We’ve probably all done this…

We’ve probably all done this (except for those currently labelled with mental disorders for being too honest. Blessed be them).

The point being, our current tolerant civic manners are, perhaps, more offensive than the olden-days early modern vitriol ever was. 🙂


4 thoughts on “We’ve probably all done this…

  1. Yeah. People nowadays make such a big deal about the fact that polemicists called different religions “heathens” or “infidels” or “heretic”. Now, as long as that didn’t mean they could kill me, I would prefer being called a “heathen” or a “heretic” to the modern stuff of being “intolerant” or “ignorant” or of course (in the term automatically applied to all conservatives) “racist”.

    First (1) the latter terms actually sting more, as right now in our culture, it is sexy to be a heretic, and absolutely loathsome to be “intolerant/ignorant”. It is totally holding the early modern folks to a double standard, where their insulting words are condemned, whereas current post-modern insulting words are totally OK (e.g. people love to confess other people’s sins in place of their own — great-great-great-grandparent’s sins seem to be especially popular to confess).

    Second, (2) the early-modern/medieval insults are actually technically true (e.g. if a Muslim called me an infidel — it is true, because I am outside the Muslim faith, and if a Jew called me a Gentile, it is true, I don’t practice Judaism, and if a Roman Catholic called me a heretic — it is true, I don’t accept the pope). So if I act all hurt about it…. it is implying that there is something wrong with a very true fact (e.g. “how dare you call Timmy dumb! That is a horrible thing to say! He’s not dumb!” When, in fact, Timmy actually does have a super-low IQ. The “defense” of Timmy is achieving the reverse, as it strongly implies that it is BAD and SHAMEFUL if Timmy really had a low IQ, when that is just a fact. The intervening grownup is ACTUALLY AFFIRMING belief that dumb-people-are-less-than-human.). By the very act of blanket-denial-defense by the kindhearted third party…. it is affirming the badness of the “slur” which is just accurate.

    A bunch of anxious 1700s Calvinist housewives using the word “heathen” for the souls of those they prayed for the light of Christ to come to, seem far more….. er….. not nasty (for lack of a better word) than the insults of a modern academic whose lip curls in disgust as they talk about “intolerant extremists”.

    Third (3), for the Calvinist housewives, at least you were redeemable, or at least, pitiable; whereas in the second case you are just (in the academic’s eyes) a loathsome human being who is irredeemable.

    The denigrating labels of the Early Moderns were not so total & permanent as the current post-modern terms.

    Of course there were some Early Moderns who did advocate views of they-are-less-than-human stuff or yup-burn-heretics stuff — and I am not defending them. But to lump together with all those pious folks who just called people of other faiths terms that accurately conveyed that definition in their worldview, seems hardly fair or honest–especially while also turning a blind eye on the perennial nature of bigotry, which gets worse the more people think they don’t have it (cough, modern academic discourse, cough, cough).

  2. To put it another way, the old way of blunt insult at least acknowledged that we disagreed. Whereas (especially in the ecumenical/diversity discourse!) the implication is that they (the kind experts) “know” your religion better than you (as an ignorant adherent to the said religion) actually do. And that if you were just a reasonable human being (e.g. not “ignorant” which is usually used in the context of “stubbornly ignorant”), you would agree with them.

    Granted, this view (that IF (A) you are the only right one, THEN AUTOMATICALLY (B) other people are sub-human jerks for not seeing it) has been around forever, and some people in the medieval & early modern eras had that view too, and expressed it vociferously. But the current language clouds (or collapses) the distinction between (A) and (B) in a way that the old “vitriol” terms did not. At least there was a distinction before — I could be a “heathen” without being an irredeemable slimeball in their eyes. Whereas now as they would call me an “intolerant extremist”, I am judged an irredeemable slimeball in an irrevocable sense.

  3. I think part of the communication problem is that in modern circles is more fundamental, while earlier disagreements were more superficial. In the past, if someone got called a heretic, it was because they ascribed to a world view that the accuser thought to be incorrect. But there was rarely (at least as far as I know?) an argument over whether their should be a worldview at all. And I think that’s where most modern disagreements are rooted. When someone calls someone else intolerant, it’s less a condemnation of the tenets of their beliefs as it is a condemnation of the idea that their beliefs are relevant outside their own personal life. Does that make sense? I’m not sure this is making sense.

    I like your point about IQ – I remember thinking something similar when Dove put out a really popular ad campaign a few years ago. It was about how women tended to undervalue their own physical attractiveness, and the general messages was that all women were beautiful. It was really sweet in a lot of ways, but it also sort of made me sad – because, like you said, it really underlined (probably without meaning to) the idea that physical beauty was SUPER IMPORTANT. It shouldn’t be a big deal to not be physically beautiful! We can’t all be concert pianists or professional athletes, and we can’t all be physically flawless. But by insisting that everyone be called beautiful it really does imply that beauty is intrinsically tied to worth, which then causes so many problems when people don’t find themselves to be particularly beautiful.

    I remember an article making a similar point by a woman who was upset that whenever she would describe herself as fat, people would enthusiastically insist that she wasn’t – because the underlying assumption was that being fat was bad, and that by describing herself that way she was making a statement against her own self-worth.

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