Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Knee deep in macaca.

I’m certainly no fan of Senator George Allen and I lament that he still holds a lead in the Senate race in Virginia. Allen is a good example of what is so very wrong with the Republican Party. He is a theocrat, a neocon, and an opportunist. I also think he is a liar. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, to recap the situation. Allen referred to a dark skinned campaign worker for Democrat James Webb as a “macaca”. The term is one used in some ethnic circles to denigrate blacks. It refers to a species of monkeys and is meant to imply that black people are monkeys. Not a nice word in that context

Allen got caught. And with a history of having displayed the Confederate flag the term didn’t sit well with some people. Allen went into spin mode and lied. He made numerous claims including that the word is merely a name of a town in South Africa -- it isn’t --- and he said he just made the word up. Coincidentally the word he “made up” is one used for a species of monkeys and coincidentally he used the label against someone with dark skin and coincidentally it is used to insult people for their race in some places. Very coincidental indeed.

Now to me this is probably enough to say that Mr. Allen is a bigot. But his critics go further back. And here is where I think it gets absurd. Allen was asked if he has ever used the word “nigger”. Now I happen to think that a very ugly word. But Allen claimed that he has never used this word in his life. That is where I suspect he is lying.

Consider two people who love each other deeply. They live together. They do things for each other. They would lay down their life for the other if necessary. And now and then they have fights. People do that for lots of reasons. And sometimes they say something to the other that is meant to hurt. In a moment of rage they inflict emotional pain which they then deeply regret later on. What they wanted to do in their anger was inflict pain. It’s a destructive way of dealing with conflict but it is typically human. Yet these people deeply love each other but still use ugly words to inflict pain at moments of stress, anger or pain.

Now anyone who grew up in the US has heard lots of ugly words throughout their lifetime. Words like nigger, faggot, kike, and spic. What is precisely wrong with these words ought to be obvious. It is said that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That’s wrong. Words often do hurt. And they don’t even need to be ugly words.

These words have a meaning behind them. They are not only meant to be insulting they are intended to be hurtful. The reason it is wrong to use these words is because the words exist to inflict pain on others. From a classical liberal perspective you aren’t violating another person’s rights using them. But the use of them tells us a lot about the person saying them.

I have no argument to justify the idea of animal rights. But I know why a thug who tortures dogs is someone I find utterly abhorrent. People who torture and inflict intentional pain are nasty at best and possibly dangerous.

So using these words is hurtful and it is meant to be hurtful. But I have give some leeway. Just as I know that a couple saying hurtful things to one another in anger may not actually mean what they say I know some people use these ugly words to say things they don’t actually mean. Under certain circumstances I suspect that such ugly words have been universally used. But how they are used and under what circumstances is the issue.

If someone says something ugly during a moment of anger I assume it has different meaning than if they say it calmly and intentionally. Now what is disturbing about Allen is that he has supposedly used “nigger” in circumstances which were calm and intentional which implies he used them with full meaning.

Now there is a mitigating circumstance. Some of the claims are about words he supposedly used a few decades ago. Now there ought to be statute of limitations on words and thoughts. People change. The 45 year old is not the 18 year old. Some people are so different from what they used to be like that they are almost entirely different people.

I’ve meet people who were communists or Nazis when they were teens. Twenty years later they are pretty decent, sane people. I’m not going to hold someone accountable for views they held decades before. What I care about is who they are now. Also the memories of people are very flimsy at best. People often have motives to lie about what they remember. And memory is easily tainted. Read some of the work of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and you will see how easy it is to corrupt memory.

Allen’s problem however is not merely what he said twenty years ago. His problem started with the macaca term he used only weeks ago. That is an entirely different matter.

I wouldn’t want to associate with someone who enjoyed torturing kittens. I wouldn’t want to associate with someone who enjoys using words that are intended to inflict pain on others. I think there is something severely wrong with such people. I don’t understand bigotry at all. I don’t like it. I don’t like anyone intentionally causing pain to other people. I’m not saying they should be arrested for saying nasty things. I don’t believe that. There should be no legal penalty for being nasty just for violating rights.

But there ought to be a social penalty that people pay for their bigotry. I’ve seen enough bigotry perpetrated on others, and been the victim of it enough times myself, to have drawn a line in the sand. I won’t stand silent when I see it. It ought to be challenged. There ought to be a social penalty. For Mr. Allen the penalty ought to come at the ballot box.