Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On Language and Violence

I first heard that language could be a form of violence when I came to graduate school six years ago. Oh, I knew that the "n-word" could be the equivalent of a punch in the face for a black person, but beyond that, the rhetoric that claimed that stupid ideas and dickish language could physically hurt someone was not really part of my worldview. I read "Politics and the English Language". I thought the lesson was clear. "Let's torture people" was preferable to "Let's commit enhanced interrogation." You could debate and hopefully defeat the former. The latter subverted the English language itself and made evil respectable.

I guess I could put together a more reasoned argument as to why I don't think "That's so gay!", "These college rape statistics may be inflated", and "Greek philosophy is more important than jazz music" are violent, but I don't feel like doing so. 

In Latvia I was neighbors with an Indian who was beaten up on the streets of Riga because of his skin color. I saw skinheads attack a gay pride parade in Tallinn. I know people who can't get up in the morning because they were raped. I know people who were severely beaten as kids. I have friends in Sarajevo who suffer from PTSD after living through a genocidal civil war.  

Violence is violence. 

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