On offensive language

If you are reading this blog post, and if you read the blog in general on a regular basis then thank you for your readership. I don’t think we ever thank you readers for reading us. We are aware that your activity in reading our blog is a choice, and you can choose to read something else, or do something else right now. It is this very consideration that people often consider modification of their behaviour in accord to the locus of activity or set of social presumptions that are acceptable.

On this blog we talk about a lot of things, and speaking for only myself, I endure a lot of self-censorship and modification, which is partly why I hardly post these days. I’ve been thinking about the topic of offensive language for some time, partly from my working experiences and also from the apology advanced by the UK feminist F-Word blog on the use of the words ‘idiots’ and ‘cretins’. This does make me think a little bit. On most things I read, this doesn’t rate highly in terms of offense, but on a second thought, the apology reminded me of the different kinds of fora for discussions.

Michael has a story of how a prominent philosopher of science said ‘Fuck Empiricism’ as an expression of his motivations towards a dispositional account of natural kinds. That was exceptionally funny because this individual was a very proper gentleman in every professional interaction, plus the rarity of his use of swearing and his presumed politeness served as a comical foil for this bizarre outburst of which the two words are rarely combined together. Michael has also told me an anecdote about when he gave a talk on Utopias last year and felt uneasy about referencing the film ‘Gayniggers from outer space’, which led to a discussion from the audience where they constantly repeated the word as a mention and not a use.

Some of my favourite stand up routines are about offensive language. Marc Maron has a routine about how he reserves the right for the use of the term ‘retarded’ where he instigates a point that he needs the word and knowingly distinguishes it from those with mental disabilities. Likewise, Doug Stanhope (who rates high on the Noumenal playlist right now) has a routine on how some words are too good to be banned, and its about using offensive words in an imaginative or confusing way. Of course there are comedians who don’t choose to do blue or edgy routines who are also laugh out loud funny, such as Tim Vine.

I’m a person who really enjoys stand up comedy, I enjoy politically incorrect action films and I enjoyed pre-Nutty Professor films of Eddie Murphy. One of the few joys of my life is to laugh, and I laugh at pretty offensive and reprehensible jokes. I am uncomfortable when people say ‘fuck’ at work in a casual way, when something really goes wrong at work however, I think it’s the perfect thing to say when it’s my responsibility to sort out someone else’s problem.Context of course, is everything, like knowing when it’s a good time to drink single malt Scotch.

I appreciate that there are levels of appropriateness, and social situations vary in what are acceptable forms of behaviour from a low tier comedy venue to a high tier one; or from an inclusive environment emphasising safety and welcomeness, to a leisurely and colloquial one. for me, knowing when not to swear is like knowing when its appropriate to talk about Kant: I can’t fucking do it anywhere else than here. I want to end the post by saying thank you for your continued regular or irregular readership.


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