Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meditations on the N word, the C word, and the O word (Obamacare).

I've heard it said that anger is a truth serum: that when we are angry, our true feelings surface. Personally I regard that as a quite-ridiculous point of view. When we are angryespecially we mena temporary psychosis sets in, a detachment from reality wherein we say things that are the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut (that's if we manage to avoid the impulse to deliver the punch itself, although most men will go for the face. Or, if a gun is handy, we'll shoot someone we would not, ordinarily, shoot). This phenomenon is not confined to men, however. I once knew a lovely and very lovable young woman whose mother unquestionably adored her but got easily hurt and so, when angry, variously told this lovely and lovable young woman (1) "I wish you'd never been born" (a fairly common putdown from angry/hurt mothers, (2) "I should have aborted you," (a more extreme riff on [1]), and (3) "I wish you'd take a gun and shoot yourself in the head" no further comment necessary). Taken together, these are pretty lunatic-fringe remarks that may say more about the mental health of the speaker than about the legitimacy of the feelings being voiced, but they go to my point. They are designed purely to hurt, for if the young woman were in fact to take her life one day, I always felt that the mother would soon follow.

We have all had arguments with our significant others in which we've said outlandish things about breaking up/ending a marriage, things that, were they actually to happen, would leave us shattered. Which is why we should not say such things, because they can lead to an irreversible, self-fulfilling escalation, bringing about the very thing we fear. But we do say such things, and often, because when we are angry we want to hurt. When we are angry we use what ammo what have (figuratively and, as noted above, literally). We say cutting things, things subconsciously designed to get the other person's attention in a provocative way.

And sometimes when we are angry we will say the exact opposite of what we feel if we know that saying it will wound the listener. Every teenager, at some point along the journey to adulthood, has turned to one or both parents and yelled, "I hate you!" That does not mean I hate you, even in the moment when spoken. It means I love you so much and yet you have disappointed me and/or made me so furious...!!

Now to the point of this part of the post, which is the row over white NFL player Riley Cooper's use of "the N word," as newspeople felt compelled to bowdlerize.*

When I worked in the pre-gentrified Harlem of the 1970s I saw a half-dozen arrests in the process of being made, right there on the street in front of me. Black cops would frequently call their quarry nigger, not in the chummy/filial way that rappers (and Denzel Washington's character in Training Day) use the term, but in the menacing "You'd better just lie there and not move or I'll blow your fucking brains out, nigger!" way. When a black cop calls another black man nigger in that context, he is not "bonding," establishing a shared heritage. On the contrary, he is more likely saying "I am a proud upstanding black man and you are a nigger," which may in fact be one of the most odious uses of the word. Still, when it's said in anger...

In the same way, some men who are deeply in love with their wife or girlfriend (or both) have, in the heat of battle, called their beloved a cunt. Notice I say some, not many or most, because cunt may be the one word in our culture that, in the hierarchy of taboo, out-niggers nigger. Often the damage here is not easily repaired. Certainly the majority of men in long-term relationships have at some time called their beloved a bitch.

The fact that one calls someone a nigger does not, depending on circumstances, mean that he is a racist, any more than using cunt or bitch means you're a misogynist. It means you're angry and you are grasping instinctively for a way to hurt, offend or diminish your target. It is a more incendiary and precisely vectored form of asshole, prick, etc. (A boss of mine once called his daughter a cunt in front of a bunch of us; I do not think he generally feels that way about her. And I have it on good authority that women will now and then call each other cunts or bitches. I don't think many women are misogynists.) Sure there are people who say nigger and mean it in an unambiguously racist sense. I do not think Riley Cooper was such a person. I do not think most people who say it are such people.

We should all avoid using the word, but we should all avoid saying lots of things. The tumult and public stoning that result from each identified use are overkill and, I submit, out of touch with reality.

*******************

And now we move on to what may be the most vilified word in our culture nowadays: Obamacare.

I am so tired of the incessant right-wing drone about the evils of Obamacare, the onerous burden it places on corporate America, and the counterproductive toll it takes on job creation and the overall pursuit of the American Dream. It also amazes me how tone-deaf Republicans are in making such arguments; they don't even see/hear the irony. According to the Tea Party line, now embraced by the GOP mainstream, Obamacare is "forcing" companies to undertake layoffs and/or cut worker hours—this, because companies simply "can't afford" to offer the law's obligatory health benefits to all full-time employees (defined for the purposes of the law as those who work more than 30 hours). That is nonsense. The companies can afford to offer the benefits; the only result will be a smaller profit margin, and even that won't happen if the costs are passed along. Further, if all of America cooperates and costs are passed along more or less uniformly throughout, no one company would be at that much (if any) of a competitive disadvantage. In effect, a small corporate tax would have been enacted to fund universal health coverage, which is something that we should seek and support as a matter of conscience. Should we not?

More to the point, the over-the-top rhetoric, along with all those symbolic votes to undo Obamacare, put the lie to that whole disingenuous GOP song and dance about how they're the real job creators and they're the people who are helping to build a stronger America. Indeed, whether or not they realize it, the outcry against the "O word" unmasks them and their elitist, uber-capitalist agenda. Put simply, the GOP dislikes Obamacare because it represents the "redistributionism" that became such an anti-Obama rallying cry during his original campaign for the presidency. If Republicans and the business owners who lobby them really cared about the creation of good jobs and the building of a stronger America, they would not begrudge workers their health-care benefits; they would think, You know, we make enough money as it is, and it's just the good and moral thing to accept a smaller profit in return for ensuring that our workers and their families have good health coverage. They'd think, Do I really need that extra two or three percent? Do I really need that seven-figure bonus? But no, such humanistic-based thinking is anathema in Republican circles. The goal, the one and only goal, is to maximize profits. Screw the workers. Not let them eat cake, but let them just ache.

So if a given company is actually laying workers off or cutting hours because of Obamacare, it's not because it must; it's because the company values profits over people.
___________________________

* and I confess that I yielded to the greater wisdom and did the same in the heading I chose for this post. "Written out," as an acquaintance told me, "it's just too ugly and off-putting, no matter what point you're out to make."

14 comments:

Dimension Skipper said...

Re ObamaCare...

QUOTE:

. . . .

Last May, Potter addressed some of the myths and realities of Obamacare. He noted that: “Two of the most important provisions of the law [Republicans] profess to hate were actually Republican ideas the Democrats embraced in hopes of getting bipartisan support for reform.”

The first such provision is the requirement that all Americans not covered by a public plan like Medicare or Medicaid must buy coverage from a private insurance company. The second provision is that the state health insurance marketplaces or exchanges would be places where private insurers could compete online for customers.

Besides Potter, FactCheck.org, an impartial truth squad, has also been busy comparing facts to political rhetoric. In its latest report (Louie Gohmert’s Health Care Hooey), FactCheck.org found that Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert “is wrong when he says a ‘poor guy out there making $14,000’ is ‘going to pay extra income tax if he cannot afford to pay the several thousand dollars for an Obamacare policy.’”

“In fact, that poor guy will be eligible for Medicaid coverage or heavily subsidized private insurance, depending on where he lives, without fear of being penalized if he cannot afford insurance.

. . . .

One fact that is important to know is that most Americans will not be affected by the changes. As Wendell Potter has explained, in a country of 315 million people, “only 15 million — less than 5 percent of us — currently buy health insurance on our own through the so-called individual market because it’s not available to us through the workplace.”

The vast majority of Americans — about 55 percent — are, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, enrolled in health insurance plans sponsored by our employers. Another 32 percent of us are enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. That means, Potter said, that “almost nine out of 10 of us will not be affected at all by rates insurers will charge next year in the individual market.”

. . . .

For a Better Society said...

What a disgusting post. You really think this drivel helps? Everyone else is fighting to make public discourse more polite and you for some reason have to alibi for the words and their use.

For a Better Society said...

Let me guess it's all about shock value for you, are you like the little kid who didn't get enough attention in school...

Anonymous said...

These are very interesting points. I still think there has to be some baseline dislike or suspicion there if you're even tempted to call a person the N word, otherwise why would that even occur to you? As for women I hate to burst your bubble but a lot of men do seem to harbor a lot of natural hatred for women in their hearts. The fact that a man gets married or has an SO does not mean that he's not a misogynist at heart, sad to say. I know the breed all too well.

RevRon's Rants said...

I'd prefer honest, truthful dialog over "politeness" any day. It is the faux "politeness" that stifles our ability to discuss real problems and allows them to fester rather than be solved.

While civility is sadly absent from much of the discourse nowadays (as evidenced in the comments offered by the oddly misnamed "Better Society"), one way of effectively improving the tenor of public discourse is to refuse to give greater power to "certain words" than they warrant. Not to ignore history, but to understand and outgrow the affectations assigned to those words. And sometimes, the only way to do that is to slap the words - and those who would sustain the affectation - across the face (virtually, of course!). I agree that there seems to be some desire for shock value in these posts, but I know Steve well enough to recognize his intent, and as a result, I don't feel threatened or offended enough to try and turn him into some malevolent strawman. IMO, doing so would be both dishonest and impolite. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

I don't really expect the Republicans to stop their grandstanding about Obamacare anytime soon. They know that when the reduction in insurance premiums realized by states like California prove not to be anomalies, their arguments against the ACA will be exposed as the shrill, desperate attempts they really are. They know that they *have* to kill it before more Americans see how well it works.

For a Better Society said...

RevRonRants: we can't walk around in public screaming the F word or lewd language so I don't know why it should ever be permissible to use the words cited here regardless. Even if you want to dismiss that as "faux politeness" I am sure most sensible people with any sensitivity at all to the struggle blacks and women have made for equality and acceptance would prefer civility, even if it's "faux", over the frank talk you and your hero Steve appear to tolerate if not encourage. There is no good reason to ever "go there" at this stage in American life. I would think anyone who argues the opposite is at the very least a closet racist or misogynist.

Weston said...

"values profits over people" this is one of those buzz phrases I find so lacking in nuance (like most buzz phrases) that I've never quite understood what people mean by it.

Doesn't a corporation have a fiduciary obligation to it's individual shareholders to increase profits as much as possible providing that it is lawfully done?

What about a very common scenario? A large corporation with 900 workers plays hardball on some issue (whether it be obamacare, wages, sick leave, whatever) in order to protect or increase profits and/or stock value for it's shareholders. A major investor in that company is the pension plan for another industry covering thousands of workers and tens of thousands of retirees.

Is a business putting "people before profits" if it agrees to something costing millions of dollars for the benefit of it's 900 employees? Or is putting "people before profits" if it takes a hard line and protects the tens of thousands of people it has an ethical and legal duty to protect?

I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between but that doesn't change the fact that it is a much more complex issue than is conveyed by that simple phrase.

RevRon's Rants said...

I think where we run into problems is when a corporation values profits *to the detriment* of its people. It is actually good business to ingrain a feeling of supportiveness and loyalty in one's employees. Adopting policies that compromise that sense of trust in order to increase shareholders' returns by a few cents a share in a given quarter is incredibly short-sighted, since there *will* come a time when the employer will find him or herself dependent upon the commitment and good will of the workforce.

Even more destructive is the adoption of policies simply to express the executives' political agenda, since doing so rarely benefits either the workers or the shareholders/investors.

I've read many complaints about the lack of loyalty shown by employees, but have learned through my own experience on *both* sides of the equation that being honest and fair with employees results in a more efficient workforce, with lower turnover, and a willingness to go the extra mile when called upon. Conversely, I've heard employers complain about poor employee work ethics, which can quite often be traced back to the employees sense of insecurity or worse, insignificance in the company. There has to be a degree of balance, where both sides are cognizant and respectful of the other's priorities, and the primary responsibility for establishing that balance lies squarely on the shoulders of the employer. If they don't "plant the seed," they have no room to complain when the tree fails to grow.

whistle said...

The worst thing that ever happened to health insurance was having it tied to one's employment. The Affordable Healthcare Act takes that mistake a step further.

I favor either getting g'ment out of insurance all together (including no benefits to employers for subsidizing it) or going whole hog into a single payer system. I don't see how the middle ground works here.

whistle said...

I've said a lot of stupid things out of anger. I've never called anyone a nigger...or a spic...or a kike...or whatever other antiquated terms exist for someones race/ethnicity. Those words are either part of your possible vocabulary or they're not. I don't see what anger has to do with it.

I also never hear people who use the word nigger (as a slur) calling someone a curly-haired freak or a blue-eyed psychopath or a chipped-finger-nailed colossus. I wonder why that it.

Steve Salerno said...

Whistle, at one point or another many of us have said to someone, "I'm going to kill you!", with absolutely no intent of following through (which is why I'm so dubious about all these new laws targeting so-called terroristic threats). So we're using a word that is way over the top in an effort to shock, intimidate or just convey major anger. And what about my "cunt/bitch" observations? Haven't many of us (of both genders) used one or both words in anger? By your logic, does that imply that that's how we really see women? Even if a woman uses those words?

Words like "nigger" and "kike" may not be part of your vocab, but you know of their existence and your subconscious may surprise you by trotting them out in the (in)appropriate circumstances. Same with "faggot."

Jenny said...

Steve, you wrote: "I don't think many women are misogynists."

That's a very interesting and debatable point because, in fact, I consider myself somewhat of a misogynist, sometimes. This doesn't mean I go around actively stirring up trouble amongst my sisters. No. It just means at times I have that kind of emotion you expressed when you said, " I love you so much and yet you have disappointed me and/or made me so furious...!!"

So, does this mean whoever loves also hates? I think it does.

Here is a good article that expresses very well the socially acceptable outlets for women's feelings toward other women: "I Was Not a Nice Little Girl..." by Gillian Flynn

Some people seem to value buttoned-down respectability over honesty. Prudish and image-conscious folk may try to squash and squelch real talk about prickly topics but it doesn't stop the occurrence of genuine conversation between people who want it.

Steve Salerno said...

Jenny, I think it's a mistake to imply, as you seem to, that anyone who's ever disappointed with a person or especially a class of people is "anti-" whatever the person or class represents. We all have negative feelings about people/institutions we love, "sometimes," as you put it. But when I use words like misogynist or racist I refer to people who have an ax (a broad-ax) to grind against pretty much all members of a class all the time. I knew any number of black cops in Harlem who hated the criminal element there and, as noted, used the N word freely. That doesn't make them racists...does it?