Friday’s “Infidelity” post led to a moderately heated discussion re: my use of the word “retarded” in the intro. The charge: that it’s insensitive to use that word because it works to demean or insult those with mental disabilities.
It probably goes without saying — at least I hope it goes without saying — that it was not my intent to insult or demean anyone, and I don’t think that, taken in isolation (i.e. the context of that post) it could have reasonably been taken to have done so. As such, my initial response and the response of others to the criticism was to treat it as overly sensitive stuff worthy of dismissal.
But it’s now been about 48 hours and a couple of things have happened. Reflection mostly, leading to the realization that it makes little sense to argue from the “taken in isolation” position, because nothing really occurs in isolation, especially when you’re blogging. I can think of all kinds of words and ideas that, taken in isolation, wouldn’t technically be offensive, but that’s being too cute. If my strident attacks on Chief Wahoo establish anything, they establish that I kind of am trying to impact the general discourse here, so it’s disingenuous for me to cordon off selective posts and say they don’t count. It all counts, so I have to judge everything I say equally and not give myself free passes just because I’m trying to be funny or whatever.
So I’ve gone back and read everyone’s criticism, and I’ve read a lot of stuff online, and I’m convinced that, yeah, throwing around the word “retarded” as a synonym for stupid or idiotic is bad form and should be avoided. I was resistant to this argument at first because, hey, I’m human and I’m predisposed to argue against things which challenge my habits and assumptions. The clarity provided by a day or two, however, makes it seem obvious to me that, even if the word isn’t deployed to mock those with special needs, it does work to equate the idiotic (Braves fans doing the chop) with those who are retarded in the clinical sense of the term. And actually, using the term is a double offense of sorts: in addition to demeaning those with mental disabilities, it’s non-negative connotations mean that it’s nowhere near as rough as a term as could be used on the jerks doing the Tomahawk Chop. They are entitled to attack for unadulterated stupidity, and by using a murky, qualified term that isn’t always a negative lets ‘em off too easy.
All of this said, I don’t think my or anyone else’s use of the term rises to the level of capital offense. There are worse terms with far less ambiguity about them than “retarded,” and their use implies far more ill will and nastiness than anyone using “retarded” ever has. I’m also not going to grant anyone the argument — as some tried to make in the comments to the post — that there is some moral equivalence to the Indians’ use of a racist caricature as a mascot and my unfortunate use of a given term. That’s baloney, and if you want to fight about, hey, let’s fight about it, because that’s what comments sections are for. Also, I’m not going to go back and change that post, because (a) trying to make something disappear on the Internet is a fool’s game; and (b) that post combined with this one might actually be useful to have around for people as they try to parse the use of troublesome terms.
To sum up: in hindsight I wish I hadn’t used the term “retarded” in such a fashion, and I will refrain from doing so in the future. You may now all continue arguing about whatever suits your fancy.