Since I’m going to be criticizing a now widely accepted phenomenon, this piece may evoke eyerolls from some supporters. So be it, because certain things need to be said.
I must confess that with the way many of my fellow adults behave today, it can make me ashamed to be one. I almost sometimes feel as if I want to apologize to the children for the example the contemporary grown-up world now sets. We often lament, and rightly so, how disrespectful many modern youths are, yet a prerequisite for commanding respect is being respectable. There is little respectable about modern American culture.
Whether or not communist activist Willi Münzenberg (1889-1940) actually said “We will make the West so corrupt that it stinks,” he might as well have. It’s not just that adults now show children indecent images in sex education’s name, rubber stamp elementary school Satan clubs in deference to “religious freedom” and tell kids they can switch sexes just by willing it. It’s also what the “good” people fighting these abominations often do.
On November 14, the Keller Independent School District (KISD), in Texas, prohibited its school libraries from carrying books containing references to “gender fluidity”; of course, they never should’ve been there in the first place because people don’t have “gender” (words do) and sex isn’t fluid. But here’s what is permitted, among other things, under the KISD’s “more virtuous” revised policy:
“Minimal profanity is allowed in elementary and intermediate schools, middle schools are allowed some, while high schools are allowed...[common] profanity in its library material,” as the Daily Dot puts it.
Seriously? “Minimal profanity” for grade-school kids? How about minimal teacher groping, minimal dispensing of heroin needles, and minimal intra-school fight-club bouts with minimal eye gouging?
When I inveighed against profanity years ago, a reader complained, saying, “We’re not all Little Lord Fauntleroys out here.” Cute. (Actually, Little Lord Fauntleroy was a darn good role model). Well, let me say that growing up in the Bronx, I heard it all and used some of it, on occasion, back in my before-time. But more significant than my own appeals is something written by the quintessential American man’s man and Father of our Nation, George Washington. On August 3, 1776 he issued the following order to his troops:
Studying Washington’s life, as I have, can make apparent that he was the closest thing we’ve had to a true American superhero; he was a giant of a man, in stature and character. Note, too, that he expected this virtue from his men even during war, the most horrible situation a fellow could find himself in.
Speaking of which, my father was a prisoner of war in Germany, captured in battle, during WWII and the toughest man I ever knew. I never, ever heard him curse except on one or two occasions when he lost his temper (one involved a prank caller who rang incessantly in the wee hours and who cursed at my dad). It was recognized when he was raised — young people take note — that being vulgar was contrary to virtue. As the late Professor Walter E. Williams once put it (I’m paraphrasing), in the 1940s, “the worst lowlife wouldn’t use the kind of language around women and children that’s regularly used today.”
Yet peppering statements with the f-word is now common even among conservatives, who ought to ask themselves what they’re actually conserving and who normalized it. The latter’s answer should give pause:
Profanity was mainstreamed by Hollywood degenerates, the worst people among us. It started off “minimal,” of course, but became an increasingly prominent feature of entertainment. In other words, conservatives today embrace a cultural habit encouraged and legitimized by the Left. Ironic? Actually, it’s typical. As G.K. Chesterton noted in 1924, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.”
And with profanity, many today are now so inured that they think it appropriate to have a minimal amount of it in children’s books and for it to be common for high-schoolers. Some will now say, “They’re just words,” ironic coming from many of the same people who want widespread suppression of so-called “hate speech,” which also is “just words.” These critics may say that youths have already heard profanity, which wholly misses the point. To wit: Teens and even sixth-graders know about sex, too — but that doesn’t mean it’s okay exposing them to porn. For there’s a difference between something being “known” and it being normalized in tender eyes. Repeated casual use and display of profanity accomplishes the latter.
Much more on this topic is in my 2017 magazine essay “Cussing & Cultural Decay,” which you’ll likely find unique. But what, really, is the good case for using profanity? If you’re a theist (and even if you’re not), note that the Bible itself warns against it. Examples:
- “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place….”
- “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths….”
- “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
Then, if you’re at least middle age, ask yourself what your grandparents would’ve thought of today’s casual vulgarity use. Or imagine it disgorged from a child’s mouth (and, sadly, we don’t have to imagine). Sound nice?
Profanity matters because it coarsens society, acting as a gateway vice that paves the way for greater corruption. Moreover, “Manners are of more importance than laws,” observed Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. “Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe.”
Today, the cultural air we breathe is toxic. And since culture shapes politics and morality shapes culture (Washington warned, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people”), we should consider whether we’re surfeiting the substrate of tyranny with our tongues.
As for me, I know where I stand: with Washington and not Willi.
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.