What the Word “Bigot” Actually Means (and Why it is Important)

Posted by
|

bigot

Update: Coates responds. I rebut.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Andrew Sullivan have both responded to my criticisms of their claim that Alec Baldwin is a “bigot” for, among other offenses, calling a photographer a “cocksucking fag.” In doing so, they resort to two tried-and-true tactics available to someone on the losing side of an argument: the first is to quietly abandon various critiqued assertions, and pretend that one never made them; the second is to redefine a key concept – entirely distorting it if necessary – such that one’s original assertions are legitimated (in this case, Coates offers a new definition for “bigotry” of which he could disabuse himself simply by picking up a dictionary).

The gist of Coates’ response is that the term “bigot” is neither as narrow nor as severe a term as I’ve made it out to be, and ought to be extended to such cases as the conflicted homophobia to which I contrasted it in my previous post. Along the way he makes or implies the following points more or less explicitly (I’ve reordered and condensed them for clarity):

  1. To call someone a “bigot” is not to make a global judgment of someone’s character: someone might be a bigot, yet overall a good person, or good in other roles or facets of their lives.
  2. The use of homophobic or racist slurs – in whatever context or state of mind – is a sure indication of bigotry.
  3. To say, as I did, that “homophobic feelings are no more of a choice than homosexuality itself” is “bizarre,” “terrible,” “false,” and “telling,” because homophobia is changeable but homosexuality is not. Case in point: Coates was once himself a homophobic bigot and prone to the use of homophobic slurs, but changed after more frequent contact with gay people – learning not to be repulsed by homosexuals or “gay sex.”
  4. Alec Baldwin is being defended only because he is “a rich, handsome, white guy from the liberal Mecca of the Upper West Side of New York.” The press would crucify a Sharpton or a Coates if they were caught using slurs – therefore it must be OK to crucify Baldwin.
  5. Minorities don’t even have the luxury of making global judgments of people’s characters, because they have to function in a world of bigots (who often include their loved ones). It is rarely the oppressed, but far more often the privileged, who make global judgments of character. Being discriminated against in fact makes one more prone to appreciate the complexity of other human beings. By implication, Coates cannot have made a global judgment of character about Alec Baldwin, and his arguments in this area are successfully inoculated against criticism: QED.

Sullivan makes a point very similar to (1) and (2): calling Baldwin “a bigot is not meant to be some cosmic, eternal or simple statement about the guy,” but merely an accurate description of someone who repeatedly uses homophobic threats and slurs toward others. And Partially Examined Life contributor Daniel Horne makes a related point in his comments on my original post, noting that bigotry constitutes a broad spectrum, and that “If you have conflicting and ambivalent feelings about a certain minority group, then you have bigotry issues, period.”

The problem with these responses is that they redefine “bigot” away from its well-established common usage. In fact, the primary function of a word like “bigot” is to very precisely exclude more conflicted, doubtful states of mind, as in: a bigot is “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 and intolerance” (Merriam-Webster). The obstinate devotion to certain avowed, intolerant beliefs is critical to the way that “bigot” traditionally has been used. The word has its origins in the general notion of close-mindedness: the idea is that a bigot is someone who is un-persuadable, who cannot be argued out of their beliefs. But accusing someone of being close-minded and un-persuadable requires that they adamantly hold the beliefs in question in the first place: it cannot be the case that they’re conflicted or akratic – that for example they sincerely favor gay rights as a matter of principle yet betray this principle during bouts of homophobic rage. Having unsavory impulses and poor impulse control is simply not the same thing as being closed minded and systematically intolerant. To extend the word “bigot” to someone like Baldwin is just to pervert it in order for the sake of exploiting its toxicity to his reputation.

Both Coates and Sullivan implicitly accept the standard definition of “bigot” in their original posts. Sullivan now claims that his condemnation of Baldwin wasn’t meant to be “cosmic,” despite the fact that his original assertion that Baldwin’s slurs “reveal who he actually is” – someone who can’t actually be a tolerant liberal. Coates now claims that his judgment wasn’t meant to be global, despite the fact that he claimed that Baldwin could not possibly believe that “LGBTQ human beings are equal.” What’s undeniably “global” here is the inference from the tendency to use homophobic slurs to the notion that Baldwin’s considered beliefs must themselves be bigoted. What’s undeniably unappreciative of human complexity here is the rejection of the notion (for the sake of a bogus but politically convenient inference) that there can be a conflict between feeling and considered belief. It was originally important for Coates and Sullivan to make such simplistic inferences because they instinctively understood the actual meaning of the word “bigot” as involving considered beliefs rather than homophobic tendencies and bouts of bad behavior. Now Coates and Sullivan have both backed off, without comment, their original claim that Baldwin’s support for gay rights is insincere, and deny that this idea was ever necessary in the first place to their use of the word “bigot.” To accomplish this, they must redefine “bigot” altogether.

This is not to say that common usage settles the matter conclusively: there is still the question of whether common usage actually reflects a useful distinction, and whether we want to distinguish – especially for moral purposes – the many people who actually despise homosexuality and oppose gay rights, and the case of the conflicted homophobe who supports gay rights but is prone to homophobic slurs in bouts of rage. My claim is that the distinction is genuinely (and morally) important, and that Coates’ attempt to rid us of it is convenient only for the sake of preserving his point of view. Bigotry does not constitute a spectrum: rather, it marks a spectrum’s far end. If we didn’t have the word “bigot” to denote this extreme, we’d need to find another one (“extremism” is in fact a rough synonym for bigotry, but too broad; and “chauvinism” is adequately deep but too narrow). But again, I see no reason to deprive ourselves of the word we already have, except to bastardize it for the sake of exploiting its power.

And its power also bears on we whether think of a word like “bigot” as a global judgment of character. Consider the actual use of “bigot” by Coates, Sullivan, and others for Baldwin: it is not, as Coates and Sullivan now claim, merely an innocent way of pointing out the bad behavior of someone who might otherwise be a good person. Being labeled a bigot in liberal circles is absolutely toxic: it carries with it the threat of ostracism and loss of employment. And the campaign to brand Baldwin as a bigot was designed to have real effects: to damage his reputation, to get him fired from his gig at MSNBC and shunned by fellow liberals, and presumably to make it harder for him to get gigs in the future (and this campaign has to some extent worked – Baldwin has been fired from MSNBC). This is the point of demonizing other human beings: to persuade others – and oneself – that it is OK to behave toward them in a certain punitive way. As I pointed out in my original post, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Alec Baldwin’s behavior, and legitimate forms of censure: the question is whether the use of the word “bigot” in this case, and its likely effects, are warranted and proportionate. I don’t think they are – and speculation about how the press might treat someone else in this circumstance (4) is irrelevant to the question of what is right.

Coates goes on to argue (3) that homophobia and bigotry are in fact a matter of choice, because people can change. He describes his own personal transformation out of bigotry, one that was facilitated by increased contact with gay people. And yes, it’s true: bigots can change. But such transformations have nothing to do with choosing one’s feelings. What Coates describes here is not a circumstance in which he has made a “choice.” Instead, he describes a series of therapeutic encounters – ones that he was lucky to have – that changed his emotional reactions toward gay people. It is not as if Coates made a series of calculations and suddenly decided to feel differently, in the same way he might decide between buying one house or another based on a number of desirable factors, such as price, view, and location; or willed himself into doing something, in the same way that I might will myself not to eat ice cream (unlikely), when confronted with the desire to eat ice cream. His feelings changed. And you simply cannot choose – or will yourself – to transform your aversion to gay people or black people into its opposite. You certainly can choose not to act on such feelings, if you are reflective enough to be capable of such choices. And you can choose to do things that will lead to a change of heart if given enough time to work their magic: for instance, hiring a therapist, or listening with an open mind and good will to opposing points of view, or changing the company you keep, or making efforts to change certain habits of thought – or really, by seeking out virtually any therapeutic change in internal or external environment and influence. But your feelings are not themselves choices – no matter how “terrible” or “bizarre” or “telling” it might sound to point this out.

The question then is what such therapeutic influences actually do to us: they can certainly lead us away from bigotry and homophobia, and improve our relationships in important ways with those who differ from us. But can they purify us entirely of such vices as homophobia and racism? I very much doubt it, despite Coates’ sentimental account of his own purification, in the same way that I doubt that being civilized means being rid of violent and aggressive impulses. I doubt it because the temptation to dehumanize others during our inevitable conflicts with them is enormously tempting, and our aggression is a dumb beast that is fatally attracted to crude explanations in terms of human sub-types. It’s one thing to hate John because he’s an asshole – but “asshole” is an explanation that is at the same time too vague and too dependent on particulars to be satisfying. It’s far more potent to hate John because he belongs to some easily identifiable group whose humanity we question – even if we do so only for a fleeting moment of road rage. A conscious resistance to dehumanizing generalizations does not mean that they have vanished into thin air, or that they might not emerge under special circumstances. But these days, we good liberals have less need than ever to resort to explicit racism and homophobia: because we have been told that it is acceptable to dehumanize and hate racists, bigots, homophobes, the right wing, white men, or any group that has not been accorded the protection of official liberal sensibilities.

Which leads me, finally, to Coates’ implication that a defense of Baldwin must have something to do with his race and wealth (4), and that Coates himself ought not to be accused of making global judgments of character because he is a minority, and minorities don’t have the luxury of making such judgments (5). This is the worst sort of ad hominem nonsense, and a pernicious way of thinking about the world, predicated on the idea is that there are certain sub-groups within a society whose historic victimhood makes their judgments immune to criticism; and there are others whose historic privilege makes their members legitimate targets of whatever derogations you like. You see this attitude well at work in the comments section of Coates response to my criticisms: many commenters have absolutely no problem with expressing their disdain for “white men” in general, and me and particular for being a white man: “i think it’s odd that these white men are always worried about the inner person of another white man who is being criticised by minorities” (and many similar comments). But this is par for the course on political blogs – both left wing and right – in which participants feel absolutely entitled, because of their self-conception as victims, to their contempt of someone who belongs to a purported class of oppressors. This is what political discourse in this country has become: competing, sentimental, and self-pitying narratives of outraged victimhood, driven on the right by the idea that black people and liberals are all conspiring to deprive them of their money, religion, and values; and on the left by the idea that all rich white people and conservatives are out to deprive them of their dignity and their rights. There is nothing morally uplifting about such sentimental and self-pitying paranoia, however good it might feel: it is a vice, and only hampers one’s capacity for discerning and doing what is right.

I worried, when I published a long post defending Alec Baldwin against charges of bigotry for calling someone a “cocksucking fag,” that I ran the risk of being seen as defending the indefensible. I knew that if the post got any attention, readers who are unfamiliar with my reputation as a (hardcore) liberal might interpret it as a particularly sophisticated piece of crypto-conservatism or closeted bigotry. And I also worried that friends who know me better might wonder how it is I could possibly make such a defense: my motives would be suspect. Indeed, the point of Coates’ marking a portion of my argument as “bizarre,” “terrible,” and “telling” is to signal – without openly calling me a bigot, a ploy that would be too embarrassingly obvious – the fact that my motives are in question: I’m a white guy defending another white guy, not someone making a principled argument (no matter how wrongheaded) about what I believe to be right. I am, possibly, a closeted bigot, dressing up my bigotry in a sophisticated argument; not, as I intend to be, a self-critiquing liberal who wishes to hold liberals – for the sake of consistency, intellectual honesty, and fairness – to their own liberal principles.

But my defense here is in fact entirely consistent with my longstanding interest in maintaining a principled opposition to dehumanization and moral outrage in general, as I have done in posts that happen to flatter liberal sensibilities, such as those on racism, Islam, terrorism, and moral outrage itself. It’s just that the principle is important enough to me to see it through to the end, even when it doesn’t flatter my own prejudices or those of my friends. Today, such an attempt to be principled is likely to leave people scratching their heads, because they are prone to cynicism and view the world through the prism of partisan phrenology. They wonder not whether I am right, but ask instead, “Is this guy a good liberal, or isn’t he?” If only they were familiar enough with the bumps on my head to find out.

The point of my post on Baldwin was not to defend a rich white guy, or bigotry, or his blowing up at photographers, or other sorts of bad behavior: it was to defend precisely the same notion that I’ve defended in previous pieces, to the effect that acting on or unreflectively basing our beliefs on our sentiment of moral outrage (and its accompanying tendency to demonize) is toxic to our political discourse and profoundly politically dangerous in the long run. Far from being an effective tool for the enforcement of morality, it is in fact radically morally compromising, both to those who wield it as a cudgel, and those who succumb to it. There is a very effective way to deal with bigots, and it is this: it is to argue against their views – to make detailed, humane, and well-considered arguments of the kind I’ve offered here; or of the kind I offered in my post on enlightened racism, in which (despite a liberal deployment of the word “racism”) I’m actually attempting to persuade my opponents rather than shame them out of their point of view. As I’ve argued before, this does not mean we simply rid ourselves of or repress our moral outrage: rather we subject it to scrutiny and sublimate it into something constructive.

You may see such a view as hopelessly naïve, a form of discursive pacifism or non-violent protest that leaves one in danger of being overrun by the opposing, barbaric discourse: and indeed, many readers of my piece will worry that without a free reign for moral outrage, we lose a critical tool for the enforcement of moral norms. For them, moral discourse is not a negotiation but a form of Hobbesian war of all against all. They advocate sacrificing our intellectual freedom in the name of a perpetual war on moral terrorism, treating every slur as a verbal detonation. In believing this, they effectively hold that human beings must be shamed – essentially socially tyrannized – into compliance with certain norms, or else all is lost. This is a deep and very dangerous error, one that while it falls short of violence becomes substantial kindling for it when the right spark appears: we owe many of history’s great wrongs to the moral self-righteousness of individuals who believe that some past wrong to them and theirs immunizes them from the same moral demands they make so mercilessly upon others.

– Wes Alwan

Comments

    • John Hessler

      December 1, 2013

      Wes,

      I agree with almost all of what you say…and as a professor who teaches Rawls this is a nice setup for his notions of reasonable pluralism…but do you think that Baldwin’s repeated behavior is exempt from the bigotry categorization….how does it make the photographer feel…what does it say about Balwin’s idea of homosexuals if he uses the word fag as an insult and with rage again and again….

  1. filipe

    November 29, 2013

    Both this, and the previous related post were very clear and, in my view, basically right.

  2. Consumatopia

    November 29, 2013

    re: Alec Baldwin specifically, I’m not sure. It’s not just that he said “cocksucking fag”, it’s that he tried to deny that what he said was homophobic, even later, after he should have had a chance to recover from that moment of rage. And it’s certainly not “dehumanizing” to deny someone a privileged media position. Homophobia aside for a moment, it was a ridiculous decision to give as someone prone to losing his temper in self-destructive ways as Baldwin his own cable news commentary show.

    Yes, many of the weaknesses you point out in the arguments from Sullivan and Coates are real. But on moral outrage generally, I can think of two legitimate purposes it serves.

    1. No one has enough time to consider every possible objection to every possible argument. If we attempt to give equal consideration to every argument, that allows someone arguing in bad faith (whether because of personal bigotry or because someone else is paying them) to flood a communication channel with plausible sounding but invalid arguments. Moral outrage signals to readers that at least one side–either the side making the charge, or the side charged–is acting in bad faith. When a reader is deciding how many levels of argument/counter-argument to follow along with, that’s useful information. Perhaps there could be some subsitute for moral outrage to perform this function, but we have to be careful not to mislead our readers when engaging with someone acting in bad faith as if it were good faith.

    2. If someone is arguing over whether person X qualifies as full-fledged member of the community, moral outrage signals that X not only does qualify, but that X’s qualification is not subject to the outcome of this debate. Dealing with “enlightened racism” is a good example of where moral outrage is appropriate–minority groups should have to feel like they have to win an argument to be considered fully human. Point out the logical/factual/moral errors in a Derbyshire piece if you want to, but one ought to signal to minorities that it’s only an intellectual exercise–if Derbyshire makes a plausible-sounding argument for racism, we aren’t going to become racists just because we can’t find the exact point where he made a logical error.

    To sum up both of these points, living in finite time as we do, we must consider some hypotheses to be more “live” than others. Yes, you can point to plenty (plenty!) of instances in which this consideration process is abused. But the solution is not to avoid that process, because that’s impossible. That just means that a hypothesis is live to the extent some racist troll is willing to argue for it at length.

  3. Profile photo of Wes Alwan

    Wes Alwan

    November 29, 2013

    Consumatopia — good points; I’ll have to give them some thought.

  4. Daniel Horne

    November 29, 2013

    Hi Wes,

    All good points, but I’ve got a couple of post-Thanksgiving beers in me, so here are some rejoinders:

    1. Even assuming arguendo that the only appropriate way to use “bigot” is to describe a binary test of what a person is or isn’t, (and assuming it isn’t better used as an adjective to describe behavior or acts), that simply shifts the argument to whether or not someone meets the litmus test. It certainly doesn’t demonstrate that Alec Baldwin isn’t a bigot. Even applying the M-W definition you provided above (more on that below at [3.]), there are many who could and would deem Alec Baldwin to have demonstrated himself a bigot per your M-W definition. (I don’t, but again, that’s because I find it equally valid — and more useful — to label/condemn acts, and not label/condemn personalities.)

    So, to M-W: Is Baldwin obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices? Well, he thinks it’s OK to use homophobic hate speech against people who anger him, particularly (though not always) when he knows those people to be gay. And he doesn’t just do this in a fit of rage, as displayed in the video. He’s happy to take the time to apply enough thought to commit his hate speech to print (i.e. the tweets to George Stark). So, the “heat of the moment” argument, insufficient as it is, still doesn’t exculpate all of Baldwin’s behavior.

    When confronted with the fact that such hate speech was, y’know, not OK, Baldwin tried to change the subject to how George Stark had provoked him, rather than the (in)appropriateness of his language. Changing the subject, instead of owning your behavior (as Baldwin repeatedly does, both with the Stark incident and the paparazzo incident) feels kind of obstinate to me. He seems obstinately determined to refuse the idea that his repeated use of hate speech is unacceptable behavior.

    This, again, tells me he’s pretty comfortable with his hate speech. If Baldwin is unwilling to confront the issue of his hate speech head on, but instead repeatedly dissembles (“I didn’t use that word they said I used!”) and justifies (“I was provoked!”), then, yes, people would be justified in believing he’s devoted to the opinion that homophobic hate speech is OK.

    Do Baldwin’s other actions on behalf of gay rights negate the charge of him “being a bigot”? Not necessarily. Why? Because Baldwin has an obvious and uniquely self-interested reason to play the “gay rights” game when it suits him, regardless of his internal feelings on the matter. So, then, is he a bigot or is he not a bigot? Well, he performs apparently conflicting actions that could cut either way. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a not-bigot. And I’m being serious here: what gives us such confidence that his pro-gay rights actions aren’t simply self-serving Hollywood-biz games, whereas his homophobic behavior (which gains him nothing) reflects his “true” mental state?

    Again, though, I’m not saying Baldwin is or isn’t a bigot, because I don’t buy into that paradigm: it’s unhelpful and unnecessary. Are you a “thief” if you stole something once? How about twice? Are you a “liar” if you told a fib once? How about twice? Thrice? Who cares? Let’s judge and punish the behavior, not the person.

    2. Though you disagree with my earlier analogy to spectra, I think your proposed solution smuggles in the spectrum, anyway. That’s because your first post seemed ready to absolve Baldwin of having failed the “bigot litmus test”. (I.e., is he or isn’t he?) But I don’t see you first describing what it would take to fail the litmus test. Surely we need something better than “I know it when I see it.” But, of course, if you or I or anyone else were to start listing what criteria must be present (or absent) before declaring someone a bigot, those criteria would immediately be contested by other non-crazy adults acting in good faith.

    Let’s get away from Baldwin’s homophobia, and switch to another kind of bigotry: racism. What constituted a “racist” in the 1920s (say, a Klansman) is different from what constituted a racist in the 1950s (say, a segregationist) is different from what constituted a racist in the 1970s (say, Archie Bunker) is different from what constitutes a racist in 2013 (say, Charles Murray, or others who obsess over racial disparities in IQ tests). In other words, you don’t have to burn crosses to be a racist anymore; the litmus test has become more sensitive. Wouldn’t you agree that it seems weird to apply 2013 notions of racism to people living in 1913? Because by 2013 sensibilities, everyone in 1913 was a racist. (And if not 1913, then go with 1813…you get the idea.) But once we decide everyone in 1913 (or 1813, etc.) was a racist, then doesn’t that also rob the term “racist” of its extreme “outlier” quality? So, for practical purposes, I find the spectrum present either way, even if I were to accept that I can only call people “racist” or “not racist” in binary fashion. Again, I find it more useful (and more common, to be honest) to say to someone (or be told(!)), “I know you’re cool, bro, but that remark was kinda racist/sexist/____-ist.”

    3. Usually, it’s helpful to pull out the dictionary to arbitrate controversies (I do this myself). But I don’t think it’s quite so helpful for evolving concepts like “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe.” That’s because the definitions of “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobe”, etc. are evolving more rapidly than the definitions of, say, “tree” or “truth”. And they are evolving more rapidly because previously excluded voices (like Ta-Nehisi Coates or Andrew Sullivan) can no longer be blocked from media punditry. So, I think it’s a bit unpersuasive to pull the dictionary card (though it’s one of my favorite cards!) to accuse Coates or Sullivan of distorting language beyond its “appropriate” use, because meaning is use. And sometimes (not often), the dictionary is late to the “use” party. If we reach a tipping point where everyone (or anyway a quorum) is using “bigot” in a way you find unacceptable, that may indicate you will be forced to evolve your definition if you want to be properly understood, rather than declaring everyone else to be incorrect. Just look to the word “gay” itself. I’m sure at some point in the mid-20th century, curmudgeonly English professors around America were fretting that the word “gay” was being “twisted” to the point you could no longer use the term to mean “joyful”. In fact, I think I had a school teacher in the 1970s who said just that.

    4. Finally, I want to recap what is and isn’t at stake here: Alec Baldwin didn’t lose his job at MSNBC because he was “over-charged” by the PC police as a bigot. He lost his job at MSNBC because he committed acts which sufficiently large numbers of people considered reprehensible. We can call Baldwin by any other name (I will call him the 1% and leave it at that), but I’m not losing any sleep over it. People have lost far more important gigs over far less than that.

    • Profile photo of Geoff Edwards

      Geoff Edwards

      November 30, 2013

      Great points, Daniel.

      Just a quick act of pedantry and I’ll be off. (Does that make me a pedant?)

      Let’s judge and punish the behavior, not the person.

      I agree with the sentiment, but it is persons who exhibit behaviours. Even if it is our desire to punish the behavior, it is still the person who must bear any such that is decreed.

      If the punished does not acknowledge their behaviour as wrong, it is hard to see them being overly thankful for us having made that distinction.

      Which I think brings us back to the current situation – we react according to our moral scheme, we condemn and seek retribution. The hammer falls yet what have we achieved other than to drive the wedge in deeper. Soon enough the log splits.

      • Daniel Horne

        November 30, 2013

        Hi Geoff,

        It is people who get punished for their behavior, and that is as it should be. The question is whether we have to stamp a label on their forehead as we do so. I say it’s a pointless exercise. No one is arguing that Baldwin’s behavior wasn’t reprehensible. My point is that we can’t and shouldn’t get into a discussion over whether someone “is” or “isn’t” a bigot as we condemn and/or “punish” their acts of bigotry.

        So, if someone commits the crime of arson, the state prosecutes that someone for violating the state penal code prohibiting arson. At no point does the criminal justice system label someone convicted of arson an “arsonist” — it doesn’t need to. (People outside the system may do so informally. But again, it’s not helpful, or even particularly accurate, unless we are to define “arsonist” as “anyone who has ever been convicted of an act of arson.” Do we want to do that with “bigot” too?)

        Would Alec Baldwin appreciate us making the distinction? I can’t speak for him, but I would appreciate it if I were in his shoes. I’d rather be described as someone who once (or even twice) committed an act of theft, than be labeled a “thief”.

        By the same token, we don’t need to get into a discussion of whether Baldwin is or isn’t a bigot. Baldwin has committed multiple acts of hate speech (and note he got his MSNBC talk show gig after his first “offense”). He is now facing the consequences. It’s hardly a tragedy — he’ll do fine. And as a result of all this, many people around the US similarly inclined to use such language may now come to realize the old nonsense won’t be tolerated anymore, and change their behavior accordingly.

    • Profile photo of Wes Alwan

      Wes Alwan

      November 30, 2013

      Your objections (and your concept of the spectrum) have been very helpful in thinking about this. But naturally I disagree once again (and either I’m a bigot digging in my heels or it’s just the way it seems to me after thinking through) :). Here goes:

      (1): Baldwin never had to be so active in liberal politics, get himself a left-leaning show on MSNBC, and so on, in order to get along in his career as an actor. I think it extraordinarily implausible that he’s merely masquerading as a liberal. So I assume his support of gay rights is sincere. Once again, I honestly think it profoundly distorts the meaning of bigot to apply it to someone who sincerely supports gay rights. Further, I’m not using a heat-of-the-moment argument to excuse Baldwin’s behavior; I’m using it to underline the difference between considered beliefs and other ingrained prejudices that might conflict with them. The obstinacy you mention isn’t relevant to bigotry: it would be bigoted for Baldwin to defend the use of “fag”on the idea that there’s something wrong with homosexuals. Baldwin’s obstinacy is counterproductive, but it is entirely how you would expect someone to behave when they feel unfairly attacked. Which goes precisely to my point that persuasion and a more moderate level of censure rather than condemnation is a far more effective tactic, especially for someone you suspect agrees with you on principle. This is not the obstinacy of some defending anti-gay beliefs; it’s the obstinacy of someone who knows the stakes are high – because his accusers have made the stakes very high. A better word is “denial”; because very likely Baldwin has deluded himself into believing that he didn’t use the word “fag.” And he’s doing so likely because he shares many of the same opinions as those who condemn him: that the use of such language makes one a terrible person. He’s trying to avoid thinking of himself as a terrible person. A bigot would have none of these problems.

      (2): The litmus test is considered beliefs. Many bigots will tell you exactly what they believe. Others may hide it in some circles to avoid disapproval; but again, this seems highly implausible in Baldwin’s case (because he truly would have to have been playing at being a liberal all these years). And the word “racist” does not work in the same was as “bigot” – because racism is in fact a spectrum rather than the end of a spectrum.

      (3): Dictionaries are meant to reflect use. This is what lexicographers do. But I anticipated this objection when I wrote a paragraph talking about whether using the standard definition of “bigot” ought to be preserved on the grounds that it marks an important distinction.

      (4): Again, I simply disagree that the level outrage and the punishment fit the crime.

      Suppose that Baldwin got drunk one night and got into a bar fight and punched someone in the face shortly after calling him a “motherfucker”? People would laugh, shake their heads, and say, “what an idiot; this dude has an anger management problem; he needs help.” You’d see the obligatory mugshot of a celebrity with a pathetic, miserable look on their face – something we all enjoy. Some guy with a black eye would stand next to a lawyer looking like the cat who ate the canary as his lawyer outlined the pending lawsuit. You might see a contrite Baldwin make a statement at some point, shortly before slinking into rehab. (He’d have the opportunity to be contrite, because no one would be calling him the devil for having punched a guy in the face, and there would be less need to be delusionally defensive). But: you would not see anything like the current level of outrage, and Baldwin would likely not have been fired from his job. Now consider this: do you really consider Baldwin’s use of homophobic language and threats worse than an actual act of physical violence? That’s not the way the law would see it. And this should illustrate pretty concretely the way in which outrage has distorted the picture. (To take this further, think carefully about how people would react if Baldwin were on trial for murder everyone believed he committed; barring the families of the victim, most people would certainly would hate him less than they do now).

      Finally, suppose I were to give you a story about a blue collar worker, Mr. Smith, out of work for a year, who finally lands a job. At work his foreman, call him Mr. Paparazzi, harasses Smith and taunts him on a regular basis. Our protagonist eventually snaps and calls Mr. Paparazzi a “fag,” because he suspects the foreman is gay and he knows this is the kind of word that will hurt. Mr. Smith is now out of work again. Would you think this is fair? Would you think you had much of an idea as to how Smith felt really felt about gay people, just because he was willing to use a slur that he knew would maximize the pain he could inflict on someone who had hurt him? Would you think that this story would be profoundly implausible if Smith himself turned out to be gay, or if it turned out that he had a gay son whom he fully accepted? Would you believe that our protagonist got exactly what was coming to him? I doubt you would believe any of these things. I suspect you’d probably feel sorry for him, even if you disliked his use of a slur. The only difference in your capacity for empathy here with a Smith and a Baldwin is: that Smith is not rich and famous, and Baldwin is in a less pitiable situation; that for some Baldwin is less likeable as a person; and that the stakes are lower for Baldwin if he gets fired. But from the standpoint of a principle of justice, should these factors matter? Is it the case that we must extend our sense of fairness to a Smith but withhold it from a Baldwin? Do you think a court of law would take such factors into account when determining guilt? I doubt it.

      • etseq

        November 30, 2013

        Wow – you really enjoy these bizarre counterfactuals and mind games that you somehow think proves what a poor victim Alec Baldwin is. Thought crime? Courts of law? Murder?

        We get it – you hate Sullivan (and I guess gay men in general because you seem to think they are the same – hint – not all gay men are rich tory snobs). I’m surprised you haven’t linked in Islamophobia yet – those evil gays.

      • etseq

        November 30, 2013

        Oh I finally get it – you are one of those “I don’t hate gay people I just reserve the right to morally disapprove of their “lifestyle” and you can’t call me a bigot!”

        Or “reasonable people can disagree about gay rights – how dare you call me a bigot!”

        Got it now…

        • Nate

          December 1, 2013

          I’m honestly finding it very difficult to find the part in Wes’s post where he says anything resembling this.

      • etseq

        November 30, 2013

        And there is more – you also privilege racism over homophobia – I was waiting for that. It always comes back to that – racial minorities are “real” minorities while gays deserve what they get. So, are you one of those “gay is just a choice or behavior and not an identity” while homophobes are “born that way” false equivalency trolls?

        • Fredbo

          November 30, 2013

          Nowhere can I find in any of these posts a condemnation of homosexuality. Please elaborate.

      • Will Allen

        December 2, 2013

        Your history of the changing standards of racism is, to put it mildly, odd.

        • Daniel Horne

          December 2, 2013

          Hi Will,

          By all means, feel free to replace this odd history with the correct narrative, and disabuse us of our ignorance! Simply calling someone’s account “odd,” to put it mildly, doesn’t make it so.

          • swallerstein

            December 2, 2013

            I for one found the history of racism above to be fascinating and wish that you, Daniel, would elaborate on it.

            I recently read something by Bertrand Russell, considered to be the epitome of progressive thought in the early 20th century, and by today’s standards, he would be seen as a bigot and racist.

            Then there’s Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written around 1900, as a denunciation of racist imperialism in the Congo and which many today
            (not me) reject as impossibly racist and imperialistic. I recall a long argument with a woman friend, trying unsuccessfully to convince her that a novel as “racist” as Heart of Darkness is worth reading.

      • Daniel Horne

        December 2, 2013

        Hi Wes,

        OK, I think we may be converging on some points here:

        re 1. “Baldwin never had to be so active in liberal politics, get himself a left-leaning show on MSNBC, and so on, in order to get along in his career as an actor. I think it extraordinarily implausible that he’s merely masquerading as a liberal.”

        Sorry, I should have been more clear. I wasn’t suggesting that Baldwin could be masquerading as a liberal. (It’s possible, of course, but I agree it’s unlikely.) I was suggesting that he could self-identify as “progressive” while still holding beliefs we consider counter to “liberalism” as it exists today. For example, I’ve encountered numerous people interested in racial justice that sometimes had less progressive views on feminism. And I’ve encountered numerous people interested in union-organizing that occasionally had less progressive views on gay rights, etc. My point is that Baldwin’s pro-gay-rights actions in particular can plausibly be considered self-serving, given his industry, regardless of his internal feelings on the matter. I’m not saying that’s the case, however. I’m simply trying to demonstrate the poverty of divining someone’s subjective intentions by the good deeds they do.

        re 2. “And the word “racist” does not work in the same was as “bigot” – because racism is in fact a spectrum rather than the end of a spectrum.”

        I couldn’t disagree more, but I think we’re converging upon the point of our disagreement. Racism is a spectrum, I agree, just like bigotry is a spectrum. But “racist” is a label just as strong as “bigot”. I’m against labeling people as racist in the same way I’m against labeling people as bigots. I’d rather label behavior as racist or bigoted, etc. Not because I think there aren’t racists and bigots in the world; it’s just that “racist” / “bigot” etc. necessarily entails a review of someone’s internal mental states, and I don’t find that productive.

        re 4. “Again, I simply disagree that the level outrage and the punishment fit the crime.”

        Well, that’s fine, and I’m not saying you’re wrong (or right), but can’t reasonable people disagree over this? I’m sure we could debate the appropriate penalties for murder and theft, too, but it’s hard to demonstrate someone is “right” or “wrong” on how outraged they should be over certain offenses.

        “Now consider this: do you really consider Baldwin’s use of homophobic language and threats worse than an actual act of physical violence?”

        It depends upon the context, but yes, I can consider situations where I’d punish hate speech more severely than physical violence (as you might see in a bar fight). Context is everything, of course, so we should cherry-pick our hypotheticals carefully. But modern society increasingly recognizes that psychological violence (via threat or insult) can be as harmful or more harmful than physical violence alone. That’s not necessarily the case, of course, but it can be. This is why battery in the context of a hate crime is charged more severely than an identical act of battery in the context of a bar fight. In fact, that’s why hate crimes don’t even require acts of battery as an essential element. We have come to recognize that hate speech even absent battery can be psychologically damaging in ways that a punch in the nose isn’t. So I am not particularly troubled that people who might yawn at bar fights become outraged about hate speech.

        You may disagree, of course, but do you have any way to objectively demonstrate that your outrage-meter is better calibrated than mine?

  5. swallerstein

    November 30, 2013

    Great post, Wes. Witch-hunting and ganging up out of so-called moral superiority on someone who has said what they weren’t supposed to say and what may well go through the heads of most of us in moments of anger is one of the ugliest traits in politics. It takes a lot of courage to speak out against it and it takes zero courage to organize a liberal (or conservative) lynch mob.

  6. Fredbo

    November 30, 2013

    Hey Wes et al.,

    A few questions and an observation.

    1. As someone who has been around various people because of circumstance, I have lived with and or dealt with ultra-liberal proudly self-identified “flamer” homosexuals to Neo-Nazi skinheads. In my experience, the use of homophobic epithets and slurs were mostly used to demean or belittle heterosexuals by other heterosexuals, especially those who are sensed to be insecure in their own sexuality.

    2. Regarding legal norms, we now have an institutionalized use of the “scarlet letter” in that of the sex offender registry. There have been numerous cases of sexual abuse that qualify one for this list that are not “perverts, sexual deviants or rapist.”

    At what point does this language game devolve into draconian oppression of those who run afoul of the rules of the game? As Wes has pointed out a use of “words,” no matter how vile, should not be dealt with in a way commensurate with the consequences of physical violence. In this I agree and the doing so would push this phenomenon uncomfortably close to that of “thought crime.”

    One last note:
    The powers that be (i.e. the U.S. Government) have labeled Edward Snowden a “traitor.” What does the language game mean in this case? Snowden’s life is truly ruined whether he is considered a traitor or, as some see it, a patriot. Perhaps we are stuck with this dissonance in that on one hand “stick and stones break bones, but words won’t hurt you” while, at the same time, it is held that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”

  7. Stephen Spinella

    November 30, 2013

    Terrific post! I love reading Coates and part of the reason I love his blog is he is constantly sending me to other terrific writers. You are now on my Favorites Bar, buddy, not to mention my Facebook page. This has been great. Keep up the good work.

  8. etseq

    November 30, 2013

    So…a straight white guy spends literally THOUSANDS of words, nitpicking dictionary definitions in order to absolve another straight white guy of the vilest of abusive discourse and we are to believe this is some principled stance against the all powerful gay liberal bullies. The real victim here is not the gay teen who has to deal with this vitriol everyday, nor is it apparently Alec Baldwin but some internet troll who REALLY gets off on claiming the ultimate victimhood – straight white liberal men who can’t even defend their fellow fag bashing bros without these PC nazis – you know those elitist winy ass minorities, feminists, and fags -who have the gall to demonize and render unemployable poor old Alec Baldwin.

    Your entire screed is an exercise in what you purport to abhor – denouncing others with the most strident moralism, reveling in your own perceived victimhood, and frankly revealing some personal insecurities about your own self-worth. Your grandiose claims would be laughable if they weren’t deployed for such an ignoble exercise of privilege. Especially troubling is your need to essentialize homophobia while at the same time discounting, trivializing, and denaturalizing homosexuality as stable identity. You breathlessly construct a strawman definition of a bigot who is no longer responsible for his homophobia – he was born that way don’t you know – but you actual gay people are missing completely from your analysis. Honestly, you remind me of the evangelical ex-gay theorists who construct elaborate theories justifying normative heterosexuality while at the same time reducing gay people to mere sexual acts that demand repression because they might trigger a violent homophobic backlash. In this upside down dystopia, gay people are the problem because they insist on challenging homophobia but in your overly determined world, this defensive act triggers some sort of foucauldian backlash – the very act of resistance is punished. Like Foucault, you preach passive resistance because you think “identity politics” is the real enemy.
    I know you will see this as evidence of the self-fulfilling prophecy you have spun in your own mind and ad nauseum above – we get it you and Alec are the real victims here. Keep telling yourself that if it makes it easier for you to avoid realizing what an ass you have made of yourself. Do you actually have any gay friends? I’m sure your best friend is gay right? Or maybe this strawman bigot is actually you and this rant is the result of your own sublimated homophobia. Does thinking about cock sucking trigger some pitiful heterosexual disgust reaction? Or even worse – trigger the opposite of disgust, which really terrifies you? Scratch a homophobe find a closet case…

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

      Mark Linsenmayer

      December 1, 2013

      Philosophy fans (often called “philosophers”) are well known for using “thousands” of words, nitpicking, dwelling on definitions, bizarre counterfactuals, etc. You may not have noticed, but this is a philosophy site, for a podcast where Wes and the rest of us do this a lot, so that stylistic point does not indicate obsession. Should you choose to listen to an episode, you’ll likely notice that Wes’s voice rarely leaves the range of taciturn and certainly never enters “screed” territory. You might also know were you a listener that psychotherapy is one of Wes’s abiding philosophical interests, which is occasionally tiresome to the rest of us, but no more obviously unreasonable than being a fetishist about Heidegger or Zizek or Wittgenstein or Pirsig or Nietzsche or Rand or the other cult faves out there, even though mouthing tenets from any of these guys in public makes one sound kind of goofy.

      I hesitate to engage any of your actual points, because you’ve not extended Wes the requisite charity to provide the basis for a real discussion. I think the process by which one routs out one’s homophobia is fascinating (you’d be hard pressed to find a man over 35 who wasn’t homophobic at some point… it was pretty much the culture we grew up in); as Wes points out, it’s surely not simply a matter of choice, even if there are a lot of choices involved. From what I understand (yes, from my gay friends… and really, how could one not have gay friends given the widespread distribution in the population? It’s not at all like a defensive white guy claiming “my best friend is black” when as a sociological matter that is simply highly unlikely), it’s not at all uncommon for gay guys to have to overcome comparable inner crap in fully accepting themselves (congrats to you, of course, if you have always been at peace in that respect).

      So it would be interesting to get your take on that if you were a more thoughtful person. (Forgive me if I’m overlooking something; I’m just going on the impression I get from your shoddy ad hominem approach here and your readily web-searchable livejournal page: http://etseq.livejournal.com/. Way to contribute to the culture there, buddy!)

      • dmf

        December 1, 2013

        feeding trolls is like feeding gremlins after midnight, by the way we need a wider vocabulary for these matters as factors like disgust and or anger/aggression are at least as prevalent as fear/phobia and probably more so, Martha Nussbaum and others are tackling such factors from angles more in keeping with the oeuvre hereabouts:
        http://reason.com/archives/2004/07/15/discussing-disgust

  9. Nate

    December 1, 2013

    It’s been extremely refreshing to read such reasoned, level-headed debate about a topic in the public discourse. Your psychoanalytic perspective adds interesting insight that I think I would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. I appreciate you taking your time to share your thoughts with us (especially given the inevitability of people lashing out at you after not giving your ideas any serious critical consideration).

  10. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder

    Wayne Schroeder

    December 2, 2013

    Wes and esteq:

    In response to the following responses to being called a bigot (to exclude more conflicted, doubtful states of mind, as in: a bigot is ‘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 and intolerance’)–although “prejudiced” is the most clear definition to me, Wes advocates–

    1 )”acting on or unreflectively basing our beliefs on our sentiment of moral outrage (and its accompanying tendency to demonize) is toxic to our political discourse and profoundly politically dangerous in the long run”;

    2) “There is a very effective way to deal with bigots, and it is this: it is to argue against their views – to make detailed, humane, and well-considered arguments of the kind I’ve offered here”;

    3) “They advocate sacrificing our intellectual freedom in the name of a perpetual war on moral terrorism, treating every slur as a verbal detonation . . . hold[ing] that human beings must be shamed – essentially socially tyrannized – into compliance with certain norms, or else all is lost”;

    –I recognize three– 1),2),3) statements attacking bigotry, while being prejudiced against prejudice:

    1) moral outrage is bad (i.e., a prejudiced statement against prejudice)

    2) argue against bigots (i.e., a prejudiced statement against prejudice)

    3) they are moral terrorists (i.e., a prejudiced statement against prejudice).

    Wes then states “there is still the question of whether common usage actually reflects a useful distinction, and whether we want to distinguish – especially for moral purposes – the many people who actually despise homosexuality and oppose gay rights, and the case of the conflicted homophobe who supports gay rights but is prone to homophobic slurs in bouts of rage. My claim is that the distinction is genuinely (and morally) important, and that Coates’ attempt to rid us of it is convenient only for the sake of preserving his point of view.”

    Why not reverse the claim and state that ” the conflicted homophobe who supports gay rights but is prone to homophobic slurs in bouts of rage”, and those who “despise homosexuality” are both just wrong, bigoted and prejudiced.

    Can we change our prejudice? Well, that is highly problematic. While changing from prejudice to understanding is highly desirable, it is also highly unusual (although not therefor justifiable).

    [Coates] “because he is a minority, and minorities don’t have the luxury of making such judgments (5). This is the worst sort of ad hominem nonsense, and a pernicious way of thinking about the world, predicated on the idea is that there are certain sub-groups within a society whose historic victimhood makes their judgments immune to criticism.” So why don’t we reverse the above statement as well and say that–if there were no minorities, there would be no victimhood–i.e., no majority judgment, no minority victims, regardless of entitlement.

    Therefore, I read etseq’s responses as a nonmember of PEL, as atheistic and gay, and clearly an intelligent individual, as fully mistrustful of Wes’s position, with reason, though–virulent, based on the above issues. He thus demonstrates no respect on the basis of experiencing disrespect first.

    esteq states: “Especially troubling is your need to essentialize homophobia while at the same time discounting, trivializing, and denaturalizing homosexuality as stable identity,” which I intrepret as understanding Wes’s position as against both homosexuality as well as homophobia.

    By “justifying” Baldwin’s homophobia, esteq seems to assume that the natural conclusion is that homosexuality is also being condemned. Perhaps a good definition of bigotry/prejudice is refusing to understand those we experience as our opponents.

  11. e.c.gach

    December 2, 2013

    Perhaps worth pointing out, perhaps not, that whatever the actual calculus involved in MSNBC cancelling Baldwin’s show, it certainly couldn’t have hurt that its rating were piss poor.

  12. Santanu Roy

    December 2, 2013

    wow – this is great example of reasoned argument and clarity. Just so refreshing to read. You are the kind of person I wouldn’t feel afraid or embarrassed to ask ‘ difficult ‘ questions or find out about things. You remind me of Norman Geras which I used to read for his rationality and reason. He would of agreed with you but if not, would of had a great discussion about it.

    I admit that I am no fan of Sullivan or Coates for various reasons but it is great to read your rebuttal of their rants with such substance and thought.

    I am now a big fan and look forward to reading your thoughts and getting ideas about the world and thinking about them. thanks fro making like interesting and intellectual.

    You give thinking a good name :)

    Mr Santanu Roy ( NJ )

  13. Barry Eisenberg

    December 2, 2013

    Geez, reading the critique of Coates is like entering into one long apology for fallacy.

    First, the idea that someone who is bigoted cannot also be someone who is virtuous in other ways is what is called the either/or fallacy. “The,” indicating one time only, use of bigoted slurs is certainly not the same thing as repeated uses of them. The idea that homophobia is something born into us, genetic, and not learned is ridiculous on the face of it, and has no scientific basis whatsoever.

    The idea that celebrities for a variety of reasons not the least of which racial identity (how often are rap stars blasted for their homophobia? what happened to Jesse Jackson when he called New York “Haimetown”?) do not get a free pass for bad behaviors while others do may seem silly to the writer, but believe me phenomenologically, it happens.

    Finally, the idea that people of minority status do not have to have complex relationships with those historically privileged in our society in which they both note bigotry and at the same time appreciate the virtues of those same people, because in order to negotiate their lives they must do so is a claim of such overwhelming tunnel vision as to be, well, the sign of an abject ignoramus, whatever other virtues with which Mr. Alwan is imbued.

    Willingly refusing to address the Mr. Coates, except via the misdirection of fallacy and ignorance, parsing the meaning of “bigotry,” thus, reads very much like the “tried and true” tactics of someone on a losing side of an argument; that is, framing what another says in a fallacious or ignorant manner to justify one’s own–the dodge taught to every sophomore Critical Thinking student in America.

    Now if being obstinately closed minded and unchanging about one’s prejudices is the working definition, what could be more obstinate and closed minded than repeatedly denying ones prejudice while repeatedly insinuating that prejudice through insulting usage?

    I agree Mr. Baldwin is probably due more privacy than he is given, and is quite right to be hot under the collar about the repeated invasions of his privacy. I am more than willing to give him all due for his charitable behavior and his liberal and curious intellect. He also is very funny. But that does not mean this gives him a carte blanche to be insultingly prejudiced against gays as a default response to anyone who does so. Perhaps “fricking, blood sucking papparazzi a-hole” might cover it. What’s more, given that people are more than capable of change–forty years ago, no one would have dreamed that an entire society has begun to acknowledge the rights of gay people to get married, being bigoted is not a global or forever way of being. People do evolve. It’s not really very difficult.

    • Profile photo of Geoff Edwards

      Geoff Edwards

      December 2, 2013

      “The idea that homophobia is something born into us, genetic, and not learned is ridiculous on the face of it, and has no scientific basis whatsoever.”

      Agree. Now, if you could point out where anyone has actually made this assertion then do so. The assertion that homophobia is not chosen does not contain the claim that is genetic. As Mark notes above, most of us over a certain age grew up in a climate where homophobic attitudes were the cultural norm. We no more chose that norm than we chose where we born.

      If you grew up in an environment where everyone you knew said that homosexuality is disgusting, everything you read said the same, and you did not know anyone who is homosexual, you had no prominent homosexual urges and, in many places, homsexuality was still criminalised, the likliehood that you will display some kind of homophobic behaviours seems quite high.

      This does not claim that homphobia is genetic. It does not say that one cannot be change. It only says that it is not chosen.

      “Finally, the idea that people of minority status do not have to have complex relationships with those historically privileged in our society…”

      Again, you are going to have to point out where this claim has been made. Wes, in his summary of Coates, does not deny that monorities may, or do, have complex realtionships with the priveleged – what he rejects is the implication that “…there are certain sub-groups within a society whose historic victimhood makes their judgments immune to criticism.”

      It simply says that nobody by virtue of their social experience can achieve a position where it is not possible that they might err. Your argument is not guaranteed by your social position – whether that be “privileged white male”, or “victimised member of a minority”.

      • Barry Eisenberg

        December 3, 2013

        First of all, to claim, especially with regard to Alec Baldwin, who claims to support gays, that one cannot change one’s “feelings,” especially over time, leads one to the conclusion that Mr. Alwan thinks it is the same thing to be gay as it is to be prejudiced against gays. You can parse his point all you like, but that is the only justification in this specific incident. Baldwin is not someone who has been thoroughly indoctrinated with homophobia by his own accounts, and yet over time he appears unwilling to address his emotions on the topic. Emotions are not immutable truths, and acting upon them, even less so.

        Insofar as the second point you raise, here again is an evasion of what Coates was actually saying, by misdirection. Coates was saying, and correctly so, that some people do not have the luxury to indulge in the kind of either/or nonsense that turns one character flaw into a global condemnation; indeed, their life experience demands that they never do so. For others, this understanding of the world, at least in Alwan’s case, is apparently lacking. Alwan does not take on Coates’ actual statements, and he repeatedly, in order to defend a rather sophist position, bearing little relationship to actual life, indulges in these rhetorical misdirections in order to do so.

        • Profile photo of Geoff Edwards

          Geoff Edwards

          December 3, 2013

          Feelings come unbidden. They are not acts of conscious willing. In a threatening situation I cannot choose to feel afraid, or not to do so. In the active sense of the verb “I change, I do change, I am changing” is not something that applies to our feelings – our emotional responses.

          This does not lead to the conclusion that our emotional responses to given stimuli cannot change with time.

          As Wes says quite clearly above: And yes, it’s true: bigots can change.

          Wes does not deny the possibility of change.

          Wes Again: But such transformations have nothing to do with choosing one’s feelings.

          We can choose to take steps, out lined by Wes above, that in time will result in changes, but we cannot simply choose in a singular act of the will to feel, or not to feel a certain way. People who suffer from phobias such as fear of flying, or spiders, or
          germs or whatever, can in time overcome the emotional reactions – but is not as simple as saying “I Will Not Feel X”

          In Baldwin’s specific situation, and in light of his recent attempts at justification, there
          does seem some kind of unwillingness to admit that he might have some work to do. No argument.

          What Coates is actually saying? I am with Wes on this. Setting aside whether his argument is true or not – in the context it has the feel of a post hoc. I could be very wrong as I am unfamiliar with him. He may have thought deeply and written much on this. I am only basing my opinion on the two articles Wes has linked to.

          As for your condemnation of Wes, I can only say that you seem not to have read much further than the opening paragraphs – or at least not read carefully. Wes goes to great lengths to explain what he feels the implications are for “the real world”. I recommend his articles on the issue of moral outrage, of which these last two are the latest. Even reading the second half of this essay charitably might disabuse you of some false notions regarding what Wes is, and is not saying.

          • Barry Eisenberg

            December 3, 2013

            Feelings come unbidden. But bigotry is learned. When Mr. Alwan claims as he did in the previous article that: “Homophobic feelings are no more of a choice than homosexuality itself,” he is, in fact, making a false equivalence as a conclusion to a long drawn out set of claims, one built on the next, rather than warranting the specific case at hand, full of sophistry, signifying very little.

            What’s more, not only is bigoted emotion a learned emotion, but bigoted behavior is learned behavior. Now, of course, all of us have unbidden feelings or thoughts that we might harbor to ourselves, and all of us, in our worst moments may behave badly, but this is about a particular individual with a repeated behavior, that by all his other testimony, he should know better than, and yet he continues to make no connection between actual human history and what he finds to be a strong but somehow value neutral invective.

            Can you say, when Mr. Baldwin succumbs to his unbidden emotion (Alec Baldwin, by this account a Pavlovian dog, who hears the whistles of his emotion and must, simply, must bark), is not trying to insult? And if he is, does he not use specific language with a specific and historical usage? And no matter how many times people complain, he both denies such and then, without compunction, repeats the same behavior over and over? Mr. Alwan’s apology is cheap philosophical tripe, a game of rhetoric. Bullshit, in other words. Stupid, and unnecessary. We can appreciate Mr. Baldwin’s virtues without cutting him slack on this account.

            Homophobia is not arachnophobia and to make such an equivalence is to deny history, the quick analogy would be such holocausts as WW2 Germany or Rwanda when Jews, in the first case, and Tutsis, in the second, were considered to be vermin and insects. That you do not see this, that you want to make some sort of apology for it strikes me as the height of tunnel vision.

            Mr. Alwan may well be a good person. You may well be a good person. But parsing the word bigot about a man who repeatedly uses homophobic and misogynistic invective to make the other on the receiving end get the full toxin of his displeasure speaks for itself.

          • Profile photo of Geoff Edwards

            Geoff Edwards

            December 3, 2013

            Feelings come unbidden. But bigotry is learned.

            Bigotry is not a set of beliefs, it is an attiude or behaviour in respect to your beliefs – i.e., that they do not warrant reflection or revision, or you show an unwillingness to engage in such. I am bigoted with respect to stage musicals. I dislike them and I see no reason why I should engage in any self reflection or revise my opinion. As a result of this bigotry, I have certain prejudicial attitudes towards stage musicals.

            It is not bigotry that you are concrened with here, it is the expression of homophobia. Homophobia, is learned, but the learning is generally passive as opposed to an active choice. Once these attitudes have been aquired we then move into the realm where they give rise to emotional responses – feelings.

            Now, unless you can show that someone has set out to learn how to hate homosexuals, rather than having passively aborbed this from the wider culture, to say that homophobic feelings – i.e., emotional responses – are a choice seems to me quite false.

            What’s more, not only is bigoted emotion a learned emotion, but bigoted behavior is learned behavior.

            There are no “bigoted emotions.” Someone we might call a bigot expereiences the same emotions as other people – we all know fear, disgust, revulsion, anger et cetera. What is learnt is the attitudes that we are critical of – ie the attiude that homosexuality is wrong is learnt. The emotions that social encounters with homosexuality might give rise to are not. If someone has internalised homophobic opinions they cannot choose not to experience those emotions. How the act after that is a different question.

            Can you say, when Mr. Baldwin succumbs to his unbidden emotion … is not trying to insult?

            No I can not. I can not get inside Baldwin’s head to understand his intentions and motivations.

            Mr. Alwan’s apology is cheap philosophical tripe, a game of rhetoric.

            Wes is not apologising for Baldwin – from the article: “The point of my post on Baldwin was NOT to defend a rich white guy, or bigotry, or his blowing up at photographers, or other sorts of bad behavior: it was to defend precisely the same notion that I’ve defended in previous pieces, to the effect that acting on or unreflectively basing our beliefs on our sentiment of moral outrage (and its accompanying tendency to demonize) is toxic to our political discourse and profoundly politically dangerous in the long run.” (emphasis is mine)

            Homophobia is not arachnophobia and to make such an equivalence is to deny history

            This one made me laugh. You are simply equivocating here and Nazi reference for good measure! You are equating the specific systematic, orchestrated, vilification of minority groups with the situation of an individual, in the abstract, in a modern society that has made substantial progress in recognising and accepting homosexuality. These are not the same thing. I was discussing emotional responses to stimuli – responses that many of us would consider unjustified upon reasonable reflection. In this sense non-systematic, non-orchestrated, homophobia, as something that gives rise to emotions in an individual, can be viewed in a similar way to other phobic responses.

            Anyway, that will do me. This has been totally unrewarding.

  14. Patrick Graham

    December 2, 2013

    “And you simply cannot choose – or will yourself – to transform your aversion to gay people or black people into its opposite.”

    I can’t accept this part of your argument. This reminds me too much of similar arguments about Jews in the last century e.g. that an aversion to Jewish people is only natural and not subject to reason.

    It is true that just making a choice in any given moment to feel a certain way is not reasonable expectation to ask of ourselves. Making the decision to examine one’s learned reactions in an effort to have more latitude vis-a-vis them or even move them in a different direction is certainly reasonable and, I would argue, necessary for ethical development.

    • Profile photo of Geoff Edwards

      Geoff Edwards

      December 2, 2013

      Patrick,

      Despite your feelings towards that particular sentence, I don’t think you and Wes are actually in disagreement.

      Wes is most likely drawing a distinction between our unconcious emotional responses and our considered rational responses. Emotional reponses are unwilled – we cannot will sadness to be joy.

      And Wes is not suggesting that Homophobia is “natural” and not subject to reason.

      Your reaction to that sentence might have distracted you from what Wes wrote immediately after, which seems to agree with your position on ethical development:

      “You certainly can choose not to act on such feelings, if you are reflective enough to be capable of such choices. And you can choose to do things that will lead to a change of heart if given enough time to work their magic: for instance, hiring a therapist, or listening with an open mind and good will to opposing points of view, or changing the company you keep, or making efforts to change certain habits of thought – or really, by seeking out virtually any therapeutic change in internal or external environment and influence.

  15. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    December 3, 2013

    There have been many comments on here and the previous post, and I may have missed something, but I haven’t yet seen this formulation: I generally think of these PC-related issues as being about long-term reformation of the culture vs. short-term treatment individuals who display those aspects of the culture we want to excise. This is one aspect of the age-old conflict between utility and individual rights, or between liberalism and libertarianism.

    My wife is in a social work program with a domestic violence concentration, so I get to hear all the time about how sexism (and of course you can make comparable arguments about racism or homophobia) is encoded in the culture at so many levels. But with any rule, no matter how good intentioned (and this is a common libertarian theme), there comes the question of the social cost of dealing with rule breakers. Gee, it sure would be nice if people around me weren’t getting drunk, but is enforcing that social sentiment worth locking people up, or making them wear a “D” around? What Wes is complaining about is that yes, of course we want to have a culture with less homophobia, but do the ends justify the means, when the “means” in this case are ostracism, which in this case is a basically cost-free activity on the part of those expressing their moral outrage and regards any harm suffered by the target of the outrage as well deserved or in any case too trivial or remote from our own concerns to worry about?

    Many will answer that yes, a few minor sacrifices of celebrities that we’re all too happy to see go down anyway (please listen to our discussion of this: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2012/10/06/ep64-lucy-lawless/), who have been undeservedly lucky and have no excuse to act like jerks, is a small price to pay to help improve the culture over the long term and reduce the much much worse harm that is inflicted every day on ostracized gay folks.

    Personally, acts of moral outrage of just about any sort make me roll my eyes, and I think that, e.g. the best way to reduce bullying is not to parade individual bullies around as negative exemplars. If the bullies form a political party and try to pass pro-bullying legislative measures, yes, fight against that, but if it’s just good intentioned individuals losing control and saying foolish things (and not causing material harm in the process; abuse of any sort is a different story), then just shake your head and move on with your life, unless it’s someone you know personally and have to actually deal with, in which case a heart-to-heart might be in order.

    I think it’s difficult for people not used to or interested in philosophy to see why considering these issues of principle in the abstract is worth while. I’m not equivocating between the case in question and all these other classes and degrees of harm, but since the principles involved are related, talking about this case helps clarify these larger issues. We can only be grateful that some of these social issues we’re dealing with are often a matter of mere words and reputations and not lynchings and prison time.

    • Fredbo

      December 3, 2013

      In the end, all the blame belongs to Wes! He should have never written such posts. It is all HIS fault!

      …Wait a minute. Actually it’s Mark’s fault for launching PEL so many years ago!!! And Seth and Dylan are guilty by association!!! And all of us who donate to this foul creation bear responsibility too!!!

      But wait! Maybe the real problem is “Philosophy” in general! What a bunch of bullcrap!!!!! Long live Honey BooBoo!!!

    • Benjamin Byron

      December 3, 2013

      As discussed on the Celebrity episode, celebrities live larger than life and in many pitiable ways. The loss of privacy, living under a microscope, constant (and in many cases unwanted) attention are mostly tragic circumstances. Apologists for the wayward celebrity are often shouted down, however, with consideration given to their fortune or the other benefits of fame as proper recompense for the ultimately chosen lifestyle (they brought this on themselves). However, its not as clear to me that someone who chooses the life of an actor, upon achieving some success, must simply make accommodation for the downsides of celebrity. This feels like a rationalization of the proclivity to tear down the famous: it is OK because they put themselves ‘out there’ with the full knowledge that this is what would happen (again, they brought this on themselves).

      In the dictionary definition of “bigot,” we are implicitly making judgments about a person, i.e.: “a person who is…” This definition suggests that the term is meant to be used in the “universal” sense that Wes describes. The responses to Wes’s initial post appear to degrade the term to an “in this instance” type of use, more akin to “a person who acts in such an such a way.” But as stated above in this thread, among many other places, utterances do not equate or signal true feelings or beliefs, especially utterances made while enraged. We all say hurtful things without meaning them with some regularity. (Indeed, Ta-Nehisi Coates responds by saying he didn’t mean to apply “bigot” to Baldwin in the way Merriam-Webster defines it, suggesting that interpretation would have him saying something potentially hurtful that he didn’t mean).

      We don’t really know Alec Baldwin. Mentioning that seems at once obvious and therefore irrelevant, but that is precisely what we are talking about. Claims are being made about a man’s character and the legitimacy of those claims is in question. And the legitimacy of the claims made against those claims is in question. I don’t want to go too far down this track, so, instead, the punchline: if Alec Baldwin, as a celebrity, is properly understood in this instance as an avatar (see Coates’s description) used for rhetorical purposes to forward a particular argument, in this case (as pointed out above) an argument meant to promote certain cultural norms, then those who make such an argument are right to do so in the sense that the point of such a rhetorical strategy is *not* to inform others of Mr. Baldwin’s *actual* character, but rather to hyperbolize his behavior as is typical in cases of celebrity and make an example of it, in this case in the negative. And furthermore, Wes is right to challenge such a strategy for its flaws–for it is surely flawed.

      I think that over the course of this discussion we’ve bumped up against some wicked problems that substantially frustrate the discourse. Can we achieve a proper understanding of a person’s nature from discrete actions/utterances? What about from patterns? Are we ever talking about the person or merely their behavior? Are these in principle the same? In other words, perennial philosophical questions.

      When we dig deeper into the key features on which this discussion turns, we find some common problems: definitional vagueness, human complexity, epistemic limits. Ultimately, should we venture down that road far enough, we will come to the problem that making any claims about any individual, even ourselves, is problematic. But we must make claims and we must–to some extent–police behavior through discourse as a mechanism of cultural advancement. However, we must also police the policing as well.

      Discourse is the process of pushing back: against bigotry (or perceived bigotry, which, it turns out, are functionally the same thing, which is to reference the broader epistemic principle suggested by admitting that we do not know Alec Baldwin), against moral outrage, against abuses of celebrity or celebrities, etc. It is ultimately (meant to be) a civilizing process, as described by Mark above. But discourse is not without consequence, rather, it is predicated on it. Discourse, especially moral outrage, often leads to over-reaction and severe consequences for the target of that outrage. I share Wes’s concern that moral outrage, “[f]ar from being an effective tool for the enforcement of morality, it is in fact radically morally compromising, both to those who wield it as a cudgel, and those who succumb to it.”

      We should push back, but we need not do it with moral outrage. We cannot achieve the civil society that the outraged attempt to argue for without civil discourse. We cannot turn over the process of shaping our culture through discourse to the shrill. And, so, I commend Wes on pushing back.

    • Profile photo of Daniel Horne

      Daniel Horne

      December 3, 2013

      Hi Mark,

      As much as I’d love to debate my points of contention with your very smart comments, I think I’ve already met my monthly quota. Perhaps PEL can conclude by promising to do a hate speech episode in the near future? (And maybe this would be a good excuse to bring back fan-fave Law Ware as a guest?)

      For possible discussion material, here’s a good article on the subject, which applies a “Millian” approach that touches upon some of your concerns re: egalitarianism vs. libertarianism:

      David O. Brink, Principles, Freedom of Expression, and Hate Speech, 7 Legal Theory 119-57 (2001).

      http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/dbrink/pdf%20articles/Millian%20Principles,%20Freedom%20of%20Expression,%20and%20Hate%20Speech.pdf

      • Profile photo of Seth Paskin

        Seth Paskin

        December 3, 2013

        Great idea! Maybe we should get you and Law on.

        • Daniel Horne

          December 3, 2013

          Only if I can ride in on my Sanctimony Pony™.

  16. Profile photo of Benjamin Byron

    Benjamin Byron

    December 3, 2013

    As discussed on the Celebrity episode, celebrities live larger than life and in many pitiable ways. The loss of privacy, living under a microscope, constant (and in many cases unwanted) attention are mostly tragic circumstances. Apologists for the wayward celebrity are often shouted down, however, with consideration given to their fortune or the other benefits of fame as proper recompense for the ultimately chosen lifestyle (they brought this on themselves). However, its not as clear to me that someone who chooses the life of an actor, upon achieving some success, must simply make accommodation for the downsides of celebrity. This feels like a rationalization of the proclivity to tear down the famous: it is OK because they put themselves ‘out there’ with the full knowledge that this is what would happen (again, they brought this on themselves).

    In the dictionary definition of “bigot,” we are implicitly making judgments about a person, i.e.: “a person who is…” This definition suggests that the term is meant to be used in the “universal” sense that Wes describes. The responses to Wes’s initial post appear to degrade the term to an “in this instance” type of use, more akin to “a person who acts in such an such a way.” But as stated above in this thread, among many other places, utterances do not equate or signal true feelings or beliefs, especially utterances made while enraged. We all say hurtful things without meaning them with some regularity. (Indeed, Ta-Nehisi Coates responds by saying he didn’t mean to apply “bigot” to Baldwin in the way Merriam-Webster defines it, suggesting that interpretation would have him saying something potentially hurtful that he didn’t mean).

    We don’t really know Alec Baldwin. Mentioning that seems at once obvious and therefore irrelevant, but that is precisely what we are talking about. Claims are being made about a man’s character and the legitimacy of those claims is in question. And the legitimacy of the claims made against those claims is in question. I don’t want to go too far down this track, so, instead, the punchline: if Alec Baldwin, as a celebrity, is properly understood in this instance as an avatar (see Coates’s description) used for rhetorical purposes to forward a particular argument, in this case (as pointed out above) an argument meant to promote certain cultural norms, then those who make such an argument are right to do so in the sense that the point of such a rhetorical strategy is *not* to inform others of Mr. Baldwin’s *actual* character, but rather to hyperbolize his behavior as is typical in cases of celebrity and make an example of it, in this case in the negative. And furthermore, Wes is right to challenge such a strategy for its flaws–for it is surely flawed.

    I think that over the course of this discussion we’ve bumped up against some wicked problems that substantially frustrate the discourse. Can we achieve a proper understanding of a person’s nature from discrete actions/utterances? What about from patterns? Are we ever talking about the person or merely their behavior? Are these in principle the same? In other words, perennial philosophical questions.

    When we dig deeper into the key features on which this discussion turns, we find some common problems: definitional vagueness, human complexity, epistemic limits. Ultimately, should we venture down that road far enough, we will come to the problem that making any claims about any individual, even ourselves, is problematic. But we must make claims and we must–to some extent–police behavior through discourse as a mechanism of cultural advancement. However, we must also police the policing as well.

    Discourse is the process of pushing back: against bigotry (or perceived bigotry, which, it turns out, are functionally the same thing, which is to reference the broader epistemic principle suggested by admitting that we do not know Alec Baldwin), against moral outrage, against abuses of celebrity or celebrities, etc. It is ultimately (meant to be) a civilizing process, as described by Mark above. But discourse is not without consequence, rather, it is predicated on it. Discourse, especially moral outrage, often leads to over-reaction and severe consequences for the target of that outrage. I share Wes’s concern that moral outrage, “[f]ar from being an effective tool for the enforcement of morality, it is in fact radically morally compromising, both to those who wield it as a cudgel, and those who succumb to it.”

    We should push back, but we need not do it with moral outrage. We cannot achieve the civil society that the outraged attempt to argue for without civil discourse. We cannot turn over the process of shaping our culture through discourse to the shrill. And, so, I commend Wes on pushing back.

  17. SocraticGadfly

    December 3, 2013

    You’re still wrong. Baldwin is still a bigot. And, I’m a self-critiquing left-liberal, to trump you.

    Oh, and to another commenter here. Rawls was wrong, too. Read Walter Kaufmann’s “Without Guilt and Justice.”

  18. Cezary

    December 3, 2013

    Hey Wes,

    Sorry my [lack of] intelligence can’t add to what has been a lively discussion. That said – great post! You’ve swayed me into donating and hopefully engaging one of these days.

  19. Laura

    December 5, 2013

    For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.–Mandela

    Bigot or no, Baldwin is an imprisoned man.

    • MazacoteYorquest

      December 5, 2013

      Amen, Laura.

      I just hope Mandela understood that he should have reserved “bigot” for only the worst devotees of savage apartheid, not some policeman who opposed apartheid on principle but still called ANC protesters “animals” and “apes.”

      Meanwhile the real struggle for humanity– the fight against MSNBC pink slips, waged by arbitrary stipulations that the word “bigot” only apply to people who are wholly immune to any possible discourse and persuasion– continues…

  20. LRB

    December 6, 2013

    What an extraordinary amount of time wasted arguing semantics and parsing terminology. The man is vile. An angry, mean-spirited boor whose cruel, nasty behavior has been excused too many times. You should be embarrassed to defend him from their criticism. A proud days work indeed. People like you are the reason philosophers are mocked as less than useless. And proof people who do are right.

    For your information, FDR appointed any number of Jews to powerful positions in government. And was generally acknowledged to be antiSemitic. Baldwin can publicly support gay rights and be homophobic as FDR could publicly support Jews and be prejudiced. Flush your Nietzsche down a toilet
    and pick up some Walt Whitman. We contain multitudes. And by the way there are gay religious conservatives. They aren’t bigots. They are self loathing.

    • Geoff Edwards

      December 6, 2013

      “Baldwin can publicly support gay rights and be homophobic”

      Yes, that was covered in the first essay where Wes wrote of the possibility that someone: “…might be personally repelled by homosexuality [i.e.,homophobic] yet be ashamed of that feeling, and meanwhile an ardent supporter of gay rights.”

      “We contain multitudes.”

      Is certainly something that Nietzsche would agree with – plug subject as multiplicity into the search engine of your choice. And the sentiment is certainly in alignment with Wes’ article when he argues against leveling essentialist accusations against people who are, in their very nature, unerringly complex.

      So, you have two points of agreement with the author here, maybe if you spend a bit more time reading the essays closely you might find more.

      Of course you could just keep mocking. Whatever blows your hair back.

      • Ugluk

        December 6, 2013

        Yeah, it was interesting reading someone trash Wes’s arguments while citing points he’d made himself.

        The problem with the initial denunciations of Baldwin was precisely that they weren’t nuanced–the idea seemed to be that if Baldwin had homophobic tendencies, then he couldn’t really favor gay marriage or gay equality. Wes pointed out that this simply isn’t the case–a person could sincerely favor gay rights and still have prejudiced or bigoted feelings and in Baldwin’s case, be dishonest about it both with himself and with others. (I don’t know if Baldwin is being dishonest with himself, but I assume he believes he’s not guilty of bigotry). Now TNC backtracks and tells us that he knows people are complicated, but of course the whole point of these ritual denunciations is that they are supposed to destroy the public reputation of the accused, and turn him into a pariah. I don’t know why one can’t simply say that Baldwin has said some bigoted things and needs to take a good long look at himself, without going further and speculating that he must be a monster who really doesn’t favor gay rights at all.

        That said, I think Wes confused the issue by arguing that the word “bigot” should only apply to the worst of the worst. People will commonly use words in various ways and you can’t dictate the one true meaning and settle arguments that way. The problem here is that people can’t admit to even a trace of bigotry in public, not to any degree, because of the hypocritical pretense that either we’re saints free of any and all trace of bigotry, or else we’re horrible bigots who should be driven from polite society. That’s why people who are publicly accused of bigotry nearly always react the way Baldwin is reacting, with total denial.

        • Barry Deutsch

          December 6, 2013

          I don’t think that’s true. If Baldwin had responded by saying something like

          “These events are an eye-opener to me. Although I sincerely support gay equality and love my gay and lesbian friends, clearly some part still retains bigoted attitudes towards gay men. Some part of me is a bigot. But I am going to take real action to try to change, starting with my heartfelt apology to all the lesbian and gay people who I hurt with my homophobic outburst, and continuing with therapy.”

          Or something along those lines, he’d be much better off. Certainly. I think folks like TNC would find that sort of response much easier to respect than the sort of denials we’ve seen from Baldwin. (It would certainly sit a lot better with me.)

          (Although of course, Baldwin is a hard case because he’s done this repeatedly. After a while promises to change would ring hollow).

          • Ugluk

            December 7, 2013

            Barry, I’m not sure what you think in my post isn’t true, because I agree with what you said in response. I more or less implied some of it in my post. I think Baldwin does have bigoted feelings and I think he’s in denial about it and he should admit his flaws, in part because he’s never going to overcome a flaw he doesn’t admit he has.

            You’re probably disagreeing with where I claim that people in Baldwin’s shoes usually deny everything because they think an admission will make them a pariah. I see your point–if Baldwin made a confession perhaps Coates would have gone easier on him, but I suspect that wouldn’t be true of everyone.

        • Geoff Edwards

          December 6, 2013

          “That said, I think Wes confused the issue by arguing that the word “bigot” should only apply to the worst of the worst.”

          I don’t know. Aristotle in his categories – Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 1 – deals with equivocation. Anyone engaged in Philosophy is generally going to try and make his language use as consistent and unequivocal as possible. I don’t think that it is restricting it to the “worst of the worst” so much as actually trying to pin down “bigot” so it might be deployed in a meaningful way – consistently, usefully. But that ship has probably sailed – bigotry seems to be a bit of a catch all for “someone who disagrees with me or of whom I disapprove”.

          And even that semantic issue is secondary to the wider point of trying to avoid moral outrage, condemnation and ostracism in favour of a more nuanced attitude towards our intellectual or social opposition.

          None of this argues against Baldwin being guilty of using some heinous speech including homophobic slurs. And I agree with Barry below – if Baldwin had fessed up and done some apologizing he might have garnered a bit more respect. I think that in this, more so than in his rage fueled moments, he has probably earned the “bigot” tag.

          • cirek

            January 6, 2014

            “But that ship has probably sailed – bigotry seems to be a bit of a catch all for “someone who disagrees with me or of whom I disapprove”.”

            is it really? disagreements, even very passionate ones, occur all the time and very rarely lead to anyone being called a bigot. the only times i see the word used are when the arguments are over race issues or sexuality–maybe sex/gender inequality. outside of that, its very rare.

            so if some white guy were unemployed, and another guy told him to stop being a nigger, would this not be bigoted? would the person who said that not be assumed a bigot for saying such a thing? to use a moniker for a group of people as an insult operates under the assumption that said group is contemptible. if baldwin had called him a spear chucking nigger, would this post on “what bigot actually means” have been published? i doubt that.

  21. Mick

    December 10, 2013

    I greatly appreciate point 4 and 5. I also read your two posts on terrorism and ‘enlightened’ racism and thought those equally on-point; the academic treatment of terrorism is often very abrasive and not well thought out. It often follows very poor logic, and I think your comments on that subject sums up some of the basic critiques. So, thanks in general.

  22. thissitesucks

    December 11, 2013

    This is such a smug post. Holding people to tight moral guidelines is inevitably tyranny? “Toy shalt not kill” doesn’t cause much civil unrest, it must be nice living in a world entirely made of gray, with no black and white. yes, ignore the shrill and badly worded ideas, they are clearly the most Orwellian, which is obviously a bad thing.

  23. Jason Stable

    December 13, 2013

    ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ▄ ▌ ▐ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▌
    ─ ─ ─ ▄ ▄ █ █ ▌ █ ♥ ░ ░ DELIVERY OF HUGS ♥░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ▐
    ▄ ▄ ▄ ▌ ▐ █ █ ▌ █ ░ ░ ░ FOR EVERYONE! ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░ ░▐
    █ █ █ █ █ █ █ ▌ █ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄ ▌
    ▀ (@) ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ (@)(@) ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ ▀ (@) ▀ ▘ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Add a comment

  1. No, Alec Baldwin is Not a Bigot | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog11-30-13
  2. In Which Ta-Nehisi Coates Deploys a New Epithet | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog12-06-13
  3. Cleverly Named Bunch o’ Links 12/6/13 | Gravity's Wings12-06-13