A stoic Roman Senator once said, “It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity.”
I don’t know that our national dialogue has “slipped” into vulgarity. It has felt to me more like a down-hill flat out run into vulgarity.
Let’s consider one example that covers the waterfront.
Back in March 2012, the Georgetown University President, John J. DeGioia, said that the foul language used to characterize student Sandra Fluke’s sincere objections to HHS regulations affecting contraceptives, especially what Rush Limbaugh had to say, was “misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of [her] position.”
We teach our children to respect and not to bully others, but then we call a woman names, describe her in a hateful and demeaning manner, and purposefully misrepresent what she said.
If an opponent can characterize an individual as unappealing by how they look, or based on sex, nationality, race, religion, association, and any other personal aspect that is irrelevant to what he or she has said, they do it anyhow because it discredits the person – and they can slip the argument, perhaps never address it.
With networks, print, social media and emails, we have an epidemic of distortion, disinformation and material omission of what was truly said and of the contents of the source material purportedly quoted.
Currently, we have those insisting the second amendment was passed so that the people could overthrow their government with hand guns, rather than so that our fledging government could have a militia to protect it. The Federalists were concerned about revolting revolutionary troops in Massachusetts when they so constituted this nation. They were not inviting insurrection by an amendment to the constitution.
We don’t examine carefully the trite doggerel that passes for sense when repeated like a Hare Krishna chant, for instance, the phrase, “guns don’t kill …,” when plainly they do and when we have not heard of many drive-by knifings – nor any mass knifings.
Whatever we think about who bears arms, the lawless wild west where every tobacco-chewing man or woman carries a gun to “settle up” is just not civilization – although some argue this is “civilization.”
Some say this stuff out of ignorance, to con us, or to frighten us.
On this last point, fear, we have heard of this baseless fear that “they’re going to take my guns” – even though we have struggled with this issue as a nation for decades – mourned other dead innocents – and still no one has taken anybody’s guns. The Mayans shall likely be proven right before anyone’s guns are taken. Given the invertebrate character of our elected representatives, there probably won’t even be reasonable protections put in place to save Johnny from the next assault rifle ambush in a school.
The best way to protect against the political con and the fear and anger mongers is to study – and not from the re-affirming slanted echo chambers that pass themselves off as news outlets these days. “Balanced coverage” has come to mean any sensible proposition can be offset by any stupid thing anyone says in opposition.
It is little wonder we are slipping in science world-wide when some can insist without raucous laughter, such superstitious beliefs as the world is thousands of years old, when, spoiler alert, it’s billions of years old.
We have those who say that we need not worry about extinction from “man” like that could never happen when, by man’s reckless clumsiness, greed and malicious intent he has so compromised species all over this planet since the mid-19th century that many are now extinct.
Nor are we doing so well by ourselves. We put ourselves – humankind – and our progeny at risk of extinction as the planet’s weather slips away from our scientific understanding and control.
As for our planet, we have those who would proliferate like rats and roaches while supporting, ironically enough, any great war that comes down the pike to prove that we are better, I suppose, so we may have territory, fossil fuels, power, influence and imperial bragging rights.
How do we dial back the vulgarity, our inability to communicate in a reasoned and constructive fashion — so that we have a chance to address what really matters instead of, let’s choose another odious example, whether gay marriage is responsible for a 50 % divorce rate among heterosexual couples?
We must as a people resist invitations to demonize a person rather than consider the content of their argument.
We must be aware of those who distort and omit material information.
We must be sensitive to those who would inflame the public when using these techniques of slander, distortion and omission so they may prompt fear and anger in response.
We must read and study more to protect us against a clumsier political class and a less reliable media, so that we know what we’re talking about when they don’t.
We should choose our words more carefully than we’ve been doing.
If we could do these things, that would be a little less vulgar, don’t you think?