The coarsening of the culture

Issue one coarse crude or vulgar word while I was growing up and I was sent to my room without the next meal.

Among a host of other concerns raised by the election campaign, the coarseness of the language, the vulgarity, rudeness and lack of respect for others – these stand out as truly troubling.  We now have in the West a record number of people with further education, and an historically large number of young people in college.  And yet you have the impression that bad language is shrugged off and that anonymity on social media allows the most horrible ad hominem attacks and foul language, without any danger of paying for it.

As a follower of Epicurus I never thought I would say or think this, but “free speech” has gone too far and those who abuse it should be disciplined (clearly,  their incompetent parents were not inclined to do it; maybe they were preoccupied with shopping).  It is troubling that the “F” word, the “B” word  and the “C” word are  bandied about, and people don’t care.

I hope I am being proudly old-fashioned when I say that mutual toleration and respect are the cornerstones of civilisation (certainly of Epicureanism); that uttering foul language at the expense of the powerless isn’t funny, or clever, or meaningful – just beneath contempt.  Moderation allows us to live together and to differ in our views without screaming and shouting.

Want to know what else provoked my tirade? A made-for-TV series called “Mozart in the Jungle”, ostensibly featuring female players in a symphony orchestra (cue for beautiful, civilized music) preoccupied with crude sex and barrack-room language.  We  turned the thing off after 15 minutes. The crudity and vulgarity of the internet has invaded everything.



  1. According to The Week: Women today are more foul-mouthed than men, according to new research. In the 1990s, men used the f-word six times as often as women. By 2014, however, the tables had turned: women used the f-word more than men – and they were ten times more likely than men to say “s***”. Apparently, they must think that talking like this makes them equal to men. Nonsense. They are superior. But they are so when they are feminine, caring and polite. Oh, and even better, if they are funny, not crude.

  2. You’re absolutely right! The most obvious example of this in recent days is the Trump campaign, which banded around obscenities about women, Muslims, Mexicans- pretty much any traditionally marginalised group you can name. The Clinton campaign was much better in this specific regard. But more generally, it would be a mistake to let the Left off the hook. At a recent debate between each of the political parties represented at my university, the only representative to swear was the Socialist. He was trying to be countercultural and provocative, but it came across as immature and unserious. Naturally, the Conservative candidate seemed the most polished and clean, and as a result, won the debate.

    Its amazing how tolerant Evangelical Christians were of Trump’s vulgarity- so much for ‘humble Jesus, meek and mild!’ Exit polls show a majority of Catholics went for Clinton. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Jews and Muslims did too. We can safety assume that Buddhists and Hindus went for Clinton, given Trump’s terrible performance amongst Asian Americans. The non-religious were strongly pro-Clinton. So the next time an Evangelical says to you that their religion is the best, remind them of the fact that if their religion didn’t exist, a calm and measured woman would be in the White House, instead of a rude and abrasive man.

    Now as a liberal, I’m strongly in favour of free speech and expression- I certainly disapprove of government censorship. But that doesn’t mean that civil society should aim to be as coarse and offensive as possible. Free speech is there to protect people whose views may be unpopular from being silenced. It was never intended to promote degenerate behaviour. So yes, people have the right to swear. But others have the right to shame them for doing so.

    There are many young people who swear because they see it as rebellious and violating social norms. The opposite is the case- uncultivated behaviour has become the norm, civilised behaviour the exception. The true act of rebellion is to act in a temperate and controlled manner, and to critique your contemporaries for doing otherwise. There’s a horrible wave of cultural relativism sweeping the Western world. Any attempt to distinguish between civilised and uncivilised culture is dismissed as either classist or racist. This is nonsense. They should be a universal, high standard of behaviour that society have every right to conform individuals into accepting, without the use of government force of course.

    I’m not surprised women are more foul mouthed than men. It may be that standards of male and female speech have disappeared, which is a good thing- there used to be far too many double standards where women were judged more harshly for being outspoken. But I think its also because women are more emotional than men, and so as swearing has become more acceptable, women are more inclined to utilise it.

    Finally, I cannot claim to be totally guilt free in this department. I do swear occasionally, though unintentionally and far less than my peers. Its not a habit I’m proud of, and I’m glad that like yours, my parents taught me not to.

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