On insults-1: Who gets to decide what is insulting?

The uproar generated by Rush Limbaugh repeatedly referring to Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ on his widely listened to radio program is showing little sign of dying down. Apparently many advertisers have pulled their support from his show, though this may be just a temporary setback for him. As long as he continues to command a large audience, advertisers will likely slowly come back once the furor dies down.

But the whole issue started me thinking about this whole business of what constitutes insulting language and it is going to be the topic of an occasional series that looks at how we deal with the heated language that is common in politics and on the internet.

This issue of what constitutes an insult is a tricky one, especially for those who are more broad-minded since the range of things that are perceived as insults is inversely proportional to how narrow-minded one is.

Take for example the word ‘slut’, which is used to refer to a sexually promiscuous woman, and even sometimes extended to any woman who engages in pre-marital sex or sex outside of marriage. Why is this an insult? What business is it of anyone else what the sexual practices of others are? If someone wants to have sex with multiple partners, why should anyone else care? It becomes an insult only if we think that sex is dirty and that someone who indulges in it with more than one person or outside of wedlock is somehow morally depraved, even though there is no rational basis for that assumption.

The word ‘prostitute’ suffers from the same problem. It becomes an insult only to those who think that exchanging sex for money is morally wrong. If you think that it is simply another form of commerce in which people sell their services for money, as we all do in one form or another, then it ceases to be an insult and becomes simply the name of an occupation or vocation. I am not here interested in whether going into prostitution is a good career choice. Something can be not seen as immoral and still not be good for the person indulging in it. The life of a prostitute can be awful, especially in those societies where it is illegal and thus they do not have the protection of the law and are often at the mercy of unscrupulous and violent people.

So when Limbaugh attacked Fluke using the words slut and prostitute, this puts broad-minded people in somewhat of a quandary. When an overbearing and unpleasant bully attacks someone who was merely giving her views on an important issue to members of Congress, the natural instinct of all fair-minded people is to come to her defense.

But what exactly are we defending her from? If there is nothing objectionable to the acts that are associated with those words, then the words become merely descriptive with no negative connotations, putting them on the same level as her being described as a student or young, neither of which would be viewed as insults. In other words, we could have risen, not to the defense of Fluke the person but to the defense of the words slut and prostitute, seeking to raise them out of the disrepute that society has consigned them to. In other words, we could say that no insult had occurred and the offense that Limbaugh committed was trying to smear the words slut and prostitute with negative connotations where none should exist.

But this is not what the legions who rose to defend Fluke were doing. They seemed to be accepting that the words were insulting and defending the accuracy of the terms as applied to Fluke. In other words, they seemed to be saying that the words slut and prostitute were inaccurate in that there was no evidence that Fluke was promiscuous or exchanged sex for money. But there is surely more to the reaction than accuracy because Limbaugh also inaccurately referred to her by the old-fashioned word ‘co-ed’, a term that usually is used to describe a female undergraduate, while she was in fact a law student. There was no outcry about that.

Limbaugh clearly meant those words to be insulting, taking advantage of the current view of society that being a slut or a prostitute is disreputable, and there was an understandable urge to defend Fluke the person, even if we thought the words themselves were not insulting. So clearly the angry response was because Limbaugh used the words as insults and we let him be the determiner of what words can be used as such.

This illustrates a recurring pattern when it comes to insulting language. It tends to be the speaker of the words who gets to decide if the word is insulting or not and it is hard not to respond accordingly.


  1. jamessweet says

    As long as he continues to command a large audience, advertisers will likely slowly come back once the furor dies down.

    Maybe, maybe not. The cancellation of Glenn Beck’s Fox News show demonstrates precedent for this: A wildly popular right-wing nut bag, who nonetheless is so toxic to advertisers that nobody can make any money off the show no matter how good the ratings are.

    I know radio is a different business, but I think there’s a real chance this could be the beginning of the end for Rush’s broadcast radio show. (A satellite radio show could be in the cards, however)

  2. Dan-o says

    I disagree with the words Rush used as I know these words as being demeaning. On the flip side with the exception of a medical reason DO NOT believe society should pay for contraception. If something is so important to you that you must have you will find a way.

  3. Kerri says

    We should have been defending her because Rush took her speech out of context (like he always does). Rush accomplished getting people agitated over words like slut and prostitute when we should have been mad that he completely skewed the message that Fluke was trying to get across. The story wasn’t even about her or even about sex. The message was that some women take birth control to deal with medical issues (which unfortunately was still lost to many people out there).

  4. James Power says

    Without wishing to deviate from what you are saying at all I think that one important point which should be made is that this is essentially an ad hominem attack. It is an utterly worthless argument and no matter what he says about her as the speaker of a point it does not in any way reduce the content of that point. This kind of nonsense happens all the time, “oh that’s rubbish because she’s xyz, or, what would you know you’re [insert membership of minority or majority group here]. I don’t care it she skins puppies alive on youtube for kicks (though I hope no one does that), it is the argument that need a response not the standing of the speaker*.

    *Unless the speaker claims that they have a perspective based on study or training and that is shown to be false, but again, that’s a claim/evidence situation so not entirely different.

  5. says

    I agree with James Power above – it is that it was an ad hominem attack.

    But I think your point here is interesting and something to htink about. Can we wrest the power to control what is or is not offensive from the offenders? I wonder if it can even be done. What is the nature of insulting anyway? How does it happen between people?

    This illustrates a recurring pattern when it comes to insulting language. It tends to be the speaker of the words who gets to decide if the word is insulting or not and it is hard not to respond accordingly.

    Yes…but I wonder what would happen if someone powerful calls someone weaker a “slut” and the “slut” were to laugh and say “Why, thank you!”

    Also, Dan-o, I guess the same could be said for heart meds, viagra and insulin. Or did you have another point about whether something is “important to you”?

  6. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    This is one of the most naive arguments one is likely to encounter in one’s lifetime, and it’s especially disappointing to hear from someone who’s not still in high school.

    To see what’s wrong with it, consider a term that has already acquired a dual use: faggot. I know if a fellow queer refers to me as a faggot, it is probably not an expression of animosity. And I know that if a straight man calls me a faggot, it is an expression of animosity. This is all very convenient; it’s a clear and thus helpful signal.

    Now imagine that a bunch of well-meaning fools like you “rise to the defense of the word faggot, and you have some success. The result is that every homophobe can still communicate shared animosity with every other homophobe, but they now blend in with a bunch of straight liberals who think they’re doing a good thing, and some fans of “irony” who like to deliberately use the term ambiguously because the confusion gives them power over others.

    The homophobes are still out there, and still a danger to me as always, but now you’ve lowered the signal-to-noise ratio and I have a harder time knowing who to trust. And every one of us who grew up knowing that a straight man saying “faggot” was a threat is going to have that little pang of fear when a well-meaning fool says it in our vicinity. So I’ll have to live with more stress while you get to feel pleased with yourself. Fuck that noise.

    In the real world, the word faggot is always going to be an insult, and so is the word slut. The best that you can really hope for is that people will eventually see the referent as not worthy of insult, at which point the words will become more generic like bastard, which is and always will be an insult but now rarely calls to mind paternal “illegitimacy”.

  7. Jared A says

    Dan, are you familiar with how insurance works? Based on what you are saying it doesn’t seem so.

    “Society” indirectly pays for birth control in the same way that it is paying for your Viagra, your car repairs when you get in a car accident, or your replacement stuff when your house burns down. Those are all insurance things that come from a pool of money that all the participants have regularly put money in. It’s not really the same things as taxes. (Well, categorically it is a lot like taxes, which is why many of us try to make it a public good so that we have better control over doing it properly.)

    The point is moot anyway, because society will ALWAYS have to bear the much steeper cost of people NOT getting birth control. Just like society is paying if you die suddenly, because we lose the work that you do.

  8. Jared A says

    Based on the other commenters, what I think what people are really objecting to is the level of discourse. So the insulting language is just one symptom of that. It would have much of the same effect if Limbaugh called her a “liberal feminist” meaning it to be an insult, it’s still diminishing the discourse. The words slut and prostitute are just a little worse in the sense that they are vulgar and out of place.

    Anyway, the slut and prostitute line was just weird and awkward. The really bad stuff was the thing about video-taping and asking her where she got her condoms in middle school.

    Otherwise I agree with what “lipstick on a pitbull” said. It’s not so much the words he uses, as how he means them. Of course context matters. We know from the context that Limbaugh is engaging in slut-shaming (as Dan Savage would put it), and that he is being outrageously sexist in his attitude (that tired double-standard that women who advocate for their sexual rights are Bad). That’s where the insult is, and that’s what people are responding to.

  9. Celeste says

    I must agree with Life is Like a Pitbull. Words are not used in a vacuum. Their context lends them meaning, as do the societal issues surrounding those words. Consider the phrase “I love you.” The meaning of those words can change based on who I say them to, how I say them, and what event or conversation immediately preceded me saying them. They can be romantic, parental, friendly, humorous, or ironic.

    The words “slut” and “prostitute” were not used by Rush to simply refer to Sandra Fluke as a promiscuous woman. They were used to tell people that Sandra Fluke and women like her are somehow “less than”, they are subhumans whose needs and voices are unimportant, ignorable. These words are rarely used by their dictionary meaning. They are wielded as weapons, and their context directly affects how deadly that weapon is.

  10. jamessweet says

    Dan-O: If a woman is pregnant and uninsured, do you think she should be refused medical care?

    If so, then you’re a dick, but your argument is consistent.

    If not, then whatever the principled reasons behind your argument, it’s a major FAIL when it comes to public policy. If we don’t maximize access to contraception, then that increases the number of pregnancies. And some non-trivial fraction of those pregnancies will be uninsured women with no ability to pay for hospital or midwifery care. And one single hospital birth is enough to pay for many, many women to get birth control.

    It’s a somewhat different argument from the one I am making here, but this is why insurance companies WANT to cover contraception. It saves them money. Seriously, it’s something like $4 saved for every $1 spent (don’t quote me on that; I am going from memory).

    Pragmatically, if you are going to cover births, then it does not make sense not to cover birth control. There are also strong moral reasons to cover birth control as well, but it seems your position is attempting to sidestep that issue. Still, pragmatically, if you want “society” to pay the least, then you want contraception to be covered. This is a no-brainer.

  11. Dan-o says

    Car insurance is required as well as home insurance unless you paid out right so that hardly compares to giving out contraceptive items. As far as insulin, heart medicine there is medical reason to receive it just as a person with irregular menstrual cycles may need the pill. There will be other medical reasons as well but the other 99% do not qualify in my mind.

  12. jamessweet says

    And by the way, this is why I find it baffling that liberals are often painted as naive idealists, while conservatives are painted as jaded pragmatists. Even if we are willing to deny the obvious (to me at least) moral good of providing access to contraception, the idea that people should be personally responsible for obtaining their own birth control (or failing that, elect not to have sex) is startlingly naive and idealistic. Whatever your idealistic vision is of what people should do, the reality for H. sapiens is that a) they really like having sex, and b) they are often not great at planning ahead. Even if you think sex is icky or whatever social conservatives think, the obvious pragmatic position is to cover birth control anyway.

    Of course, it’s also distinctly anti-human to think that sex is icky. But that’s a whole other discussion.

    The opponents of covering contraception under the individual mandate plan are wrong from a pragmatic perspective, they are wrong from a moral perspective, and to the extent that they try to appeal to freedom of religion, they are wrong from a constitutional perspective. I am sorry to say, but they are wrong in every possible way they could be wrong.

  13. Dan-o says

    I am very liber..Sorry I have trouble with that word, when it comes to sex but that does not mean I agree with paying for others sex. If I could pay for contraceptives in college on zero money than it really should not be that difficult. If I want something that is not required why should I force others to pay for it. You argument is still in FAIL mode.

  14. schmeer says

    If you’re claiming that 99% of women use the pill as contraception only then you’re going to have to provide some evidence to back it up. My understanding is that far more than 1% of women have a prescription for the alternate uses of those drugs.

  15. Dunc says

    You could argue that “slut” and “prostitute” should not be considered as insulting (which is a whole other complex argument), but you can’t seriously argue that they are not insults, because in current usage, they most definitely are.

    Now, if you want to try and rehabilitate those words, good luck to you – but I would argue that (a) this particular instance is not the correct time to make the attempt, and (b) that you probably shouldn’t use somebody else’s experience of them as your opportunity without their express consent and involvement. After all, it’s entirely possible that Ms Fluke would prefer not to be described as either a “slut” or a “prostitute” on the basis of factual accuracy, regardless of how she feels about the words themselves and / or the specific concepts they denote.

  16. schmeer says

    Well, here’s some actual evidence so you don’t have to tax your little brain trying to make up numbers:
    “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills,” by Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, also found that more than half (58%) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention—meaning that only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons.

    From here:

    Nice try, liar.

  17. C Tran says

    Actually, the victim decides if words are insulting or not.

    And it doesn’t necessarily matter what an attacker thinks about those terms, he can still use them. If I mean to insult a woman, I’m not going to mind calling her a slut, even though I believe it’s everyone’s right to engage in his or her own sexual lives without harassment. I may use such a term simply because it should be effective at insulting her 90% of the time.

  18. Nepenthe says

    Indeed. These words (at least “slut” which really has no use except as a slur) are the discursive equivalent of a thrown rock. You don’t really get to decide how to deal with them unless you’re the target of the stoning.

  19. Celeste says

    You say you don’t want to pay others to have sex, but what do you think you would be doing when you end up paying for all of those unwanted births instead? You’d be paying a lot MORE for all of that sex. But more than that, you’re not the only one paying. We all pay in to health insurance and our money should go to covering ALL our health care needs.

    Additionally, we all pay for things we’d rather not pay for. If you want to be exempt from paying for contraception, then I want to be exempt from paying for wars. You don’t get to make the decisions about how most of your insurance and tax money is spent, so why do you suddenly feel you should have a say on this?

  20. says

    Oh I think you are a “liber-” when it comes to sex for yourself – and for other men. Not with regards to sex for women – that is just icky, isn’t it?
    There is judgment all over your posts – and looky here! The only people being judged by you are women! The only ones whose access to birth control and avoidance of medically risky pregnancy is being threatened here.
    SO glad you were able to protect yourself in college with the $6 box of Trojans. Funny, OCPs tend to run a little more pricey. But then, what do you care, right, Cupcake? As long as you get yours.

  21. Gwynnyd says

    If I want something that is not required why should I force others to pay for it

    Oh, I dunno. Define “required”? There are a lot of things that happen to a body that are not life threatening but that are made much better by access to modern drugs. Why shouldn’t those be “not required” and also paid for by individuals who want them? Statins, anyone? If only “birth control” falls into that “not required” medical category for you, perhaps you should consider that you are simply self-absorbed and misogynist.

  22. Dan-o says

    If the stats are correct than I am done for 52% of the medical needs and the 48% need to pay for it themselves. I am not willing to pay for others to have sex without getting pregnant any more than I am going to pay for your new car or what ever anology you want to insert.

  23. Henry Gale says

    Why does the person who ‘hears’ the words get to decide?

    My dad was an amazing kind and accepting person. He never meet a person he didn’t like or wish the best for. Yet, my dad used the word ‘colored’ when he spoke of African-Americans until the day he died.

    If a young black male heard my dad say that word he may be offended, but does that mean my father meant to offend?

    If the intention of the speaker is to harm, then it doesn’t matter what words are used.

    It’s not what the ‘victim’ hears. It’s what the speaker meant.

  24. Gwynnyd says

    What does that even mean? Car and home insurance are required unless you paid outright for it? Wut? What does that have to do with anything we are discussing here on insults or in reply to the comment this was attached to? You are a moron – a self-absorbed, misogynist moron with little grasp of how to organize thoughts, assuming you have any of your own, into coherent arguments.

  25. says

    Hey Dan-o…we don’t want to pay for your sex life either. Usually sex requiring birth control involves two people….
    Condoms have a high failure rate. You have not prevented pregnancy effectively if that is all you are using. Stop costing taxpayers money!!
    You are a misogynist jackass.

  26. Frogmistress says

    It is disappointing to read what amounts to you saying “they are just words.”

    Slut has been used against me my entire life. It has been used to shame me, to coerce me, to silence me, to other me and, most importantly, to let me know exactly where my place is in this society. And that was part of what Rush wanted to do: let us all know where our place is which definitely is not supposed to be telling the country how things should be.

    It doesn’t matter that I, personally, have no problem with women having sex. It matters that the speaker, obviously, does. It matters that his listeners do. It matters that most of the people in this country still judge women for having sex.

    Yeah, it is just a word. But words mean things. In this case, they were meant to tell Fluke, and the rest of the women in this country, that we need to keep our mouths shut.

    (And if you haven’t read a single instance of people talking about his use of “co-ed” I submit that you need to expand your reading list.)

  27. smrnda says

    I myself see nothing wrong with having lots of sex with lots of people and I think that prostitution isn’t that different from what marriage has been throughout most of human history, but I still think that the terms ‘slut’ or ‘prostitute’ as used these days is usually offensive. They clearly carry with them a sense of judgment against the behaviors – they aren’t neutral the way a term like ‘coffee drinker’ is neutral in just describing a habitual behavior because they emerge from a social context where the behaviors are regarded as wrong.

    The people who would be affected by the word should get to decide, not the person speaking, because what speaker is going to say “Yeah, I’m being pointlessly offensive?” They’ll mostly seek to justify what was said. On terms like ‘colored,’ I think a person has a duty to try to figure out what people consider offensive and to stick with it. I had older relatives who used the term and though they meant no offense by it, the fact that Black people don’t like being called ‘colored’ wasn’t exactly a secret; anybody reading newspapers would know it wasn’t the preferred term.

    As for words, I don’t think white people should use the n-word, but if Black people use it, it’s their business and I leave it to people in the Black community to decide whether or not it’s appropriate and when, but because of power dynamics I’d say it’s always out of line coming from a white person.

    My objection to people who say ‘why should I pay for you having sex?” Well, the whole idea of insurance is that everybody pays in and everybody receives medical care based on their lifestyle. If someone wants to say they shouldn’t indirectly contribute to a system that covers some woman’s contraception, then that woman has an equal right to object to anything that the man objecting gets that she thinks he shouldn’t be entitled to. Don’t work out enough? Don’t eat right? Well, don’t expect HER premiums to pay for you then. If you want to veto things based on what you believe are lifestyle choices Dan-O, then anybody should have the same right to you, and if that was how we thought then the whole idea of insurance would be right out the door.

    Dan-O, you are effectively arguing that a person has a right, in terms of policy debate, that having sex is different than say, running marathons. People who run marathons are going to get injured on occasion. I don’t run them – would anybody take me seriously if I said I shouldn’t have to pay for people who get injured doing a high injury risk sport that they don’t have to do? The reason nobody takes that seriously is that we don’t have a history of our culture being dominated by the view that consensual sex is an activity with a moral dimension. The idea that it is should have no place in public policy discourse at all.

    Also Dan-O, since you are obviously male and not very knowledgeable, pregnancy itself can become a life-threatening condition. I think the attitude of ‘well don’t have sex’ is about as legitimate as my above example of ‘don’t run marathons.’

  28. Jared A says

    Dan, you have now admitted that you think car insurance shouldn’t pay for someone’s new car, either.

    It’s clear now that you really don’t understand how insurance works at all. Before you draw any more flame you should spend a rather long time brushing up on that.

    PS – Since we are all agreed that it’s so easy to be self-sufficient about birth control, I guess women should charge men they have sex with in order to cover the hormonal birth control costs, no? We’ll need to draw up some type of fee schedule.

  29. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    No, Henry Gale, you’re obviously wrong about that. Luckily, it’s easy to see just where your error arises.

    You’re approaching communication as a matter of “how do I avoid being blamed?” And the least involved approach is to simply say whatever the fuck you please, and afterwards repeat ad nauseum that you meant no offense and the other person is to blame.

    But there is another possible approach, which takes as its baseline “how do I communicate to this other person that I respect their basic human dignity?” In this approach, you have to consider how to signal respect so that it is understood, and you have to admit the possibility that you are capable of making a mistake. Admitting the possibility of failure is scarier. But the benefits are worth it.

    I have this habit of speaking to mixed-gender groups as “you guys.” Occasionally a woman will explicitly object that “we’re not all guys.” Somewhat more often a woman will turn to another and repeat my phrasing in gentle mockery, with pointed emphasis on “guys.”

    At these moments I realize I am not effectively signaling respect — for the whole point of signaling is to have one’s signal understood — and if I continue with my usual address then I’m actually signaling a lack of respect, that I don’t even respect this person enough to address them as they’d prefer. If I don’t change my speech, then I can’t honestly blame the other person for inferring that I don’t respect them when I’m failing to signal respect.

    Your father, unless he was too senile, must have noticed the changing norms. If he was unwilling to change his behavior, then he was signaling that other people’s preferences did not matter to him. And in the example you give, that behavior was a little bit racist.

  30. schmeer says

    If your dad used the word “colored” then i don’t care how nice you think he was i find that to be a not-very-nice thing to do. I agree that a speaker can intend and cause harm without using any of the naughty words. You should also be able to see that a well-intentioned person can insult someone accidentally. It’s still an insult.

  31. Steve LaBonne says

    Well, I’ve decided that it’s not insulting to call Rush a fat, impotent, hate-filled moron. It also has the advantage of being true.

  32. Dan-o says

    For all you moronic non thinking liberals please prove to me why I must pay for your contraceptives(non-medical). I read all this blah blah but all I read are comments by uneducated haters. I have no issue with sex or care how many but why do I have to pay for it?

  33. Henry Gale says

    I took the time to write a nice reply furthering my point, but then I decided, why bother.

  34. schmeer says

    You apparently can’t read, but let me put it into terms you are familiar with: blah, blah, blah.

  35. Frogmistress says

    You are paying for coverage of contraception as much as you are paying for someone else’s Viagra.

    Contraception is a preventative measure. One that is much cheaper than pregnancy.

    I think the bigger question is why you choose to draw the line for insurance covering contraception instead of, say, cholesterol medication.

  36. mynameischeese says

    So you’re mad that women can use insurance for for birth control pills because they might be using it for birth control…but the fact that men access viagra with insurance gets no mention?

  37. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    I know, right? Why bother trying to communicate. It’s easier to just try and avoid blame.

  38. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Anyway, don’t take it too harsh, Henry. Your dad wasn’t the first kindly person to do something a little bit racist.

    It’s just that if you’re going to present his as an example of Totally 100% Okay Behavior, and you’re wrong about that, it becomes necessary to point out that it wasn’t really 100% okay.

  39. says

    Sure you don’t have a special specific problem with birth control coverage.
    Try reading the responses you’ve been given or go away troll.
    Why should anyone have to pay for anything that happens to you because of life choices? Accident because you drive a car? Why should I pay for your hospital stay? I think people should walk, bike or use public transportation.
    Suffering from ED? Too bad. WHy should I have to pay for you to have sex?

    You have a special problem with sex – women’s sexuality and freedom to enjoy it, to be specific. You are a misogynist troll.

  40. Katy says

    Dan-o, You’re not paying for non medical contraceptives. Stop claiming that as your only argument. It’s false and the right lied to you. Think critically.

  41. mnb0 says

    Obviously it’s not only Limbaugh who decides that the words “slut” and “prostitute” are insulting. That’s something I have learned as a Dutchman teaching children in Suriname.
    If I call a kid a “sufferd” (means something like goof) that kid doesn’t feel insulted, despite my intention, exactly because he/she never has learned that it’s an insult. Surinamese people don’t use it.
    This becomes even clearer when we translate insults. Slut (“slet”) is as offensive in Dutch as in English, but prostitute isn’t. The Dutch use “hoer” (whore) instead.
    So the social context plays a major role and I don’t see how liberals (regarding sex) can duck this.

  42. mnb0 says

    “Actually, the victim decides if words are insulting or not.”
    The fundamentalist christian will agree with you if you tell him/her that his/her god doesn’t exist.

  43. Zugswang says

    My two cents: Determining what constitutes an insult is determined largely by the perception of a conscious act of malice and/or speaking out of ignorance (willful, or otherwise). The degree to which one takes offense is determined by several things:

    – the ability of the person to comprehend what they’re saying
    – the magnitude of dishonesty/fallacy/bigotry
    – the influence the person delivering the insult has

    Example: Once, in a grocery store, one of the employees (who has an obvious developmental disability) walked up behind me and my fiancee (who is Vietnamese) and said, “YOU KEEP THOSE GOOKS OUT!” over and over. We simply walked away.

    I was very shocked (my fiancee had not heard it, and I kept it that way), but not insulted, per se. It was very unlikely that he knew any better, and it’s not one of those situations you really think to prepare yourself for, so you’re not entirely sure what the appropriate response is. Had someone without any such perceived disability done so, I certainly would have taken offense, and most likely would have had some very hostile things to say about his bigoted views.

  44. Anat says

    It would be a good idea if society paid for everyone’s birth control because birth control is a way to prevent people from growing up in poverty. The more spent on birth control the less that needs to go towards welfare.

  45. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    And? This doesn’t pose the problem you seem to think it does.

    So a fundamentalist Christian may (not all will, but you’re right that some will) decide that you are insulting him by telling him his god doesn’t exist. Or, the way I put it, by telling him his god doesn’t exist, you’re signaling to the fundamentalist Christian that you do not respect him qua fundamentalist Christian.

    Okay. So what?

    You’ve implicitly added something that wasn’t part of the argument; you’ve imagined that we’re saying “and you should never insult anyone ever.”

    But neither C Tran nor I said that.

    It’s left up to you to decide who you want to insult and how, understanding who will observe and judge your behavior.

    If I see you insulting a Christian qua Christian, I won’t think much of it, because I’m not of the opinion that Christianity per se ought not to be the target of insult. If I see you insulting a woman qua woman, I will consider that sexist of you, because I am of the opinion that womanhood per se ought not to be the target of insult.


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