Over the past week we have been subjected to a purposefully distracting teapot tempest. Radio host Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, the anti-Catholic women’s activist and sometimes student a name, a bad name. This caused the most vicious among to come down with a sudden case of the faints at the incivility of it all.
Mr. Limbaugh, to his credit, has now apologized to Ms. Fluke. I think that Rush did the right thing. But the problem I had with Rush’s comments is not that he called her a name, it is just that he called her the wrong name.
Beyond the specifics of the Limbaugh-Fluke kerfuffle, I have been pondering this notion that in a civilized society that there is no place for name calling. I think this is wrong. Some name calling, the kind meant to only dehumanize and denigrate a person for reasons beyond their control is always wrong. I think that the N-word and the R-word are examples of this type of morally repugnant name calling.
But there are other names to call, names that are based upon a judgement about behavior, that I think are not only in bounds for a civil and moral society, but perhaps even vital to it. In a classically liberal society, we are loathe to try to legislate morality. Historically, we have chosen to legislate morality only when such immorality gravely infringes upon the rights of others. Yet still, society has an interest in resisting and penalizing other forms of immorality with something short of criminalization. Historically, one of the means of such discouragement is social stigma, a societal judgement of your actions. And one the chief means of of communicating such judgement is name-calling. Liar! Cheat! Homewrecker! And yes even Slut! They all denote judgment …