Now That the Election’s Over: Remember, He’s Not a Libtard. And She’s Not a Homophobe.

By Bob Hartman Published on November 9, 2016

Several weeks ago, a Facebook friend posted a comment about the use of the word “libtard.” She rightly said we shouldn’t call names, even in a passionate political debate — particularly names that denigrate certain groups.

She went on to say that, in her experience, that sort of name calling came mostly from conservatives. She couldn’t think of an equivalent term progressives wielded in the opposite direction.

I was quick to respond, not because I disagreed with her point, but because I knew exactly the equivalent term progressives used against conservatives. The “-phobe” words. Like “homophobia” and “Islamaphobia.”

A Happy Accord

My friend agreed with the comparison, and this happy accord between a progressive and a conservative made me wonder if we all weren’t missing something here. Namely, that name calling gets us nowhere.

It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? We stopped doing this when we left the schoolyard — we thought. But we see it all the time on Facebook posts, and blog comments, and political and cultural and religious debates. Some of the most-read pundits in the land call their opponents names. Defend marriage? You homophobe! Worry about Muslim terrorists? You Islamaphobe!

For a start, it doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t advance the argument, because it has nothing to do with the argument. People who already agree with us may whisper a silent “Go get ’em!” People who disagree are likely to hurl some insult back. But no one is convinced of anything, because convincing is not what name-calling is about.

And that’s because the names often don’t mean anything. Libtard is particularly odious, because it uses a form of a word that shouldn’t be used anyway, to say what? That liberals are mentally deficient? In what way, exactly? In connection with what issue?

The wielders of the “phobes” do the same thing. Whatever the “phobia,” they suggest that people who disagree with them are somehow out of their mind —possessed by a psychological disorder that creates an irrational fear or hatred.

None of these terms reference real conditions. They are all about making the speaker and the folks who think like him feel superior — more clever, or compassionate, or open-minded, or orthodox, or whatever. Not because he has won any arguments, but because he made his opponents look small.

And that’s the next problem. Name-calling is intentionally personal. If I can demonize my opponents, the thinking goes, I can win others to my point of view because they won’t want to be lumped into that demonized group.

Consider the Cost

To be fair, this approach can work. People call each other names because it sometimes works really well. But consider the cost.

What kind of society does name-calling help create? A society where dehumanizing the opposition is the norm. A society where argument takes a back seat to rage. A society where there is no discussion and therefore no room for compromise. That’s bad enough.

But there is one more problem with this specific form of name-calling. The use of these terms minimizes the suffering of people who actually have disabilities and psychological problems. Why should their real and difficult conditions be used as weapons in our war of words?

Name-calling dehumanizes the opposition. Interestingly, Jesus himself had some things to say about that.

In Matthew, chapter five, he talks about murder, and then goes on to suggest that anger against a brother is just as bad. And more than that, insulting a brother, calling him a fool, is just the same as murdering him. Jesus uses a specific Aramaic word as an example. The word raca. And what does raca mean? Blockhead. Imbecile. Foolish. Not a million miles from Libtard or Homophobe, is it?

And then there’s the Golden Rule. Jesus says: Talk to others the way you want everyone else to talk to you. You don’t want to be called a “libtard”? Don’t call someone a “homophobe.” And vice versa.

So Let’s Not

Let’s leave all these words behind. Alleged “Libtards,” don’t call your opponents “homophobes.” Alleged “homophobes,” don’t call your opponents “libtards.”  And avoid all the playground words too.

So much more sensible, so much more compassionate, so much more effective, to simply say, “I disagree with you. Here’s why. Let’s talk.”

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  • markd4lyph

    What is the purpose of free speech but that we might be able to change soneones mind? Speaking truth laced with insults is like giving someone a spoonfullof medicine with a fireant in it. What do you want to accomplish? If you really want to be an influential person in the arena of ideas do these three things:
    1) Stick to the issue in a respectful well informed way
    2) Ask sincere questions to find the other peoples perspective as if you can learn from others who disagree with you.
    (and Heres the secret weapon)
    3) Be willing to speak of the flaws and mistakes your own “side” makes. That opens peoples mind.

    • CbinJ

      To your third point, I have found that constant caveats stifle open and honest debate. Nobody is perfect. A cry of hypocrisy (of actions especially) is often a logical fallacy. For example, when I listen to Christians start every conversation with “I’m a sinner” or “I’m not perfect” or “I’m the worst”, it drives me up a wall. As my grandfather is fond of saying, “You are either a saint or you ain’t.” It may be trite, but it reveals this question: what is the appeal of any religion or ideology if it involves no betterment and constant self-flagellation? I hear people all the time (one specific talk radio host comes to mind) that say, “I know some Christians who are bad. I know some Leftists who are bad. Etc. There are bad people in all groups.” Just continuing with the Christian thing though, if you are a Christian–no you are not supposed to “be bad”. I mean humility is fine, but constant groveling is annoying and just gives the malicious members of the opposing side more cannon fodder.

  • Daniel McCarthy

    I agree with this approach, but this is not what happens in most conversations. The left are the instigators most of the time and their starting point is forced down your throat through the media, public schools, at sporting events and in entertainment. The vast majority of the time conservatives are tight lipped and nod their head. Leftists are the ones that push their views on people to a far greater percentage than conservatives. When being kind does not work, we should mimic Jesus and call them out as hypocrits, liars, haters and perverts. Yes, the Jesus of popular culture did not smoke dope and sit around and talk about love all day long. He talked about getting in the faces of those whom would not repent.

  • CbinJ

    Leftists call names because they lose the debate when they actually have to use logic, reason, facts, and intellect. I rarely see serious conservatives call names. Often the term “Libtard” and other monikers are used by conservatives to conservatives about Liberals. Also, I see Internet conservatives who aren’t well schooled in their own beliefs or in debating ideas will often end an argument with a pejorative. Sometimes the use of these terms is used in a fit a anger because it is frustrating to deal with people who insist on wrongness. Truely, name calling gets you nowhere when debating ideas though. The problem is that people rarely respond to logic and their minds once they realize they are wrong. The marketing techniques of the Left that use feelings and branding (name-calling) are effective. Conservatives need to figure out how to battle these enemy tactics without becoming the enemy.

    • Planeetruk

      Indeed it appears to be really hard for people to switch stance within a debate. I think this problem has to do with the claim logic can be derived from only one view. Something can be logic for one while the opposite is logical for the other. For example, people from the right think border closing is the way to decrease terror. People from the left think this might ignite terror from within the country by people who, because of this, feel left out. Both sides meddle in rethoric that their approach is the only way to go and that the other side destroys the country. Like two tennis players playing each other on seperate courts shooting perfect shots at the other side for the win. Democracy will die when we negate the logic of the other side, but the remedie starts I think by questioning your own logic.

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