Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Language is two or more standard deviations away from the average IQ score of 100.

I recently got into a debate with some one online about the use of the word "retarded" as an insult: I believe that the word is acceptable to be used, though it may offend, while my opponent disagreed. Here is the transcript of our conversation (along with the moderator's), with all names being altered with the exception of my own:

Ms. Y: That's insanity!! The use of the word "retard" is wrong, no matter what context, unless the use is clinical. You would think a mother of a child with special needs would feel as strongly about it as anyone else. How dare she excuse it at all, much less in one place and criticize the other. Maybe one day she'll remove her head from her butt.

Ethan: Hmmmm, I kind of disagree. The words "stupid", "moron", and "idiot" were clinical terms as well, yet we use them as a description. Let's not forget the use of the word "gypped", which has racist roots, but we use it. A word is just a word, the intention is what makes it evil, neutral, or good. I could make the word "bread" evil if I tried.

Moderator: hmmmm...I kind of disagree with your kinda disagree. Many words have been used historically that most of us would be uncomfortable using in most circumstances...the "N" word and the "K" word (for Jews) being the two that come to mind first...yet cultural sensitivity and caring about other peoples feelings make these words inappropriate (most of the time).

Ms. Y: Oh Ethan, I do see your point but I also have to disagree with your disagreement. Mentally Retarded is a clinical term and is defined as two or more standard deviations away (lower than) from the average IQ score of 100. It's a recognized classification of disability. Much like the racist terms that make my stomach churn even thinking of them, using the word retard, or a form of the word, is wrong, unless it's a clinical diagnosis. Using the word retard as a descriptor of anyone/anything is just as offensive as the slurs that have the potential to see legal prosecution under hate crimes.

Ethan: I can appreciate from where your arguments stem, however I subscribe to the George Carlin view of words being innocent and the meaning being guilty. For a simple example, people often use the word lame to describe something that is disliked, however the word lame can also mean disfigured or crippled. However, the meaning is different. Also a number of my gay friends use the word gay in the same fashion as lame. I am also an egalitarian and think it is illogical and discriminatory for society to approve of one group using a word and condemn it for another. That is the definition of discrimination. Finally to you, Moderator. Your examples of those two words is not a good comparison. The original and nearly sole intent of those words is hate and discrimination, while the word retarded is not. If you wish to make a comparison the juxtaposed words should actually be comparable beyond the fact that they are composed of letters.

Ms. Y: George Carlin had many valid points, I'm a fan of his. Words are innocent and the meaning is guilty, then where exactly does that put using the word retard (or any other you see fit)? I'm all for freedom of speech (thought I'd throw that inthere before you attempt to use it against me) but when in life has it become okay to say and do whatever you like because you adopt famous people's views of language? We were not created to be and operate as islands. We are all interconnected and have been created to serve one another. Where exactly does using any word in a slanderous way move the Kingdom forward? When did we stop caring about others? When did it become "cool" and "a right" to insult one another? When did philosophy adopting give us the perspective that words don't hurt? Keep trying Ethan. OH, and Ethan, can you explain to me exactly how calling someone a retard is not discriminatory and hateful? Just wondering....

Ethan: Okay. First of all, the reason I cited George Carlin was not to say "Hey, someone famous said it, therefore I am right." It was more to give an example so I didn't have to explain the whole thing here on Facebook. The entire point of his statement is as follows: those who get offended at the word X, which they believe has the implication of Y, areoffended by the definition, not the word itself. So, when the definition is different, offense should not be found. I was under the impression that English was one of those cool languages where words could have multiple definitions. I am not denying that people take offense, as that is quite evident in the fact that we are having this conversation. Now, I shall try to go through my points sequentially so I don't lose my path: 1) You are correct, we are not islands, and we thrive through social interactions. However, social interaction is a two-way street. It is not simply, "I'll say I'm offended, and you will stop what I say offends me." It involves give and take from both sides, such as people working on not getting offended at things that have no offensive intention whatsoever. 2) "We ...have been created to serve one another." I could see using this mentality as a justification for slavery. And I will not agree with this statement for many reasons, not the least of which is "created". 3) As for your question about how this moves us forward, I would like to do a little thought experiment about where the path of politically correct censorship leads, and I can't help but see Orwell's Double Speak at the end of the tunnel. 4) Words can hurt. Any word can hurt. But words are simple devices for conveying a definition, a larger concept. Thus, with words that have multiple definitions, a single word can convey many different concepts; only in cases such as this are all of the definitions connected no matter what the intended implication. A thought comes to mind: the word retard does have other uses, ie. "Don't retard the process." Is this sentence acceptable? It does not use the definition of "a generalized disorder, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning...", nor does it follow the definition of "an insult to describe some one acting in an illogical way". 5) Finally, can I explain how calling someone a retard is not discriminatory or hateful? Yes. First of all, do physicians still use the word "retard" to describe someone with "a generalized disorder, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning"? If YES: Then the word is not always used to discriminate. If NO: Then the word is not used clinically to describe those with "impaired cognitive functioning", and thus is free for other definitions. Regardless of which is true, the discriminatory and hateful senses of a word comes from its definition, its implication, a sentiment that you agreed to in your previous post. Thus, if the word is used with no intention of hate, no intention of discrimination, then it is not hateful.

You told me to keep trying. I will.

Moderator: I don't find words themselves insulting...but when a word used to describe one group is used to insult another then it's as if we are saying the characteristics of the first group are inferior and therefore to say you are like them is an insult. Using the word Jew to describe me is fine...saying to someone else that "you jewed me" (meaning took financial advantage of) is saying to be like a Jew is bad and therefore I'm using it to insult you and insulting me at the same's the use of the word...when both Limbaugh and Emmanuel used the word "retard" they said you are behaving like a person with a particular disability and therefore it's an insult to both the person it was used against and the people it refers to. It is, of course, ok to hurl an insult at someone, but I don't think it's ok to implicate, and potentially hurt others, while hurling it.

Ms. Y: Ethan, our philosophies on creation are not important here, so you're right, we need not go into that. I respect whatever your belief on that is. However, serving one another is far different then enslaving. You're a young boy and as you grow and mature that definition will become much broader than a likeness to slavery. Serving one another in love has absolutely nothing to do with slavery. 
George Carlin did have a point, but it's not the only point and it's not entirely correct. Let's remember: he made his living doing comedy, not matter how timely his comic routines may have been.
Your alternate definition of the word retard also has no bearing on this discussion as the use is correct but completely unrelated to humans or human behavior. There are also flame retardent clothing. Also, no bearing here.
People who are classified anywhere on the scales of mental retardation, which yes-is still a diagnosed disability, not "impaired cognitive functioning", that would be a definition, not a diagnosis present with many challenges. When that is used to insult another, it is insulting both sides.

The moderator did a fantastic job of saying exactly what the rest of my argument was going to be, so I don't feel I need to say it all again.

Ethan:  ...I have stated it before, I am not using George Carlin as an appeal to authority; I don't know why you keep saying that I am. I was taught in school to cite people, maybe I was wrong. 

1) Now, the most important concept we have to keep in mind is something known as the Euphemism Treadmill, where words and titles constantly change in an attempt to reduce offense: retard was a replacement designed to reduce offense. One of the key principles to this concept is that if a word has both a neutral meaning and a negative meaning, the negative meaning will eventually win out at the word will become taboo.
2) Also, you both seem very focused on the etymology of the word retarded being used as an insult, where it came from. It is true that the original intent of the word as an insult was to associate the person being insulted with someone who was clinically retarded. However, that is no longer the intention. At all. By saying someone is retarded, the person is not attempting to use the word that is labeled to one group and throw it on another. That is not the point. That is a different definition. We are also not attempting to say that some materials have "two or more standard deviations away (lower than) from the average IQ score of 100", because the definition is different. Whether you would like to admit it or not, the definition used as an insult is different in the mind of the user.
3) This brings me to my next point: the difference between "being offensive" and "taking offense". You have a choice to be offended. You have a choice in whether or not you get mad. No one makes you angry, you get angry. It is you, not me. Maybe the malfunction lies with those who take offense, not those who use the word.
4) Frequent usage of a word separates it from its origin. A quick example: "God bless you". Now, if I am an atheist and someone tells me after I sneeze "God bless you", it would be illogical of me to take offense because the person does not literally mean "I hope that my God bless you and helps you". Though the original intention of the phrase did involve a God literally blessing someone, that is no longer the case, much as it is no longer the case that someone using the word retarded is associated with "two or more standard deviations away (lower than) from the average IQ score of 100". Another example: "Eric Clapton is a God!" Now, I am not saying that Eric Clapton is a divine being who has the power to turn water into wine or judge others for eternity, because it is a different definition of the word. Both describe people, both describe qualities of people, but the meaning is different, and most people can recognize that. How about "Damn you"? If I say that to someone, I am not actually hoping that that person is damned to an eternity of hellfire, but it is simply a way of expressing displeasure. What about when someone, who knows me very well, calls me "stupid"? That person and I both know that I am not, and both of us know that that person is not trying to say that I truly am, it is simply an expression.


Ms. Y: 1. Citing people is a sign of citing authority. You don't get to dodge that. 
2. How is it you've come to this conclusion, "However, that is no longer the intention. At all. By saying someone is retarded, the person is not attempting to use the word that is labeled to one group and throw it on another. That is not the point. That is a different definition." What other way is that possibly used??!! You can't make generalization to that degree on something you are not an expert.
3. I'm not sure why your anger discussion is included. Other than people, all people, any people SHOULD be angry and get involved when there are wrongs in this world that need our attention. And yes, this is one of those items that needs/deserves attention. I encourage to you to speak with people who have family members who are Mentally Retarded and/or educators who work with students with this diagnosed disability. I am sure you will find we all agree that the use of the word is absolutely unacceptable.
4. How do you know people don't want God to truly bless you when you sneeze?
5. Don't fall back on friendly (yet still offensive) banter. That also has no part in this argument.

Ethan: Okay, Ms. Y. 
1) Your first statement is false and misleading. Citing someone is CITING authority, but I denied APPEALING to authority. There is an obvious difference as defined in the types of logical fallacies. You are accusing me of APPEALING to authority, while I do not deny CITING it.
2) How did I come to this conclusion? Simple observations. I use the phrase. I do not use it with that intention. My brother uses the phrases. He does not use it with that intention. My girlfriend uses the phrase. She does not use it with that intention. So far the odds are looking good. Ask anyone who uses the phrase "When you say someone is retarded as an insult, are you intending to demean the community of those who are clinically retarded?" They will say no. I admit that I am not an expert on this subject, but you are not either. I haven't seen your PhD and series of published studies into the field of how people intend the phrase while using it. Please do not insult my authority while you, though being a teacher of those with clinical retardation and having taken courses and read books, are not an expert. You also do not know how much reading and studying I have done on the issue.
3) Need me to speak with people who have Mentally Retarded family members? Okay. Done. One of my close friends at school and another at work. I have spoken to them about this issue before writing a paper on the topic for a 400 level course at
Washington University in Saint Louis about the history and evolution of the English language (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I have in fact done my research). No, they don't all agree with you. And even if they did, you misunderstood my point. People do not make others angry, you get angry. It is not I who makes anger, it is you who creates it.
4) Really? Did you just ask this? You need proof? I don't mean it. There. Also, the origin of it involves the expelling of demons and the stopping of the heart at the moment of sneezing, both of which could lead to premature death. These have been scientifically disproved and are not on people's mind when they say "God bless you". How about 
Eric Clapton is a God? Do you think someone means he is actually divine?
5) If my banter offends, I do apologize, but you have used two phrases to deliberately demean me, as well. "You're a young boy and as you grow and mature..." The implication of this statement is that my disagreement with you stems from my age and my lack of "maturity". How about "You can't make generalization to that degree on something you are not an expert"? I never claimed to be. After all, I am arguing on 
Facebook. If I were an expert, I would be writing essays in journals and conducting studies. My banter is friendly, and with no intended offensiveness. Once again, you are finding offense where none was intended."

The Moderator cut us off here (something I promise to never do). Please pitch in, either with me or against me, or even a third view!