Positive affirmations, utopian hopes, safe spaces, sensitive wording, drum circles, commodified namaste…language is a battlefield in the 21st century. This isn’t news. Poststructualists elaborated on this in depth, and postmodernists took it to strange new plateaus. We experience it daily, immersed in it, each and every one of us. In social media, in classrooms, in political discussions and debates, language is a realm of constant contention. What was once solved with blood and blade is now solved with language and general discourse.
I once read that politeness or manners was merely ‘lubricant’ for social interactions. Pragmatically speaking this is true. Not enough can be said in praising politeness and class. Whether it be that found in classical literature or the southern manners I was raised with here in the south. It is eloquent and beautiful. Although what this article is concerned with is altogether together. It is not about fluent social interaction, rather it is purposeful governing of language. Coercion is the name of the game, and I dub the primary coercive entity at work to be ‘cruel optimism’…be nice, or else.
How often are we told to ‘be nice’, ‘be positive’, do not use this word or that because it will hurt feelings? Cynicism and pessimism is not only unattractive, it is outright not allowed. Perhaps this is an American trait. The tradition of pessimism, philosophically or otherwise, never really took root in the US like it did in Europe. Instead we have the commercialized industry that is ‘Happiness’ or ‘Optimism’. Whether it be the New Age trends of drum circles and commodity yoga, or the leftist safe spaces and language policing. If you are not happy or optimistic, then you are clearly sick or out of order. You should seek a higher power, a divinity within, a cause to be devoted to, an upbeat and often delusional crusade to ‘make the world a better place’. In short, you need an adjustment, to be brought into accord with the trend. The days of HL Mencken are over—long live the days of Tim Wise and Lena Dunham.
Recently I read a discussion debating the adjective ‘ugly’, and how bad it was to describe someone using the word ugly. This wasn’t a discussion about expanding ones vocabulary or how to use a thesaurus. That would be a credible critique. The discussion was about not calling another ‘ugly’ simply because it may hurt their feelings. In another discussion I was told asking for numbers to backup a claim was ‘racist’ (or some other popular form of prejudice thrown about these days). While I understand at the base level politeness and tactfulness is an invaluable trait for people to have, but there is a difference between timeless politeness and purposely governing language because you should ‘be nice’. There is a difference between being tactful in words and ignoring numbers or neglecting due diligence altogether because it is ‘not nice’ and ‘may hurt feelings’.
And why have we become obsessed with ‘being nice’? Certainly there is no need to be an obnoxious asshole for no reason (aside from the sake of it perhaps?) I am not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that we drop this fixation on nicety and return to crass honesty. Are we ever allowed to be honest? Or must we ask ourselves if it is okay to be honest? Must we ask permission even? It may sound as if I am criticizing a fad and presenting no better solution, but on the contrary, I am suggesting we return to the Voltairian free speech of yesterday, a merciless and celebratory expression of language.
Our discourse has shrunk to the point of claustrophobia. Our words are governed based on sentiment, our thoughts are stifled lest they be called unfashionable, even our art and expression is being policed by supposed appropriations and microaggressions. I admire the words of Voltaire or John Wilmot or Ambrose Bierce, they spoke without heeding to the discursive coercion. They spoke freely, and we must ask ourselves, can we or do we speak as freely today? I may not agree with what a rude obnoxious asshole has to say, but I will defend to the death their right say it. This does not mean a ridiculous attempt at shaming them or using other means to coerce them into silence should be used in response. I will gladly hear them out loud, even if I disagree with every syllable. Even if they rail against me using every despicable prejudice word imaginable. Even if they represent everything I despise and wish never existed. I will defend their right to say it, and will not directly or indirectly attempt to coerce them into silence.
“Ah, Be nice though! Do not say that! That will hurt someones feelings! How can you be so insensitive! How dare you ask another to backup claims?”
Victorian wholesomeness in language has become increasingly militant in its attempts at policing. What was once forced optimism has developed into forced softness. You must not only be in a positive ‘up’ mood, you must not only be optimistic about the progressive future, you must also alter your language to be soft, to be nice. Anything else is uncivilized, shameful, profane, metaphorically speaking–a sin.
I say speak your mind. Insult and offend if you must. I respect a man or woman who will rail against me in honesty. Call me every vile name, critique me to my soul, I desire it! Genuine honesty is when words and acts are coming directly from the soul. I don’t care if it is hatred or love, both are honest if they are being expressed in their purest. That which is overly civilized becomes timid, mild, mediocre. Honesty is the fullest uncensored expression of a passion or thought. Politeness is a delight in daily social interactions or social occasions, but in discourse let us be passionate even if it offends and disturbs. We must not attempt to ‘child proof’ language. We cannot put cushions on the sharp ends in hope that a person is not cut. We cannot wear metaphorical safety helmets in case another says something ‘mean’ that hurts our feelings or challenges our beliefs. I do not consider myself a devotee to a particular political ideology, but I do find myself passionate about free speech and the merciless expression of the soul through art and language. If we muzzle our speech, declaw our language, then we become weak timid creatures that prefer comforting equality and luke warm environments. If a civilization becomes ‘too civilized’ is it already dead? Or is a civilization that is ‘too civilized’ all too ready to implode and turn upon itself in a pressurized cannibalism? Perhaps the ‘barbaric’ are the freer and healthier, and those who crave safe language are prisoners within their own city walls?
“Be nice though, do not say that, everyone is beautiful, the future is just, believe and hope for the better tomorrow, be happy for everyone, love the universe and the universe will love you….”
The platitudes are endless and does not lack self-assurance nor self-righteousness. It is a self-induced sedation, an opium of the masses composed of Lisa Frank progressivism and hugbox language. If you deviate, you are in need of repair or you are outright immoral.
….be nice always though, always be nice.
“Extreme civilization robs crime of its frightful poetry, and prevents the writer from restoring it. That would be too dreadful, say those good souls who want everything to be prettified, even the horrible. In the name of philanthropy, imbecile criminologists reduce the punishment, and inept moralists the crime, and what is more they reduce the crime only in order to reduce the punishment. Yet the crimes of extreme civilization are undoubtedly more atrocious than those of extreme barbarism, by virtue of their refinement, of the corruption they imply and of their superior degree of intellectualism. (“A Woman’s Vengeance”)”
― Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly