Friday, April 25, 2008

A Goddamn Loss

Here is an interesting signpost of how America is changing. Up to the '70s, one heard "goddamn" in polite conversation. It might have been considered salty, but it was something adults said regularly, kind of like saying "hell." You can find the expletive in Ayn Rand's novels.

I remember being surprised in the early '80s the first time a religious man asked me not to say "goddamn." I could hardly believe this person took the idea of God so seriously as to object to a meaningless swear word. Hell, I was an atheist saying the curse. It's not like I meant "Let a supernatural creature come forth and consign thee to the everlasting bonfire!"

Today the word has become less common. I think it has joined the four-letter words as a dirty word one should not say. I take this as another indicator that religion is taken more seriously today.

Lawrence Auster objects to the use of this word in the title of a book by William F. Buckley. 30 years ago, Auster would have been dismissed as a puritanical freak. Today I fear he is the future of conservatism.


Matt said...

Although I was born in the mid-80s and have no anecdotes to share about the prevalence of the word that far back, I have noticed that several TV clips I've watched from the 60s and 70s contain the word far more often than I would have expected (hell, I can't stumble across an old W.F. Buckley TV interview without hearing him say it).
I have noticed that 'goddamn' is bleeped on TV quite frequently (except when it is spoken by cartoons, which is odd).
I think you're right that it is an idication that religion is being taken more seriously today. When I speak with older individuals who are atheists I often hear that 40 or so years ago religion was almost universally regarded as foolish by anyone who considered themselves an intellectual (I don't know how true that is, but if I'm being told this by several people then they had to at least have had that impression, which had to come from somewhere).

Jim May said...

Interesting. I've often heard that swear words reflect what is considered important in the culture at the time. In Quebec, for example, where the Catholic Church retained much more cultural influence than in English Canada, religion-based swear words such as "tabernac" are still considered highly potent.

In America and English Canada, however, the history of swear words shows a transition from religious ones like "goddamn", "hell" etc. to a point in the 70's and 80's where the nastiest swear words were sexual/scatological references, and the old religious ones like "goddamn" became rather mild.

I hadn't noticed a reversal of that trend, but I'm not surprised that it happened.

Anonymous said...

I was told by a director we both know not to use the word "damn" which I ad libbed in rehearsal. That goes for all community theatres in our area for the most part. It offends a large portion of audiences.


Anonymous said...

Interesting comments on swear words. I too have noticed a reaction against "Goddamn" over the last two decades.

Regarding Auster and Conservatism. Auster always makes the distinction between "Left-Liberal" and "Right-Liberal" with Bush and McCain and most every other prominent Conservative being a "Right-Liberal". What he means by this is that they retain elements of Classical Liberal thought and this is what he objects to (although he is very confused on the subject as he is on all else). But I don't know if Auster's brand of Conservatism is the future of America. Auster is a racial determinist that bases culture on race and IQ scores. He is militantly anti-immigration (its is obsession) while most of today's Republican's seem mixed on the subject (Bush certainly is). Auster in essence wants a return to a white dominated, Christian ruled society with gays back in the closet and women back in the kitchen. I don't know that this will be the conservatism of the future. We look to be on the road to some type of religio-leftist mix; some combination of Marx and Christ, of multiculturalism and Christian altruism. So I don't know if Auster is the future. If he is, there will be another dark ages as Auster believes that Christian rule in Europe was the height of civilization. Scary.

John Kim

Anonymous said...

Here are some quotes from Auster on Right Liberalism. After you read these you will see why I am not so certain that he is the future of Conservatism and if he is why that would be terrifying.

"I agree that meritocracy is liberalism. After all, what was the basis of opening America's borders to all countries on an equal basis in 1965, but that we should judge people based on their "individual merit"? Meaning that we should only look at the immigrant as an individual, without considering his culture, religion, nation, race. Meaning we should cease caring whether we remained a European, white-majority country. In any case, right-liberal formulation of "individual worth" was really a front for a left-liberal policy as most of the immigrants were let in on the basis of family connections. Not only are right-liberal ideas not good in themselves; they instantly lead to left-liberalism."

"Liberalism by its nature keeps sliding further to the left. A right-liberal or a global capitalist will see people as identical rights-bearing units or as wealth-producing and consuming units. Now the global capitalist should logically prefer an electorate with a high level of abilities that will support free enterprise, not a low-ability, welfare-seeking electorate. However, the global capitalist's reduction of society into individual de-culturalized atoms inevitably leads to the mass immigration of people from other cultures. Once this starts to happen, the global capitalist, having already abandoned his nation's culture as a mere hindrance to global capitalism, has no basis on which to say, "Hmm, these newcomers with this different culture are not so desirable as capitalists or as voters." To say that would mean renouncing his right-liberal ideology that ethnicity and culture don't matter. So he has no choice but to change from a right-liberal, believing in the individual, to a left-liberal, celebrating the ascendancy of alien cultures over his own."

"To use the very useful terms set out in the Introduction of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, a right liberal is a natural-rights liberal: he believes in non-discrimination toward individuals, based on the universality of natural rights; but such non-discrimination is led and guided by a standard: the recipients of the non-discrimination must themselves subscribe to natural rights. A left-liberal is an openness liberal. He has no restraining standards. He believes in being open and tolerant toward everyone, period."

Auster hates individualism and believes it inevitably leads to Leftism and Marxism. He wants to replace liberal egalitarianism with Christian authoritarianism. Some improvement.

John Kim

Myrhaf said...

Auster reminds me of Hillaire Belloc and Richard M. Weaver, two conservatives who criticized capitalism because they thought it leads to socialism. I remember one of them complaining about the division of labor. Yes, if there had been no division of labor, just feudalism and guilds and so on, then we would never have had socialism. It's a ridiculous way of looking at economics that only those who those who want a return of a medieval Christian Europe could advocate. Seriously, how many people would die if the west somehow did away with the division of labor? The widespread death that would result makes me fear a medievalist-right/environmentalist left rapprochement. The two groups were made for each other.

Good work, John. Still waiting for that blog of yours.

Anonymous said...

I just googled Richard Weaver and Hillaire Belloc and I definitely do see similarities to Auster. Auster has mentioned Weaver before in a positive way.

You write of a medievalist Right revival. I cant resist posting a snippit from an Auster post on the subject. If you have time I would read it because it so perfectly captures the Medievalist Christian. It is something an Objectivist can appreciate as it displays all the philosophical flaws of rationalism.

Here is the link:

Nightmare quotes:

"For the men and women of the late Middle Ages, the truths of Christianity were not communicated primarily through Bible reading and sermons, as it was for the Protestants who followed them and who created the United States, but through the Eucharist and the other sacraments, through liturgy and music, through sacred art and architecture, and through the pilgrimages, plays, and processions that made up much of the multilayered fabric of medieval life. Touching all sides of human sensibility, these ritual acts and aesthetic forms were designed to awaken in men’s souls an experience of the reality of God and the kingdom of heaven. They outwardly expressed the inward core of Christian experience, the transformation of our sinful nature through participation in the life of God and the conforming of our will to his: “God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” “Abide in me, and I in you.” “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”"

There is probably some truth to this but Auster wants to go back to that faith dominated era. Although I should add that Objectivists would want a rational version of this; and here I am thinking of the Stoddard Temple.

"For the medieval Christian, truth could never be merely a matter of abstractions, because divine truth was experienced through the concrete acts of the sacraments and through the concrete images of art and architecture. God’s truth was infinite, but man, experiencing that truth through particular forms, and as a member of a particular community, knew himself to be limited."

Ah, for the true Conservative man must always be "limited".

By the way, would you say that metaphorically speaking Conservatives are those in search of father figures (authority figures) and liberals are those desperate to tear father / authority figures down? Those that want to obey dogmatic arbitrary absolutes and those that want to destroy all absolutes? Auster on one side and your garden-variety hippie on the other?

John Kim

Joseph Kellard said...

One place it's safe to say "goddamn" is in Rev. "Goddamn America" Wright's church.

Jim May said...

I just remembered something that I have to add to this particular post.

I have long thought that I need to do up some cafepress T-shirts with these four letters in a big block font:


It stands for "Too God Damn Bad." I originally conceived of it as an in-your-face defense of free speech. "You are offended by what I said? Too God Damn Bad (TGDB)."

Many times I've thought of simply dropping "TGDB" into every forum where someone whines that they find something "offensive".

After, all, that is precisely what the principle of freedom of speech is meant to do -- to ensure that someone, somewhere being "offended" is not any sort of threat to one's own well-being.
It is no accident that "taking offense" has become such an implied threat in our modern era dominated by the anti-Enlightenment forces of conservatism, the Left, Christianity and Islam alike.


John: nice stuff! Regarding your last question, this is how I see it: Both conservatives and the Leftist hippies see society in a parental role.

Conservatives see society as as a stern, judging parent, whose job is to set your right for your own good (see the recurring "shepherd" and "flock" terminology in the religious quarter) -- and they see themselves as the parents.

The hippies see the State as a doting parent that cleans up all their messes without ever a hint of disaproval (read: moral judgment) -- and they want to be the children.

As you can see, they are natural partners that gravitate together despite their acrimony. Their differences pertain entirely to the particulars of the parent-child relationship -- not on whether such should exist at all.

The Objectivist/Enlightenment notion of the people as independent, responsible adult individuals, is alien to both.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I like the way you put it better than the way I did. Especially this "The hippies see the State as a doting parent that cleans up all their messes without ever a hint of disaproval (read: moral judgment) -- and they want to be the children."

So, liberals want a father figure also; only one that is non-judgemental and will pay the bills. Leftism really is a philosophy for spoiled children who just happen to be adults.

John Kim