Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
Over the past week we have been subjected to a purposefully distracting teapot tempest. Radio host Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, the anti-Catholic women’s activist and sometimes student a name, a bad name. This caused the most vicious among to come down with a sudden case of the faints at the incivility of it all.
Mr. Limbaugh, to his credit, has now apologized to Ms. Fluke. I think that Rush did the right thing. But the problem I had with Rush’s comments is not that he called her a name, it is just that he called her the wrong name.
Beyond the specifics of the Limbaugh-Fluke kerfuffle, I have been pondering this notion that in a civilized society that there is no place for name calling. I think this is wrong. Some name calling, the kind meant to only dehumanize and denigrate a person for reasons beyond their control is always wrong. I think that the N-word and the R-word are examples of this type of morally repugnant name calling.
But there are other names to call, names that are based upon a judgement about behavior, that I think are not only in bounds for a civil and moral society, but perhaps even vital to it. In a classically liberal society, we are loathe to try to legislate morality. Historically, we have chosen to legislate morality only when such immorality gravely infringes upon the rights of others. Yet still, society has an interest in resisting and penalizing other forms of immorality with something short of criminalization. Historically, one of the means of such discouragement is social stigma, a societal judgement of your actions. And one the chief means of of communicating such judgement is name-calling. Liar! Cheat! Homewrecker! And yes even Slut! They all denote judgment on behavior that while not criminal is harmful to the individual and to the society as whole and as such should rightfully be discouraged. If you do these things you may be labeled for it, so don’t do it.
The same modern liberals who were aghast at the incivility of Limbaugh’s statement throw around names like homo-phobe!, misogynist!, and hater! like HHS throws around birth control. For the modern liberal to have any standards at all, they must have double. They are clearly not opposed to name calling, if they were MSNBC would cease to exist. What they oppose is any name calling which is intended at raising standards of behavior which by implication requires some other rule besides whim.
Now while the modern liberal seeks to legislate whim or fancy, the classic liberal restrains. In the absence of legislation, how can a civil society promote morality without labels? The modern liberal objects to the notion that some behaviors are good and some are bad. But rendering societal judgment is necessary to the promotion of a moral society and putting names on those who behave badly is just and necessary.
So don’t let anyone tell you that name calling is always wrong and has no place in civil society. They are only telling you that your morality has no place in their society, so shut up.
So the problem with Mr. Limbaugh’s comment is not that he name called, but that he called Ms. Fluke the wrong name. Bigot would be much more apropos.