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Ed Driscoll

Punks, Meet the Godfather

April 19th, 2014 - 9:18 pm

Oh, that higher education bubble.

“It appears that the decline of standards — indeed, the abolition of any standards at all — has come to the world of college debate,” John Hinderaker writes at Power Line, before quoting an ugly-sounding passage from the Atlantic:*

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government** is at war with poor black communities.

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “Fuck the time!” he yelled.

I think it’s a very safe bet that in less enlightened days, that last quote would be grounds for an instant forfeit, but “Progress” marches on. Or, “Forward!” as they say at MSNBC and the Obama administration.*** In any case, about 15 minutes after reading that quote at Power Line, I downloaded Charles Murray’s new book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life into my Kindle and came across this passage early in the book:

5. On the proper use of strong language.

One of the things that curmudgeons have a hard time believing about the twenty-something generation is that the f-word in all its variants has become for many of them just another word, not much more intense than darn was for my generation. But people who are in a position to know have persuaded me that it has become just another mild expletive among a good many Millennials. Even so, my advice is that you never use it around senior executives unless you know for a fact that they use it freely themselves.

* * * * * * * *

It’s not that curmudgeons don’t use the f-word. Some don’t — a surprising number of highly successful people don’t swear at all — but most of us (including me) do. But we try to use strong language appropriately, and that’s the point of the rest of this tip. Life’s vagaries confront us with situations that call for us to express the full range of reactions. One of the glories of the English language is that it has vocabulary that can be called upon for all those situations. The heedless younger generation has frittered away that patrimony. Explain it to me: If you use the f-word as a kind of oral punctuation mark, how do you convey to your fellow human beings that you are really, truly shocked or angry about something? Say it five times in a row? The dialogue on some cable TV shows suggests that is indeed today’s solution. It’s pathetic. What’s true of the f-word is also true of the other classic Anglo-Saxon monosyllables. Their ubiquitous use is tiresome and pointless, casts a thin coat of grime over the conversational landscape, and degrades your ability to draw upon their shock value when needed.

* * * * * * * *

[A]bstaining from casual obscenity gives you the aura of an adult. Maybe I’m just out of touch, but ask yourself if I might be right: No matter how commonly the classic Anglo-Saxon monosyllables are used, they continue to carry with them a whiff of the jejune. In some small way, they say to those around you, “See, I’m still not a grown-up.” That’s not something you really want to advertise in a job setting.

I would definitely recommend that the would-be debaters quoted above read Murray’s Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead. But then, halfway through the book, based on what I’ve read so far, I would recommend that just about everyone under the age of 40 read it as well.

* Of course, the decline of standards came to the Atlantic itself sometime in the last decade, manifesting itself last year in spectacular fashion in print, and more subtly behind the scenes.

** Lyndon Johnson, call your office.

*** As with many examples of America’s declining standards, Britain got there first, thanks to their own “Progressives.” In 2012, Theodore Dalrymple explored “How polite Britain became addicted to foul language.”

Related: Speaking of new books, don’t miss my interview with James Delingpole on his Little Green Book of Eco-Fascism.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
By being African-American.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
One major habit I had to break myself of, when I left the service, was relentless, casual, use of strong language. It's why I usually only watch sporting events, in all male company. I sometimes think about the numbers of veterans, who served in WW2, but you simply never heard that language in public, when I was young in the fifties. It must have taken an enormous effort for some former Marine who had survived Iwo Jima, or GI who had made it off of Omaha, not to have let occasional - or more than occasional - "F" bomb fly.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is not unusual for me to utter an impolite obscenity in a moment of pique. However, I don't have frequent moments of unanticipated frustration or anger. In the general day to day environment I find that the use of obscenity to punctuate speech has the unfortunate effect of making someone appear crude, lowbrow, and frankly uneducated. There are much more effective ways to get any number of points across in conversation rather than liberally spouting foul words across each sentence without rhyme or reason.

Some of this is regional of course, and other aspects of it are cultural as people attempt to "blend in" with the predominant language set used. Personally I'm less likely to swear in front of someone than I am to swear in private. Much rarer in my case is to curse at someone. I will say if someone is cursing at me, I find that it lends them and their position much less respect or authority in my estimation.

So if you need to spout obscenities, feel free to do so. Just understand the impression you are leaving upon others as you do. If you don't like that impression you create, then I suggest you learn to moderate your language.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (21)
All Comments   (21)
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I am more disturbed by the tendency not to address the stated resolution, but rather to attack the implied premise or to ignore the resolution altogether.....

All inside your head - the solipsistic thinking of the hard-bitten narcissist. Unconvinced that other viewpoints, indeed other persons, really exist and refusing to find out. They just come out for a bit, say 'boo' and then go back inside....'>>.......
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can take the student out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the student.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isn't that the end goal of education, though? To re-program the student's thinking; i.e., to take the ghetto out of the student? Are we now to the point where decades of ghetto-ness and pride in one's ghetto-ness are part and parcel of the DNA of ghetto inhabitants, to be passed down from fatherless generation to fatherless generation until the worker bees are overwhelmed and everyone dies of starvation?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a shame about the standards of debate. What these tournament winners was something, but it wasn't debate. However, it is what happens when people no longer care much about why certain forms are in place. Well, I think that all future hip-hop artist awards should go to those who only sing, and have only ever sung, opera. Let's change it all up!
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Even so, my advice is that you never use it around senior executives unless you know for a fact that they use it freely themselves."

Wrong. Doing so would assume a prerogative. Rank has its privileges including speaking in a way not open to underlings.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Predictions come to pass: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
"[A]bstaining from casual obscenity gives you the aura of an adult."

As the musical duo Flanders and Swann put it decades ago: "If these words [obscenities] come into common use, there'll be nothing left for special occasions."
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Affirmative action at work. Taxpayer funded.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Did I miss something? It appears to me that they completely blew off the assigned topic. How do you win a debate when you don't even discuss the topic?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
By being African-American.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment

Competitive debating is all about cynical manipulation of the rules and the judges--the topic at hand is merely the playing field, and is essentially meaningless in and of itself. These debaters showed complete mastery of that skillset.

It's the judges that are at fault. They allowed themselves to be manipulated to such an extent that the rules themselves became superfluous. This will end either with the formation of a strict "rules-based" debating league, or the end of competitive debating entirely.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
The judges are even more far gone than the students. The debaters should have been DQ'd the moment they made it clear they weren't debating the topic. Like a football team that shows up to the field in baseball gear.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can take Black students out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of Black students.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Black privilege.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
One major habit I had to break myself of, when I left the service, was relentless, casual, use of strong language. It's why I usually only watch sporting events, in all male company. I sometimes think about the numbers of veterans, who served in WW2, but you simply never heard that language in public, when I was young in the fifties. It must have taken an enormous effort for some former Marine who had survived Iwo Jima, or GI who had made it off of Omaha, not to have let occasional - or more than occasional - "F" bomb fly.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in the Navy, back in the late 80s, particularly in the combat fleet, a great deal of discourse (at least onboard ship) would have been silenced had "salty" language been reserved for special occasions. But Mike, you're right; it is a difficult habit to break. And there's some pretty strong corrosive effects of that atmosphere as well. When my wife and I married, she nearly never swore. After three years working at a railroad while I was in grad school, she learned to swear like . . . well, like a sailor. In Paul Fussell's book about WWII there is a passage on "other ranks English" and a brief excerpt from a reporter's weary interview with a Marine (Pacific Theater) on the sheer fatigue resulting from relentless use of the f-bomb. The book's a great read, by the way, especially for a veteran (and I'd imagine even more so for a combat veteran of any war).
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a kid, I remember walking on an airbase with my father, an Air Force officer. Two young airmen walked by, one of them using foul language. My father braced him up and down for public swearing. That was a lesson to me that not everything was permitted. I never forgot that if you swear, you have to be very careful of who might be around.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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