Hey y'all... he says, as though anybody is going to actually read this.
So I don't know how deep or how crazy the discussion about the various language slip-ups on live streams from ages ago because, to be frank, the Internet is the last place I want to turn to see people argue. I don't like arguments even when they're appropriate, like debates or whatnot, so Internet arguments are... just the worst, man. Why I am writing this post is because after thinking about that kind of language for a long time, and learning some stuff in psychology courses, I finally realized why my hot-blooded, young-man perspective on it was so wrong (at least, the way I see it now). So, if you are anything like I was, maybe this particular set of statements will help you understand why there's a such thing as "hurtful language." But to see how I got to my current standpoint on the issue, it would help to know where I started.
My Original Viewpoint on Using Certain "Offensive" Words:
Back in the day (read: up until a few weeks ago) I used to tell people this: "If you let vibrations in the air created by somebody's mouth change your mood, you are giving that person SUPERPOWERS." The general idea there makes sense, right? I mean, if you can sit there and say/write something that changes my mood, you've effectively got the power to control my emotions, like a toned-down version of the Mule from Asimov's second "Foundation" novel. So I used to tell people to nut the fuck up, and stop being such goddamn wimps about all this shit. Words are words; they're either variations in sound wave pressure or they're lines on a surface. Either way, you're a human with the ability to reason, and you should be able to process that shit for what it is before you get all upset about it, you fucking stupid animal. I know DOGS who have a better ability to deal with strong language than you. But all that was just a viewpoint created by myself, in my own head, upon thinking about it.
Important Things I Learned:
This could be a massive list if I was speaking generally, but let's narrow it down to the soft science known as "psychology." Now I'm a microbiologist doing neuroscience research and applying to medical school; in other words, I laugh in good-natured derision at my friends majoring in psychology. I say "good-natured" because I was originally going to do a minor in psychology before I got the research position; I want to go into neurology at some point, so having some psychology background seemed like a reasonably good idea. Alas, I was accepted to do some awesome shit in a neuroscience lab, and so I am just doing those psychology courses as electives.
Amidst all the unfounded nonsense created by the likes of Freud, and all the weird theories for which the so-called "evidence" would be scoffed at by a real-ass scientist, I found the idea of "Affect-Stable vs. Affect-Intense." Basically, it's just another way to classify personalities; most people will lie somewhere on a continuum between the two personality types. As for the definitions: "affect-stable" describes people who don't feel their emotions very strongly, and "affect-intense" describes people who do. I reckon you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who is COMPLETELY to one side or the other. An example of a fully affect-stable personality would be the "Neutrals" from that Futurama episode; you couldn't get a rise out of those folks no matter what. Affect-stable individuals are those who act pretty much the same at a totally crazy concert as they do at their dad's funeral. An example of a fully affect-intense personality could be River Tam from "Firefly," whose amygdala was stripped, and as such she felt every emotion to its fullest extent, lacking the ability to push them to the back of her mind (no info on whether that's actually what would happen if you cut out somebody's amygdala). Affect-intense individuals would be going NUTS at the aforementioned concert, and totally inconsolable at the aforementioned funeral.
I'll be the first guy to say "yeah fuckin' right, psychologist" to theories such as the "Affect-Stable vs. Affect-Intense" one. But in terms of personalities most people have encountered, you probably know people who lie near one end or the other of the spectrum, and quite a few somewhere in between. Reliable evidence or not, it's a way of looking at people that made sense to pretty much everybody in that psych class, my friends who don't do any psychology (damn few... we're rotten with soft-science hippies over here), and even my parents (psychology probably wasn't even a thing back in their schooling days in India). It's not the ONLY spectrum on which to evaluate somebody's personality traits, but rather one of the many I've learned about so far, and certainly one that I think explains people's varying opinions on the use of potentially offensive language.
What it Means for the Type of Language you Choose to use:
If you're like me, you've had enough horrible language hurled at you that you've learned to deal with it. When I was an RA in my second year of university, I had some seriously hateful, racist insults yelled at me by drunk first years, and hell, I began to revel in it; I'd join in on the joke - usually about sexual intercourse with my mom, or my "Hindu girlfriend," or something about terrorism - and take it to the Nth degree, to the point where they were just astonished that I wasn't trying to murder them. One might say that, ever since I grew out of my extremely short temper, I'm about 90% affect-stable (pulled that number out of nowhere. Psychology!). So when somebody says some offensive word that reminds of some real awful stuff that's happened in my life - and it does happen, to most people, I think - I'm not fazed by it. That's not bragging, to be clear; there are just different types of people in the world, and I happen to be one who is very hard to upset. That has its ups and downs; one downside is that my calm demeanor often makes bosses/professors/lab supervisors think I'm not taking anything seriously, which REALLY sucks because I am pretty serious about what I do academically.
On the other hand, there are people who may have had some terrible shit happen to them, and when some strong language reminds them of that experience, it can ignite a whole lot of negative emotions in that person. To me, that was really enough of an argument against using words like - and please forgive me for using them here, but they tie in to a later point - the homophobic f-word, the n-word, and c-word, among many others. I mean, I've got my ass kicked by a group of guys for being brown. They called me a "sand n****r" and a "camel jockey" because... I don't know, were those used in some movie or something? We were pretty young, I wouldn't doubt they got the idea from TV. [Side note: I always felt like "sand n****r" was a lazy epithet, since you're just tagging a quick geography description onto an existing hateful word, but that's besides the point.] Anyway, I'm just saying that I understand how those memories can be brought to the forefront of your thoughts when one of those powerful trigger words is used; to me, the following thought is "huh, yeah that did happen, didn't it? Heh, that sucked. Glad I didn't get a permanent Owen Wilson nose or anything," and then I usually proceed to tell the above story. To a gay person who got their ass whooped while being called the f-word or a woman whose abusive former husband used to use the c-word, the reaction to the use of such words - in any context, even a joke - could be the same as my reaction to "sand n****r" (if they're really affect-stable), or it could be to break down into tears (affect-intense). Both are perfectly normal - and hopefully now, a bit more understandable - human reactions to painful memories.
So by now, you must know what I'm getting at, right? I mean, I'm sure some affect-intense people can develop coping mechanisms and get better at not reacting to their memories, and I encourage folks to do so if such reactions are interfering with their everyday functioning. But I think that as much as I like to cuss like a sailor, and flaunt my foul, horrible mouth - and trust me, I do - the least I can do is limit that kind of language use to when I'm around people I know very well, and not within earshot of those I don't. Unless I'm around somebody who I know really doesn't like the use of a certain word(s), in which case I tailor my language to suit that situation.
I don't think that's "cheating," because as I see it, the issue with using potentially "offensive" language is, well, that you'll offend somebody. That's not a huge leap of logic, is it? The idea behind cutting those words out of the vast majority of my life is to make sure I don't hurt anybody's feelings by bringing up painful memories. Some people can't help but feel bad if such memories arise, and using strong language is a pretty reliable way to get those memories to show up at somebody's brain-door, waiting to ruin their day. I wouldn't dare change effect somebody's emotions negatively, especially if it's just for a spot of fun with blue language.
Of course, this can be taken to a ridiculous degree, ex. "I found out my grandma died while I was playing Halo, could you please never talk about Halo ever again," or "I was brutally beaten by a guy wearing a shirt that said 'CHINA DON'T CARE' on it, could we please never talk about China ever again?" I mean, sure, there may be people who can never look at a pink shirt ever again without having a full nervous breakdown. But the real "Bad Words" mentioned above are categorized as such because they can elicit those emotions in a WHOLE BUNCH of people. I mean, check out the stats for the percentage of girls/women who were sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, for example. Spoiler alert: it's disgustingly high. I mean, even ONE sexual assault is a disgustingly high number of sexual assaults, but now just imagine the number of people who could have those terrible memories resurface if somebody walking by on the street was talking about "that c*** that turned me down at the club last night."
And THAT, dear friends, is why I changed my way of thinking about "offensive language."
Some words can trigger bad memories - and, possibly, correspondingly bad emotions - in a lot of people. If you must use these words, be careful who you use them around, as you never know who was beaten, molested, etc. and will have their day (or more, or less) ruined by your use of these words. The context means nothing, as often just the sound of the word just has a hard mental connection with a memory. Ask me, I've felt it work in my own head; I just don't care. But I DO care about not hurting people's feelings for fun, so I barely ever use these words (that I once loved to use) today.