To Whom Do You Refer: Malice Part Two
To Whom Do You Refer
(With Malice Towards None: part two)
When I speak of good taste and of good moral tone I do not mean the kind of good taste which is offended by every reference to the unpleasant things of life, I do not mean the kind of morality which refuses to recognize the existence of immorality — that type of moral hypocrite has done more to check the moral progress of humanity than all the immoral people put together — what I mean is the kind of good taste which demands that frankness should be linked with decency, the kind of moral tone which is braced and not relaxed when it is brought face to face with vice.
Joseph Pulitzer, quoted by Alleyn Ireland, 1914
The question is one of reliability.
The question really is, of course, how great is the present-day danger, how much are we placing at stake, when we write, when we speak, when we express our opinions? The question, then, is one of triviality and gravity at once. Words, our choices of them, our chances of being able to express ourselves freely, individually, and as often as we wish, while dodging PC predators.
That itself takes defining, because we’ve been informed that, since the dark times commenced in 2016, a fair portion of attack posts online come not from members of protected classes—who have a right to speak of their own experiences—but trolls, who truly intend to make us all feel bad.
There are three facets to reliability.
First, everything you’ve done which is objectively provable. You have paid your taxes—you have the documents. You are a college graduate—you have your diploma.
Second, your reputation. This, the ill-fitting prison jumpsuit stitched up by gossipers…who are not known to sidle over and whisper anyone’s praises to an eager friend…
This, you can’t do much about, other than refute it by the life you lead.
Third, what you know of yourself. That you love animals, hate pollution, never want to be cruel, always hope to comply with the law, etc.
The importance of reliability is measured in what we lose when campaigning behavior attempts to strip us of it. If you have committed no crimes, no gross offenses; if you are trustworthy on not practicing quirks and predilections in public, to impose them on others; if your political and religious beliefs are shared only in forums where opinions are sought or tolerated, you should be secure in your reliability. People can hire you to do a job. They have no reason to fear being alone with you. They can trust you with things of value to them.
Minorities and marginalized groups have always known themselves in danger of being characterized unreliable. Incumbents, in the holding of power, even at the community tin-pot level, often don’t want their fantasies spoiled by the challenge of a face-to-face meeting—the possibility of a scapegoat, of use politically, turning out to be nice.
What happens to the fun of their happy hatred, then?
But “in-people”, of late, have felt the same insecurity. They will put a foot wrong; they will be boycotted by righteous, intractable strangers; they will be ostracized, unemployed, debt-ridden, made homeless…
Insiders and outsiders alike must fear this, these days.
That things we did in the past without high censure—but, for what we deem today enlightenment, things that the good-willed among us have stopped doing, will be dug up like the corpse of Pope Formosus, tried and condemned, and it will do no good to agree with these people, it will do no good to apologize to them, it will do no good to point to the way we’ve lived for years.
All things that require the hand of authority, personated by a leader. Containment, which follows definition; closure, which follows adjudication. For having these, a sense of secure protection, which is the purpose to a society of authority in the first place. Faith, that the system doesn’t bury wrongdoing, or allow, by the use of its rules, wrongdoers to sidestep or outlast their victims; temperance, exercised, that the existence of victims doesn’t become conflated with the political idea that victimization exists.
We see this is so even in the trend of acceptance, and widespread use of, the word “accusers”. A person making an allegation, a person petitioning for prosecution of a reported offense, is a person whose legal standing prior to an investigation, prior to charges being filed, is not more or less elevated than that of the alleged perpetrator. “Another accuser has come forward” is heavily loaded language—“has” the only neutral word in the sentence. The load is the picture-weight that a word or phrase carries. (“Candidate from Otherton Runs for School Board” vs. “Area Mom Hopes to Bring Change to School Board”.)
Victim’s rights are not compromised by eliminating language with a presupposition of guilt. Long records of consistent patterns of behavior don’t lose their evidentiary validity if Star Chamber proceedings are not imposed on spotty cases with questionable import and inconsistencies from witness to witness.
And so, to contain those offenses that are society’s business, we begin by creating guidelines, by identifying principles for the testing of allegations. From tested principles, we create rules for what is and what is not.
To Whom Do You Refer
Next: Whom, part two: Bad Words
(2019, Stephanie Foster)