Wednesday Word of the Week: March 16

16 Mar

My moral superiority can beat up your moral superiority

This week’s word is INTOLERANT

unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters; unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

This word gets significant play in public discourse these days, especially as an accusation by the Right. Too often, when faced with a fact or a charge that they cannot dismiss, Right-wing pundits will retort that their interlocutor is merely being “intolerant” and that the conversation cannot continue. Let me illustrate with two good examples from this blog.

From late January we have blogger NW Republican, who accused the regular Bigot of the Week award of being “More Hate-Love from the Angry Left.” (I presume that this was intended as an Orwell reference, however ineffectual.) The gist of his post is that using the word “bigot” is intolerant and demonstrates both leftist disrespect and an attempt to block reasonable dialogue.

More recently, the visit of pseudo-intellectual moralist Matthew J. Franck to the campus of Oglethorpe University stirred controversy both in that school’s LGBT community and on this blog, run by an Oglethorpe alumnus. Franck’s most notorious thesis is that using the word “hate” to describe Right-wing speech – particularly religiously-based opposition to marriage equality – is designed to shut down dialogue. In fact, an anticipatory defense of Franck at CatholicVote.org was entitled “The Intolerant Left Strikes Again.”

Words like “bigot” and “hate” are strong, so let’s start with the assumption that these examples from the right have some merit. Is the use of intolerant language intended to stop a reasonable conversation? Perhaps – although the over-generalized claim from the Right paints with a very broad brush and a case-by-case analysis would be far more reasonable than a standardized label of the “Intolerant Left.” More to the point, if some words are so harsh that they simply block dialogue, a quick read through the Right-wing posts above will show accusations that those on the Left are “fascists” and “mindless idealogues” and that LGBT Americans are “sinners” and “the walking wounded.” A careful analysis of the use of language makes the charge of intolerance seem very much like the playground retort: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Right-wing hypocrisy aside, Franck, CatholicVote, NW Republican, and their ilk are making a fundamentally flawed argument. Some words are very strong, it is true; words, however, have meanings. For example: BIGOT

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred or intolerance – Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

Bigot means something, and these people:

  • The minister who creates YouTube videos dehumanizing the LGBT population,
  • The politician who constructs a McCarthyite witch-hunt against Muslims,
  • The pundit who grotesquely lampoons the First Lady using racial sterotypes, and
  • The academic who assumes “moral superiority” from his chosen beliefs and wields them publicly against anyone who fails to share his homophobia and misogyny

are bigots. Anyone who ignores the broader Christian message of love in favor of condemning people whom they wish to label as Other are religious bigots. The word has meaning and can be fairly applied. As for the Right-wing aversion to the label of HATE

an intense hostility or aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury – Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

Peter King’s fear, Andrew Breitbart’s anger, and Matthew Franck’s sense of injury, amplified by their bigoted writings and actions involve hate. As these two wonderful dissections of Franck’s hatred of the word “hate” demonstrate, the word has meaning. As this tragic tale of a Christian boy and Muslim girl’s affection leading to murder proves, wielding faith as your defense does not prevent you from practicing hate. The label can be fairly applied.

Words – tolerance, hate, bigot, fascist, sinner, the lot of them – matter. If Right-wing extremists (yes, that word has meaning too) are averse to the labels that fairly adhere to them, that aversion has far more to do with their dislike of the truth than with the labels or the people who apply them. It seems that the bigots may just be truth-intolerant.

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