In response to the vileness of Rush Limbaugh giving Physicalist pause about whether to consume any right wing media (even out of concern for rational fairness), Bret asks:
I’m curious: do you see how conservatives verbally address women as more offensive than their stance on pretty much anything else, from their treatment of the poor in this country to the violent stance they take towards people in other countries?
I don’t like seeing women called names, but in perspective… it’s one of the more harmless things about conservatives. I’m more offended that they want to limit a woman’s access to birth control than that they call women who use birth control “sluts.”
Am I alone on this one, or are liberals just hyper-sensitive to language as a result of the whole culture of political correctness?
While surely we should find policies that are needlessly and unjustly physically deadly or otherwise tangibly destructive abhorrent, that does not lessen the seriousness of intrinsic harms against persons and their dignity. Degrading treatment is wrong as an inherent disrespect if nothing else and it is inherently offensive. Limbaugh’s attacks are on women’s basic personhood, basic rights of citizenship, autonomy, dignity, respect as sexual agents and full moral people. They’re unjustified and malicious lies and slanders of character. They are disgraceful attempts to shame women over justifiable sex. They are dishonest attempts to mischaracterize important points in debate. They express negligently callous willful refusal to understand the important truths about women’s health. They perpetuate double standard attitudes about sexual ethics and rape, the practice of slut shaming, and obnoxiously hypocritical prurient patriarchal sexual prudery. They are also bullying acts by which a man of great resources and power bullies a vulnerable woman much younger and in a much more tenuous career situation by trashing her reputation for daring to speak out about health consequences of legislation that profoundly affected someone in similar shoes to her own.
All of this makes Limbaugh’s actions intrinsically repugnant and worthy of unequivocal, thorough moral denunciation, even if it has no further consequence whatsoever. This is not “hypersensitivity”, it’s proper sensitivity to appallingly abusive verbal treatment.
And usually wrongness of these kinds (and certainly in this case) is compounded with intricate links to ideas and institutions that it represents and perpetuates. Such systematically degrading language and concepts find “real world” forms in (or emerge in the first place in tandem with) systemic biases in institutions and in individual decisions. In other words, sometimes abusive language expresses abusive concepts coded into people by abusive institutions. Sometimes the language codes the ideas that code the institutions to be abusive in the first place. Typically it’s all a self reinforcing feedback loop of oppression or repression and disenfranchisement.
Language matters. Ideas are contained in language. Ideas create institutions and institutions create ideas and language. They’re a knot. You can’t untie any two parts without untying all three.
There are some excellent replies in the comments section, so be sure to check them out. And there was also one comment that necessitated I write my next post, No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.
The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.