It is said that mankind only came into its own when it was able to recognize itself and others as actual people. Since then, however, we’ve done a pretty crappy job. Calling people names seems to be a practice as old as humanity itself.
However, lately a particularly nasty undercurrent of name-calling seems to be pervading society as a whole. Two weeks ago, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, got called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for three days straight on the radio, which has prompted a nation-wide argument on calling people names. And there seems to be an increasingly disturbing trend in which people think it is perfectly all right to do it, no matter how disgusting the term, because everybody does it, right?
Fact: Calling someone a “bitch” is unacceptable. Calling someone an “asshole” is unacceptable. Calling someone a “retard” is unacceptable. Calling someone a “slut” is unacceptable. (And don’t get me started on religious, sexual and/or ethnic slurs.) If people want to be a part of civilized society, under no circumstances should they use these words (or any other, or any variation thereof, really) to describe other people. Period.
If someone calls someone else any of the above words within earshot (or screenshot) of other people, whether they really mean it or if it’s in jest or in an endearing fashion, they open the floor to have it used on them. The girl who calls her friends “bitches” at a bar (or, “betches,” because one letter clearly makes a difference) will more than likely be called one if someone gets pissed off at her.
By calling someone a name, what some people attempt to do is encase their opponent under a label deemed by society to be negative, minimizing them and whatever they were standing for. In reality, by doing so, they are allowing themselves to being labeled, and also lose both the high ground and the argument: no one has ever called someone any of the words specified above and received a response along the lines of, “You’re SOOO right. I am EXACTLY what you just called me. Tell me ALLLLL the things I’m doing wrong.” Calling someone a name equals an immediate forfeit and the validation and lionization of the other side.
Worst of all, however, should be the following: calling someone names is a sign that they are neither smart nor witty enough to defend themselves with a logical argument. “But the other person isn’t being logical and I don’t have enough time to lay it out for them” is a common defense. Balderdash. If they are engaging in a discussion spirited enough to qualify someone as beneath them, then they have a stake in being right and should take enough time to achieve that goal. Using a curse word is like taking a cannon to a knife fight — it’s cheap, it’s cowardly, and most of the time, it’s completely unnecessary and will only make it worse.
If someone really feels strongly about it and has an overwhelming need to call someone disgusting names they should do so privately, far from the eyes of other people, where they can truly, purely express themselves in as honest a fashion as they perceive is correct. These people should not be surprised, however, if the object of their attack takes offense and rips their head off.
I’m not attempting to be Emily Post – quite the opposite. I’m not holier-than-thou. I’m not a Boy Scout. But, like my grandfather told me once, “it doesn’t matter how the other person behaves in a fight; in the long run, it matters how you behave.” Calling someone a name is a lazy person’s resource. It takes away all of their collected knowledge, their education and their manners, putting them in the same class as barbarian trolls who don’t know any better.
The best arguments are those in which people use their brains. Where people take full advantage of thousands of years of evolution and use their words not as a blunt instrument, but in a way that would put Socrates to shame. If you know anyone who fits the description above (and hopefully, you don’t) do us all a favor and teach them to be a better foil, and bask in the satisfaction of winning an argument via logic, charm and wit. It’s oh-so-much more satisfying, and in the end, we all win.