Abusive language in working-class culture
A set of secondary exchanges, 18 December 2000
From firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Dec 18 10:31:43 2000
Ms Keri Spooner
From email@example.com Tue Dec 19 18:33:34 2000
While I fully agree with you (we are evidently of similar age and experience), I doubt you will ever make an impression on our friend Jim. There is just this thread of earnest idiocy that runs through American Trotskyism (and, I guess, a lot of other -isms) that somehow identifies uncouth expression with virility, armed force and blood in the streets....
From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Dec 20 09:40:07 2000
> thread of earnest idiocy that runs through American Trotskyism (and,
I fear the problem is worse than I implied. That is, I don't see it as pecularly American (I scan the world press daily, and the same kind of desperation among youth is growing in many places one would not expect). And I don't see it as really cultural (which you may or may not imply). Nor do I see it as necessarily associated with any "ism" (I find that most Trots these days are much easier to get along with). Rather, social-psychological (i.e., socio-pathological).
Having dealt with this over the years as a teacher, parent, and grandparent and friend of some young folk, I've naturally studied it closely. Wish I had some answers. Involved is a desperate loneliness; a pent up anger and frustration; a hostility toward anything beyond the ego - the world in general. It manifests itself in many ways, but for someone like Jim, who is politicized, it comes out as an anger that seeks immediate confrontation on a very personal level, that holds anyone not standing on the same barricade at the same time in utter contempt.
This represents a danger, or at least a great loss, not just for the left, but for society in general. Blowing away the boss and anyone else who gets in your way because of some personal frustration is becoming ever more common.
What's the reason? I don't know. There seem aspects of our environment which are contributory factors. For example, serious studies of TV and junk food suggest they contribute. But I'd rather look behind these to seek a deeper understanding for the growing anomie, alienation, frustration, and hedonistic egoism. I hate to sound corney, but to tell you the truth, it seems implied by capitalism, its reduction of people to lonely biological atoms, acting in a sterile world as consumers of personal gratification that tends to be sensational and individualized.
One can logically argue there is error in such behavior, that it is self-defeating; one can suggest that the inner needs can be satisfied instead through struggle and solidarity. Never had any luck doing so, however. There's a barrier that filters out the logic. You don't hear what just does not make any sense to you, just as a newborn does not see its mother even when looking at her. In some cases, maturation brings greater psychic health, but that is not much solice. Energy and intelligence tends to be located in youth, and so if we have to wait until they reach middle age before they become socially functional, we are in trouble. Besides, people who grew up under such stress seem to end up as somewhat crippled adults, people without joy, without much of the personal development necesssary to contribute to society.
Furthermore, globalization seems to be creating enormous new potentials for collective action, far more than one might infer from just the western news services. People are beginning to communicate, both in material terms (internet) and in cultural terms, and they eagerly grasp at that opportunity. Not more than a few decades ago, most of the world could not understand one other; today, you can not only find out what's happening in the streets of Seoul, but begin to communite meaningfully with people there and discover that you live in one world, share values and aspirations. On an optimistic note, I hope this emergent global movement will provide an antidote for anomie.