Regressivism of Thought Policing Language

censorship-alfian-saat

I think I grew up in a special time where liberalism was really ingrained into the youth culture, where the mantra “stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” was more than just a mental shield but a virtue against censorship, which is not like what you see today where words are some of the most harmful and crippling of weapons that leaves someone emotionally scarred.

I stumbled across this shameful article written by a local artist, Alfian Sa'at advocating for censorship because words might hurt an entire group because a few individuals might find the word triggering. I do agree with him that the etymology of a word is not a defense, not because words are racist but because language is fluid and flexible and change their definition over time.

Lets look at a few examples, the word “Cunt” for example, is used by Australians as a term of endearment for friend, in other parts of the world an insult, the word “fag” is used in many people in various parts of the world to refer to a cigarette, while in others it’s a derogatory term for homosexuals interestingly enough the word “queer” is now empowering and even added to the abbreviation LGBTQ whereas a decade ago it was a derogatory term.

Nuance and intent play a very important part in our language as words are nothing more than sounds that we as a society have come to an agreement to what meanings they possess. What Alfian Sa’at is advocating, whether he realizes it or not, is suggesting that words be exclusive only to certain groups, which begs a bigger question, who decides which groups get to use which word? It’s no different from words being censored due to people finding them offensive. Who becomes the arbiter of offense and who are these people that they think they can define for me what it is I find offensive?

Should words like Cunt, Fag and Queer be taken out of our lexicon because a few individuals find certain words offensive? It really is the soft bigotry of lowered expectations when you suggest that certain words are so offensive to a group of people that the very utterance of such sounds be detrimental to their well being.

The very notion that words are detrimental and can hold people back therefore shouldn’t be uttered is so ridiculous as a new word will just come around to replace those old forgotten words. This is why words change definitions, when people become hypersensitive and inhibit the usage of certain words, changing the definitions of already existing ones to replace forbidden words or when it becomes so commonplace in our language that they no longer have the desired effect to offend because the population at large has grown numb to it.

Alfian Sa’at is a local screenwriter, so maybe I should speak in a language he understands. Should Quentin Tarantino expunge the usage of the word “nigger” in his movies for fear of offending audiences? Should his works be censored for the delicate sensitivities of those who might take offense? As an artist I do hope your answer to the above question is a resounding “No” and to say that “Political Correctness” is a product of the west is just as asinine as calling democracy an influence of the west. As many of your detractors accuse you of supporting “western democracy” when you criticize the practices of our government.

The power in communication does not only lie in the words chosen but how the listener chooses to interpret the words of the speaker. If the listener chooses to take offense at the speaker’s choice of word, then they are the ones who are giving power to the word. This is where that age old mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” comes in. Have you ever tried insulting someone who doesn’t get offended? You’ll find your “offensive speech” to have very little effect on them as they devalue the power of “offensive words”. What Alfian is suggesting is that we make certain words taboo but it is when something becomes a taboo is when it holds the most power over society.

You’re not going to stop racists from being racists by limiting their choice of vocabulary and that’s the sad truth. It is when they advertise their overt racism with their choice of words and lack of nuance and racist intent that you can challenge their narrative.

Calling people racist, sexist or bigoted because they don’t conform to your standards of language just comes off as virtue signalling.

Start empowering people, not policing their thoughts.

 

Riz Rashid