-link to educate the one making the assertion.  No one is required to rehabilitate another person’s blatantly bad ideas or lack of research.  Sometimes people will, but that is them being gracious rather than the ideas being deserving.  A person refusing to engage in rehabilitating another person’s ideas or knowledge base for them (even if that other person is totally gracious and sooo open to being educated) is not being “hypocritical” or “exclusionary”.  They’re simply being as ungracious as they are entitled to be when someone else is being uncivil and trying to hijack a discussion from being debate that benefits everyone into a rehabilitative “geology 101” session that benefits only them.  No one is required to call such an assertion “unusual” or “dissenting” or “disproven” rather than “absurd” or “asinine” or “fucking ignorant”.  No one is required to humor such an assertion by softening evidence against it with platitudes like “admittedly I’ve never walked the whole circumference myself, so I suppose anything’s possible, but…” or use of the passive voice or third-person constructions, as if the idea itself were a person with feelings to be careful of.  No one is required to continue to engage with bad or baseless ideas, hopelessly flawed studies, or fallaciously used data (or the people putting them forward) once it has been shown that the argument isn’t being made in good faith.  And no one is required to not-ban a graciousness troll who insists on “being heard” and accuses people of being “closed minded” or “censoring” for not catering to their violations of basic civil debate.  Everyone deserves a civil chance to present their idea, but not all ideas presented are equally true, or factual, or relevant, or necessary.  That’s why debates are a thing.  There is no entitlement-to-graciousness that trumps the good of debates being a thing.

Comparable to this is the tone arguer.  Like the bias-towards-fairness troll, the tone-arguer troll’s ultimate aim is to silence the conversation all together by putting an unworkable burden of graciousness and a presumption of non-existent goals on all involved.  Whereas bias-towards-fairness creates effective “radio silence” by increasing noise, the tone-argument creates effective “radio silence” by suppressing the signal.  Whereas the bias-towards-fairness troll bemoans the “unfair” and “closed minded” withholding of an audience for their persistent derailments, the tone-arguer appoints themselves the sole audience and censor of the exchange, and establishes non-idea and non-argument criteria for what’s acceptable to express, often using social threats to enforce them (e.g. “no one is going to take you seriously if you talk like that”, “good luck getting anyone to listen to you with THAT attitude”).  Tone arguers most often appear and thrive in debates of social or political ideas where it is easy to play upon the false presumption that the ultimate goal (of a small internet debate or conversation!) is to win votes or sway mass public opinion (which the tone arguer implicitly claims to represent in perfect microcosm) rather than to refine ideas and clarify arguments among peers.  There’s no point even trying to mollify a tone arguer with good behavior because nit-picking is the  name of the game.  Even if everyone is following a high standard of graciousness, there’s always room for intentional misinterpretation, or even assertions that the whole process of arguing is inherently offensive.  Again, I am emphatically not talking about the civil responsibility to ensure that people are not making bad-faith ad hominem attacks, threats, or other violations of basic civility either overtly or covertly, intentionally or unintentionally.  Privilege is a real thing, and sometimes the only way past it and into continued debate is to call it out (more on that later).  I am talking about a right to ban people who disruptively insist on a false civility that prevents ideas and perspectives from being voiced if they are at all contentious or sensitive; even if they are entirely true, factual, valid, idea-based, and argued with complete civility; as an appeal to graciousness.  Again, addressing, refining, and resolving ideas that are troublesome or sensitive is kind of the whole point of engaging in civil debate.

To make an extreme (but sadly archetypical) example, no one is required to use unemotional language or appeasing constructions when laying out the facts associated with institutionalized racism.  No one is required to never use the word “racist” to describe institutionalized racism just to keep from opening “a can of worms”.  When someone is pointing out that another person’s idea or statement hinges (overtly or covertly) on a socially undermining paradigm that has no place in a discussion between equals, the one being undermined is not required to say please and thank you in their valid request that the undermine-er cut that shit out.  No one is required to “agree to disagree” with another person in discussing issues, to let them have the last word, or to help them withdraw with dignity from an undignified bad-faith ego outburst, lie, or badly-constructed assertion.  No one is required to offer or uphold access to conversations or conversation spaces for another person once bad faith is demonstrated.  Again, those would be social graces, not civil necessities.  Like a news anchor describing a horrible tragedy with a charismatic smile, sometimes gracious language is not the best way to communicate the weight of an idea.  As long as it remains civil and focused on the goal of clarifying rather than hurting-back, there is no tone that is off-limits.

To sum up: Using a pleasant tone is gracious.  Insisting that everyone use a pleasant tone all the time is uncivil.  Taking time to include or educate people who are ignorant of the subject is gracious.  Insisting on being included or personally educated when ignorant is uncivil.  Are we all doing ok?  Ok.

Unfortunately, even rules of fair conduct can always be used to cheat.  Classic trolling is simply the disingenuous use of offensive behavior to get a rise out of someone else, and it is a tactic that is never going to be completely absent from any troll’s arsenal.  Savvy graciousness trolls work by setting “how-dare-you pit traps” in an effort to accuse another person’s rejection of their idea as a bad-faith ad hominem attack on them as a person, or to deliberately misinterpret people pointing out their own uncivil behavior (like derailing) as a form of uncivil behavior (usually silencing).  It is very similar in principle to the bias-towards-fairness troll that cries “censorship!” when they are ignored, but with more focus and foresight.  It is very similar to the tone-arguer in that it is an attempt to usurp and dictate the intent and rules of the group (and of graciousness) to insist that a person has broken civility and should be silenced.  I try very hard to attribute people’s bad behavior to ignorance and mistake rather than malice, but “how-dare-you pit traps” generally involve a display of familiarity with the core rules of logic and civility as a part of their subversion of them, so I tend to just assume that they know what they’re doing and are capable of knowing why it’s wrong and fallacious, but they just don’t care.

It frustrates the ever-loving shit out of me that I can sit here and devote this much text to such basic and transparent behaviors and standards and still feel sure that some graciousness troll somewhere will use it to play the victim.  Seriously, fuck these people.  Fuck them and ban them and laugh at them.

 

An open letter to people who feel attacked by my atheism

You feel attacked.  Your belief is very personal and personified to you, so non-belief feels like an attack, and when belief and non-belief and other-belief end up locking horns over school funding and public displays and whatnot, it feels like “war”.  I get that.  You personally are a good, giving person…you’re doing what you do to spread The Word into peoples’ lives and public spaces out of joy and love and a near-ecstatic sense of clear-eyed world-saving…so it feels very unfair that people reject that, sometimes forcefully but sometimes, also, if you’re honest, when they’re “nice” about it.  It all feels very mean and hostile and aggressive and spiteful if you’re not looking at it from any side but the one you were born into.

The first thing to understand is that I’m not rejecting you, or even your religion, or even your religion’s doctrines.  I’m rejecting your religion’s doctrine’s intrusions (yes, sometimes via you) into places that they have no right or just cause to be.  Where you see a “war on religion” I see a “civil resistance and petition for removal of religion’s occupying forces from wrongfully annexed secular lands.”

Religion is the omni-aggressor when it comes to present American culture. I’m not being aggressive, I’m being assertive.  Aggression is a person trying to move into a space where they don’t have a right to be and trying to take it over (which is what I would be doing if I tried to tell you you “have to give up your beliefs”…which I’m not doing).  Assertiveness is a person moving freely in personal and equally public spaces where they have a legitimate right to move freely, and not accepting intrusion into their personal space by others, firmly refusing the aggressive demands and presumptions of others, and resisting demands (by anyone) for an unequal share of equally public spaces.  Religion has made the aggressive argument for generations that people have no personal moral (or even physical) space and must therefore meet the demands of religion and be subject to its censure, and that all public space is inherently the property of religion and its messages.  (If you are of a religion or personal practice that DOESN’T do any of that, congratulations!  We’re cool!  You can stop reading, you lucky person!)  When you feel “attacked” because someone refuses to give you free access to their moral space or to set aside public space and time for observation of your beliefs, that is evidence that you have been born into the presumption that you are entitled to these things.  But the only way you could be entitled to my moral space, to insisting that I listen to you and never respond, would be if I were not your equal, if I did not have the same rights as you.  I am not infringing on your rights by refusing to subordinate my moral space to yours, you’re infringing on my rights by trying to insist upon it.

I am not invading “your space” when I assertively insist that you move out of mine.  If what you experience in reaction to a person asserting their reasonable personal boundaries is to feel repulsed and rejected, it is because you (or, in fairness, your ancestors) made an aggressive move into a place you had no right to presume upon.

I am not “attacking you” when I respond to your argument with a counter-argument.  If your ideas are that personal to you, you need to exercise reflection in where and how you present them, and to whom, because no idea has any right to be presented with impunity. Whoever told you that other people did not have the right to respond to your free speech with more free speech lied to you.  Whoever told you that only bad, immoral people question or doubt the unexamined assertions of religious texts lied to you.  Whoever told you that all disagreement about ideas is an attack upon the idea holder lied to you.  You have the inalienable right to believe whatever you feel is true, but true things generally aren’t ruined by scrutiny and don’t require belief so passionate and internalized that questions are physically uncomfortable for believers.  Good ideas do not need human shields.

I am not persecuting you when I point out that you, by definition, have no special right to dominate or mark public spaces as your own.  Whoever told you that the state is the rightful property of a religion, its commandments, its holidays, or its imagery lied to you.

This assertiveness feels like aggression to you because it represents a change in how things have typically been done, but it is a change *away* from a situation of invasion and aggression.  The problem is that religion is *not* inherently entitled to all the space and access it has usurped and enjoyed for so long, since before you or I were born.  You have my sympathy that your God has unworkably commanded you to come into my space and bother me, but he has given me no similar command to accept that intrusion, and I will resist you, and no matter how you slice it, you are the one in the wrong.  You have aggressed into everyone else’s space.  Well, technically, your ancestors aggressed into everyone else’s space, so your frustration with being asked to get your stuff out of my house and out of city hall is understandable since you personally aren’t the one who put it there and no one ever told you it was in the wrong place.  But I’m telling you now…my house is mine  My body is mine.  Please keep your stuff out of my house and off of my body.  If you come to try and put more of your stuff in my house or on my body, I am not going to let you, because you have no right to that.

Similarly, our public spaces are ours, and you (and I) have to be reasonably respectful of everyone in that space and not try to gather up more than your share or push people out because your God doesn’t like them, or to access public funds for overtly religious promotional purposes, or to derail and dominate non-religious debates with overweening insertions of religious quibbles.  If your God wants to participate in the debate, have Him come up with compelling observable facts to support His position just like everyone else. (But tell him to make them good…even He’s not entitled to a one-sided debate in this world, and there will be fact-checking.)

Perhaps most painfully, there are things that your ancestors grabbed and stole and have hoarded away in YOUR house.  You need to get those things out and give them back, and stop trying to collect them from every generation.  You have no right to hold the reputations of others hostage.  You have no right to require or engineer public displays or refusals of faith from people in public or military services, schools, or gatherings.  You have no right to special exception from laws and regulations that govern business, public order, or child safety.  You have no right to the ritualistic public and private abuse of children whose values or families do not meet with your approval.  You have no right to incite or perpetrate violence against others.  You have no right to special exception from the principles of logical and scientific rigor when you make assertions that claim to be based on these principles or to have predictive validity.  You do not have these rights because no one has these rights.  Religion does not confer special rights.  That’s not what “Freedom of Religion” is.

That’s the thing.  “Freedom of Religion” is a right of people, not of religions.  It means that you, and I, and everyone, have the right to decide their own level of involvement with the ideas of any religion we like, including none.  It means that we have the right to organize a religion, and worship together, or privately, or not at all.  But the religions that we, as people, have rights regarding, have no rights regarding us.  Membership or belief is entirely voluntary.  If (God forbid) something happened to make you stop believing what you believe, or to give you beliefs in addition to those you already hold that made you want to find a different group to gather with, your church would have no ownership of you, any more than it presently has over me.  That’s freedom of religion.  And it is vital.  It has nothing to do with the falsely (and frequently) asserted “right” of a religion to special treatment over other religions regardless of how culturally dominant it is.  It has nothing to do with some expectation that any religion or any of the ideas of that religion will have to be given consideration or privilege of place in the public square, or that they will never be questioned or made light of.  Ideas do not have rights or freedoms, because a free society (and everyone in it)  needs the right to question and compare ideas based on their merits, not on divine fiat of silence and compulsion.  Your religion doesn’t have any special rights, and exercising your (inalienable) right to believe in a religion doesn’t give you any special rights over me or anyone else.

Society is far from perfect.  That does not mean you get to declare, legislate, or enforce doctrinal law.  Human life is full of doubt, but it is doubt without benefit.  You do not get to claim all gaps in a person’s knowledge, wisdom, or happiness as evidence of your God, any more than I get to declare gaps in yours as evidence against him.  Because we’re equals.  That’s the deal.

And, seriously, honestly, for real, stepping out of the ivory tower for a second and considering the dirty not-a-cultural-vacuum way the world really works, where privilege is most definitely a thing, where insidious cliquish bigotries bend all the laws and norms of what ought to be a free society to favor your religion’s “right” to infringe on my rights, when you have opted to follow the ideas of a religious organization that pours money into monopolizing the public spaces of government and education and military training and employment and medicine into a private religious property…if you feel like you’re under attack because one person in a thousand might dare to tell you that your ideas are not “more equal” than anyone else’s…your feelings are lying to you.

Fuck you for your expectations of my feelings, you entitled douchebag.

**standard boilerplate** I really don’t edit anything I say here.  If it gets past my internal filters, it lands on the page, and I don’t do a lot in the way of proofing.  It is what it is.  I’m not bragging, I’m warning.  Not because I’m edgy or dangerous (that would be bragging) but because I’m verbose and repetitive and poorly organized.  No one should read this.  I just need to write it.

Triggers.  Swearing.  Anger.  Illustrative use of hate speech.

I’m tired of stupid (people getting fucked by society)-ist bullshit and it’s non-apology-apologists. I’m tired of people who wanna tell tone-deaf, button-pushing, horrible-bullshit-perpetuating “jokes” and then do a 180 and become deep, uber-zen (but ironically prickly) philosophers about the causal nature of my feelings when I don’t laugh.

You see, it is only my feelings of being offended (repulsed, disappointed, disgusted, dehumanized, attacked, belittled, what-have-you) that make the thing they said “offensive”. Ha ha ho ho hee hee. It is only my deliberate failure to be flattered that makes completely harmless denigration into “sexual harassment”. Ha ha ho ho hee hee. I need to accept my share of the guilt, and my share is apparently all of it. Seriously, fuck ME for “being offended” in that weird wizardry of the infinitely culpable passive voice.
Me and that cake that “got eaten” and that dish that “got broken” have a lot of explaining to do.

It is a bottomless barnyard conundrum of chickens and eggs, don’t you know. Everything would be fine and fair if people would stop pointing out when things are not fine and fair. Words are just words and don’t mean anything unless you get all ivory tower and point out that the fucking definition of “a word” is *a sound with an attached meaning*. But poor asshole just stood there yodeling random phonemes into a vacuum and I went and made them into mean words by suddenly attaching meaning to them and yanking a thousand years of context out of my pink winker. That was me. I went and got some offended. My bad.

Seriously. Fuck me for “being offended”? Fuck me for “making it all about me”? Fucker, I was TRYING to talk about you, and what YOU did, on purpose, in a spotlight. You’re the one that suddenly wants the shit you do to be about ANYTHING but the shit you do, which is how we got into this bullshit C-minus philosophy 101 derail about how schrodinger’s cat was really the killer *the whole time* (dun dun dun! *inception BWOMMMM*)

People say words because words mean things.
They mean things because reality and society are things, because the world happens and has happened.
They are things with bad problems that can be made worse by the words we use and the ideas we condone.
Sticks and stones indeed break bones, and words decide the target.

I feel like I can’t put a fine-enough point on this, because we all stare into this garbage daily:
People with mental retardation are not culpable in the process that has made “retarded” into a marked word that defines its non-clinical users as assholes.  I don’t care if you’re used to saying it.  If you’re not an asshole, it’s time to stop.
Women are not culpable in the creation of phrases like “tape her and rape her”, and we did not get together and decide, for kicks, to deliberately synthesize disingenuous feelings of outrage and a loss of personal safety at its use.
Black. People. Are. Not. The. Ones. Making. The. Confederate. Flag. A. Racist. Symbol.

We are not doing this.  If it were ours to do or not do, this shit would not fucking happen.  These are the cards we got handed, and there’s no advantage in “playing” them.  There is no diner’s club aspect to the “race/disability/gender/orientation card”. It’s more like Go Fish where you try to get on with your life and anyone can stop you and say “pardon me, but do you have any woman cards?” and you don’t get to lie, you have to grit your teeth and hand them over because those are the rules. If a black kid gets stopped and asked if he has any race cards and he says “go fish yourself”, well, that’s just him “getting in trouble” (thanks, magic passive voice). Whatever you think of Barack Obama, if you can’t see that it’s the conservatives getting all the play out of his “race card” to play to their bigoted base, you need to pay closer attention.

So sure, fuck ME for being offended.  I’m offended because I’m already fucked, and because you felt the need to remind me (and anyone who might be in a stick-and-stoning mood) about your inalienable access to my arbitrarily-fucked card.  Ha ha ho ho hee hee.

Political Correctness: WTF does that phrase even mean anymore?

**standard boilerplate** I really don’t edit anything I say here.  If it gets past my internal filters, it lands on the page, and I don’t do a lot in the way of proofing.  It is what it is.  I’m not bragging, I’m warning.  Not because I’m edgy or dangerous (that would be bragging) but because I’m verbose and repetitive and poorly organized.  No one should read this.  I just need to write it.

This is my first outing, so let’s just fucking go for it:

Meta-debate words that aren’t part of the ancient codification of logical fallacies have their meaning diluted pretty easily.  I feel like that happens on sort-of-purpose…it benefits people to have an emergency flame-war escape hatch that sounds official but also hip and dismissive.  So terms like “trolling” and “political correctness” end up in a place where everyone is able to have their own parameters.  “Trolling” becomes a catch-all for “anything that upsets me in what I feel is an intentional way” with a lot of nebulous ideas about intent and language use, and “Political Correctness” becomes a catch-all for “anything that limits me in what I feel is an artificial way”.  There’s an almost-Godwin-like finality to their deployment, except the user is trying to overtly declare victory rather than unintentionally declaring defeat.  It becomes part of the static rather than part of the signal.

And that’s a shame.  Because we need these terms and some of the things they can mean.

Let’s start with political correctness, and unpack a little bit of the bullshit that some people want it to mean, vs. what it actually could be usefully used to refer to.

There are three big categories of false definitions of political correctness: 1. the placing off-limits of certain words or phrases for the sake of putting the larger ideas behind them into the dustbin of history, or at least refusing to continue perpetuating the harm that they do 2. the failure to find tragedy, prejudice, and hate-speech humorous and 3. the cultural situation of evolving language and awareness.

1. Yes, Virginia, there really are words that are never useful if you’re in a privileged position and not an irredeemable jerk.

Understand that I’m not talking about swearing or other “bad” words.  I love swearing.  I am quite fluent.  I also don’t think that all name-calling is hate-speech.  It’s not usually productive, and it should be used carefully since it says as much about the speaker as the subject, and for fuck’s sake try to be creative when you’re doing it, but I’m not advocating an end to anger or discord, just to very specific toxic rhetorical tactics.  I’m talking specifically about “nigger” and “retard” and “faggot” and “fatass” and “tranny”…the six-letter words, not the four-letter ones (that’s an illustrative rule, not a hard-and-fast one…”rag head” belongs on that list, obviously, and way too many others).  And no, I don’t mind spelling them out for the purpose of discussing them.  I don’t think the sounds or letter combinations themselves have some mystical harmful power that makes me clutch my pearls and faint.  These sorts of words do more than just toss a bit of colorful nastiness into the discussion.  They are words designed and used to single specific “types” of people out, conjure them as a “type” based on ultimately trivial characteristics, revive a place of shame to put them, and to keep them in that place.  That’s different from one person calling another person a name.  That’s one person evoking the weight of systemic oppression and bringing it to bear, reminding another person to “know your place”, reinforcing the idea that they and everyone like them ought to stay silent or else.

It is cruel, and it is cowardly, and it is incorrect.  Not *politically* incorrect, objectively incorrect.  Because black people, fat people, gay people, disabled people, trans people…their characteristics are not shameful, not a reason they should be silent, not a reason you should be able to pull rank on them and tell them that your prejudice is their “place”.

The big irony here is that these words are on the hell-no list NOT because they’re “politically incorrect” but because using them is a really ugly demonstration that the user feels a distinctly political sense of supremacy and immunity and authority and entitlement.  They’re there because they’re shameful implements of oppression and torture that have their own special place in our historical political toolbox.  People have run and won on the platform of oppressing “niggers” and sterilizing “retards”, large institutions have made gobs of money on the politically presumed pathology of being a “faggot” or a “tranny” or a “fatass”…not always precisely in those words, but precisely in that spirit…”they” are the problem, “we” have a cure.  The political assertion that there is a place for “those people” is a powerful one.  No one would ever argue that people should be raped.  “Whores” on the other hand…

So, no, we don’t get to use those words anymore without the concurrent recognition of what they do and what they are and what we are by extension.

“But wordhose, what about when black people call each other the-n-word? (or when women refer to themselves as ‘bitches’, or a trans person references the word ‘tranny’)

Frankly?  I don’t have a problem with it.  I know there are (in the n-word example) black people who do, and I think their voice in that debate is more valid and significant than mine.  The short version of my feelings on it is that a black person using the word “nigger” is referencing the same place-creation and shame-creation that word means when anyone uses it, but it’s done in a very different way.  I think it’s ok to talk about that, because it’s an ongoing problem that still needs to be talked about and processed, it’s just not ok to *use* it on people.  There’s a difference between processing the problem and perpetuating the problem.  Do I think its possible for black people to use “nigger” in a regressive and perpetuating way?  Yeah.  I think everyone should be careful when handling place-putting words.  That still doesn’t make it less than super-secret-double-disingenuous for white people to treat the way some black people process racism like it has any bearing on the way white people perpetuate it.

Think about it like it’s a demon’s name in a fantasy story.  According to legends, you can use a demon’s name to summon it, or you can use a demon’s name to bind and banish it.  Power-majority people have historically been all about using these names to summon the demon and get it to hurt people, so even if you’re the nicest power-majority-person in the world, if you’re not laying down a serious binding circle with the explicit intent to process instead of perpetuate, just don’t fucking go there because you’re an idiot and it’s a demon and it’s going to fuck something up whether you mean for it to or not.  Power-minority people have been that demon’s victim, so if a member of a demon-afflicted group wants to use that name to bind and banish that demon, it is not within my purview to even offer criticism.  When it comes to fighting that demon, any given person that has ever been hurt by that demon can use whatever weapons they want.  The rest of us are just Mickey Mouse thinking there’s no harm in making a magical broom do some scut work for us.

Seriously.  Mostly-comfortable-majority-type person to mostly-comfortable-majority-type people, it’s darn near impossible for us to reference that place and that problem with that kind of word without there being some real fallout as if we were *using* it to place-put someone, even inadvertently.  That is just what those words are and what they do in our mouths…they remind everyone of the unjust and politically reinforced power-structure at play.  And we stand there looking all thunderstruck and saying “I was just trying to clean it, and it went off…” like we had any business picking up that gun after what has been done with it in our name.  And that’s not the fault of our gun-shy contemporaries, it is squarely the fault of our gun-happy contemporaries and predecessors.  Sorry about it, guys, but there are some words that are just not for our use.  That’s not “political correctness” that’s “giving a shit about others even if their experience of the world isn’t the same as yours 101”.

“But wordhose, this is all just a bunch of whining by people that want everything sugar-coated for them and can’t handle a person calling a spade a spade.”

Really?  I was asking for sugar-coating?  Because I’m not the one here wanting to ignore the ugly things these words mean.  It’s the super-proud “politically incorrect” crowd that are the ones who want to pretend like black face and the confederate flag and the n-word have no harmful past or present, want to sugar-over the lingering facts of *absurd* inequality that they represent and perpetuate, that want to act like free speech only applies to them, that whoever gets hurt by the words they choose should be enjoined from mentioning it, screaming “censorship” when all that’s really happening is criticism.

And, for the goddamn record, you’re not getting called out for “calling a spade a spade”.  No one ever gets called out for that.  Go out in the garden and point at a digging tool and call it a spade and see how many flame wars start up, even if you were pointing at a trowel.  You get called out for calling a human being a spade.  You get called out for calling confirmation bias a form of inductive reasoning.  You get called out because you’ve made it clear that you *really believe* that “niggers” are a thing that exists rather than a crummy mythological notion for the purpose of explaining why some people don’t get to be treated like people, because you’re admitting that you think that that concept is a meaningful, useful, complete descriptor of some person you’re talking about or to.  Thinking that hate-speech is useful vocabulary is going to get you called out, not because I hate or “can’t handle” honesty, I just hate and do not tolerate the bigotry your honesty reveals.

“But wordhose, if people just didn’t let the words hurt them, they would lose their power.  Sticks and stones, right?  It’s people being so sensitive that’s the problem.”

Some words have a bad habit of being backed up by and used in conjunction with sticks and stones.  When we use select and specifically-dehumanizing place-putting words, one of the many things we’re saying with them is “just so you know, I could do whatever I want to you and nobody would stop me or punish me, because you’re not a real person to the point that there’s a word for what you are.”  It has never ever ever ever ever EVER been the group these words are used on that are at fault for making these words into something special and awful that can’t be used without that underlying connotation.  These words got made into that by the people who have lynched and raped and laughed while they did it and used these words as their calling card and unifying pledge.  That’s just what they mean.  Wanting to hand-wave that meaning away so we don’t have to recognize or apologize is just one more seriously-fucking-wrong thing we’re using our privilege in conjunction with these words to do.

Which brings us to…

2. Joking-not-joking.

Lindy West is smarter than me and has already written far better, smarter, more concise, and more hilarious stuff on this topic than I expect to here.  Go read her stuff instead.  I will not be the least bit offended.  You will be glad you did.

Anyway.

Sometimes in this life, a joke will bomb.  It happens.  There’s any number of reasons why a joke won’t hit.  Maybe it’s old and we’ve heard it before.  Maybe it wasn’t terribly clever.  And sometimes it’s about a subject that elicits a different feeling in people than laughter or amusement.

This is why “off color” comedy is risky, because it skirts all three of those territories.  Hating on a minority?  Yeah, that’s pretty much been done to death.  Good comedians can do it to process and raise awareness, crap comedians do it and perpetuate.  Because, unfortunately, there are lots of ways to wring laughter out of people, and not all of them have to do with being funny (that is, witty, insightful, challenging, amusing, humorous, artful, tension-relieving), so “off color”, while being a hard risk for genuine laughter, gets used as a crappy crutch by hacks scrounging for laughs of shock, embarrassment, or delight.

Delight?  Yeah.  Communing in a comfortable prejudice, wallowing in the spiteful and familiar, is delightful to our monkey-brains.  It’s one of those god-awful things about human beings that we need to be aware of.  It’s the chemical hit that makes high-school-kids keep pushing the “tell the gay kid to kill himself” button, not out of genuine fear or any kind of pain or problem of their own that needs redress, but the simple delight of all being in agreement and having the freedom and power to toy with another person’s agony while feeling nothing themselves.  That’s why it would be “hilarious” to some people for a woman to be gang-raped in a comedy club for not communing with them on how side-splittingly funny rape is.  On the smaller scale, it’s why we feel all warm and fuzzy around our best friends when we’re venting about how much we can’t stand someone else.  There’s no joke there.  It’s a push button response, like shock or embarrassment or tickling.  If you put a person in a setting they feel safe in, and push their privileged-spite button, they laugh.

But what about when they don’t.  What about when you bomb?  What about when all you brought to the table is re-warmed racist caricature and stereotypes about women and how much you just don’t get what’s up with The Gays, and it doesn’t push anyone’s button.  Just because you told “a joke”, that doesn’t obligate anyone to laugh.  Just because you told “a joke” that doesn’t make you immune to whatever reaction they *did* have.  It’s the jokes, not the people, that are humorless in that case.  That’s you, not them, that don’t have a sense of what humor is, because if you did you wouldn’t be trying to coast on easy delight and shock responses.  That’s you expecting your privilege to contractually obligate other privileged folks to chime in (and if you’re a MAJOR asshole, you also expect fealty-laughter from the oppressed).  And the ONLY way to make yourself an even bigger loser after that point is to try and enforce that contract by getting angry at the people you’ve failed to entertain.

Because it’s old.  We’ve heard it before.  It’s only “edgy” in the sense that it’s on the trailing edge of culture.  I don’t find it offensive out of some inauthentic self-policing “political correctness”.  It’s my genuine response to someone being a mean-spirited douchebag and wanting a cookie for it.  Laughing when I don’t feel like laughing just because someone “told a joke” and that’s the response they expect would be a fakey political act.

3. Such a HASSLE

“Oh MAN, you can’t even say OH MAN anymore without some woman crying oppression!”

I KNOW RITE?  Gawd.  Doesn’t it seem like every other decade some group or whatever is making up all these new rules that censor the crap out of what you’re allowed to say and how you’re allowed to behave?  What a DRAG.  Who can function when you have to learn all these WORDS.  I mean, women and gays and blacks…or is it people of color again?  Darn this is so hard…but that’s the point, right?  These people with their thought-policing, they just don’t know how HARD it is to learn all these specific fiddly rules, let alone follow them!

Actually, in the first place, we do know.  We really do.  It’s why we give a shit about the language people use.  Because we are intimately fucking familiar with how allll the little phrases and idioms that have wormed their way into our cultural soup in the past dozen-hundred years of white-male editorializing help to maintain our status as invisible, subjugated, and worthless.  We know what it’s like to have to follow subtle, shifting, ever-changing rules that only apply to us but were made by people who are not us, who make us an “us” in the first place simply by having all the power and insisting that we’re not part of “them”.  We know *all about* regulating our thoughts and behaviors and actions to be acceptable to society.

We’re pretty much never going to not know.  So why should you get off without knowing?  If I have to have an intimate education in the nuanced meaning of what a man means when he calls me a “twat” depending on place, time, tone, and context (lest I earn some sterner censure), so do you.  Since trans* folk labor under a highly specific burden of knowledge of all the epithets and labels (not to mention jokes, laws, punishments, and portrayals) that are meant to apply to them and why they hurt, since they have had to spend long hours over their decades in the shadows trying to figure out words and phrases that will help dismantle the mess of dehumanization that has so carefully been constructed for them, you can damn well bet we have to shut our stupid faces and listen when they are kind enough to give us the cliffs-notes version of their opinion on the matter, because they are extending to us an expectation of our rational intelligence that we have done NOTHING to deserve and everything to squander.

Yes.  Learning a foreign language can be hard.  This is not that.  This is learning your own language, which in every subject is a life-long experience, and which doesn’t seem to raise as many red-flags of “oh gawd so harrrrrd” when it’s about internalizing the the difference between a “cell phone” and an “iphone” or a “hybrid” and an “electric” car as it does when a person is being asked to learn how to exert bare-bones-basic-not-pooping-on-the-dinner-table courtesy to someone that they (secretly, fiercely) resent having to endure the existence of.

Changing the language to *accurately* reflect the worthiness and humanity of everyone is the correct thing to do, and it is a political reality and necessity, but it’s still not properly termed “political correctness” any more than using correct language to talk about your phone or your car are…they’re words that let you say what you mean.  They let you call a human being a human being.  They let you see and hear the places we’ve been ugly and cruel and factually off this whole time in talking about each other.  If you don’t know enough about a subject to know the most basic words, don’t try to talk on that subject.  You’re not being asked to build or repair a transmission from scratch, Einstein, you’re just being asked to know the basic user difference between an automatic and a manual.  That’s not harrrrd, that’s the kind of knowledge that’s out there and is mostly only avoided by people who are actively avoiding it.  Shit, people that don’t drive at all know the difference between a manual and an automatic.  You know where teh google is, and there are plenty of “not being an asshole” resources out there.  Super-easy cliffs notes.  Shit you probably have already absorbed but are fighting on screwed-up principle.

Oh here’s a thought…clear out all those othering and place-putting terms you keep in there just in case you ever run into a spade that really really needs to be called a spade (you won’t…that’s not a thing) and I assure you there will be MORE than enough room for a quick google of why people put an asterisk in “trans*”.

Again, not “politically correct”.  It’s a correction, definitely.  We’ve been cramming racist, sexist, homophobic crap and other juicy tidbits into all the nooks and crannies of American English since we decided that would be a thing.  Every generation has had whole new batches and developments on hate-themes full of vocabulary and nuance.  Nobody ever complained that learning those was harrrrrd.  Learning the right words is no harder than learning the wrong ones.  But it’s not political.  It is not an abstract strategy.  It serves the purpose of political equality, but that’s not the first or most important reason.  The first reason is the same reason that there are some nicknames you’d like to have and others you wouldn’t.  Because you’re you, and you want the people who talk to you or about you (and who take it upon themselves to voice opinions about what’s up with you) to show that they know your name.

“Ok, wordhose.  So if none of this stuff is “politically correct”, what does that phrase even mean?

Have you seen “Dexter”?  Dexter is politically correct.  He has no internal awareness that killing is wrong, no wired grasp of other people’s pain, but he has a list of things he knows he needs to do to avoid being punished for killing and hurting people.

That’s “political correctness”.  Stuff that’s just for show.  Manners without morals, that rely on selfish motivations.  Manipulative lies.

People that don’t beat their kids…in public.

People that love to throw around the term “political correctness” bug me.  A lot.

Because what they’re saying is, basically, they don’t *really* believe that (insert minority) are people that don’t have a “place” they need to be put in, and they don’t really believe that anyone else believes it either.  That it’s all just a big silly scam that will be gone in another generation or two and oh won’t my face be red.  The fundamental worthiness of a person regardless of skin color is just a scam, and they’ll go along with it if there’s something they want (just like everyone, they think) but yeah, they know it’s all just a lot of talk.

Lip service.  The stuff of politics when politics is not the basic process of living as self-governing people but the thoroughly-rigged-thoroughly-gamed system of tricking the people you despise into giving up their vote to you.  You might memorize the words without ever bothering to internalize them, or you might fob off the job of correcting your speeches and apologizing for your gaffes onto an aide.

The “politically incorrect” people are no better.  They are every bit as convinced that the present progress of civil rights is just a laughable sham, but since they’re not running for election they figure there’s no reason to even pretend like they aren’t bigoted, pampered, tiny-minded heaps of crap.  They just want a cookie for it, also.

So yeah, depsite all the things that get called political correctness that aren’t, the phrase it still useful.  It tells you a lot about the person using it.

A place for place-having.

This blog is for those times when I have longer answers than the questions were asking for, or the fifteenth time I find myself writing the same thing to a new person and think “I really wish I’d saved a copy of the last time I had to explain this”, or when I know I’m about to barf up a rant and need a catch-bucket.  Because my brain is a word-hose sometimes, and not every conversation needs the riot response.