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In Defense of Invective and Name-Calling (Against Rob Kall)

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) February 23, 2011: As an idealistic teenager (at the age of 16), I wrote an op-ed piece   for my high school newspaper in 1961 endorsing President John F. Kennedy's call in his inaugural address to ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. As it turns out, I have found any number of ways to serve my country by denouncing and protesting against various practices within the country and in its foreign endeavors.

As a young man, I was passionately opposed to the legal discrimination against blacks in certain parts of the United States, and I traveled by bus from St. Louis to Montgomery, Alabama, to join Martin Luther King's march on the state capitol. Later on, I served my country by devoting ten years of my life to teaching inner-city black youth under open admissions in postsecondary education.

As a young man, I was also opposed to the war in Vietnam, as were many other young Americans at the time. I participated in marches protesting that war.

As a result of my anti-war passion earlier in my life, I was also opposed to the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq that President George W. Bush initiated, both of which tragically continue to this day. Because many other young people were also passionately opposed to the war in Vietnam, I have never understood why the now older versions of those same people are not evidently opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps Rob Kall can explain this puzzling inconsistency to me.

Rob Kall has some good things to say in his February 19th article "How Angry Are You? Time to Channel and Say It Smartly."

I have no objection to expressing political anger smartly. I have no objection to his call for participation in demonstrations such as the recent demonstrations in Wisconsin.

I have no objection to his advice against venting: "We can't waste our time venting." Right.

But I am not so sure about the second part of his sentence. "We can't waste our time venting or calling right wingers names." In a following sentence he says, "We must not call names."

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I certainly do not advocate using vulgarities in public discourse. In public discourse we should maintain a high level of decorum and avoid vulgarities.

But we should use invective smartly. For example, David Michael Green, a frequent contributor to, likes to characterize conservatives as regressives. Conservatives are regressives. When he says this, he is using invective smartly. As a matter of fact, he is being so smart that many conservatives may have to get out their dictionaries in order to learn what the word "regressive" means.

The black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s encouraged Americans to reflect on institutionalized forms of racism and discrimination. As a result, the terms "racism" and "racist" entered our political lexicon not only for the purposes of description, as ways to characterize something smartly, but also for the purposes of invective, as ways to characterize the opposition tartly. In my judgment, white conservatives in the United States today usually do tend to be racists. But calling them "racists" will probably not lead them to reflect on their racism and recognize it and acknowledge it. On the contrary, they are most likely to deny that they are racists. So as a term of invective, this term may be too highly charged and too tart to use frequently and too overused in the past, including the recent past after Barack Obama announced his candidacy, to be used smartly today.

For years now, feminists have used the term "patriarchy" and its cognate words as invective. Provided you understand what they mean by the term patriarchy, it is a suitable term of invective. Unfortunately, however, the cognate word "patriarch(s)" is hard to use in American English. So instead of using it, feminists have used the terms "sexist" and "sexism."

Conservatives usually do tend to want to conserve the old ways of Western patriarchy. This observation does not involve the use of invective. But if I were to say that conservatives usually tend to be sexists, I would be using invective. It would be tart. But would it be smart? Or has it already been so overused that it may be smart to give it a rest?

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As I've indicated, I favor speaking not only smartly, as Rob Kall advocates, but also tartly, provided that you do not plan to throw your hat in the ring and become a political candidate. Political candidates are probably well advised not to speak tartly.

So I propose that we start referring to conservatives as crackpots. Conservatives are crackpots. This is invective. They are also loudmouths and blowhards, and they are full of baloney. We should cultivate effective invective to speak smartly and tartly against conservatives because they are up to no good. I do not call them evil. But they are up to no good.

The ancient Hebrew prophet Amos was a master of denouncing people who were up to no good. If you want to get in touch with your inner Amos, try reading Amos aloud with feeling, con amore.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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The conservative noise machine in the United State... by Thomas Farrell on Thursday, Feb 24, 2011 at 11:13:43 PM
I support this.But, don't get too smart with me Pr... by Ned Lud on Friday, Feb 25, 2011 at 7:30:01 AM
The are afraid of the different plainfield. In fa... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Feb 25, 2011 at 7:52:12 AM
'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names w... by Ned Lud on Friday, Feb 25, 2011 at 7:15:34 AM
knew a truly great lady when he was growing up--wh... by Richard Girard on Saturday, Feb 26, 2011 at 2:54:23 PM
I'd like to hear our Democratic pudgy-bear leaders... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Feb 27, 2011 at 6:29:28 PM