Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Insults - The Self Detonating Propositions

[UPDATE: This post has stimulated an engaging conversation on the discussion boards at Freedomain Radio.]

I think it is safe to say we have all been called many names over the course of our lives.  For most of us, we were called many derogatory names while we were children.  The list of names seems unending; some included: retard, stupid, bad, irrational, difficult, disobedient, and over-sensitive.  What was probably not identified for us is the common thread that connects all derogatory names; they are self detonating statements.

I would like to put forward the evidence that shows the truth of name calling. The person who calls you a name must be assuming you are actually the opposite of that name.  When a person decides to call you a name with a negative connotation, they must assume that you yourself have the positive qualities that are directly opposite of that name.  Let's take an example to work this through.

Example: You are Being Over-Sensitive!

Any easy example is when a person labels you as over-sensitive.  In this example we assume that a preceding interaction led up to the name calling and that the person doing the name calling has a goal of getting their way or "winning" the discussion.

Let's start by assuming both sides of the equation are true; you are over-sensitive, and the person truly believes you are this way.  In this situation it is completely counter productive to call you out on your sensitivity.  If you are over-sensitive, your reaction to the name will be overblown and irrational.  The negative situation that lead to the name calling will be made worse, and the other person is worse for wear.

If you are not over-sensitive, but the person truly believes that you are, the situation will play out identically to the one above.  Since the name caller will assume your sensitive reaction and how it would be unhelpful to your cause, they will refrain from the name.

Obviously, if you are over-sensitive, but the other does not believe it, it will not occur to that person to call you a name.

Finally we come to the most likely situation.  You are not over-sensitive, and the person also believes you are not over-sensitive.  In this situation things get quite intriguing. In order for the name to have resonance, weight, and power in the discussion, the other person must believe that you will not be over-sensitive to the name's assertion.  You must be expected to take the name as a rational identification of your nature and then modify your behavior to their benefit as a result.

In this example we can see the proof of the name calling paradox.  In order for name calling to be effective, it must be assumed that the person is more virtuous and level headed than the name calling would suggest.

This proof works for all negative names.  Calling someone bad, assumes they are good.  Calling someone irrational, assumes they are rational.  Calling someone stupid, assumes they are quite intelligent.

Empathy for the Past

I remember being called all sorts of negative names in the past.  (And a few occasionally in the present.)  I also remember that they had resonance with me emotionally.  They had resonance because I feared that they may have been true.  You see, in the past I was not given this logic showing that any name called is definitive proof that you are the opposite.

How about you? Were you given this information?  How many times in your life has a negative name troubled you emotionally?  I took me only about 30 minutes to write this post, and it probably took you less than five minutes to read.  Who in your life has not had five minutes to speak the truth to you?  Who in your life stood by as you felt the pain of insults, and only offered the vending machine wisdom of, "Words can't hurt you." while you are standing there, right in front of them, feeling the agonizing pain of real hurt emotions?


Mike H said...

This is a fantastic argument, I think you presented the paradox quite well.

What do you think of insults-as-jokes? I used to know a lot of people who frequently called each other insulting names but referred to them as jokes. Is it just a desperate attempt at humor or something darker?

Damon Smith said...


In order to determine a stance on insults-as-jokes, I first have to define the goal of humor. My best guideline is that humor is used in order to stimulate positive emotions within the receiver of a joke by making a connection between two desperate topics in a non-confrontational manner that is both rational and irrational at the same time.

Using this rough definition, (openly made up on the spot for this discussion,) when an insult is framed as a joke, the "funniness" of the joke is that the insult is both rational (true) and irrational (not true) at the same time.

In my experience, an insult framed as a joke is most often a way for the speaker to pad a sharp criticism in the partial irrationality of humor.

I would draw a parallel to a group of people who make it a constant sport to put each other down Monday morning if their team did not do well that past weekend. I inquired to how this was just when a group of coworkers participated in this behavior. They stated it was just to attack the person for something they could not control, because they had put themselves out there as a team supporter (taken victory credit for their team's success,) and are fully expected to attack others when they are in the winning position.

I definitely saw this behavior as unhealthy, disrespectful, spiteful, and dissociating to the actual value and affect they have on their individual lives.