Attempts to Change the Discourse

21:58 Tue 18 Aug 2009
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There’s a campaign at the moment, “Think B4 You Speak”, that’s attempting to get teens to not use homophobic slurs in their interactions. The aim is a good one, but I have my doubts about its efficacy—doubts that are expressed rather well by this Penny Arcade strip.

The comments by Tycho and Gabe are also interesting. They’re mainly talking about the online environment, of course, which is likely to be even less restrained than other teen environments. Online (and elsewhere) it’s not just teens who are using the slurs, and it’s also not just slurs aimed at gays and lesbians—sexism is extremely prevalent, and racist comments aren’t exactly infrequent.

Tycho sees it as a battle over language, writing “I have tremendous support for them in their aim: the wresting of language, which is identity, from the unworthy foe.” I’m not completely convinced that the core is really about language, myself. I say this because I’m not convinced that it matters (to the people doing the insulting) what group they’re attacking. If you somehow got them to simply stop attacking people based on their sexual orientation, I think they would move on to something else. Something else probably related to sexuality, although not necessarily. Put another way, I think this is really about the toxicity of much of the culture, and that making it less toxic overall is even more difficult than changing who or what this toxicity is openly directed at.

Of course a campaign like “Think B4 You Speak” would reduce that overall toxicity somewhat if it were successful, but if the core issues are left unexamined any such advances are just temporary. In my mind the core issue is why people seem so desirous of having things to hate. I’m not at all convinced that this is simply “human nature” (as if there’s a good definition of that anyway); different cultures have different levels of this kind of hatred. I suspect that a culture’s fundamental respect for human beings is critical here, and that this is not really about pronouncements and statements but about how people are actually treated, about individuals feeling a sense of autonomy, and about responsibility arising from a sense of actually having some input into one’s society.

The fact that much of this vitriol comes from the more privileged sectors of society doesn’t change that analysis. Except for the very top, most segments of society don’t feel as if they have much, or even any, meaningful input to its workings.

2 Responses to “Attempts to Change the Discourse”

  1. jeffP Says:

    I think I agree with your general line of thought here, but I want to point out that “pronouncements and statements” are one part of how people are actually treated. That is, you may be correct that this is a sort of band-aid solution, and that people who have a basic lack of respect for others are simply picking gay people as their chosen target, but I think that removing that attempting to remove gay people as one target will have some good effects. Sure, there will be lots and lots of people that won’t get it a la the Penny Arcade strip, but there will be some who do, and that might be worth the effort.

    How does one change culture? I think it is almost always a piecemeal sort of process, and attempting to change what is socially acceptable is a part of that process.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    I agree that language is an important part of how people are treated, and I also think that changing the parameters of what’s acceptable generally can be helpful. I further think that this campaign will likely do more good than harm.

    But is it the best use of time and resources? I’m not so sure about that. I wonder if it’s mainly preaching to the choir, and more of a feel-good backup for people already on board, rather than the best way to reach the people represented by Gabe in that strip.

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