One reason people of today, who never experienced the fifties, cannot imagine what they were like, is because they are immersed in a totally corrupt and uncivilized culture and society. Profanity is one example. It was heard rarely in the fifties, and almost never in polite society or in the presence of women or children. Such profanity as one was likely to hear was the mildest kind, the crudities that fill the mouths of so many people today, including women and children, and is heard everywhere, were almost never heard. Even those who used profanity, knew it was wrong and what was wrong with it. Today, most people not only use it, but can't imagine that there is anything wrong with it at all.
Typhus of the Mind
Now that I've assigned myself the task of explaining what profanity is and what is wrong with it, I feel like I'm suddenly in the midst of a`tribe of naked savages with the task of explaining to them why it's not a good idea for them to use the river they get drinking water from as a toilet. Only it is not the naked bodies of the savages I find myself in the midst of and not their stomachs that are in danger, but their minds. The river they drink from is the stream of filth spewing from every source of today's media and entertainment, as well as their own mouths.
How does one explain to those who have no experience living in a civilized society what is wrong with the most uncivilized thing they do? Even those few who are aware that something is wrong, do not know what it is, like typhus infected natives who continue to drink from contaminated waters. They decry the fact our children's mouth are filled with the foulest of language, and that administrators and teachers have no control over the vilest of language being used even in the schools.
They make studies and discover, "Cursing or Swearing," have bad consequences for both Children and Adults, which it does, but they do not identify what profanity is, or how much more profound and damaging the consequences profanity are to the individual. There is even an organization dedicated to helping people control their "cussing," but so long as the cause and nature of this disease goes unidentified, one might be able to control its manifestation at times, but the underlying disease continues.
What is Profanity?
According to the dictionary, profanity is "abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language." It is not just that, however, because language can be all of those things without being profanity. In fact, profanity is confined to certain words and it is the nature of those words that make them usable in an abusive, vulgar, or irreverent manner, which are profanity only when used that way—some words can only be used that way.
The kind of words which can be used as profanity is significant. For example, profanity is sometimes referred to as, "four letter words," but most four letter words are not and cannot be used as profanity— book, jump, and foot, for example. The reason such words are not used as profanity is because they cannot be used in the abusive, vulgar, or irreverent way profanity is. So, what kind of words can be used that way?
Words used as profanity are always words associated with things of profound personal importance, value, or significance: either the revered and loved, or the loathed and despised. Not all words designating such things are used as profanity, however. Children, for example, are cherished, but, calling someone a, "child," while it might be insulting, it is not profanity. Only when a word is able to convey, contrary to its actual meaning, an intentionally offensive, perverse, derogatory, or denigrating meaning, can it be used as profanity. "Child," cannot be used as profanity, but "bastard" can and is. Calling someone a child is a correct, if unkind, use of the word, if the intention is to indicate a person's immaturity; it is unlikely that calling someone a bastard is intended to indicate anything about the condition of their birth.
The Irony of Profanity
There was a day, not so long ago, when someone caught using profanity apologized or made an excuse, like, "I know it's wrong, it's just a bad habit."
We do tend to excuse the individual whose language is generally wholesome, if they inadvertently blurt out a mild, or even not-so-mild epithet, when they bang their shin, or spill spaghetti sauce on their new white slacks. One who only curses when their guard is momentarily down is nevertheless confessing their usual guarded speech is only a matter of control. It's not how we speak and act under normal conditions that reveals what we really are, but how we speak and act in times of duress or challenge. The occasional curser at least tries to keep their speech under control, if not their thoughts.
Today's gutter mouths flatly deny there is anything wrong with profanity, and psychologists even explain why some profanity is not only justified, but is a good way of "relieving tension," in a "harmless," way.
But the use of profanity is never harmless, and is never intended to be. While most today neither understand what profanity actually is or what its harm is, there are still those who know exactly what profanity is, what its real purpose and intention is, and exactly what it harms. They cannot hear it used by others without being offended, nor should they. They cannot and will not do to themselves what those who use and "don't mind" profanity have done to themselves. They will not cauterize their own minds to evil.
The irony is, that profanity itself is the proof of what it is, against all the claims of those who attempt to justify it, or insist there is nothing wrong with it, or claim those who object to it are just prudes or "religious". But every one of these claims proves that profanity is the opposite of what they claim, because every claim is an attempt to portray profanity as innocent.
Consider the claim that it is only the religious who object to profanity. This is an ignorant claim, of course, because both religious and non-religious people object to profanity, and even the religious frequently object to it on totally non-religious grounds, as being ignorant, boorish, vulgar, offensive, and trite. But the irony of this claim is the implied admission that it's perfectly alright to disregard what offends others if you don't happen to agree with their views. While I agree that freedom of speech means freedom to offend, decent people do not intentionally offend others, particularly if what they are offending are their most deep-seated values, no matter how much one disagrees with them.
All the claims for the innocence of profanity are the same:
It's only a way of expressing anger or shock or strong feeling. There are lots of words that can be used to do that; they're called epithets and exclamations. Words used this way are uttered almost involuntarily and must be words one has learned and habitualized. Only someone who is well practiced in the use of profanity uses it at such times. This claim avoids the question of why it is words of profanity that one chooses to habitualize in the first place.
It is only used for its shock value, a friend of mine who occasionally used profanity once explained, when I asked why he used it at all. "Do you really believe that?" I asked. "Of course," he insisted. "Do you ever use it when you're alone?" I asked. He agreed he really had to reexamine his reason for using it, but it certainly wasn't for the reason he thought he was using it. Even if it were the "reason," it also avoids the question of why it is profanity, and not other equally strong and "offensive" words that are used.
It's only a habit—everyone uses it.
It's certainly true, or nearly true that everyone today uses it, but what does that have to do with any individual's choice to use it? It's the typical teenagers excuse we are all familiar with. Decent mature individuals make their choices based on principles, not what everyone else is doing. It certainly emphasizes the fact, most people do not think for themselves today.
And habits, by the way, are not formed by what other people do. Habits are formed by what individuals do themselves, they are formed by repeating something over and over until one can do it (or does do it) without thinking. I might point out, if someone says, "I swear out of habit," they are admitting they talk without thinking—which is easy enough to believe today.
This again avoids the question of why it is profanity one chooses to use in the first place and use enough to habitualize it. Whenever anyone using any of these or other spurious arguments is pressed to answer that question, the response is invariably and ultimately the same:
They are only words, after all; how can words be bad? That is a good question, but it is the user of profanity that should be asked it. If they don't think those words are "bad," what's the point of using them? They certainly don't use them because they think they are expressing something virtuous, noble, or uplifting.
Profanity Is "Bad Words"
Sure, words are just sounds, or marks on a piece of paper, or images stored as ones and zeroes in a computer. But words are more than sounds, and marks, and images; they are symbols, and what they symbolize are our ideas. Words are our means of mentally holding and relating ideas to one another. When we speak or write we are not just stringing interesting sounds or symbols together, we are manipulating the ideas the words symbolize. When we do that mentally, it is called thinking. Words are first our means of thinking—we must first think something before we can say or write it.
By "bad words" I am referring to the ideas such words are the symbols for; there are some very bad ideas, and the words of profanity symbolize the very worst. While most people know profanity is not, "nice," the true nature of profanity and why it is much worse has been totally obfuscated. Understanding that nature is neither direct or simple. It begins with the nature of bad ideas.
The words that are used as profanities are universally words for those things which are most personal in nature, and generally fall into one of two categories: religion or the human body.
For better or worse, a man's religion represents his fundamental beliefs, the source of his values, and the principles by which he lives. Values and principles, whether derived from religion or philosophy are the basis of civilization—a man without values and principles is an uncivilized barbarian.
Those pertaining to the body concern either to the organs and functions related to elimination or the organs and functions related to sex, both of which are profoundly personal, and in a civilized world, profoundly private.
What is wrong with profanity, the reason the "ideas" profanity represent are "bad," and are perhaps the most subtle of evils to plague the mind of man, is that they are an assault on the very foundation of that which differentiates between civilized man and uncivilized savages.
What distinguishes a civilized man's life from that of a savage is the civilized man's grasp of principles, particularly values, and the use of those principles to reason, and those values to judge, and guide his life. The savage's whole existence is guided by whim, desires, fears, and superstition.
Principles and Values
There are two requirements for the civilizing of men and societies; the first is the discovery and development of those principles and values that make it possible for men to live for something beyond the range of the moment, beyond their next meal, beyond responding to one's latest whim, desire, or fear; the other is the realization that every individual's life is their own to enjoy and bear the responsibility for, that a person's life belongs only to him, not his family, neighbor, clan, tribe, country or society.
In America, once the most civilized country in the history of the world, the civilizing principles were codified as that which all men had the right to: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, meaning every man's life is his own, to be lived freely, without the interference of other men.
Freedom is not a guarantee men will live worthy of that freedom. A civilized society is a society dominated by civilized men. Such men understand what the pursuit of happiness means, that life is not the avoidance of evil and suffering but the achievement of good and joy, and that only such a life has meaning and is worth living. That kind of life requires principles by which one understands the purpose and meaning of life, and values by which one discerns the difference between the vices that are a waste of life and the virtues by which it is lived successfully and happily.
The Sacred and the Private
The sacred is that which a man reveres, that which he regards as worthy of his most profound respect, devotion, and regard. Whether one finds sacredness in their religion or their philosophy of life, one devotes himself to that which he believes is best for him, not worst for him. One does not devote himself to a God that will curse him, but one he is sure will bless him. One does not live his life by principles he believes will make him miserable, but by those he believes will make him happy. The sacred is that which makes life worth living, to which a man devotes his life, because he finds in those things the purpose and meaning of his life and this is what makes him happy.
That kind of purpose, meaning, and happiness do not belong to the man that despises his own life. It is only the man who holds his own life sacred that is capable of that kind of devotion and is worthy of that kind of happiness. Whether one believes their own life is a gift of God, or simply the fact that makes all good possible, if he does not hold his own life and person as his highest value, to protect, to preserve, and to nurture, he has nothing to dedicate or devote to any purpose or ideal. A man's values pertain first to himself; a man worth nothing to himself is worth nothing to anyone.
A man's sense of privacy comes from his sense of self-worth, the knowledge that what he is, he is by choice and by his own effort, and that his life and his happiness are his by the right of having earned them. That life is his own, and therefore, his mind, his body and his property, which are the means to that life, are his to be shared with others or kept to himself as he sees fit. Just as a man does not throw his money at any staggering bum who asks for it to squander on more self-destruction, a man only shares his mind and his body with those he deems worthy. The privacy of his body is symbolic of the privacy of his mind, and it is his sense of self-worth, which we call dignity and integrity, that his sense of privacy preserves.
Ayn Rand put these words in the mouth of her collectivist archetype, who is explaining how to destroy a civilized society; it is done by taking away that which civilizes men:
"Kill man's sense of values. .... Don't set out to raze all shrines-you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity-and the shrines are razed. Then there's another way. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It's simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don't let anything remain sacred in a man's soul-and his soul won't be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you've killed the hero in man. One doesn't reverence with a giggle. He'll obey and he'll set no limits to his obedience-anything goes-nothing is too serious."
[For The New Intellectual - The Fountainhead, "The Soul Of A Collectivist"] [Emphasis mine]
There's another way to destroy what civilizes men.
Death by Language
George Orwell was, perhaps, the first to explain the uncivilizing effects of the corruption of language, whether that corruption is the inadvertent result of ignorance and laziness or the intentional corruption of language, as fictionalized in his book, 1984, or the very real corruption or our language today under the influence of multicutral, politically correct, and post modernist "Newspeak". [Examples.]
There is a much more subtle and insidious corruption of language, however, that not only overturns the meanings of a society's values, but destroys an individual's own ability to discern that corruption.
It is done by suborning the very words by which men hold those ideas that are their most profound principles, turning the words of their most sacred beliefs into words that express the opposite of all values, words of scorn, contempt, anger, and hatred. It is done by corrupting the language men use to identify their personal dignity and expression of self-worth, by using the words, or introducing other more vile ones, that identify a man's most private and personal matters into words, or crudities, for the commonplace, the banal, or the disgusting. This corruption of language is the vilest of desecrations; it is desecration of men's fundamental ideas which leaves them incapable of revering anything or holding any values seriously, including the value of their own persons or lives.
If you want to corrupt men, if you want to turn them into uncivilized brutes, teach them to use the language of their religion and their God, that which forms the basis of their deepest convictions and the source of meaning and value in their lives as language for expressing contempt, anger, hatefulness, condemnation, or simply as words without meaning. It does not matter that the men who use words that way do not themselves believe in a God, or hold any religious beliefs; that is the subtle irony that makes these words so insidiously evil. The words would be meaningless without the meaning they have to the truly religious, they could not be perverted to their use as profanity if they profaned nothing—when the irreligious use those words as profanity, they are implicitly assenting to their religious significance, else they would be meaningless, even as profanity. What they are profaning is not the specific values of religion, but the fact of values themselves—the use of that kind of profanity is a denial of all values, and thereby any real purpose or meaning to life. The habitual use of that kind of profanity is the expression of a total lack of values, a kind of nihilism of the soul which is incapable of being civilized.
If you want to turn men into shallow, hedonitistic, range-of-the-moment, instant-gratification-seeking, tribal animals, take away from them the means of identifying and expressing their sense of personal dignity, remove from them any sense of individual integrity, make it impossible for them to consider anything about themselves as uniquely personal or important. Turn every word one uses to think or talk about those things which are most personal and private into common vulgarities. Replace all the decent words civilized men use in reference to the more delicate aspects of individual privacy, out of respect for others, with the crudest and most offensive words possible.
Disrespect is exactly what is to be expected when men have lost the means of self-respect. When men can no longer form the ideas of personal dignity, individual integrity, and privacy, because the words needed to form such ideas have been corrupted, self-respect is not possible, and either is respect for others. The uncivilizing damage done by profanity is first to the individual, but second, to all social relationships; the most subtle of all uncivilizing influences is the widespread public and private use of profanity. Nothing is a more blatant indicator of how far a civilization has declined than the degree to which profanity is used and tolerated.
When you have taken away the words, or replaced the good with the evil, and men no longer have the means to name or think those ideas by which their individuality, privacy, and personal value can be identified, they have nothing about themselves to respect, or any means with which to the respect it. When men cannot respect themselves, have no sense of personal dignity, no sense of privacy for themselves, they will have none for others either. Profanity is both self-destructive and destructive of all social relationships.
"Love is Hate"
The one human relationship damaged most of all by the profane corruption of language is romantic love, the highest and most important of all human relationships.
The common non-religious meaning of profane is, "to treat with abuse, irreverence, or contempt, to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use." When language is used in its crudest possible form to directly or indirectly refer to that which those with a sense of personal dignity and self-worth regard as the most profoundly private aspect of their lives, that intimacy shared with the one they love, which is both meaningful and fulfilling precisely because its privacy and intimacy are preserved, then that which ought to be the most sublime physical act two people can share, is turned into something contemptible, debased, and commonplace, with no more significance than a bad cup of coffee.
When that which one's language devalues and despises becomes the reality of one's behavior, what was once a beautiful and significant aspect of two people's love, something only they could give each other, becomes an ugly and meaningless act, because outside the context of love, it is not something two people give to one another, but something two people use each other for—not something shared in the context of their love, but something taken from each other in mutual hedonistic animal self-gratification. What was beautiful becomes ugly; what was lovely becomes hateful.
Profanity, The Sign of Civil Corruption
In a man, when profanity is so strongly habituated it is used continually and without intention, it is an indication of a mind corrupted by all the anti-value anti-civilizing influences that profanity is. In a society, when profanity becomes ubiquitous, when those in that society tolerate it in their literature, their entertainment, every casual conversations, and have become "inured to it," it is an indication of a society dominated by profane individuals who have none of the values and principles necessary to a civilized society. When a society's language becomes dominated by profanities, crudities, and vulgarities, it is because it is a profane, crude, and vulgar society and only the momentum of past civility prevents its total collapse into that vicious barbarism lurking behind the facade of civil society.
[Examples of Newspeak—I am not in total agreement them all, but they are illustrative nonetheless: Politically Incorrect, Misleading Words, New Words, Doublespeak, Altered Words.]
[Marriage—It is not marriage that legitimizes sex, making it something more than a hedonistic end in itself, it is love. The only important cultural purpose of marriage is the almost universal recognition of it as a declaration the married individuals, as romantic prospects, are off limits to all others. I have never thought of marriage as a contract, with some kind of binding force, but rather, as a declaration of something that is already a fact, and would be a fact, with no formality and no declaration whatsoever.
Marriage does not put two people together and bind them somehow, a marriage is the public celebratory announcement of the fact that two people are already bound by that love which makes them inseparable. If force (of law or religion) is required to keep two people together, they should not be together. Two people who already belong to one another cannot be separated by anything short of death, that is the reason for the expression, "'til death do us part," because nothing else in heaven or earth can separate them.]