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Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and tired and a bit cynical as well but I read some things and wonder [without satisfying answers] about the motivations of humans. Let me illustrate.

Just a little while back some recommended a site to me; a site that deals with issues psychological and I learned there [I think this is what I was hearing] that the foul language that we people use daily and parade to our shame in movies, on television and literature is really the expression of a deep underlying fear and angst; it’s mainly about death and related issues. Somebody somewhere [in reality or in a movie], while he’s beating the blood out of some victim, is screaming words at the victim that you’d never hear in church or synagogue or mosque. What are we to make of the language [we know what to make of the brutality, I think, though I’m sure there’s a site somewhere that gives us a new explanation for it]?

It isn’t that the abuser is verbally humiliating his victim, degrading his person, adding profound insult to injury—if I’m to believe the results of these psychological musings the abuser is speaking the fears of the human experience, he’s talking about his own death and the human condition.

I would fully expect most of us to shake our heads in disbelief at that and I would expect theorists of this kind to say that the abuser also means to humiliate his victim. I can easily see that he means to degrade his victim because that’s what it looks and sounds like but to put in the abuser’s mind some abstract philosophy about the human race is more than a stretch—it appears to be crassly silly!

“Yes, but where did these words come from that the abuser uses—that’s the big question and the problem the wise men are trying to enlighten us on. We need to take into account the 'deep structures' of human speech that underly the words he uses.” In addition to the fact that theorists are still debating the “deep structures” issue I wouldn’t agree at all that that’s the “big” question. I’m not at all sure that a bigger question and certainly amore pressing one is not, “What damage does the commonplace use of such speech do to human society?” I don’t doubt that there may be questions prior to this but I’d say that this one is more pressing that the “origin” of vile language.

A host of things originated/were discovered in one way and were later applied in a more constructive/destructive way. Physics and the atom bomb—does that ring a bell? It’s simple enough for historians of science and physicists to plot the line for us that brought us to weapons of mass destruction but psychology [not the history of psychology] is an entirely different matter.

A bit of a stir is developing over the practice of psychologists googling their patients [or prospective [patients?] to gather as much information on them as possible. Shelving any talk about “privacy” this growing practice reminds us of the limits of people in this area of endeavour. Some of the most trenchant criticism of the psychological enterprise is coming from those inside that fellowship—“we’re simply not helping people!” is a lament I read from time to time.

Back to foul language. [I’m taking it that there is such a thing though I recognize that “proving” it can lead us into a verbal minefield.] The dictionary doesn’t help a lot when it comes to the issue of evil speech. The etymology of a vile term is of no consequence. The issue is intent; what does an abuser mean to do with it? I don’t know who first used the words “Kaffir” and “nigger” as terms of profound insult but the origin of the words has nothing to do with it—the abuser meant to insult and humiliate and that’s what makes the word wicked. In movies, literature and life we hear authorities call males “ladies” [“Okay, ladies, let’s get on with this!”] meaning to insult and degrade. We have men and women called “bitch” by abusers and always it is the intent that is central because the words themselves are not evil.

There is an entire dictionary of sexual and anatomical words that we use to degrade one another. I don’t dare to list them or even sample them but I’m sure the reader is as well acquainted with them as I am. Some of them are hurled fully intending to insult and when one has been used so often that its effect is diminished we invent other words—new ones are arriving all the time. Making these words which have an established purpose to insult and degrade—making them part of common speech degrades us all.

Beyond the conscious intent to insult and degrade many words that are now in the larger dictionaries as “slang” promote the societal degeneration. Full sexual love-making is called a host of things these days. Words are used that in and of themselves are not evil and in their sexual use they are not intended as a specific insult to the sexual partner. Because for society in general the sexual experience between two people has no depth or mystique or moral dimension—because that’s how we generally view it we use terms that reduce the experience. “Banging,” “humping” or “jumping” and more are terms we use because there is no love making in love making.

I suppose it’s inevitable that there will be those who will “prove” that when we mean to insult and degrade that we’re really talking out of some underlying human dread—that’s what specialist are often about, isn’t it? Maybe their time would be better spent on questions nearer home and maybe they should be a bit more sceptical of the results of studies set up by fellow-psychologists who gather together a lot of people who know they are part of a psych study. Should we not expect their expectations to shape their responses? Oh well—whatever.

Moving beyond this entire area into the religious language realm we have a similar [but different] situation. We still hear words such as “majesty” or “sovereignty” or “infinite” used of God, of course, but when did you last hear them? Everything is so cosy now that God is so “sinner-friendly” and speech about God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus is so “chummy” and “one-on-oney”. The Holy Father is so anxious to make the church happy that we even hear he gets some of them hairdressers that please them and parking spots, and goes before them clearing their paths in everyday decisions about how to invest their money and who to get to look after it for them while kids in Haiti eat dirt.

I’m done for now!

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan