on the question of naming things

Paul Horwitz phorwitz at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 11 19:00:18 PDT 2005


I suppose "homosexual" is a "neutral, non-judgmental" enough term, although I should think that, often enough, how and when a term is used determines how neutral and non-judgmental the term actually is -- and that all this is clear, often enough, to both the speaker and the audience.  There are things my doctor might say to me, or about my wife, in an examining room that I would not blink at, which would be greatly offensive in a (to be archaic) drawing room -- and I'm sure my doctor knows that perfectly well too.  I could, if offering a toast at a friend's wedding, speak accurately and neutrally enough about some of the principal purposes of marriage in ways that would earn me stunned silence at best.  I am a Jew, quite unashamed of the fact, and happy to be identified as such, but I think I would know the difference if someone was at pains to point out this "neutral, non-judgmental" fact in circumstances in which it was not relevant.  And although I suppose "a Hebrew," or "a member of a pre-Christian religion," is an equally neutral way to refer to me, I just might begin to raise my eyebrows if I heard myself referred to that way.  I haven't followed this thread very closely, but I tend to detect an air of the pointedly, showily clinical in Justice Scalia's use of the term "homosexual."  Perhaps I am wrong about that.  In any event, I don't see how "gay," or for that matter "LGBT," are any less neutral or non-judgmental terms.  And strictly speaking, I don't see why "moral bullying" -- which also goes by the term "moral suasion," or, sometimes, just plain "etiquette" -- is not perfectly legitimate.  (I do think the term "homophobe" should not be used reflexively, but then lots of "moral bullying" by gays and lesbians does not involve any such accusations.)    

Paul Horwitz

----- Original Message -----
From: Nelson Lund
Sent: Thursday, August 11, 2005 3:43 PM
To: Bradford P. Wilson
Cc: conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: Re: on the question of naming things

I'm not sure you're right, Brad. Part of the agenda pursued by some seems to be a form of moral bullying in which those who use neutral, non-judgmental terms like "homosexual" are accused of being "homophobes," so that they and others will be pressured to use alternative terms that connote approval of homosexual behavior. This kind of bullying certainly is and should be legal in a free society, whether or not it effectively advances the agenda of those who use the technique. But I'm not sure it's "perfectly legitimate."

Nelson


Bradford P. Wilson wrote:

I've been following the discussion of whether the use of the term "homosexual" is pejorative, or whether it isn't but shouldn't be used because of current sensibilities of many people whom the term accurately describes, and so forth.  It may be that there's a generational consideration here.  Someone mentioned the "old-fashioned" way of putting things.  If the use by old-fashioned people (e.g, older people) is innocent of moral baggage, it's hard to get in high dudgeon about it, isn't it?  My roommate and best friend in college, when he had gained my confidence, let me in on his secret, describing himself as homosexual.  This was circa 1970.  I don't believe he would today take offense at his self-description.  I rather think it the better word to use in a juridical context in which the judge does not think it proper to comment on the morality of the person or the behavior being described.  Here is the OED on "homosexual":    

A. adj. Involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one's own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one's own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.

No doubt many of you are familiar with DuBois's letter to young Roland Barton in 1928, when DuBois was 60 years old (and old fashioned?), defending the use of the word "Negro".  He acknowledged that there were historical reasons for Barton to dislike the word.  Still, given the "wide and continued use" that has rendered in the course of time many a customary name accurate, "'Negro' is quite as accurate, quite as old and quite as definite as any name of any great group of people."

How does he conclude?  "Get this then, Roland, and get it straight even if it pierces your soul: A Negro by any other name would be just as black and just as white; just as ashamed of himself and just as shamed by others, as today.  It is not the name--it's the Thing that counts.  Come on, Kid, let's go get the Thing!"  That's not advice for the judge, in my opinion.  But it is advice for those with an agenda that it is perfectly legitimate to pursue in a free society (as Justice Scalia makes clear in his dissent in Lawrence).  Brad Wilson

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