OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: On Freedom of Speech

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  • Kracklite,

    Various random tangents, observations and general wank of no particular pertinence...

    Likewise, without the intent, the insult can even be a term of endearment. Calling people cunts is very often done that way.

    I'm reminded of (A) Gene Hunt's "You're surrounded by armed bastards!" which clearly denotes no (additional) denigration of said bastards and (B), the common ... meta... para? TXT-inspired insult, which in spoken English is "See you next tuesday". You can certainly declare affection by swearing and malice through politeness.

    The search for a an inoffensive expletive insult does seem to me to be paradoxical at best, because when one starts using terms like "fucking hell", one's getting into the realms of phatic communication where the various combinations of words serve only as sequential intensifiers and not as modifiers within a coherent and consistent grammatical structure. I cannot "fuck Hell" any more than I can take Boullee's design for a monument to Sir Isaac Newton out to see a provocative motion picture followed by an amusing meal and stimulating conversation at a quaintly idiosyncratic restaurant leading to a delightful session of passionate lovemaking in my charmingly-appointed home in a discrete cul-de-sac.

    Swearing is technically interesting because it abandons true linguistic structures.

    "Twatcock" is amusing because it creatively plays with the apparent conventions of swearing, but carries, as yet, no pejorative connotations in itself... it also strikes me as ineffective for that reason because it is obviously a contrivance and is not invested with the vitriol genuine swearing depends on... it is, I think, by it's obvious contrivance, functioning to diminish the sense of hurt in a community that shares the word.

    Um, so the non-offensive insult may be more than the PC foam-rubber safety hammer of conversation in a sort of postmodern self-deconstructing way...

    Discuss at next week's tutorial... there may be a pop quiz.

    Be that as it may, at the risk of others saying, "No shit, Sherlock", swearing and insult may overlap but are not the same thing. Henry's "real New Zealander" "quip" contained no swear words but just as much malice as "dick-in-shit".

    Dante might relegate the perpetrators of crimes of passion and of malice to different circles of Hell, but all I can think is that the place must be an traffic engineer's nightmare with all the commuting, time-share residency and part-time shift work (which might be the point, actually... I always thought those arsewiping bloody kneecaps deserved to intercoursing go there for trying to (as Chaucer might spell it) phuqynge build the [literally] goddamned place on [figuratively] coitusing earth...). Hmm, Hell might not be a small room with three people in it, but a bus stop with an unreadable schedule and map...

    freedom of expression and freedom to criticise that expression are just two sides of the same coin

    Heartily (sanguinely) agree. I am mildly amused/rather more than mildly depressed by people who deliberately set out to cause offence and start complaining about the "PC brigade" oppressing them with words of complaint and comparing them to the Gestapo! Why, they might poke them with soft cushions and even put them in the comfy chair next! Hyperbole though, is another topic.. but an allied one, perhaps.

    That'll be the week-after's tutorial topic. Oh hang on, the teaching year's ended and you're not my students. Bugger.

    The one good thing about all of this is that we as a species have turned violence into semiotics. Where once we would have just been pounding away at each other with sticks and stones, we sublimate violent behaviour into words. Pray that the process remains one-way.

    I think my glass is half full today.

    If you'll excuse me, I'll get my coat.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 981 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    any more than I can take Boullee's design for a monument to Sir Isaac Newton out to see a provocative motion picture followed by an amusing meal and stimulating conversation at a quaintly idiosyncratic restaurant leading to a delightful session of passionate lovemaking in my charmingly-appointed home in a discrete cul-de-sac.

    How I have missed you

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Mwah!

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 981 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    I think my glass is half full today.

    Cheers :)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6356 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    I am mildly amused/rather more than mildly depressed by people who deliberately set out to cause offence and start complaining about the "PC brigade" oppressing them with words of complaint and comparing them to the Gestapo! Why, they might poke them with soft cushions and even put them in the comfy chair next! Hyperbole though, is another topic.. but an allied one, perhaps.

    What's even funnier is seeing them go nuclear when their own blowtorch is used against them, or otherwise cornered like rats. To name just one example.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4431 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    I want to defend the word cunt to be used by men as a negative or positive term , probably just to defend past ramblings from myself but quite honestly it never quite feels right.

    The mouthfeel is negated a bit by the feeling I'm adding to the "ladies are bad o.k " traditional dogma that seems to be relatively prevalent in my wanderings around the city (and world).

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    How I have missed you

    Yeah. He sure is a good cunt.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    The one good thing about all of this is that we as a species have turned violence into semiotics. Where once we would have just been pounding away at each other with sticks and stones, we sublimate violent behaviour into words.

    Loud barking, chest beating, pissing on local trees, baring teeth etc, serve most of the same purposes as insults. I think the difference with humans is that we're capable of violence on a much more massive scale, so more sophisticated versions of the same thing have evolved. We spend lifetimes learning them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8737 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    The penis is very ugly.

    The cunt, or as they say in porn, the pussy is a visual must see to at least half the planet, it can be very photogenic apparently.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    And little sisters need to celebrate their bodies with no confusion.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I don't see how free speech cannot come with the corollary of freedom to criticise that speech; freedom of expression and freedom to criticise that expression are just two sides of the same coin.

    I think that's right, but wouldn't want to say that every possible response we could make to Paul Henry would be equally worthwhile.

    I'm just think we should respond to people like Paul Henry in ways that are consistent with our ideas about how public discussion should be carried out, and how people should be treated. For me, that means abuse and vilification should generally be refined into something more constructive. I think that applies to discussions about credibility.

    I think it's why Jon Stewart is quick to emphasise that he runs a comedy show rather than a news show. It leaves his free to make the kind of criticisms he made about Crossfire.

    I think the resignation was warranted. Whether Paul is also a c*nt is neither here nor there.

    Since Nov 2006 • 616 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I don't see how free speech cannot come with the corollary of freedom to criticise that speech; freedom of expression and freedom to criticise that expression are just two sides of the same coin.

    I think that's right, but I wouldn't say that every response we could legally make to offensive speech would be equally worthwhile. If we're trying to promote positive discussion, we need ideas about how people should conduct themselves, and how people should be treated. I think the case for Henry's resignation can be made on that basis. I'm not sure that debasing public discussion really helps to promote the kinds of public discussion we say we want.

    Since Nov 2006 • 616 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    Sorry Russell - could you remove these duplicates - my script blocking software has gone crazy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 616 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I don't see how free speech cannot come with the corollary of freedom to criticise that speech; freedom of expression and freedom to criticise that expression are just two sides of the same coin.

    I think that's right, but not every response we're permitted to make to offensive speech is equally worthwhile. If we're trying to promote positive kinds of public discussion, we need ideas about how people should conduct themselves in public, and how people who participate in those discussions should be treated. I don't think that undermining the principles that we say we're trying to protect really helps, unless we're prepared to have everything sound just a bit like talkback.

    I'd accept that's pretty humourless, and I suppose it's more complicated when we're making assesments of personality and credibility. Social feedback is probably important in maintaining group norms, and I guess Henry has got plenty of that recently.

    Since Nov 2006 • 616 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I'm not entirely sure if parsing out the exact connotation of insults and insisting on correctness there is ever going to fly. The point is: Insulting people is insulting.

    Up to a point, Ben. But isn't that what everyone who doesn't live in a cave does a hundred times every day? I hope Megan won't mind me using her as an example, but I'd quite gleefully talk filth to my dear chum Frau Fifi Von Spangle-Bling over a caffeinated beverage. My colleague at Radio New Zealand during a staff meeting - not so much. Times and places; contexts and socially appropriate tones.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I'd quite gleefully talk filth to my dear chum Frau Fifi Von Spangle-Bling

    See, now you put me in a good mood for the whole day, and I had it pencilled as "grumpy". This is just going to mess with my schedule.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7412 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    See, now you put me in a good mood for the whole day, and I had it pencilled as "grumpy". This is just going to mess with my schedule.

    Darling, Fifi is all about putting you in a good mood.

    [ETA: Just to rather prove Craig's point about filth]

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I think it's why Jon Stewart is quick to emphasise that he runs a comedy show rather than a news show. It leaves his free to make the kind of criticisms he made about Crossfire.

    Actually, his criticisms were sound independent of who made them, comedian, newsman, etc That's the defining characteristic of truth, after all-it's not just "true for you", it's actually, objectively true.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Up to a point, Ben. But isn't that what everyone who doesn't live in a cave does a hundred times every day?

    I don't. Unless people consider my very existence an insult. Mind you, I do call my office my cave sometimes....

    Talking filth isn't necessarily insulting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8737 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    Talking filth isn't necessarily insulting.

    Not necessarily.

    But, it pays to be careful.

    I walked past 2 (male) friends talking the other day, having a conversation that included the words "Great tits. Nice legs."

    As I walked past, I jokingly said "thanks". But I also gave one of them a talking to later about describing women in those terms, and how it probably wasn't appropriate for certain places.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Talking filth isn't necessarily insulting.

    No it isn't -- but my point is that what would be entirely appropriate between Megan and I in a social setting would not be at all if we were co-workers in a staff meeting. Believe it or not, My Margaret Thatcher-meets-Joan-Rivers-on-crack persona can, and often does, get dialled all the way back. Partly because I'm trying to be a little less scatter-shot when it comes to my powers of oral emasculation; mostly, though, because I've done a lot of temp work where a bad reputation hits your bottom line. Hard.

    Even socially, there are plenty of women of my acquaintance who couldn't handle even PAS levels of urine extraction. It would just gratuitously upset and offend decent people who don't really deserve it.

    [ETA: OMFG, this is going to shred my carefully cultivated reputation as a vile sewer-mouthed bully. Never mind.]

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I generally operate on the "my mother" rule: any insult or slur can be justified by a context of an obvious loving history between the speaker and the subject. For example, I can call my mother a retarded gadfly whenever I want, because listeners will be aware that she is my retarded gadfly. On the other hand, were a vague aquaintence of mine to use the same terms to describe my mother, it'd be on like Donkey Kong.

    See also a white American vs a black American's use of the word "nigger"-history matters.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    No it isn't -- but my point is that what would be entirely appropriate between Megan and I in a social setting would not be at all if we were co-workers in a staff meeting.

    Naturally. That's actually what I was getting at, that it's not credible to decode insults "context free". The same words are not insulting in different contexts, and there are no words that can't be insults if put in conjunction with others to form an insulting proposition.

    Your own lurid metaphors have always entertained me, Craig. I'd be sorry to see them go, TBH. Context was important, they were clearly hyperbolic at times, familiar and friendly in others. Very seldom were they direct rags calculated to insult particular individuals.

    And I'm sorry, Megan, but when I'm with my male friends, female anatomy is always and forever going to be a favorite subject. It's been a lifelong preoccupation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8737 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    And I'm sorry, Megan, but when I'm with my male friends, female anatomy is always and forever going to be a favorite subject. It's been a lifelong preoccupation.

    And I understand that. But while it might be fine around a table at the pub, it probably isn't in a public, professional hallway. And certainly now within earshot of several women.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Yes, context is all. They sound like they were pushing their luck. Their crime wasn't what they said, but where and how loud they said it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8737 posts Report Reply

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