Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Short Contemplation On Patton and Heinlein Concerning Language And Culture.

I have been following another Catholic blog for some time now. He is a fellow Texan with an interesting background. He addressed an interesting issue that is very common across our entire culture and it effects everyone: Should Catholics Use Profanity and Vulgarity?  Now, I generally fall in the category of no. I have longed thought that the overuse of profanity or vulgarity, otherwise known as "harsh language", showed a lack of thought and decency. 

However, in my current line of work (active duty military), I have to admit there is a time and place for it. Patton famously once said, "When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can't run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag."

Patton certainly was eloquent with his language, and maybe that is one the things that bothers me with the common usage of harsh language today. We as a culture have lost the idea of eloquent cussing. Stick with me here. I am not advocating the use of such language, I am suggesting again that there is a time and place for it, used very sparingly. Words have meaning. Words have power. When I have used cussing with soldiers, they knew me as a guy that did not normally use those kinds of words in everyday conversations.They get the message in a manner that they understand. Some folks now seem to not even acknowledge anything you say unless it is peppered with salty language.

It used to be an common courtesy not to use certain kinds of language in front of women and children, yet, within the last ten or so years, it is not uncommon to walk through a public place and hear four letter words flying like an artillery barrage. Pop culture and media is rife with the overuse of cussing.  It. Is. Everywhere. 

This brings me to Robert Heinlein. One of his quotes that is a favorite of mine is from from his novel "Friday.":
It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population.
A very bad sign. Particularism. It was once considered a Spanish vice but any country can fall sick with it. Dominance of males over females seems to be one of the symptoms.
Before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and the courts.
High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll. But that's old hat; everybody knows that a country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way - even though there are always endless attempts to wish it way by legislation. But I started looking for little signs and what some call silly-season symptoms.
I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course - but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking way at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down. Oh, conscription and slavery and arbitrary compulsion of all sorts and imprisonment without bail and without speedy trial - but those things are obvious; all the histories list them.
I think you have missed the most alarming symptom of all. This one I shall tell you. But go back and search for it. Examine it. Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms as you have named... But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot. (emphasis mine)
This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength. Look for it.
Friday was published in 1982, yet the balkanization that Heinlein wrote about in his book is living out today. The reason I included the whole quote with the bold type section was help you understand that nothing happens in a vacuum. The common usage of cussing in public did not happen overnight. It was a process that, much like the frog in the chromed hot tub, that happened gradually at first, then rapidly. Personal liberty (responsibility) has been twisted into license.

Look, I am not perfect. I do not pretend to be. I know a lot of really great folks who actions DO speak louder than their words, even if their words are rougher than I would like. I can live with that. However, I do think it is time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, is this what we want for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren? I think that we can do better.

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