Wow, the news these days is sure offering me little opportunity to diversify my writing without simultaneously ignoring two of my favorite topics (nanny/surveillance-stateism and Mitt Romney). From the NY Times today, we learn that it's not just banning smoking and licensing photography on the minds of the elected officials of Gotham, but also banning mean words.
Apparently, the NYC City Council banned the n-word earlier this year. Now, some of its members want to ban the word for a female dog that starts with "b." The argument behind the proposed ban is that "The term is hateful and deeply sexist, said Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, who has introduced a measure against the word, saying it creates 'a paradigm of shame and indignity' for all women."
First, let me say that I've been called the "b" word plenty of times in my life. I can't think of a single time when I've felt hated, shamed, or as if my dignity were being stripped. Actually, in the world of corporate law, being called the "b" word by an adversary was, well, a compliment, because among other things, it showed how whiny and pathetic the person who said it, who presumably failed to get their way on some point or other, truly was-- while simultaneously indicating my own effectiveness. But I digress.
Friends know that I'm a ridiculously politically-correct person. I physically bristle when I hear the "n" word used, even in, say, a Kanye West song (so I listen to little rap, and don't allow a lot of it in my house). I hate terms like that word. And even though I don't really hate the "b" word, I can understand why it's offensive to a lot of women (if not me personally)-- and I absolutely can understand why the "h" word (ends in "o") is offensive to a lot of women-- if I were called that, I probably would go ballistic.
Still, the members of the NYC City Council who are pursuing this ban seem to have forgotten three fundamental things: first, we have a First Amendment in this country, and on a strict interpretation at least, it should cover the use of words like these, offensive as they may be; second, what lawmakers should be concerning themselves with is protecting the public from actual violence-- not hurt feelings or a sense of degradation; and third, bans like this haven't tended to work well in other contexts.
Oh yes, those backing this plan will say (I have no doubt), but using words like these degrades women (or African-Americans) making them all the more susceptible to violent behavior because it dehumanizes them. But there is degrading, and then there's dehumanizing. Degrading is something that isn't very nice, but ultimately, is behavior that by any reasonable assessment is not going to pave the way for mass lynchings, widespread gang rape, or efforts to murder an entire group. Dehumanizing, on a grand scale, may, possibly, arguably, lead to these things, but merely slinging around nasty, mean, and offensive words is not the first step towards the Fourth Reich. And it's sad that those backing this bill seem to think that bad words being used is so serious as to warrant anti-First Amendment legislative action-- something we should always be very reluctant to pursue.
With a bit of luck, since only 19 out of 51 council members are backing this plan, it will be shot down in flames. And maybe in time the person sponsoring it will develop a thicker skin, and a recognition that government isn't an appropriate way of stopping objectionable, but essentially benign, behavior. But, based on the way things seem to be going in NYC these days, I wouldn't count on it.
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